Painting by Christine Dobson 2008 Reflexions No 3
Known to us as Looking into retirement
Only a fool would write around the subject Shakespeare succinctly summarised centuries ago. As the fool you are you now tiptoe in the footprints left in fields of giants unaware how silly you are.
Stage 1 Infancy
I first became aware I was to share my childhood with a new child in Camperdown. (Janice was still being nursed when we moved there.) She didn’t interfere with my life at all. I demanded the things I felt entitled to and yet the small creature in mum and dads bedroom seemed to absorb more attention than the other girls. From that time I grew up without any real involvement with infants.
I realised the miracle of birth when Elizabeth introduced me to Helen. Clearly she was not the first baby I had met, but it took the moment I became an uncle for me to register how extraordinary new life is. It is so helplessly dependant on the care only a mother is capable of personifying. The tiny limbs so small they comfortably rest in the palm of a hand no bigger than the adult fingers holding them. It is no wonder people of all ages like to meet a new born.
The first months are all absorbing. “The child needs feeding.” Shoosh “The baby is sleeping.” “ It’s crying because it needs changing.” “It’s crying because it is teething.” “I didn’t get any sleep last night because the baby kept me awake all night.” “ It’s time for a bath.” “It’s time for a nap.” “ I have to take the child for this, or that, to the Dr.” “Will you hold him/her I want to …”
The baby has to grow and the parents fuss over every gain. “She gained four ounces/grams.” He is now 25 inches, 650 centimetres. (Old weights and measures are as commonplace in my speech as were pounds and shillings from the mouth of my grandmother.)
It seems impossible how quickly the babies you seldom see grow. Whereas your own off spring seem to take forever to develop, until your routine with them is broken and you tell yourself they have had a growth spurt in your absence.
The movement, the crawling, the tentative standing, all culminate in the magical first steps the child in your life makes. The baby talk gives way to the first words da da and mum ma. Soon you are astonished the child answers you back. And the first stage of life gathers its own momentum and infancy comes to an end.
One of the glories of living a long life is the opportunity to discover for yourself the rhythm of life.
Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Stage 2. The schoolboy
My own boyhood was not unlike the boyhood Shakespeare recorded. I reluctantly went to school because I felt I never really fitted in. Scholarship was not natural to me. Naivety meant I was frequently too slow to pick up what the other children were speaking about. New to my school in Camperdown I was asked what football team I supported.
(It had never crossed my mind I should choose a team and I was unprepared for the question but I gave an answer without being aware every choice has a consequence. Fortunately I remembered John Coleman had kicked a swag of goals for Essendon the previous weekend.)
I answered, Essendon. I chose the wrong side. Almost every other kid supported Geelong because the current team had three former Camperdown players among its greats.
Dismissed from the in crowd I did find a few other lost souls and we played together in our time at school. Occasionally one would have permission to come home with me to play after school. On one occasion I almost blinded him playing cowboys and Indians, I had made a bow and arrow and shot an arrow at him hitting him on the face.
I enjoyed climbing trees. One of the tallest trees in our backyard was a cypress tree and I discovered I could easily climb to the top of it. One day my friend and I both climbed the tree. My friend was not so good at climbing and when we got near the top we climbed out on a branch. The branch gave way and we both fell to the ground. Miraculously neither of us was hurt because as we fell we landed on the branch below one after another. When it felt our weigh it drooped to the branch below and we sort of cascaded down to outer edges of the broad tree. I remember being relieved and shaken.
The remainder of my boyhood was spent at routine activities I have written of previously.
What a piece of work is man.
Stage 3. The teenager
My teenage years were spent like many other boys. Observing as an adult I have noticed the kids next door start bringing home their friends. The young boys are content to play cricket our football with lots of vigour. They might scruff each other about wrestling with one another. Generally testing their strength playing in much the same ways as half grown animals do. It looks aggressive. It probably is but the aggression is not meant to hurt. It is a test of courage and strength.
At least when I wrestled other boys it was. It was a test to see whether you could unbalance your opponent, bring him to the ground, and lock him in a Greco Roman hold. I did that to a boy from Derrinallum at school one lunchtime. The next day he said,”Don’t tell anyone but I broke a rib wrestling with you yesterday.”
Next the boys will gather at a street corner sitting on their bicycle seats talking, until they have decided what they plan to do as a group. Today’s young teenagers are becoming more independent than they once were, but you still find young boys being led along by their peers. All dreaming they will someday have a car , or a motor bike, and appear attractive enough to to attract the person of their dreams.
The angst of youth I thought was mine alone is seen in all generations. The pairs and partnering is much more commonly obvious than it once was. However I am sure the same uncertainties still occur. With texting and social media the uncertainty of youth often overwhelms the youth of today to a point where mental health suffers and harm is heaped upon the damaged young souls.
Sixty years ago. Young people were given the responsibility of adults. This was not done out of malice – it happened because there was work to be done and the able handed youth was often given responsibility beyond their years. The country needed workers to grow. Children of fourteen left school to begin trade apprenticeships. Children of fifteen became police in training working with experienced officers by their sides. At sixteen they became cadet journalists, bookkeepers and tellers in banks. By seventeen they were studying at university. At eighteen if they hadn’t done anything at all most males commenced national service in the military.
The growing up occurred at workplaces. At community dances it happened. In social clubs it caught them. The socialising continued in sporting clubs. Semi privacy was found in cars while watching movies at a drive-in theatre.. By the time adolescents were given the key to the door at twenty-one they had had many years of semi mature living. Their pre maturity years were spent in respectable denial that while they may not have been old enough to vote, or to drink, they were old enough to die for king and country.
In time we cut the cords that bound us to our homes, and set out on our un-lived lives as young adults.
Father and son.
Stage 4. Youth
Shakespeare paints the young adult as a soldier. Because of conscription that was the sorry lot for too many of the lads born on the wrong date a few years after me. People like Gunner Ian Scott who lived across the road from my retired parents. The boy was in the same school year as my sister Margaret until he left school. The government bought his body home – and as a show of his gallantry, his body was carried down the Main Street of Camperdown by a marching body, to muted drum beats on an open gun carriage. It brought home to our community the senselessness that of one of our number was sent across the world to a war in Vietnam to appease America.
His death moved me to voluntarily join the Citizens Military Forces (CMF). (My father often said the army would be the making of me.) I joined the 10 Medium Regiment as a gunner. The army considered my education appropriate and allowed me to train as an officer. So I escaped much of the drudgery a trainee lived attending lectures in Melbourne. I was much older than the cohort who served part time. Many of the group I trained with were conscripted, but they were able to escape direct duty because they were employed in essential services. It took just one annual camp in Puckapunyal for me to realise artillery was not my thing. However I remained a “weekend warrior “ longer than was good for me, and after a couple of years I ceased voluntary service frustrated it was a waste to stay.
A decade after we married we moved into our own home thanks to the Number 4 Teachers Housing Cooperative. The cooperative halved the housing interest rate to 4% and this enabled us to build our first home. (It is no wonder I love the ideals of the socialist founder of the co operative movement Robert Owen.) Most of our contemporaries had financed their first home years before us but this home, in Elliminyt, I designed it to house all five of us. It fitted us well with its panoramic views over Colac. . Driven by a desire to escape the man within – within a year and a half we rented it to a colleague and headed to Scotland for eighteen months. We only used it for another twelve months on our return.
Living in a growth area, as we now do, I am reminded of the incredibly busy lives we led by observing the lives of the newer arrivals to our township. Without knowing who they are or what they do it appears many of our new neighbours commute to other destinations each day to work. When I see new mothers running about with their babies in strollers I am reminded of the busyness required to get kids to school, attend to the matters of work, to race home to feed, bathe, and settle the family in time to repeat those actions again in the morning.
It was a very good year.
Stage 5. Middle Age
The book Wareham’s Way by John Wareham is about escaping the Judas trap. This simple book discusses how it is an illusion to think we can escape the modelling we received from our parents. His book tells how many well known Australians fell into the pattern of life set for them in childhood. This book takes Freud and behaviourism to weave a story from the behaviour of destiny set in the crib through to the inevitable conclusion of the lived life. The former headhunter encourages us to examine our self belief and says we are only free when we break the nexus of burden we carry.
The book came to me long after I had accepted I had used my forties to examine the reasons why I existed. The early mid adulthood was spent chasing career, more qualifications, while all the time seeking the recognition I thought I was due. I am sure I broke the expectation Wareham wrote about without knowledge of it. As our children grew I became more restless and unprepared to acknowledge the deep seated things that disturbed my ego. My midlife crisis was a little late in arriving but quite traumatic to all around me. Fortunately our children, they now they have reached there middle years themselves, and they show none of the uncertainty Wareham predicted..
Stage 6. Old age.
In the years leading to old age our lives became more settled. One by one our children flew the nest and we became Darby and Joan. We both worked hard to reestablish what we lost materially in the decade before. Our work day began with a trip from the suburbs to the central business district of Melbourne. Before we set foot in our offices we paused to drink coffee and give some time to each other. Work was not without stress but the pressure valve was released in this morning ritual.
Our only plan was to ensure we owned our own home before we retired. Despite interest rate hikes our salaries rose and enabled us to reach that goal. Yet despite our lives being comfortable – I changed jobs – and was bullied relentlessly but an insecure national manager who unsettled me with demands he micro control my office from Brisbane. Eventually my health suffered and I became paralysed by post traumatic stress disorder. At the age of fifty-nine I was made redundant.
In the next couple of years I was lucky to receive the psychological help I needed to settle my mind. This was especially helped by the a Royal Commission into childhood sexual abuse.
Meanwhile my tireless life partner took her wifely duty to the extreme and worked until she reached seventy.
By that stage we had spent thirteen years by the seaside. We were part of the local scene. We had become involved in many community groups. Our week was busy doing things. It was interspersed with walks along the seashore. Walking in the water and running to escape the rogue waves that liked to lick our clothing when our back was turned. We were entering the time when hours turn into days, yet we were not ready. So we did the next best thing and commenced a period of seeing the world.
We have floated down the Danube and listened to orchestras in abbeys and churches. We have spent weeks in Paris. Days have been lost wandering around Italy. Some further weeks disappeared exploring the outer reaches of Scotland. We have cruised to many beautiful cities in the Mediterranean and The Middle East. Our life has been expanded by the generosity of our children, their partners and our delightful grandchildren as we crisscrossed the globe.
Dance me to the end of Love.
Stage 7. Extreme Old Age
We are on the cusp of extreme old age – still learning how to live. Uncertain of what may come next, but buoyed by the full lives our mothers lived until their end days. Neither considered herself old long past the lives of her contemporaries. Neither were they bowed to the despair and ruin by the portrait Shakespeare painted.
Using the example our mothers set when it happens we will sing this song while we busily begin another project.
Silver threads among the gold.
These lines (if discovered) enable us to we march off to a remembered life to the tune that became our signature.
(Shakespeare summed all this up in 23 lines)
Thanks for reading. Please make your comments and help me improve my writing.