Some good news. For five days in September, Write Around the Murray (WAM) brings people together in Albury Wodonga for a festival of storytelling unlike anywhere else. They also run a short story competition. My story ‘The Consultant’ was shortlisted. Happy.
Her breath sneaks out of the top of the mask and fogs up her reading glasses. She moulds the metal strip a little tighter over the bridge of her nose. The pubs are closed again. No income. Still casual after all these years. Another extension of lockdown is expected to be announced at 11am.
I’ll have to get online and apply for a payment.
At the shopping centre a man and his son are standing outside the pharmacy. Waiting? The father wears a football jersey and a long thin plait of hair runs down his back. He is mock fighting with his son. The boy jumps in trying to score a tap on his dad, then jumps back to avoid being slapped. The boy is not wearing a mask, neither is the father. Where is security?
Today, it is only ‘him’ she sees defying the health orders. Lockdowns are no longer novel. Compliance is up. Though, there are some who let their masks slip down below the nose. Mouth breathers?
Shopping is essential. Yoga isn’t. She is missing yoga.
Yesterday, she laid out the mat at home and set up the old CD player. Sissy, her nine-year-old daughter, looked at the strange machine. ‘This is how we used to play music,’ she explained without having to be asked. ‘Look. Here.’ She pulled a disc out from the zip-up denim covered pouch. ‘This is your CD, The Wiggles. Remember?’
‘I remember the Wiggles. I don’t remember CDs though. I thought music used to be played on record players, like the one Cherry has.’
The conversation went on, and on. She was sitting in Dandasana, Sissy firing questions.
CD stands for compact disc. Before CDs there were cassette tapes. C60 stands for a blank cassette tape that has sixty minutes of recording space on which one could make a mixed tape of your favourite songs from your record collection. There were C90s as well. Yes, a mixed tape is like a playlist on Spotify. Records are made of vinyl. LP stands for long playing record, EP, extended play. Singles were called 45s. RPM stands for revolutions per minute. Records came in seventy-eight, forty-five and thirty-three-and-a-third RPM.
She had no idea what MP3 stands for, but somehow could recall that HMV stood for His Masters Voice and the logo had a dog and a gramophone. When Sissy asked what year gramophones were invented, she sent her off to do her own research.
She pressed play. The CD started with the ring of a Tingsha bell. ‘Starting by sitting,’ said the calm voice of the yoga teacher. Then the CD stuck. Looping, grating. She hit stop. By this stage her hamstrings had had a good stretch so she got up and wrote, ‘A Short History of Recorded Music’ on Sissy’s Year 5 HBL register.
HBL stands for home based learning.
That was yesterday. Tomorrow, Centrelink.
Today, she walks past the man without a mask and pushes her trolley into Aldi.
A decade is a decent whack of time. Was the term narcissist being bandied around ten years ago? It certainly is nowadays. Every second person, and their fancy hybrid dog, seems to tick all the boxes to qualify for a clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
And is it any wonder why?
The modern world is dominated by laissez-faire capitalism, and the human race is getting bigger and more competitive. An equal share of the pie is rapidly shrinking by a simple law of mathematics.
To get ahead, to get a larger slice, one must run harder and faster with utmost confidence and the ability to lie and obfuscate and step on others to jostle one’s self into a position of above average comfort. No self respecting member of the modern world would be content with average, so the story goes.
It’s all about me. It’s peak individualism. Me, me, me…
Thus the preponderance of the narcissist. And of every second person who is not a narcissist, most of them are classic enablers. They chide those few of us still left who possess a more collective vision of the how the world could be, as envious perpetrators of tall poppy syndrome.
Once, the most powerful person in the world was a narcissist. And some of his most hard-core supporters were the poor and downtrodden. His ability and audacity to bold face lie was somehow ignored or excused by millions of voters. Meanwhile, there was a consensus amongst astute observers that the number one leader of the so-called free world was not only a narcissist, but a malignant one. A malignancy verging on psychopathy.
He is gone now, or is he? Is he in the wings – waiting, plotting, conspiring with his enablers to return with vengeance? Or has his toxic influence polluted the zeitgeist sufficiently that the era of unfettered individualism is destined to burn for another decade or two?
In the west, individualism is somehow equated with freedom and democracy. Western commentators like to point out how the rest of the world, the nations where perhaps a more collective world view is valued and legislated, is a world of human rights abuses and deprivation of freedom run by evil dictators. This grandiose propaganda is ubiquitous in western media. And the fear it instils in the ordinary punter has us voting in right wing governments time and time again, despite the immense weight of evidence showing the greed and corruption that pervades the so called born-to-rule class of society.
In Australia, the popularised notion of ‘having a go’ has led to, among other injustices, a severe housing affordability issue. The insane current boom in real estate prices is dividing us further into a society of haves and have-nots. In the race to get ahead, the basic human need for shelter has become a pawn in the cruel game of private wealth creation. It seems that the initial hopes that the pandemic might cause a reset from rampant individualism to a more compassionate collectivism have vanished.
Will a bursting of the property bubble succeed where the pandemic failed? Will it be soon, or perhaps in a decade?
I’m in the middle of a bureaucratic goose chase with a government department. It’s hair pulling out stuff. I have supplied said department with the exact same information through five different channels and still, somehow, the situation has not been resolved to the bureaucracy’s satisfaction. It’s a hungry machine, devoid of empathy. It’s a Tower of Babel!
I’m not surprised that people vote for politicians who tout less regulation and smaller governments – private enterprise and the free market are the solution for a smoother ride – NOT!
I say this because I also find myself on an insane merry-go-round ride with my telecommunications/energy provider. Ironically, a government website helped me to find this particular provider! We’ve all heard how you have to shop around to get the best deal.
Saying that, have you shopped around to find a better bank deal? I mean you’d have to be a fool to be paying the fees you are currently paying. Get on the phone and barter with your bank. And if they don’t come to the party, just change your bank. Easy peasy, get online, get on the phone and change everything.
Currently, I’m trying to get out of my community bank, yes one that’s not even for profit. I have one share and two accounts with this credit union. Their online banking service often goes down. Once, I had to download a whole new web browser to access my accounts. My regular browser was no longer compatible! And now, as I try to escape, I have to contact all these government departments and private enterprises, including my telecommunications/energy provider who has a ‘bundle’ of my services, and also my numerous employers [if you can call the businesses who hand out gigs through apps on mobiles, employers], including one which doesn’t respond to emails and doesn’t even have a phone number. Yeah, change your bank, it’s easy – NOT!
The other day on the phone after listening to menu after menu of options that didn’t fit my situation, I finally pressed # and spoke to an operator. Feeling like I had made some serious progress, I felt I had no choice but to accept their request, “Can you please hold?” Then, while listening to an endless thirty second loop of infuriating muzak, I realised that the navigation of hostile worlds requires a team of experts. I emailed NASA and asked, “Now that you have successfully landed Perseverance on Mars, do you have some spare time to assist me with some wicked problems I have encountered here on Earth?”
Somehow we both knew it as Calacoci’s milk bar. It’s a Starbucks now, typical. Nothing stays the same – probably just as well.
Three o’clock for a coffee and if it works out maybe a drink and … dinner? The drink and dinner part wasn’t talked about between us, but it’s sort of implied. At least I think it is – standard internet dating protocols. Coffee for starters in a very public place, then, take it from there.
Seven miles from the city, a thousand miles from care. Get off at the wharf and if you’re lucky, Dad, especially if he and Mum are treating themselves to a Javana Sling, will shout us kids a milk shake at Burt’s. Cold as, in those tall aluminium cups. I remember feeling all grown up when I had grown tall enough to be able to peer over the ruby red laminex counter top and see into the stainless steel milk tub. Always a mystery before that. Where are they dipping those ladles to get the icy cold milk from? I would wonder, but never ask. Might get a clip over the ear if you were too curious, asking too many questions.
It’s raining. I closed the van door and took my beach towel off the line. People will be coming later but if the ABC weather guy is right, all will be well.
We used to talk about the weather, now it’s about climate.
We used to talk about holidays, now we talk about a virus.
We used to wonder about what we could do for the world, now we wonder what the world will do to us.
Christmas is still a time of giving, or is it?
I’ll walk down to the service station later and get some ice for the esky. Remember when nothing, except hotel dining rooms for bona fide travellers, was open on Christmas Day? Remember bona fide travellers?
I have family and friends in the upper Northern beaches lockdown zone. They won’t be coming to my place as planned. We are planning now for a January Christmas, that is if Linda can get back from Queensland after Jetstar cancelled all flights from Dec 26 to Jan 8. The Avalon cluster has crossed the border from NSW into Qld, so who knows what might happen?
We used to plan for the future. Now we take it as it comes. We never stop learning, hopefully.
Some of us have had an absolutely terrible 2020. Some of us have barely noticed a difference. The notion we are all in this together has been proven to be a bona fide lie.
The spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving, is the spirit of humanity. It doesn’t matter what day of the year, it matters every day.
It’s a Christian thing. Morphed and assimilated, personalised and commercialised. Seasonally appreciated, proportional to your latitude north or south. Food, a focus. Family, a necessity. Gifts, optional. Giving, the whole point.
And as we near the end of a year which has marked us all in one way and a thousand, good and bad, predictable and crazily unbelievable, we dream of what can be in 2021. Lest we forget.
Politician: Well let me say this, X is an important issue and I think there needs to be debate about it.
Journo: But what are your thoughts, are you for X or against it?
Polly: It is a complex issue and we take this matter seriously, and that is why I encourage the whole of the nation to engage and to participate in the dialogue.
Journo: How about starting the dialogue now and stating your beliefs on this matter.
Polly: OK, well we here in government…
Journo: Hang on, the government has been kicking X down the road for the last seven years, what is your position on the matter?
Polly: My position is the government’s position.
Journo: But your government doesn’t have a position.
Polly: Yes we do, we are actively engaged in our communities and having that dialogue.
Journo: But that’s not a position.
Polly: Well in a democracy all voices need to be heard.
Journo: But the public opinion on this matter has been known for years, an overwhelming majority of the population support X.
Polly: Our party has a long tradition of not reacting to the whims of whatever is popular as drummed up by the spurious polls conducted by the media for mere sensationalism. We have principles, we are not a populist party.
Journo: In terms of principles, where do you stand on the matter of X?
Polly: Look, in principle we support the concept of X, but the cost of X to taxpayers is something that needs to be taken into account in any dialogue on this matter.
Journo: So principles are overridden by economics.
Polly: I didn’t say that.
Journo: Didn’t you? What did you say then?
Polly: Look, I have answered your questions and there are others here…, next?