Here we are in the State of of Disaster. It is one year since I began this blog. When I started I had no ambition but to record my reaction to the moments of the day in relation to my past lived experience. I thought twenty or thirty years from now my grandchildren might like to compare their experience of life with mine. (I realise this reads as a narcissistic reason but given they will have no way to communicate with me – it motivates me. They can read my “voice” and measure it with what influences them).
In these last 12 months the world has changed. Six months ago no one spoke of Covid 19. In these last few months nearly 18 million have been infected and nearly 700,000 have died. Businesses have collapsed. People are unemployed and our State has reached the nadir of disaster. The advice on how to stay safe seems simple: stay home, keep a social distance when outside, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay safe.
I am not an outgoing personality. Indeed I am shy until I get to know you, however this forced isolation is foreign. I like to embrace my friends and it is strange to nod instead. Now we enter a period of six weeks without any social contact save social media and the phone. It will be weird.
I keep typing away and I see trends where none previously existed. My drivel has attracted 600 different viewers. One out of every ten readers have decided to follow me. (Only you know why). You now inspire me to keep this going. I hope you do not stop. I have a request. If you like my words then pause and tell me why they interest you. Together we can expand our universe with simple asides. I would like to get to know you.
It was rare for anyone to call us by phone but when they did if they were from out of town it became a thing involving others. From their place they rang their local telephone exchange and asked to be connected to Camperdown 232. The telephonist replied, “Connecting to Camperdown”. Our local telephonist ( one of the many women employed in the job) would pull out a weighted cord, and connect it to a port housing our number. Our caller needed just three numbers – 232 – to enjoy the service of calling our home. It rarely rang – maybe – once a month.
Our family practise was to make eight calls a month. The first call was to the taxi. Each week Mum would book a taxi to take us all off to church. On Thursdays Mum would phone the grocers Moran and Cato. Before doing this she would have prepared a list of the necessities she needed. The list may have read something like this.
8 oz of tea,
1 Lb Plain Flour
1 Lb Self Raising Flour
8 Oz Sunshine Marie Biscuits
1/2 Lb Brockoffs Crisp biscuits
1 Lb Butter
1 Lb John Bull Oats
2 Oz Vegemite
8 Oz Sultannas
8 Oz Weetbix
1 packet Kraft Cheddar
1 packet Pattie Pans
1 bar of Solvol
1 Lb Sunwhite Rice
1 26 Oz. Bottle of Vinegar
1 bar of Velvet soap
(It really didn’t matter. The list was simple but when she rang she had specific things in mind. The grocer did not sell fruit and vegetables and if you wanted meat you needed the butcher, not the grocer).
List at the ready she walked to the hallway, where the phone lived – bolted to the wall. She reached up and took hold of the ear piece. She stood in front of the phone and twirled the magneto handle, listened, and spoke.
“Camperdown 75 please.” (A little wait and then she would recite her list. A few hours later the grocer came with a box of the goodies she ordered. (None of it appealed to a hungry young boy).
At the end of her call she replaced the ear piece on the carrier at the side of the wooden Oak box that was our telephone.
Most of the household communication was by letter but once a year Dad would contact a brother in Duns Scotland and they would share a minute or two talking. After that time the operator would interrupt the call and enquire , “Your time is nearly up. Do you want to extend the call for another minute?” Frequently thrift determined the call would cease. On the second, the operator would disconnect the lines and the call ceased.
The Post Master General ran the operations for the Federal Government. Homes were connected to the network of copper wires crisscrossing the country, wired to their insulators on poles, and stretched across the countryside five metres from the ground. If you didn’t like the PMG you had no alternative. An army of PMG workers spent the day fixing broken lines, telephones, and exchanges because all the emergency services depended on the system working.
(In writing this I am reminded how the telephone lines ran beside the railway line between towns and sidings. As a steam train passenger, in my experience, smoke from the engine would blow past the window, the train clickedly – clacked as each wheel ran over the joints in the line, and the telephone lines would fall and rise between each post in rhythmic movements. The whole effect was mesmerising.)
It was years before it was commonplace for homes to have desk telephones. For few homes were large enough to accommodate an extra telephone table and chair. In time phones became smaller, smarter, and they came in a variety of colours with a single hand piece – to listen to – and capture the speaker’s voice. The off site operator disappeared and the home owner was able to dial directly from the phone with a rotary dial connector to anywhere else.
When more people connected the number of lines multiplied each year. To save time – people kept a teledex of the numbers they most frequently used handy to save them searching through the phone book for them.
As a teenager I didn’t call my friends on the phone. We had been trained to consider the cost of a call. My sisters didn’t make calls either. I was in my fifties before I had a mobile phone. It was provided as a work tool and as the book – keeper monitored the usage it was limited to essential calls regarding appointments.
The ubiquitous use of phones is relatively new. One surprising thing is how quickly they become redundant. Last year Samsung took over from Apple as the most popular phone. Today I read China’s Huawei has eclipsed them. It seems only a few years since no one had anything but a Nokia.
The modern Miss or Mister could not imagine anyone using a fifty year old phone except as a stage prop in Arsenic and Old Lace like we did.
Certainly Alexander Graham Bell must be restless in his grave if he ever thinks of what he unleashed.
The poet wishes well to the divine genius of Purcell and praises him that, whereas other musicians have given utterance to the moods of man’s mind, he has, beyond that, uttered in notes the very make and species of man as created both in him and in all men generally.
Have, fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell, An age is now since passed, since parted; with the reversal Of the outward sentence low lays him, listed to a heresy, here. Not mood in him nor meaning, proud fire or sacred fear, Or love or pity or all that sweet notes not his might nursle: It is the forgèd feature finds me; it is the rehearsal Of own, of abrupt self there so thrusts on, so throngs the ear.
Let him Oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me! only I’ll Have an eye to the sakes of him, quaint moonmarks, to his pelted plumage under Wings: so some great stormfowl, whenever he has walked his while
The thunder-purple seabeach plumèd purple-of-thunder, If a wuthering of his palmy snow-pinions scatter a colossal smile Off him, but meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder.
The clown Peter Sellers bought Purcell to the attention of the masses that loved the Goon Show he also introduced them to Henry Purcell in the Trumpet Volunteer 1958. (You can find it on YouTube. Hopkins is a favourite poet. Yesterday it was the anniversary of Gerard Manley Hopkins birth. 1844 – 8/6/1888
Today it was also my mother’s birthday 29/07/1913 – 5/11/2017 Time seems to fly but some memories remain constant.
Campus frames soul growth Fine minds built by exercise Read, write, question why.
When I became a teacher Australia had a post war economic boom. Millions of displaced persons came to the country on assisted migrant programs. In turn that created a housing boom as new suburbs grew on land that once housed orchards, market gardens, vegetable plots, and small dairy herds. The new arrivals came with young families. School classes were at bursting point. Women who had occupied almost every job class in the country during the war were forced to give up their jobs to the returned soldiers. Within a few years the education department called many of the female teachers back to the classroom but they still had a need for more teachers, more schools, and more classrooms.
As a schoolboy I had no idea of the job I felt aspired, unlike some of my classmates. Most knew they would go back to their farms and work on the family business. Some choose to learn a trade and become a leading tradesman after their apprenticeship. Some became bank tellers. Jobs were plentiful, so many left school early and took the first job they were offered. Me? I was slow to even think about it. It wasn’t until I had been at secondary school I was forced to think of it. Elizabeth, my sister had chosen to teach. In my case I had no idea. In my last year I applied to become a Patrol Officer for the government in a remote territory area. (The role of the PO was to be the administrator and peace keeper in an otherwise uncontrolled area). Fortunately I realised I was unsuited to the work when I was asked what I knew about the remote areas of the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea. I had done no research about the work – it simply seemed romantic. I had no idea of the places I would be expected to govern. The rejection did not hurt. At that stage I applied for entry to teacher training.
Straight from school I entered a crammed learning program to become as one of the first group to commit to two years of training. (Many male teachers in the time before I started had only one year of preparation). Our day started at nine and finished at four pm. We had a break of 45 minutes for lunch, otherwise we went from lecture to lecture. After ten weeks we had a three week practical period in schools. Each evening we had to write up our two 45 minute lesson plans for delivery the next day to the class for our supervising teacher. Our year was broken into three dense terms like this.
Because teaching materials, like everything else in schools was scarce, we were expected to produce a pile of teaching aids to be used in the school of our first appointment in our spare time. It was a busy period for everyone. Periods of reflection and self development must have happened – yet it was unlike the education universities offered. We were better prepared than the school monitors of the nineteenth century – but not much. We had developed none of the higher learning skills required of students at university level. We had no experience in analysis. We were not expected to synthesise what we hand been taught. Our means of evaluation were limited, and we were not encouraged to create new ways of the teaching. Our testing was to examine whether we had mastered the lower levels of learning, to remember, to understand, and to apply our learning.
As it happened. I enjoyed teaching and as a registered education department teacher I need never have studied again. The exception being – in the wisdom of administrators, it was determined one had to do further study to improve ones pay grade. Some chose to accept that was good enough. It didn’t take long to realise spending money was no way to improve your financial situation, and you could not do that unless you were paid more. The department had post graduate honours course for first and second grade teachers. To progress you had to qualify at the lower level before attempting the next. The units of study were of a very pragmatic nature and slow to attain because only one or two subjects a year were encouraged. We were expected to read and comprehend a text book and then sit a three hour examination of our learning. It was a soul destroying way to learn. Fortunately it was possible to jump to the top level if you passed an undergraduate degree.
As luck would have it Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister within the first ten years of earning my Certificate of Education. One of the changes he introduced was to make University courses free to all eligible students. This was my relief from the drudgery of the Ist and 2nd Honours program.
I could enrol to study off campus. It meant I could study after hours and get a degree. So many did the University course it enabled it to set up tutor groups all over the country. This was my first experience of actually discussing what we were reading and develop the higher learning skills I really needed to be more effective.
We did have three hour exams but we also had lots of developmental assignment work and I found, for the first time joy in learning, and the confidence to aim for high distinctions rather than settle for a pass.
If I had gone straight to university I probably would not have done at all well but I was settling into the academic life in a way I could not imagine. I did a post graduate certificate and was almost finished a Masters course by units when I was hit with PTSD and turmoil. It took another thirty years to resolve this matter. The more I studied the more I came to realise I was heading down a narrowing lane of specialisation with less and less to do with the practicality of my work so I stopped. I guess I lost the plot.
Like me, in the past forty years universities have changed. Last year, and for many years before, more women have graduated than men. Many fewer had reached university than men when I closed my books. Getting to and staying at university is an economic burden the individual now carries forward for many years. To have so radically changed is a sign the country lost its way. The contribution an educated population makes to the country is huge. Why burden the smartest group of people with the discouragement of debt?
By adopting the Americanisation of education, where the user pays, has had other detrimental affects. Universities, decade on decade, have had to find more private money to survive. Not only do students compete with each other so do universities. The better funded they are the better sought after are their students. It is a dog-eat-dog race.
The pandemic has highlighted just how warped this thinking is. Our government has been generous to all businesses that have lost 25% – 50% of their turnover. It has paid allowances to these companies so they can give their staff $750 per week to keep them notionally employed as Job Keeper employees even though there is no work for them to do. Except they have not done the same for universities. There, up to 80% of the former employed staff are women on sessional payments. Without the same number of students (overseas students cannot return yet) they are without work and unpaid. We stand to lose some of our sharpest minds to stupidity. To spell it out. Why are so many academics on sessional contracts? (It is insecure work and therefore it is cheaper.)
To make bad matters worse I read our top ranked university programs are no longer seen as the best places for learning. Three recent examples of this have come to my attention in the last week alone.
Our government is going to charge students extra unless their undergraduates degree is a STEM course. (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics). They have given into the business model of learning where vocational training becomes more acceptable than the growth of the human mind through a history course, a course in literature, arts/law, art/commerce degree. It is pathetic to move back to the low levels of education like mine was before at teachers’ college. I say this after my study after retirement at Swinburne. I did a short course on Carbon Accounting. The unit work was not as taxing as any I could recall from my past experience.
James Lovelock recently celebrated his 101th birthday. He is a polymath. The man is a genius with a mind more able than people a fifth of his age. He says he was the first British academic to get work with NASA because he was a puzzle solver. He says he is an optimist and I cannot now remember his comment so I will leave you to study his achievements rather than misquote him. (Given my previous reference to William Golding, (Billy Bunter) you might be interested on his recollection of discussions he had with his neighbour, Golding, and how he accepted Gaia as a good name for his theory).
Secondly Daniel Kaufman of Missouri State University says in the podcast, Problems in Philosophy – Big Ideas.
The university of today is not a viable model. More and more technical more and more isolated
Designed to educate elites it has been turned into a system of mass education – it is too expensive to play that role because of unbridled capitalism. The University is turning itself into a white collar voctech. Staff need to move to more public intellectual work. The people who are holding us back are in the institutes that are best ranked but least progressive – meaning those with the better ranking are stifling change. We cannot globalise everything People need to work. Automation is going to make sure people will not have jobs.
It has been a deliberate attitude when writing these entries never to make it entirely autobiographical. Today I seem to have been more forthcoming but I will draw back from naming names and record we were involved with Equippe).
At one stage in the last 56 married years we, Jennie and I, became involved with a group of church lay leaders. The group involved many of the intelligentsia of Melbourne. When we were but undergraduates when we were noticed and invited to join it’s leadership even though we were “country cousins/bumpkins. Equippe included academics and other professional people, a smattering of Jesuit leaders, and an archbishop. So although no match intellectually with them, they became our peers, indeed – friends. It seems right not to name them because as a group they were older, wiser, and practised long after we had no faith in matters of belief.
At that stage Professor C and others among us had lifetime university appointments. What a funny state we have reached.
You do not easily adapt to change. It took years before you settled into Torquay. You hated the suburban life preferring the holiday feel of the coastal village down the road. It is surrounded by a national park, heathland , and the uninterrupted expanse of the Southern Ocean. It is a true – Gods Waiting Room. It is filled with old folk. Most of the people living there only need to know three telephone numbers; the doctor, the ambulance, and the undertaker. As for the rest they spend a few weeks each year escaping the madness of the city in their holiday house that sits alone in the scrub week – in – week out. It too hates change.
You know deep down it has changed in the twenty years of your retirement. The old fibro homes, ( the homes made of asbestos fibre sheets), have almost all been demolished. The sharp architecturally designed buildings replacing them have bought a cardre of youthful tradies, builders, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, glaziers, and concreters to town. It has all happened in a mere heartbeat since the town was cut out of the tea tree. Before then the former visitors left little evidence they too came and went for centuries.
They were the Wadawurrung. The first people of this country. If your roam along the cliff top walk above the ocean you will find evidence they found the land plentiful. The middens they left are the feasting spots of old. In these places hundreds of generations of people sat and celebrated the generosity of the sea. They ate their fill of shell fish and discarded the shells and formed mounds of shells where they ate. Their presence today is all we need to be reminded of them.
Concurrently in the twenty years of my retirement our civic leaders have recognised our indigenous past. Civic functions commonly commence with a Welcome to Country celebration. I have thought it tokenism until now because it is new. Twenty years is no time at all. Even things that happened fifty years ago are new to me. To accept new things I find hard, almost impossible immediately. And here is notice: I, me, you, do not embrace change – so spend a moment and accept sometimes others have good reasons to rebel when change is foisted on them.
Your lifetime is but a blip in universal time. Double the length of your life and the Wadawurrung lived on this land uninterrupted as they had for thousands of years. Your predecessors were granted leasehold or ownership of the land without consultation with any of the tribe. This tribe, the dozens across the state, and the hundreds of different tribal groups all over this land never gave sovereignty to the people who day by day, year on year, took ownership from them.
It is well documented at hundreds of sites across the country people were massacred. The wells they drank water from were poisoned. The man who killed the sheep, a timid beast unrecognised as a native animal and was easily slain, that man was hunted by the squatter and he and his family were shot. The warrior that stood his ground and threw a spear to defend himself was driven off a cliff. These things were often sanctioned by the state. A state that listed its native people as Flora and Fauna until 1967.
This happened despite these people generously enlisting as soldiers in foreign wars to fight for the country. Their reward was to be ignored when they returned from conflict. Despite this Australia has throughout the years acknowledged hundreds of our original inhabitants as great countrymen and women. If the person : boxed, ran, swam, or played football, we acknowledged them. We did/do the same for artists. We honoured former footballer and preacher Doug Nichols as a state governor. These stories we absorbed in the media and in lessons without question.
Our lessons never included an accurate history of the people. It has taken until the publication of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu for our first peoples to receive any sort of acknowledgement they lived quite sophisticated lives lightly in the environment. Our lessons spoke of simple tools and weapons. It never acknowledged the hundreds of aboriginal languages the people lost. It never told how they were massacred.
My reading of literature included Catherine Susannah Prichard’s book Coonadoo. It was written in 1929. The language Prichard used to describe the aborigines is dated, however she did message in her book a respect for indigenous customs and rites. The book carried themes including social justice but the book was very much written from the perspective of the white settlers of the country. One character Hughie did acknowledge his temper led him to behave as a white slaver, an attribute he detested. Another white writer was Xavier Herbert. I read his novel Capricornia at school. He wrote with a deal of empathy and understanding of the life of the downtrodden living in the north of Australia. My reading never really ever embraced the reality of native life which I admit I remain profoundly ignorant of to this day.
In my lifetime the last of these free people emerged from the desert. In the beat of a single heart beat we live or die – they chose to live among us. The people of the desert came to be displaced as all others had. Some were relocated in unnatural groupings in aboriginal reserves. Others clung to the edges of their homelands in broken mobs until the High Court of Australia awarded them native title to their homeland. The notion of Native Title still causes unease because all manner of people, motivated by self interest, want to mine, frack, or destroy the ancient heritage. They pervert its meaning, if the cause suits, to say our homes are at risk of being taken from us.
It is in thinking about the circuitous route of my understanding of aboriginal life I come to examine more thoroughly my thoughts about the Welcome to Country message now in common usage. At first I thought it was tokenism. It is not.
Just over 45 years ago people with hippie aspirations (University students) were celebrating life at the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin. (An Australian Woodstock type event). Activist Gary Foley challenged the organisers to get permission to hold the festival on their land. This was not called by it’s common name the. but it seems it was the first occasion a group of non indigenous people entered aboriginal land with permission. In the years since, more local council areas have come to acknowledge as they did, although aborigines no longer own the land the land, it was once was theirs.
When we recognise the prior ownership of our nation was once owned by many different indigenous mobs (as they commonly call themselves) a great injustice will be partly corrected. In 2017 after many years of debate their leaders produced the Uluru Statement From the Heart asking the government to acknowledge aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples were the original owners of the country. In one sentence former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed their request without debate.
Belatedly I have reached the decision the debate must be held. Just as it is a lot more than tokenism to accept the right of aboriginal people to expect we acknowledge them in a Welcome to Country speech. As a nation we have a terrible record in the manner our first people have been treated. It is time to acknowledge Black Lives Matter and theft of property did occur.
I welcome your comments for I know I make errors in my writing. You will help me write more accurately if you tell me where I have erred.
Billy Bunter was the child subject of a comic character of my childhood. Billy wore glasses. He was overweight. His character did not represent more than one child in our very large instructional class. Even if there was one child in our class which was overweight the child wearing glasses was in a different year level. Due to our limited vocabulary the overweight child was called “Fatty”. The one wearing glasses we named “Four Eyes.”
Nicknames were a popular way of labelling classmates. I was named after the cartoon bird “Woody Wood Pecker”, because it had a semblance to my surname and the my hair stuck out like a wood pecker’s crest because it was strong and unyielding. Variously the name was shortened to Woody or Pecker and I wore either of these names until I left school at 18. From that age the people calling me these names have just faded from my life.
Over the years it became improper to single people out and label them according to some attribute they showed the world. (At least politically incorrect language is now frowned upon in polite society.). In my experience children have always been cruel to one another at name calling.. They possibly are today, after all, left to self-management they possibly still resemble the characters in Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. (I remember “Piggy” as an adorable little chap who was given a hard time by his fellow travellers).
Piggy, Fatty, Four Eyes, Bluey and Spud are common cruel names. Spoken with malice they were supposed to hurt. I am sure they did/do. The child with resilience able to struggle past the hurt may at some later stage in life be embraced by his peers for some innate skill he possesses – while those who have injured him, now admire a hidden talent . Then the slur of the nickname is worn with pride, however the damage done by the many to the few always hurts.
As a young man I was slight and athletic no one would – even in jest- call me Fatty. Over time I became sturdy, round and today my BMI label says I am obese. I have become Fatty.
This fatty grew old and invisible. It happened sometime in my sixties. I began to notice I could walk around in mixed company and no one noticed I was there. When I had settled into my septuagenarian years I entered a water aerobics class in Torquay. (Water aerobics is a gentle exercise older women take up in an aquatics pool in my neighbourhood). So as not to draw attention to myself I went to the class with my wife and hid away in a corner of the pool at the back of the class. Initially I was very self-conscious and concerned the class members possibly disliked a male in their midst. Fortunately many of the women had accepted another Bruce before I even started, so being male was nothing more than being a novelty. In time Lloyd would occasionally join our group and together we beat the water into submission. (I wish.)
Seven years later I report my classmates accept we all attend the class for fitness. The name Water Aerobics is not a misnomer. I puff, pant, and gasp for air because it is a very energetic aerobic workout. Being in a warm pool it is as easy as you like, but at the same time water is as hard as cement to move when the speed of your movements increase. It induces fitness. At the end of class I feel worn out yet exhilarated.
The only times we have missed these sessions are holiday periods and our recent lockdown. In those off periods I balloon. When I return to the pool and concentrate on my core my shape is more manageable. As a result I miss not going. To return and face the hard work of pulling myself back from obese to look overweight requires stamina. Consequently have learned not to look at the clock when I miss a week. The 45 minute sessions seem to go on for hours if I dare peep.
It is so hard to return to fitness I look for a pool whenever we are away. During the first year or so of these lessons we were on the road and we stopped in Moree. It was a novelty to hop into the Artesian Swimming Baths. The water is in six large pools. The temperature varies in each one – from 40 degrees down to air temperature. It is common to see lots of old Victorians up there in the water. The advice is not to linger in the hottest pool for more than 15 minutes, yet the hardened old travellers seem to be happy to sit motionless in the water like buffaloes for hours. When I jumped in I used some of the aerobic moves to strengthen my core – the wizened regulars were aghast someone dared move the water for 15 minutes. Mind – it was very challenging to go from that temperature to the water of a regular out door pool.
Our body shape seems more related to genes than it does to diet, (excluding the influence of hidden sugar). People of all races seem damned when a likeness for sugar ruins their regular diets. Friend Lyn says it depends on calories in verses energy output. She is right of course nevertheless my inclination is to go with my first statement. I only seem to fight obesity whenever my weight increases by a kilogram or so otherwise I lay down the gloves and that is my prejudice.
Overweight kids are so common in this decade being the class “Fatty” is no longer rare. I pine for those wishing to change their lot and recommend Water Aerobics for the day when they want to change their future. At least they will build up their core muscle strength.
The Bill Ryan I knew was a dairy farmer. His dairy was on a hill. The paddocks his cows fed upon were all on lower ground than where he milked them. As king of all he surveyed you could expect him to be the ruler of his mob. (He was married to Helen (Ella) and he was Jennie’s uncle.)
It is not unkind to record he did not rule over this land. Instead he was one with it. He accepted the challenges it gave him. A major challenge was the way the ground he bought to farm shrank under his ownership.
Logically it makes no sense. How did his land shrink? The reality was the perversity of the weather. Throughout the 1950s it rained. Rainy months were followed by more rain. In that rain Bill trained his dog to fetch the cows feeding on the abundant grass growing on the productive grassy banks of his property. It was no mistake when he called his land Lovely Banks. The ground was Lovely.
By the time I got to know Bill he had reared his family on that land. The rain that fell in the wet years filled the lake. Lake Corangamite flowed over the flat area at western foot of his land. By the time of my first visit, the lake surface was punctuated by fence posts that once defined the border of his property.
Bill may may have felt aggrieved by the loss of land yet he retained a stoic attitude to the hand he was dealt and he farmed the remaining ground as best he could. His farming, like many agriculturalists of the time, followed a simple routine dictated by the seasons. The busy fertile spring determined the size of the summer harvest. The dry days of autumn were punctuated by the returning wet days of winter.
Twice a day, Bill tended his herd of cows in a life lived without fuss. He made one concession to a macho image. He always had a hand rolled cigarette hanging from his lower lip. As he talked the smoke flipped up a down in fascinating rhythm to his utterances. That fag was a fixture. At some stage of the day the exposed end had been burnt – however all these years later – I don’t think he ever smoked that thing because I never saw it alight.
I remember Bill at this time in my life because he was a born philosopher, and I turn to philosophy to wrest reason where none exists. Like the rest of the family he was a Catholic from birth and a man disinclined to sin in any way the church enumerated, yet I have to say philosophy determined his attitude to life. I have written he was stoic. (The Ancient Greek Stoics accepted the hand they were dealt with – with resilience. They were confident and calm.) Bill never said things that were better left unsaid because kindness was also a feature of stoical lives. Of course his training in the field of philosophy was never formal – it came from the simple way he lived.
Another natural philosophy Bill lived sprang from a saying he frequently voiced. He had a habit of saying, “The faster I go, the behind-er I get.” I could have learned sooner in life many things if I had thought more on this saying. To live life purposely you don’t have to be ambitious. You don’t have to please everyone. You don’t have to do too much. I have found when you study “isms” , and look at the work of philosophers, none gives an infallible road map of how to live your life. Just find something you must do and do it as well as you can.
Better to be like Bill – keep busy but not so busy as to lose a way to make your life meaningful. And ponder on my experience. It seems true enough. When you wondered aimlessly about the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and stood beside the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, was it serendipity alone it took to remind you of existentialism?