1) TOWARD INNESFREE! (The Warp and Weave of Wonder)
Even the most carefully laid plans contain moments of magic. They appear in the interstices of the very weave of our tapestries, such that the light reveals sight and meaning afresh, each time we revisit our intentions. Such is the sense of excitement despite their disposition as we five knights each prepare, from our different vantages, to journey to the side of Sir Simon. Disease interjects. Death overtakes. It rears as unexpectedly into the warp and weave of our ordinary meanderings as to take us by surprise, and yet we each know it is an indicator of the end for each, as indeed for all.
With the sad news of Sir Simon's imminent demise there began a mustering of the possibilities of attending his side. We were knights on quests of our own. We each are so involved in the daily grind of ordinary expectations that magic itself, sometimes, has to be of our own making. So it is with the warp and weave of anyone's tapestry. Without a sense of wonder coming from within there may soon seem no wonder to be found without. The moments pass us each by, and if years be the pictures by which we might recognize our passage of progress, and months be the paragraphs by which we might describe their progress, and weeks be the sentences by which we might build the images, then days become the very use and choice of colors that go eventually to thread the whole of one's life together. Magic, wonder, surprise, and even amazement attends the moments in-between. Hours and minutes are indeed of our own makings.
The Kingdom of Oz lies far off across vast oceans. Even those great and goodly knights, Sir Anthony, Sir Mike, and Sir Rob, who live within its very boundaries are put upon to re-organize their schedules, rearrange their plans, and make ready their hospitality for the arrival of Sir Justin and me, Sir Who. Five days, five knights. Five men who are friends and brothers all to Sir Simon, who awaits our company. We shall arise and go now, soon, soon enough, and go to Innesfree, where sadly Sir Simon, like a poem, awaits the presence of men such as thee and me, momentary though it must be. It is a place in the Black Mountains. It is a place to be placed in memory. To be set free.
It is not that the journey be secretive, nor concealed, nor clandestine that so dictates this somewhat esoteric missive, but that its sense of specialness be preserved. There are so very many contingencies attendant upon the journey that the complexity would become overwhelming were the numbers to increase. We men have known each other since boys. Well, if not known, then known about each other. We are all of the same age. We were all schooled together. We deeply identify with the culture and the history and the colloquialisms of a common country. Hamba Gashle is an understood wish. We go carefully with each other as we grow old, for we are alive to the sensibilities of what it is to have friends who reach back into our childhoods and see us for the men we've become, not so much despite the battles we've overcome, but because of them. We have nothing or little left to prove, except a commitment to our connection to each other, and with that a giving of ongoing care. It takes effort. It takes action. It takes constant communication. And it takes love. Or whatever else one may decide to call this feeling. Soon. Soon we each shall arise and go now, and go to Innesfree. 'Tis a story for thee.
2) PORTRAIT OF A PAINTER
Seeing things clearly is not what an artist really does. He is not a camera. Rather, it is the adventure of yoking variables together that marks him apart, makes him unique, for each brush stroke, like others' fingerprints, becomes a rendition solely manufactured by him. Ugly word that, manufactured. It has the sound of repetition and multiplicity and even precision to it, all of which is necessary if one is making, say, a specific spark plug, but if one is making a painting? Oosh! Trouble is, some things in a painting just have to be right. A person to recognize, for instance. And even though right, or seemed right at the time, especially after having spent most of the day painting at such a face, the next day's light bring renewed insight, and so one goes at it all over again. As such, faces have been scrubbed out and redone, twice, thrice, if not five or even six times. Right?
But life does not give a real person such chances. Real persons live from moment to moment and very seldom can one not throw the stone, once it has been cast, or retrieve the words, once they have been said, or undo that which has been done, once it has... Well, you get the picture. Only artists can do that. They wipe out the rock or place back an old owl, or do not bother to put in the tree, or like Deus ex Machina, redo a face over and over. And should no one have seen the first face, let alone the second or third, or fourth or... Well, should no one have seen them then the thing that was done is gone into the ether forever. No one knows. Well, unless you write about it. But even then the wrong face does not no never ever get seen. Unlike deeds. Or bad grammar. No. Never ever. Unlike what it is for real people.
Commissions are like that. Real expectations. If you ask me to paint the waterfront and I leave out this or that building, or do not put in the flag, you may very well ask me to redo the picture more better. People tend to like what they see, want what they saw, and wish for what they want. But artists tend to recreate. Once my own choice of the cafe or waterfront is done, independent of anyone else's approbations, I display it and you like it, or not, and you buy it, or not, but the thing is done. My work. My passion. Time spent in the exploration of a subject until I feel finally done. But no, not so for a commission.
The details of a commission can be very challenging. I am no photographer. I depict. I render. I give unto the Commissioner in gratitude; it provides! And when done I might be lauded for my interpretation, humored for my labors, or even perhaps ridiculed for my effrontery. The hours and time spent is up to me. The amount of times I redo and redo a given face, a robe, a frozen gesture, is up to me. And no one sees the progress (unless you happen to be my partner who leans toward the work and astutely, considerately, but firmly lets me know that it is not yet quite right.) How fortunate for me that I have such a second pair of eyes! Imagine if I accepted my own vision only, and gave up for wont of energy, or for want of surcease. Imagine if trusting only my own sight. Who'd take flight?
We are all like that, real people and artists. We have the fortune of being around others to help us see ourselves, redirect our progress, comment on our product, edit our missives, and promulgate our success. We each are really artists in our own way, the painter and the real person, creating of life a canvas that is left behind in the minds of others, visually or otherwise. And when finally done, do we not then in turn go do more?
3) MORNING OF THE NIGHT BEFORE
Preparations are like that. A teenager spends all sorts of time getting himself ready. He might even iron out his wrinkles. But does he leave his room, his domain, his real life in any better shape before he goes? We prepare ourselves for what is out there, believing its newness will bring us yet more, but once there, experience tends to reveal, we take ourselves with us. Problem for the teenager though, with his sudden put-on-courtliness, is that he has to come back. To be himself. And the chores of real life, the expectations of the day to day, become the average of his life's progress. Not just the date. But there is certainly an excitement in the air, one must admit, the morning of the night before.
Journeys can take on a significance altogether invigorating. Seems trite to say, but 'tis so! The days away for the leaver are different from the succession of ordinary days for the one who stays. Time away is rich with new images, experiences, sensations, and the quest for making the most of time is alive with possibility. Staying at home is not at all like that. Consciously. The view from the window will be tomorrow and tomorrow, so why make any more of the petty pace from day to day? But when away? Why, there is always something new to see! Some new place to be. Some new older face to face.
Being natural wherever one is, is a state of grace. Wedding photos, graduation photos, photos of poses when the camera and you are aware of each other are pictures of happiness and beauty. But when caught by the camera in that moment of being all to oneself, when the face is not prepared, the wind blows the wrong way, the reality of life is not layered with drinks and fine food and swell company, there is the repose of the day to day etched into the droop of reality. We are human beings caught up in everything. As such, the big camera in the sky does not lie; it sees all. That gorgeous teenager, boy or girl, can look altogether different asleep, aged, with years yet to go by.
We take ourselves with us. Pain does not surcease at the movies. We merely are able to pit present reality against the projection on the screen, and should the screen portray life bigger than it is, involve us beyond the natural narcissism of our own interests, we get transported into another world sufficiently to forget for awhile the slings and arrows of our own outrageous fortune. Such is catharsis. Holidays, dates, new horizons, they lift us out of the stupor of the self in the daily bind, give flight to fancy, and provide scope for breathing air elsewhere. Not here. Over there.
Here, on the morning of the night before, I do what I can to prepare. The check list is helpful. The timing of some things needs to be precise. Without a visa and a passport and a confirmation number one might as well stay home. And then too, there are all the things back here that need doing during my sojourn, before I return. Life has a way of involving us in details. Bills want paying. Datelines need meeting. Deadlines is another matter. One posts two letters with one stamp, rather than kills two birds with one stone.
This morning of the night before I watch time tick toward the journey of a fulcrum between now, and later. And even when there, or when back, that 'now' is all one has.
Anticipation. Children have that. They have excitement that boils. I remember it well. It is that quality of wishing away time so that one can be in Disneyland, so that Christmas day will come, so that the birthday would be today. It is an overwhelming quality, for it tends to sublimate the events of ordinary days into being overlooked, dismissed, even disregarded. If only to be in the Kingdom of Oz now! See Dorothy! Go Find the Lyon.
As I sit here in Canada's Victoria on this truly gorgeous morning, with the sunlight bright and cheerful after the grey of the past few days, and hear the birds singing and the gulls occasionally squeal, and look out over the long trestle of Purgatory Bridge spanning the Victoria Gorge, I await the passage of time with a certain gratitude for the moments it affords me. There is life in the far off swish and thrum of traffic. There is life in the caw of the crow. There is life in the balancing by of the bicycles, of the paddle-past of the kayaker on the mirrored surface of the full tide, life in the early morning walkers perhaps on their peripatetic way to work down below my window along the famous galloping goose trail, and life in my breathing, moment for moment.
How much longer will it be so for my friend?
We take life for granted. So it is. It should be so. We are born into life with a right to be here, no less than the trees and the stars. Appreciation for the ordinary, the mundane, the daily grind, though, is another thing. Disneyland and presents and special occasions spoil us for that. We love to travel, to go, to see, to examine, to explore, to be almost anywhere but here once we've spent overlong anywhere. Even the holiday-maker looks forward, eventually, to coming home. Home is where the heart is. Restless creatures, aren't we?
My dear friend lies in Oz, a magic kingdom far away, but it will not save him. Cancer reaches across and around the globe. It takes over. A single person is taken here and there, and the numbers grow. Seven billion people on this planet would seem to overwhelm the odds of it taking us all. Surely we can surmount the surface sufficiently to control every inch of our futures. Surely we can undermine the surface sufficient to find yet more resources. Surely we can survive? Those other qualities of family and friends and power and devotion and ambition and equanimity and even integration itself are the luxuries we investigate, the cloaks we wear, once we have the basics sorted out; to live! But after that, when we have come full circle to sans teeth, sans eyes, sans ears, sans everything? Where then be the value of that which we have done, seen, been to other than in the very moments of each of our moments by moment? We kiss with our eyes.
My dear friend's time draws near. He will look into my eyes, and I into his, one last time. And we will know there will be no more. What sad anticipation is this? What a mixture of my getting up, and going to his Innesfree, when he be the one who there has made a life in the bee loud glen and awaits his final destiny? So too for my dearest friend of all?
Time ticks away at the ordinary. The clock strikes. The bell tolls. Ask not for whom. It tolls for thee.
5) CONVEYANCE AND CONVENIENCE
Seems right to be in a state of appreciation. Ever since the wheel even horses and donkeys have likely felt some relief. Certainly that's what War Horse depicted, for those who saw the anthropomorphic direction. Yet one might confess, when it comes to means of conveyance, a fair amount of taking-for-granted goes on. Trains, planes, and automobiles trips off the tongue lightly, but were they not there for us we might be a great deal more saddle-sore, foot weary, or otherwise beleaguered. Icarus had it right; there is a need in us to have some means by which we may soar above our stasis, and for the traveller, conveyances become indispensable.
Wheelchair-bound persons know that much right off. We are so reliant, dependent, needy of our chariots. And in my case, since I cannot propel myself with this spinal condition of mine, I am also so grateful for the pushers in my life. Wheelchair pushers, that is, not what it sounds like, ha! So a diminutive Stacey at the Victoria airport conveys me through security, places me afore the ticket wicket. Slightly taller, my wife leaves me off after ensuring I have a Time magazine behind which to appear appropriately intriguing. It is the esoteric and the clandestine and the metaphorical and the symbolic that travels with most of us. We are seldom simple beings. We each carry our stories. About the only thing that makes my story more interesting than someone else's right now is that I write it right now, while you are reading it right now too. Conveyances do not take us out of the 'right now', writer or reader; meaning arises itself out of the very means of our conveyance. We wish for a Deus ex Machina to rescue us. To be set free.
Impatience bears no truck with being conveyed. The vehicle will not, should not of necessity go faster. The time for departure should not be posted as anything other than precise. The ship may leave later, so too for the train, plane, and automobile, but it certainly should never leave before the posted time. Still, I bet that famous fellow who arrived onstage a smidgen too late for embarkation retained to his dying day a sense of gratitude that the Titanic left without him. Precisely! As passengers, we trundle along with the movement of the pedal pusher, the pilot, the driver. We are the driven. We exercise patience and live in the moment. Good time to read one's Time magazine.
But behind the ease of transport, relatively speaking, goes a host of arrangements and engineering and organization and specifications greasing the wheels of progress that we tend, as passengers, to take for granted. Just last night Linda and I watched a documentary on a sixteen story ocean liner and the incredible background activity that precedes embarkation. A single mislaid passport can hold untold people up in a concert of effort to get things right. We each are so dependent on others. We each are so responsible for others. We each leave impressions, each to each, in a synthesis of smiles and well wishes and taking care. Thank goodness changed plans still can work!
Stacey, of United Airlines in San Fran, left that impression on me. A model of courtesy and consideration, she ensured for my every comfort. To be pushed by a small person with a big heart is a great privilege. To be conveyed by the passage of history itself, is actually a thrill. Let us not become blasé about trains, plains, boats and automobiles. Let us go! Let's go live in Innesfree!
6) INCREDULITY AND MAGIC
Incredulous! That's how I felt just now as at 23:30 in San Francisco (an hour late due to waiting for 20 passengers from Chicago) the huge jumbo jet accelerated to over 160 very rumbling miles per hour and then lifted off to reach over 28,000 feet within minutes. It is incredible! And then there is the very incredulity of time and place in this journey to go see a dear dying friend too. That the season and reason should so be afforded, given the magic of the momentum between five old friends to attend our beleaguered old companion, and that we each are even able to make this journey is, well, incredible.
I am well provided for. Airport personnel and flight attends whisk me about, hurry me through throngs of standing-about people, dodge with me through pedestrian traffic, greet customs and security officials by name, and expedite my passage all along the way. Sure there is the bumping and the rattle of my chair along uneven surfaces, the jar over cracks and lesions in the joints of the floor, the not so subtle heave up or sudden set down of the elevator and the great gap to be crossed to get in or out, but these things are par for the course to one in my condition. I point them out only inasmuch as the regular person sees hardly any of these obstacles at all. But unlike regular persons I do not have to walk for airport miles. I am convinced that Farad, the attendant, pushed me for at least twenty minutes or more between the connecting flights in the USA. Then there was passport and customs control to go through, as well as yet another security check. Even the paper towel in my hand was examined. Yet between that sort of raw reality and the very mercurial engagement in the moment of it all lies still the magic.
Magic here is defined as that which the eye does not see, nor the brain comprehend. We know that it all is very real. The meals that get served, the flights that get scheduled, the aircraft that come in and go out and that are cleaned and ready for the next load Is all part of the magic to the childlikeness in the self. Even that my own trusty wheelchair disappears from my seat once I get aboard and reappears at the end of my trip is a kind of magic. Yes, I like knowing how it is that tonight, at 12:20 a.m. right now, I am about to be served ravioli and salad, or I could have had steak, chicken, or salmon, yet it also is quite satisfying just to let others take care of all those details. Imagine if we had to know precisely which manufacturer provided the packaging, and who exactly prepared the food, or how... The details quickly rob me of the magic. I like it when the magician has me at: wonderful! Without a sense of awe we can be very jaded creatures indeed.
Wonderful, incredible, incredulous. These are the feelings with which I am transported across an ocean, across Hawaii even, toward a place where my dearest friend may see me! Sid's Knee. Now I well know it is not toward that name that I indeed go, but it does serve to keep a little magic in the air to call such a touchstone that, among friends. And after nearly fifteen hours up here in the gullet of this giant bird I shall arrive shortly after 06:00 hrs tomorrow morning, Sunday 27th. Huh? Where on earth will Saturday have gone? When I left Victoria it was Friday 25th, 13:30 hours. When I left San Francisco it was still Friday! Where will Saturday have gone? Or a Sunday? Deus ex Mechina?
No. Don't tell me. Don't explain. I like it this way. Magic!
7) GRUNTLED AND DISGRUNTLED
The wait in Sydney airport, gate 39, for Perth will take two hours longer than expected. There is an aircraft spare part expected to come in from Melbourne. So said the Virgin Airlines announcer, apologetically, but so it goes. So my great Oz friend, Sir Mike, had to leave to pick up his family, and I am left to my own devices in a lounge of disgruntled people, their disappointment quite clear and dismayed at the news. Phones came out. Explanations were made. "Should have flown Qantas," someone said aloud. How very many people in Perth will be affected, I think. So it goes. Or rather, so it does not go, ha!
That was the gist of what happened to one of our expectations this morning. We were just congratulating ourselves on the strokes of luck we'd had. The parking attendant's machine was not working at the International air-lot and Mike had to get out of the black Cadillac and negotiate and try with other credit cards, but finally we were let out, sans charge! "That's a thirty dollar saving," said Mike! And then, once he'd transported me to Domestic Terminal Two, we were no sooner gone through security than we came across a $20 store, with very many watches for me to select from, since I left mine behind, and Mike insisted on welcoming me to Oz with my prize. A whole year's worth of guarantee! But a thing or two began changing after that. In search of an outlet plug we parked with my wheelchair against the escalator wall and Mike, sprawled out on the hard tile floor, unpacked an arsenal of electronic thingamajickies in order to secure for me an Internet connection. But nought worked. Even his gift of a music stick to me was not able to be charged. So off we went in search of a more likely spot, an airport lounge!
Being a Qantas Emerald Card Member Mike wheels me into the Member's Lounge. It looks virtually empty. Perhaps 60 or more lounge chairs. Perhaps only twelve people. Two attendants, both women, in their thirties. But at hearing that I am flying with Virgin and Mike was just there hoping to pass some time they were adamant, no way! The status card did not seem to impress them. The lounge was for when traveling only, and Mike was not traveling. "Let me speak to your manager," says Mike. But the manager does not wish to come down, speaks only over the phone, and does not relinquish on the basic premise that Mike was not flying that day. Even their calling security to remove us was mentioned, twice, by the unsympathetic girls, very evidently flustered. Mike was clearly not easily going to be dissuaded from having a seat in an almost empty lounge. But eventually, we left. We went and sat in a fast-food court, he with his coffee, me with my orange juice. Yet he enjoyed the waking up of their customer-care, he said. He hoped they were still gabbing about it! And then he told me of the time at a toll booth in Africa how he'd had a whole queue of cars lined up behind him until the toll booth operator finally acquiesced and said, "Five Rand, PLEASE." Ha!
Sydney is a strange mixture of very uptight looking people and the extremely casual. In the laid back atmosphere of men in shorts and slip-slops at an airport, and the rather officious sternness of some persons, it strikes me as a country of huge diversity and potential. The cross-cultural mix is as evident here as anywhere I've been in Canada, and the friendliness of some, versus that vacant and preoccupied look of others, is as real as anywhere in the world. We really are one people, one planet, one organism all just needing each other. Wouldn't it be nice then, if Qantas and Virgin just supported each other? As the clerk said it aloud, "Virgin is the enemy!" Ha! Not all is magic in Oz!
8) OTHER MEMORIES
When still a ten year old boy I once pocketed a rock from inside the great pyramid of Giza. The size of a robin's egg, smooth and hard and marble-like, I had it well into my 30's. I loved the idea that it came from a period long before Jesus, that it came from Egypt, that it came from somewhere else. Even in my 50's, when on a visit in England, I recall retaining that same sense of wonder at the nature of somewhere else; I plucked up grass and smelt it, my first real contact with earth back in a foreign land. Somehow wearing shoes everywhere and not so much as touching the vegetation feels like one is not really there at all. I think that's how I feel about Sydney, now, as I fly here goodness knows how many thousands of feet up in the sky across the great Byte of Oz, having spent from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Sydney, and hardly smelling the outside air much at all. We are often above it all. The soles of our feet are elevated on shoes. The clothes we wear protect us from surfaces we sit on; our touch is a great deal done to the manufactured products of man. Rubbing the soil between ones fingers, now there's an atavistic thing yet to do! Does an owl in its wisdom not have to touch the ground too?
Collections of things natural was my bent for quite a long while. I retained rock-bits from places divergent as Brighton Beach, Orkney, Quebec, Montserrat, Cairo, and Spain. I could go on, but the idea here is not to impress nor to provide you with travel history, as much as to say that seeing the grass out of the window alongside the runway as my flight took off this afternoon gave me a sense of just how ubiquitous grass is all over the world, how similar the cells that go to make up the whole of everything really are. Yes, a koala bear is not the same as a moose, and tigers and bears do not live naturally in South Africa, but it is an essence of being of which I speak. It is the fact that it all exists, and that the rocks I once had have now been lost among rocks in altogether different locations, and I doubt that anyone, finding them, would say, hello, here's a strange one!
A strange one is a bit in the sense of being here. That no food is served on a four and a half hour flight, unless you buy, is strange. That a brand new Virgin aircraft is up in the air with us having had to wait for a part and now without having some TVs working is strange. That accents around me are so stringently Stralian is strange. That a landmass below me appears so vastly uncultivated, even compared to Canada, is strange. But that we all are people just doing our thing is not really strange at all. Deus attends us.
We are creatures in constant search of the new. We connect the dots, find that we've done Paris and Rome and London, and now want Copenhagen or Berlin. We want more and more. Is it sacrilegious of me to admit that it is not necessary for me to see Ayers Rock, nor even Perth itself should circumstances not bring it about? I fly to see my Lady Dulcinea, she who came to my wedding as my Matron of Honor. Now, at 90 years old, this very Dulcinea to the quixotic in me deserves my attentions. This side trip before seeing Simon back in Sydney is necessary; one has only so much time left. And when taken by taxi from the airport to Nancy's Flinds Cottage, an hour or so north of Perth, we shall likely not have the ability nor conveyance enough easily to go gadding about. She certainly cannot push me. I envisage long conversations over tea and lunch and dinner, and going through photo albums of her rich life, and reminiscing about the fantastic past she has led. An older brother sired by August Rodin. A twin brother caught and shot in the great escape. No, it is not stones I go now to collect, not things, but other memories.
So much for me arriving as the white knight on his black steed. Instead I am wheeled into my Lady Dulcinea's presence, two hours late and the very last one off a choked up plane, by an apologetic Virgin hostess, Emma. My wheelchair was still back in Sydney; it was coming on the next flight. Even at the exit door of the aircraft, when eventually they came to fetch me with a clunky red transporter chair, my first concern was for My Lady. "I have a 90 year old friend coming to fetch me in a taxi," I explained. "I just can't impose on her to wait for the next aircraft. Nor can she push me in this thing."
But stories have a way of working out. As I write it is just after 5:30 a.m. and the Australian morning outside of my curtained room is a jazz like burble of the unfamiliar. Parrots and a kookaburra vie for notice. Other birds, Ozzie Oz magpies I suppose, are fluting. Some squeak like violins yet to be tuned. Some are like the horn section. The whistle and gurgle of it all is quite captivating. Distant sounds of traffic underscore the music. And quite frequently there is an alarming door-knocking bang-bash-bang besides my room in this large and wonderfully cozy cottage. I was warned about it just before retiring last night; interior plumbing. Still it did have me peeking out of the curtains into the dark the second time, just in case there was an urgent neighbor at the door.
Lady Nancy, my veritable Dulcinea, was attended at the airport by her daughter. Fiona brought her car, since she lives just a ten minute drive from Nancy. It felt like meeting a familiar friend when I greeted her for the first time; we had corresponded when Nancy's health had once been of concern. And so, after establishing that my own chair would be sent to Guildford by taxi, Fiona drove us through the dark to Flinds. And there we three had a delightful snack of rolled salmon, sipped on Champaign, and then Fiona went off and Nancy heated up a shepherd’s pie. After all, in Sydney it was 9:30, in Perth it was only 7:30. And by the time Nancy was washing up the dishes, a knocking at the front door alerted me; my chair had arrived courtesy of a Virgin airline personnel. Again the apologies, with perhaps an upgraded return flight to be arranged for my troubles.
In the light of day, Flinds Cottage is a virtual museum. Named after the first five letters of Lady Nancy's children, and their last name, Fiona, Linda, Ian, Nick, Diane, and Sinclair, it poses on a slight promontory above a billabong feeding off the Swan River. Full of incredible artifacts, mementoes, framed certificates, trophies, and war memorials, it is situated in the most luscious of Australian fauna and flora. From every window and from the wrap around deck cockatiels and corellas and magpies and stranger than fiction birds are in abundance. A cornucopia of shrubs and hanging baskets and roses and vines and herbs and gardener's delights pluck at the senses. Giant blue gums lean into the sky. Pastoral, verdant, and peaceful. It is so pleasing that M'Lady is so happily at home. Petite, blue eyed, vivacious, pleasant, charming, and sharp as a tack, M' Lady Nancy is a force of nature. Even the birds feed from her hands.
Her famous father was knighted, Sir Arthur Street. Her oldest brother, Douglas, was actually the illegitimate son of none other than August Rodin. Her twin brother, Denys, was actually one of the famous fifty caught and shot in The Great Escape. No ordinary old biddy, my Lady Nancy is a force to be reckoned with. A veritable Dulcinea, indeed.
10) VULNERABILITY AND VALOR
Two remarkable stories that overlap in very different parts of the world have my senses awake at this pitch dark 3:00 am Australian juncture of my continuing journey. The death of husbands for both protagonists, the paying for and organizing of families to go on far-flung sea voyages, and the vulnerability of being robbed, of losing family heirlooms, and the valor of facing into the burglary with grit and determination stirs my imagination. Like 'fate' as a word in a crossword clue (a game which My Lady Nancy loves) the kismet of these two tales has me marveling at the coincidences in our lives.
Linda came for tea. Nancy's oldest daughter, it was she who had made and delivered the delicious shepherd’s pie as a welcome dinner for me the night before. Now, as we sat around the kitchen table with South African Rooibos tea and Scottish shortbread and Australian chocolate chip cookies, we swapped stories. Older than me by five years, Linda is casually elegant, naturally beautiful without adornment or affectation, and wears her years like a thirty-five year old. This sprightliness of being appears to be genetic in the Sinclair family. Nancy moves in the kitchen and about the house with the grace and ease of a girl, not a ninety year old, and Fiona, second daughter in line who had handled my luggage and got me settled into the cottage, had impressed me with her vibrancy too. In their warmth and immediate friendship one feels so very welcome.
But the burglar certainly didn't feel welcome.
Earlier, Nancy had told me during our day together about taking a six month around the world journey to see family and friends and to get over her deep grief at the loss of Denys, her beloved husband, back in 1987. She'd organized the trip herself, taken care of all the details of bookings and arrangements. So too had my friend Jessie, I thought, but did not say anything. After Jessie's beloved husband, Vic's death, she had taken thirteen members of her family on an all expenses paid Alaskan cruise. At the time of Nancy's story it did not appear prudent to interject. But now, here with Linda at tea, we were speaking of keeping Nancy's place secure whenever she's away, let alone inside!
"I'd gone out into the garden, came back inside, and found this strange man at the end of the corridor, at my front door. Hello, what're you doing here?" Nancy related. "How did you get in? He gestured back at the door I'd just come through. Then you can leave the same way, I yelled, and charged at him by going through the lounge and then around and got behind him and actually shoved him in the back and he tripped over this down-step into the kitchen here and so I kicked him in the backside and he left in a hurry, I tell you! Then I went and locked myself in my room and phoned the police. But when I looked around I found all my jewelry gone, my mother's heirlooms, irreplaceable."
And then I told them of Jessie's daughter, Sharon, while still on their cruise finding out that their house had been burgled, and that she'd lost her irreplaceable jewelry too, and yet Sharon and Ken kept the news to themselves, lest they spoil the family holiday.
Vulnerability and valor. Wow! Yet may such a crossover event never be our kismet too!
An adaptive feeling, this being without internet for four days. Sydney airport had a free wifi connection. Whatever electronic connections were made by me, emails sent, messages relayed, were placed last Sunday 27th May. Then there was the four plus hours flight to Perth, with a subsequent car ride into a sense of obscurity. Not that there be anything actually wrong with this comparative silence, for Flinds Cottage here on its promontory over the Guildford billabong beside the Swan River is a paradise of its own, but the sense of being cut off from regular correspondents is quite, well, disabling.
It is 5:35 a.m. as I write, Wednesday, 30th of May. The birds have not yet woken up. Sunrise is scheduled for 7:10. Yes, Nancy has a television to tell us these things. Yes, we have a phone on a cord, and yes, a cordless phone too. But we have no Internet. So we could not instantly get information on Sir Arthur Douglas Street, M'Lady's father. Nor could we check out the origins of the Phoenix story, or connect with so many others by Facebook, emails, or Skype. We had to spend time talking, or reading. And we had only each other except when there came a visitor, like Nancy's daughter, Linda, for tea. Or like Nancy's grandchild, Gabby, with her own eleven month old daughter, Giselle, and their big white dog, Hercules. Even when the little old lady across the street suddenly collapsed on the pavement, just as Linda (Gabby's mother, Giselle's grandmother, Nancy's daughter) arrives to join us for tea, Gabby has to use the conventional phone against the kitchen wall to call the ambulance; none of our cell phones were operational. And mine, certainly, appears dead without wifi, roaming charges excepted. No, being without communication, electronic, instant communication, is like being left in the dark.
Well, the dark ain't so bad. Around me as I lie abed are my two bags almost ready for transport to the airport. Gabby will come and fetch us at 10:45. Sydney, and Justin, and Rob, are for tonight's adventure. Right now I still await the birds, so am content to type away and listen to music through the ear-phone of my new i-stick that Mike gave me as a present. He's put some 500 of his songs on it! Nancy lies asleep, I hope, in her room down the corridor. She is usually up by 7:30, I've learned over the last two mornings. At 8:30, almost precisely, the phone will ring. It is Nancy's health care courtesy call, ascertaining, quite frankly, whether, now that she's 90, she's alive. Quite the thing to be called upon to account for oneself so unsubtly! But comforting to know at the same time. It would be awful not to have anyone know that one is totally incommunicado for several days. At least the daily calls provide for connection. So too even for the music I hear in my ears; the Afrikaans of Koos Kombuis is alien in this land of Oz, the disparity between a time over there and a time over here seemingly too disjoint. Disjoint. That's how it feels to be without my obsession, the immediacy of e-news from Facebook and friends.
Preciseness can appear so trite until we are in dire need. But for some password, some exacting string of numbers, Mike's lending of an Internet stick just has not worked. It's twin beams of blue light are so strong they've served as a night light in this unfamiliar bedroom. But despite my phoning him, and his phoning a technical expert, and that Tommy-mate trying back and forth long-distance messages with me, at least five times, we cannot crack the code. We remain essentially incommunicado. The lesson is, check your addresses, know your numbers, verify your existence, and always be in touch. Or else life indeed may seem to be without a call. Ah! It's 6:40, the tweets of birds begins!
12) THE COMMISSION
Gabby collects us. But we need to scoot back after a block; I misplaced my neck brace. Found, now wearing it, we were on our way! First time I actually got to see Guildford, let alone Perth. Blue gum trees everywhere. And suddenly we were being offloaded, Gabby with baby Giselle to keep circling past a collection point, and Nancy, at 90, insisting on pushing me with my bag on my lap into the air terminal. At least it was no more than about 50 yards! And then suddenly an air attendant was taking care of details and it was au revoire and M'Lady was gone! But I do not fear I shall not see her again. We have a strong sense of it. We have so much at stake. I have a commission!
The airport lounge gave me Internet. Yes! I had but minutes before I was to be whisked away again. The iPad needed a reboot. Gone were precious minutes. To prioritize a rush of emails took up more time. So I first answered with a short letter to Linda (my Linda, not Nancy's Linda); ensured an e- contact with Gabby; and then let Justin know I am on schedule, just as they came to fetch me to board. End of Internet! Anon.
As I sit on the aircraft I realize the difficulty of easily doing this kind of journey. Beside me is a squirming three year old, jiggling on her seat. Behind me some young boy keeps kicking the seat-back. Even the push to here, with the elevator gap being... But I am complaining. There is a cost we each must pay, however it be exacted for the things we wish to do. To be able to afford them we must have ... a commission!
Among the many interesting emails was a request for two more paintings following my delivery of the last. The recipients loved the work! Now they want two smaller ones. So my time soon to be spent is somewhat predictable. Admittedly, there is but a small recompense for the amount of hours and energy I put into doing these paintings, but at least it keeps me motivated, engaged. It keeps me interested in the process of the day, since my physical abilities are so limited in any case. At Nancy's, despite almost perfect weather, we stayed pretty well indoors all the time, and had a few teas on her sunlit porch, but I was unable to get about to see anything, really. I'd arrived in a cigar case in Perth, was transported on an envelope to Flinds, lived for three days in a marvelous cake box, and then was taken back by yet another envelope to this very cigar case from which I now type, just before take-off. Size is indeed relative, let me assure you! Anon!
The size of the project Lady Nancy and I quite naturally evolved toward is enormous. The details of her fascinating and complex life would ... here goes ... fill a book! So the research has begun. A titled father, an older brother sired by the famous August Rodin, a twin brother, Denys, shot in the actual Great Escape, and a host of characters as rich as any historical romance category, it is a novel for the telling. And I am the one to do it! The commission starts now! The box of a lifetime's letters and photos travels here with me, right under the seat at my feet as this aircraft reaches cruising height on its way to Sydney; away from M'Lady Nancy, yet closer to her heart than ever before. We've had time to chat, to gather the details, to get the taped story, the visual cues, the letters and cards, and the mementoes photographed. I go with a treasure trove home to work on it. Were it to be a boys' book it might indeed be entitled The Commission. But it will be aimed at women, a true life romance, and entitled, most appropriately, M'Lady Nancy.
13) LEAVING NANCY
Eric Bogle preceded me. A Scottish Australian, his song is about leaving his mother, called Nancy. He asks her not to cry when he has to leave by train after a brief visit. It sounds like a song I could have written!
M'Lady was indeed very brave. We parted without tears. Perhaps because I was being wheeled away by the Perth air attendant, or perhaps because of some deep instinct of not wanting to repeat sad pasts, I did not see M'Lady walk away. Even as I write, my tears well up. We just have to see each other again! The last time I saw my father was at an airport terminal in Thunder Bay, Canada, 1980. He gave me a backwards glance just before the security check in, clutching at one of my paintings. So too for my mother. She gave me one of those same last minute glances as she was being wheeled away at the Calgary Airport Terminal, 2001. Three weeks later, she was dead. Nancy, at 90, discussed death with me. But she has every intention of pursuing life, of doing our joint project to write her story, and even of coming to visit Canada yet once more.
Here, let me play it again. "Leaving Nancy". You cannot hear it, but on my iPad last night I downloaded the song. It is so very poignant. So perfect. It was Nancy herself who alerted me to it, and I copied the title and its singer into my notebook. And now in this Sydney hotel, late last night, thanks to iTunes, it easily was available. A mere 99 cents! And right now, as the phrase again comes out, "Goodbye, my Nancy, oh", I do indeed fight off tears. It was only when alone on the plane, as I watched the 'City of Angels', that I found myself weeping. And at the death scene, when the protagonist stands over the dying one with such an expression of overwhelming love on his face, I wept deeply, hurtfully. Singing: "Let me hold you one last time, before the whistle blows."
It is just after 5:07 a.m. as I write. From this 26th floor Four Seasons Hotel Room, #2615, courtesy of Sir Mike Jablonski, there is a commanding view over Sydney harbor. Even from the bed, through the corner window, I can see the famous flares of the white wings of the Sydney Opera House, and just to the left is the lit up span of the giant bridge. It is indeed magical. That Mike Jablonski, he does not do things by halves. Sir Justin is in room #2614, just next door. Late last night, after our fellow knight, Sir Rob, had transported our two 'feral' selves in his new Jeep around the night-lit vistas of the harbor, playing the colorful and informative tourist guide, and at last deposited us in our rooms, Sir Justin brought in his bottle of complimentary wine and cheese plate to make truck with mine, and we sat in the chairs before the magnificence of the view, and caught up with events until now. Justin's flight log is incredible, 36 hours of being in the air to get to Singapore, given that he started in Denver, went to Frankfurt, back to Nottingham, back to Frankfurt, back to Denver, and on to Singapore, then flew here. And still he beat me; he was waiting with Rob at the domestic Terminal about two hours before I arrived. Neither of us had had dinner. And now, as we devoured the cheese and biscuits, dried apricots and prunes, we were two weary but happy- chappies, indeed.
It is two hours ahead of Sydney time back in Perth. That makes it now 7:54, there. I wonder, has M'Lady arisen to go open the curtains on the sunrise as usual, day after day? Here, let me replay you the song, singing, "goodbye, my Nancy, oh!"
14) AN AUSTRALIAN ELEPHANT
"No, that is not acceptable. I would like an apology, with the company letterhead, and signed by Alan What's-His-Face, C.E.O. of Qantas ... Thank you, I received the Qantas special luggage bag, as requested, at the hotel, but now I await the letter signed by ... No, Alan is to sign it himself and not those representing him. Did he not get the questionnaire that I posted on Facebook? The customer is always..." Michael carries on the cell-phone hands-free banter with Qantas that began just after I'd left for Perth.
Back here in Sydney, he drove the hour or so with Justin and me to his sprawling ranch house in Glenorie . But now, as I type, it is 3:55 a.m. and Michael, The Great Elephant, sleeps across from me in the lounge on the couch beneath the painting of the sepia-toned old elephant I gave him on his last visit to Canada. Beside me, to the right the TV truly blares very loudly with Australian Wrestling. I came down the brightly lit corridor outside my room because Mike last night had invited me for an early morning tryst should I get up. And as usual, perhaps because of jet-lag, I am awake and writing here in this journalesque style about The Oz Saga. But the living room is entirely dark, and Mike, under a blanket, I surmise could not get to sleep last night and came in here to watch TV. Should I go? The specialness of being here, however, is worth the moment. Being in this fabulously comfortable house, with Mike's family that is so loving and engaging and vibrant, is among those indelible privileges of a lifetime. Yesterday morning at this time I was videotaping the organic spread of light even before the Sidney harbor sunrise from my 26th floor hotel room. This morning I document the organic breathing of my dear Australian friend across from me in the darkness of the form on the couch. The light from the TV scarcely reaches him. The sound levels though, is enough to wake the house! But this is a house of brick and stone, and even from my room, I did not hear it.
Qantas heard him. Mike did not relent. They sent to my hotel last night a Qantas labelled carry on case as an apology. The various levels of customer care personnel fielded his persistence, and their official letter will be forthcoming. Even when we were on the circular harbor cruise, Justin, Mike, and me, Qantas phoned the catamaran. Mike can ruffle feathers if need be. Like the great elephant he is, he is gentle and loving and tender, but do not cross him; his strength of purpose is formidable!
Justin and Mike had pushed me around the circular quay, back in Sydney. Even at the Waterfront restaurant, where the waiter who worked a full year dropped his first plate of food (my risotto) en route, Mike's phone rang. It was even just as we presumed: Qantas. The saga continued. So too in the car, on speaker phone, on the way here.
"Good Morning, Richard!" Mike now says cheerfully and with vigor, fully dressed and showered, turning all the lights in the great room on. Say what? Oh! It's Mike teenage son, Karl, that is asleep on the couch. In the dark I was entirely under assumption! We hug and Mike makes coffee. And I excuse myself to come shower, literally type this last paragraph from my bedroom, and then will go join him. Ha! And I thought he was asleep on the couch. No, Mike, the great elephant, is not a person to make assumptions about.
Qantas learned that much, let me tell you!
15) BLUE-BELL BLUES
Bitterness boils beneath the surface, despite the beauty. Australia is a land of contrasts. Difficult to be integrative when angry, was the concept of what's meant by all-accepting, until realizing, or made clearly aware, that integration itself is the very inclusion of anger. Natural to be annoyed. Frustrated. Natural to feel traduced, abused, calumniated. Who would not when finding no way to express oneself in the barrage of blue-bell blues being bruited so uncompromisingly undermining the potential in one's own voice? Is that why Mike feels such forceful f-words toward the blue-bell birds? A constant chatter over every matter is so persistent that it drowns out chances for any other birds to be heard?
But to be seen! To look for one takes some sort of moment that I have not really yet realized. Like seeing an Avatar in Australia! It would be good to look into such an one's soul, and there to quiet the sea of troubles by not opposing them, but saving them. That a blue-bird might get off its perch and allow some other voice to be heard, some other story to unfold. But even in paradise, the sound of it is so distinctive, so disruptive, that it allows but little opportunity for other birds to express themselves. It truly robs richness.
Mike is right, there are jokes about killing owls and frogs and crocodiles, but in the authenticity of being oneself it needs for the integration of other's opportunities to be their authentic selves too. So mankind takes the floor and he builds his buildings, bulldozers the council's oppositions, clarifies or consciously obfuscates where necessary, but gets himself heard, his constructions collaborated in collusions across a crowded table, overrides council, and ultimately creates what he has right to perceive as his own magic, the expression of his own sound. Right Rob? To silence the blue-bells!
But this writing is certainly no clandestine attack. It is an attempt at being inclusive, absorptive, aware, assimilative, and accepting; in other words, integrative. The test is in the very moment, moment for moment, of synthesis, such that the twelve year old may have his realization, that the sixty year old may have his realization too, and that Justin, Queens, (no, not Steve McQueen), stock car drivers (Speedy Gonzales or even Sternly Moss), and barristers, baristas, and blue-birds too may come with clarity to see that we each and everyone might indeed be allowed just to be. But we impede the progress and potential of mankind with our pecking order, with our judgements and proclamations and persnickety propensity for clarifications that so calamitously creates a climate of ruining the magic that one simply wants, as Mike likes to say, to stuff it. No, not the owl. No, not the frog. No, not the crocodile. No, not the cheque that is in the male (a sic. joke to be sure, spelling intended), but the blue-bell blues that is so pervasive as to want one to wheel out of the wonder and the wander and simply to go one's own way. ... And no, not Rob's way. That would rub him out; make him a robber! Elise, Mercia, Karl, Rudi, grin.
Yes, I talk of a real bird. Mike points them out as we drive the country roads in his '68 v8, a Mustang thoroughbred (or was that a '67?) Poetry! Thing is, lest the uninitiated take this esoteric essay as any sleight against Mike, who appears to be the main man of my meanings, it is in no way pitched as a problem with his grace and generosity; it is actually about the kookaburra, and the old bulls, the pride of place, and the providing of lessons for the young. Man culls the perception of problem-pieces in the jigsaw of nature, and rubs them out! Robs the run of blue-bells for ever. But is that integrative?
16) DARK, DYING, AND BEING
I shall arise and go now. We go to see Simon. We arrived Wednesday. Spent Thursday seeing some of Sydney. Spent Friday seeing Glenorie countryside, an hour plus drive north of Sidney, and now that it is Saturday, the 2nd of June, we at last are soon to be on our way. Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, almost three hours from here, is where Tony and Simon await our visit. Rob will drive up independently from Sydney. Mike will drive up later from here. We all hope to get even half an hour with Simon. Four men, old boys all, paying our respect to an old comrade. Tonight we will have dinner with Tony and Aisha, and with luck, Simon too. Tomorrow, Sunday, mayhap Justin and I will see Simon again. Old friends, for the last time. On Monday we drive back here, from where I write (even as Onika, Mike's 22 year old daughter, comes in at 6:30 from the Simple Plan concert she attended with friends). I ask her what's her favorite song. "This song saved my life," she answers with a croaky voice, and goes off to bed. The morning mists are beginning to rub up against the windows of this dark great room. Karl, at 17, is yet again asleep on the couch with the TV at volume 8 out of 10. The house has not yet stirred. I await Mike or Justin. I cannot reach my one fallen sock. The other is just over my right toes. I cannot get my leg up high enough. Onika, in the semi-dark, does not notice. A life saved, another about to die; it all is one. Is there really any one beginning or end, or is it all a series of sentences interspersed by commas, halted by periods. And then we move on in a stream of consciousness, or not. Interruptions can break the flow. Perhaps Mike or Justin might stop this typing, come and get breakfast ready. We planned to leave by 8:30, after I've phoned Linda, but perhaps not. To go with the flow as the days and the nights unfold into a tapestry of the meaning of our making, or is it, like the mist outside, a giant blur interrupted by the dim recognition of the usually known, the trunks of trees, the contravallations one becomes used to at my height in this chair, breast-high barricades all. But still there is no stir. The tv blares. I type with a sense of urgency. How much longer does Simon really have? Has Rob (who visited last night from Sydney and then drove back) by now gone for his morning run? Will he get the missive I wrote earlier this morning for him, for us? Will he receive the letter I just sent along with it? It'd be good to hug him again. We all worried for him late last night, as he was very tired and overworked and had yet to drive back well over an hour on narrow and twisting roads. The house remains undisturbed. Or rather, remains in the vein of the blaring tv, the mist or fog getting less dense in the outside light, and people perhaps still asleep. Does Mike or Justin tap away in their rooms, as involved in this e-format world of ours as I am? Even Nancy is about to purchase an iPad. Nancy at 90, but determined to keep apace. Even across the oceans. And yes, it is the voice of the Canadian actors in Whose Line is it Anyway that I hear on the tv. I thought I heard them say Calgary! This song saved my life, a simple plan indeed. Would that it would save Simon's, but reality intruded. We humans can be easily deluded about so very many things. Perhaps that's why Mike's joke about the cheque being in the male (sic.) is so effective. Meaning-making of everything, yet victims of our own construct. But we can not sit still. No, I shall arise and go now, and go to Innesfree, and there a hut of clay and wattle make, and live by the sound of the honey bee. Seems sweetness is often thought of somewhere beyond, like a cat licking at the milky fog on the other side of the window pane. Difficult just to be in the present, to sit here in the comparative dark, and accept.
17) GENTLEMEN AND SCHOLARS
One knows one when one sees one. A true gentlemen. Such is Simon's old younger brother, Anthony Brink. He wears grief not like a shield nor wields a sword but is like a man treading the path of spiritual acceptance. He hugs long in the welcome. He kisses me, as men beyond silly-boy icky-ness. Inside the rented guest-cottage he has a fire going. We sit and in the round share our renewed connection. It is not only the demise Simon is facing but a commitment to the love we feel for each other, as mature men, that now bonds us. We learn of Simon. We learn of ourselves. Boys have become men.
Anthony leaves to get provisions and Justin, the Great Gentleman too, gets us set up for the afternoon. The cottage is comfortable country style, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The centerpiece of the main room, on the corner of the kitchen counter, is a large bronze Elephant, protecting its baby. The tusks are a gleaming copper. Africa is with us as we six battle-scarred old boys, Justin, Anthony, Mike, Rob, me, and Simon too are about to meet in a reunion of experiences stemming from the late 60's. Sculpted ourselves by the common bond of Pretoria Boys High, yet much more so by our 2010 reunion, for the friendship we offer and receive we are about to be grateful. Then again, gratitude and appreciation pervades much of our lives. As we wait for developments, Justin works quietly on his iPad; I begin this essay. We can comfortably spend long moments in silence together. Peace be with you too. Deus ex Machina awaits.
Anthony returns to await Mike and Rob's arrival. He tells of his life as a teacher at the local college of ceramics and pottery. He tells us more of his beloved brother. He tells of their lives. We answer his questions about ours. We three feel a sympathy of soul. The elephant is in the room. It watches. But we have acknowledged its presence. We have addressed its import. We are men facing into the future, revisiting the past, but very much aware of the present. Gentlemen all. It was a common exhortation of us back when just school boys. We are the children of Africa. But we are products of ourselves.
Mike and Rob arrive. Anthony arises into action. He sets up tea, builds up the fire, makes the cell-phone calls to establish Simon's readiness to see us, and then so kindly repeats the same information about Simon's rapidly deteriorating health that he had just earlier spent his energy relating to Justin and me. "I can't seem to find him in there, you know. He's not the same Simon." The emotional strain on Anthony has him now having to perform bravely. Even as a boy he was the proverbial shy and quiet one. Now his words are greater than his preference to be in the background, his actions of generosity and consideration greater than his preference for working behind the scenes. Here and now Anthony is forced by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to be full stage and centre. Simon has liver cancer. Aggressive. Unfightable. Rob, who knew the brothers not back at school, gently asks most of the questions; we listen with rapt compassion. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. To one side, on the corner of the kitchen counter, the elephant is very evidently in the room.
The plan was to have Simon brought by his wife, Pauline, to meet the four of us for tea.
But as it turned out, it was not to be.
18) SKELETAL REMAINS
Simon strides into the room, bends down to push aside the coffee table betwixt him and me, takes both my hands, and looks into my soul. We are old friends from long ago. We are new friends of the right now. We are simpatico souls of the evermore.
Earlier Anthony and Aisha, his live-in friend, brought in a magnificent spread of prepared foods. South African 'bredie' and other delightful dishes way beyond my familiarity had been readied overnight and came in a carload of containers into the cottage. The sheer work to organize such a "we will bring dinner to you" event was momentous in itself. But the moment of seeing Simon again made it all worth it, for all of us. None of us expected his vitality and enthusiasm and even appetite. "It was as though he spent the last weeks containing his energy just for this occasion," Anthony later said to us, after Simon had left with his wife, Pauline. We were debriefing. All Aisha and Anthony's efforts and care, energy and thoughtfulness turned out a splendid success!
Earlier that afternoon, what with Mike and Rob there, the plan was for we six boys, including Simon, to have afternoon tea, but it was not to be. Anthony's phone calls established that Simon was just not up to it. "But he wants you know that he deeply appreciates the effort and intentions and care behind your coming here today," Anthony had explained. Next to the statue of the elephant, Mike's usual generosity had filled the kitchen counter. Boerewors and melktert and rusks and Koeksisters and... Well, South Africa would have been proud of Mike's intentions to bring Simon a bit of our common heritage. And together, just then, we all realized that we just might not get to see Simon ever again. But the elephant in the room stayed still. The profound colloquialism in Afrikaans echoes volumes: "Stilbly is ook 'n antwoord"; silence is also an answer.
But now, here was Simon in full measure. Skeletal, soft spoken, and forthright, he sat in the armchair next to mine and spoke openly of death and dying and his disease. He still wanted to know about our lives. He still informed about his. A window-dresser, a dishwasher, a restaurant owner, a chef, a triple restaurant owner, a dealer in African crafts, he had lived a full life. He wanted only to have some beach time, some holiday time with his beloved grown up sons, Ben and Henry, before he died. And as for an epitaph? Don't be afraid to love others or to let them love you, was his advice. He loved Morrie's quote: "If you wait until the final moment before you tell someone that you love them, you better have great timing." Ha! Simon was aware! Ashes spread everywhere.
Curmudgeonly, crusty, angry, these were still some of the qualities he retained. He was incensed at injustice, racism, inequality, commercial exploitation. He still appreciated fine wine, expertly prepared food. He had brought two vintage reds for our dinner. But often nowadays, due to his cancer, food tasted like styrofoam, you know? That last rhetorical is a Simon trademark. All the time I've known him he tags his sentences with a sense of including you into his knowledge, his insight, his care. This food, he lets Aisha and Anthony know, is excellent, you know? It is more than they've seen him eat in a very very long time. Live life now. It's short. He must have been with us for about two hours if not three.
Indeed, Simon is still a force to be reckoned with. But no, he does not rage against the dying of the light. He leaves rather in gentle meander toward the door, to bid goodnight.
19) OF WHOM AND WHO?
The memory is distinct. Like a big thump in one's heart. Its sound wakes me up early this June 03rd, Sunday, here in Oz. I lie in the pitch dark and listen. A burglar come to take away my things? Such an one may have everything then, but never my relived memories; one cannot take those away. Then I hear the clunk again. Yes! I was right, it must be an owl. It is a sound that precipitates a childhood memory, one that then grew into my collecting all sorts of little mementoes of owls in my 20's, until the collection was no longer necessary to add to; the ghost of the owl became enough of a living constant.
Northern Rhodesia had tin roofs like Australian houses do. A colonial hangover. And in the dark of my childhood there was this owl who'd land overhead in a big heart-stopping thunk in the night, awakening the sleeping soul. Perhaps because of its persistence, or perhaps because my guardian father had had enough, it was shot. I recall awakening to the magnificent bird, gold-tipped brown-wings spread, lying very dead on the concrete of the stoep. And when it was turned over, I was surprised at the length of the talons. Yet never once did I feel afeared of it; I understood owls to be wise, to be patient, to be aware, to be beneficial. It was others that killed it. It was others who did not understand.
As a 20 year-old something came over me. I began collecting them. Not real ones, not expensive ones, but small ones that could be worn or displayed, bold mementoes of the potential that was lacking in me. I wanted to be wise. I wanted to be mature. I wanted to be responsible. I wanted to be educated. I wanted to be known for my talent, for my erudition, for my presence as a purveyor of a beneficial legacy in the ongoing balance of nature; I fell in love with owls. But like most owls, to be fully aware, I first had to perch.
It was 2:12 a.m. by my watch this indelible morning when I was awakened with this image of an owl. But I wrote then of elephants in the room, of dear skeletons. The ghost of the owl in Oz has only now knocked yet again at my senses. And now, at 11:00 p.m. with the indelible day over, who would've deigned to curtail this owl's potential? What Deus ex machina might find the matter too disturbing, the parramatta too confining, the lyons of Africa too reminisce of fear and insecurity such that even a landing on the roof of an old reunion's venture should be curtailed, stifled, even forbidden? And who would have, might've stopped the female's children, the potential of the future, from even being born by selfishly taking the life of such a beauty and confining it to the possibility of a relative cage, pushing around a dilapidating cod at best, instead of being free to fly? The judges and socialites and fact finders and forewarners and scoffers and jealousies of even some of the hat-doffers do not understand. Life is a complexity of biodiversity. We all need to be free to love and be loved, expecting nothing, demanding nothing, holding no grudges, and wanting only what is best, who is best, for the other. Such is the flight of the owl. Such is the repose of the owl. Such is the mythology of a meaning-making man, or am I deluding myself? Who is talking about whom? Who is the owl? Who said relived writing, reading, painting, waiting, loving, moving, and even talking would be easy, is easy. We fall or live by who.
The day begins and ends in mist. And yet with inner clarity. No matter what, there is always, as long as the owl lives, a who for me. Who? No one destroys my memory.
20) LANGUAGE ON THE BRINK
"I love it!" an emaciated Simon Brink exclaimed, beaming at my suggested title. He next licked off the last morsel of Aisha's splendidly moist chocolate banana cake, and took a sip of tea from Anthony's cup. Love allows for sipping from an other loved one's tea. The title in question was for the new Oz-Afri-Can-Merican dictionary we were creating on the spot. Simon's joint venture. The indelicacies of being coronated, or pottifying, started the conversation over the connotative meanings of words, our verbification in the flux, and the nature of making language suit both form and function. We bowdlerized quantum mechanics, elevated our right to formalize, publish, and promulgate our own dictionary based on the precepts of creating a tipping point, or the 100th monkey syndrome, and given that we sat as heathens in Blackheath, we fantasized about our world. Yes, it was Aisha's delicious cake, but the piece Simon ate was his own. Yes, Simon drank from Anthony's cup, but that was because he sat in Anthony's pottery studio, where Anthony produced ceramics, and all that was why we arrived at creating this title, just last night, as Justin took caring photos, the which we had not done, any of us, the night before (when Pauline too was present) out of respect (as I informed Simon when now asking permission to snap-shot his brother's works) for what Simon once looked like. We had no wish necessarily to document, or 'photogratize' his current state. "The elephant is in the room, I am still here. Talk about it. Take pictures!" Simon says (entirely unaware of my recent essays concerning our bronzed centerpiece). "I want people to feel free!"
It is 4:40 a.m., Monday June 4th, as I type. A truly penultimate day. Yesterday morning, with indelible memory, I was awakened by the sound of an owl landing on the tin roof of our Blackheath guest house. Although I just now heard Justin creaking floor boards as silently as he could past the crack of my bedroom door, on his way to and from the loo, it was not he that woke me. It was the vivid dream of my very alive own younger brother, Peter, at our present age retiring with his head on my lap, in the comfy great lounge of a hotel foyer, and my touching his forehead, with great love. My tears now come and make it difficult to write. Actually. Really. I realize how deeply, subconsciously, I love Simon. I love my brother. I love my friends. I love. Subconsciously? No. Overtly. "If you love someone you better tell them, or you better have great timing!" Morrie's voice echoes. Simon and I rose together when he, clearly exhausted, was ready to bid his final farewell. He did it in stages, least he got dizzy. I did it in stages, least my body give my pain too much away. Our timing was a synchronicity. He finally turned to me, told me he loved me, and kissed me full on the lips. The very last person to kiss me on the lips, a few hours earlier this same indelible day, had given me the same thing. Utter love. It was a day to say goodbye, to let people know you loved them, completely, without reservation, freeing them to love others too. Even with Simon's full hug and kiss, I was aware of his cancer. His stomach was bloated like a pregnant bulge, not of the potential of life, but of death. Pregnancy, it struck me, can have many a man and woman-making meanings; the burgeoning end of things; the ballooning of brand new beginnings. Acceptance of it all was either complete, or with reservations. In Simon's case, like the value of the empty space that fills a vessel, he had reached his personal Innersfree, expressed his love, gave us his unconditional affirmation and gratitude, and then indeed left. Peace be with you, and you, and you. Love is forever. See you again, my dearest?
21) TIME TO GO
In my deepest heart I accept it. 'The old boys are leaving,' goes the RUNRIG song. One eventually has to say goodbye. Yet as I type at 6:00 a.m. it is no sunset, but a sunrise. This morning there is no mist, no uncertain cat caught to brush against the barrier of my window's pain, but clarity; one sees a way. I shall arise and go now, and go to Innesfree.
The Zikmann family dinner was a magnificent memory. Daughters Sarah and Ziggy sang in the most delightful harmonies, a band aid kit song for the soul. Father and youngest daughter sang their very own classic, one less angel in heaven, because she sang there right beside him, daddy's little girl. And Marcel, their beautiful and giving soul of a mother, beamed beside me with love and pride. The guitar was passed between Sarah and Rob for about six songs, and then it was time to go. All that effort, all that preparation of food and care of details and consideration for others and the giving and receiving of love, and like writing a long letter full of one's heartfelt things and then finally putting it into the post, it was time to press send, time to go. The South African experience on the back deck, as we sat around the fire cauldron with nibbles and drinks and even a blanket and a toque against the chill, confirmed it; we are all one people, one integrated mass, dependent on each other. At some time or other, for each and everyone and everything, it will be time to go. "Stay true to yourself," an angelic twelve year old Ziggy bid me goodbye, as she'd thought about it after the dinner table invitation by Rob for each of us to sum up the evening's most profound thought. It was a message from heaven. It was delivered by this girl with a golden voice. And I shiver now, with the realization of its full import. Specially now, as it's almost time to go.
Mike, at 60, spoke of the impossibility of prediction. Simon, at 60, may not be the first to go. Sarah, at 22, spoke of the need to protect and preserve the future. Ziggy, at only 12, spoke of finding the profound. Rob, at 60, spoke of family and his pride in them. Marcel, youthful and lithe and beautiful, had spoken of care. I spoke of our need not only to give love, but to receive love, which had come to me courtesy of Simon, just last night, when it was his time to go. Yet it was Justin who summed up in one simple word not only the entire evening, but the manner in which we might live our lives as ongoing entities. He gave thanks. Just thanks. And then it was time to go.
As I type from my bed at Mike's Glenorie the early morning light is now that orange brilliance of awakening to a new day. Soon as I'm done this essay I shall arise and prepare to go now, and to go to Innesfree. The w.b. Yeats poem has pervaded the thread of these essays about the Oz saga. Because of Simon, we conceived of coming here, Justin and me, because of Simon. We all made all the arrangements to be in Oz, thanks to Mike, Anthony, Rob, and all their family members, because of Simon. All for one, and one for all. Because it is Simon's time to go. But he goes not to some hut of clay and wattles made. We do not necessarily hear where we go the sound of the honeybee. We do not care necessarily for nine bean rows. What we each and everyone of us really want, we concluded as we sat around the fire of Rob's hearth, was to love and to be loved. And to do that best, one has to free within, completely, entirely, without wanting from the other, expecting from the other, holding grudges, or keeping score. Indeed, we each search for Innesfree. It is time to go. With thanks. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks.
22) DEAREST FRIEND
My Dearest Friends,
A threefold pain envelopes me as I fly away. I find myself weeping uncontrollably with it, even before the aircraft has begun its final taxi for take-off. Ensconced in the relative privacy of first class, I do not think that anyone sees me, but a gentle hand on my shoulder and Stanley, flight attendant, unceremoniously slides a wad of Kleenex to my left, quietly enquires if I'm alright, and with his eyes compassionate, lets me be. His kindness has an unexpected effect once he is gone. I weep copiously. Weep not for me, I weep for whom I am leaving. Goodbye my Dearest Friend. Goodbye Simon. Goodbye my Lady Nancy. Whom shall I ever see again?
Love has no attachment. Why then does it hurt so much to leave? Love wants nothing in return. Why then does it feel like a hole in my heart? Love expects nothing. Why then am I looking so much forward to mail, email, and ongoing correspondence? No, I shall not be at Simon's funeral. What of Nancy's? And shall I ever see my dearest friend again? Rob's Little Ziggy and Mike's little Rudi have a chance! They may well fly to Canada in their lifetimes and may indeed look me up. 'Be true to yourself', Ziggy had informed me last night, with the grace of an angel attending her message. I shall indeed be true to them. So too for Ron and Martel's Sarah, and for Mike and Mercia's Onika and Karl. In these young people lies the future. In these young people there is love yet to be discovered, mature love, complete love, the kind of love that wants nothing, expects nothing, and only wishes for the other's entire and complete welfare. But what of Mercia's mother, Elise? Will I ever see her again? Leaving so many, for good. Is that why it hurts so deeply to fly away, even as I type.
Justin, my dear friend, is also in this cabin, seat 7. He organized that I get the best seat in the house, seat 3a, eh? And he looked after me from day one. All those packings and unpackings of my chair, all those gentle moments of pushing me around. All those moments of attending to the direction of armchairs in which I sat, the plates of food I needed, the organizing of dates and times and coordinates and even drawing others' attentions to my needs. How do I say thank you other than as he taught me even last night at Rob's, where a simple sounding phrase can mean so much. Thank you.
Mike drove us to the airport, this Tuesday 5th. In the magic that is the universe, we will arrive in Victoria and Denver, eventually, some thirty hours of travel later, Tuesday 5th. Go figure if you will. For me, as Einstein himself made me see, I am more interested in Gods thoughts than in Gods details. We make meaning of Everything, and everything makes meaning. Even the smallest apostrophe. My dearest friends know that much about me; in this winter of Australian content, we conspire by the fire in Rob Zikman's back yard, "an essentially South African experience". Yet is it? In Mike's Cadillac en rout to this plane we listened to wonderfully meaningful song after song en route, en route to take our leave. We listened in accord. Love is like that. It seeks not to harm. It seeks not to be selfish. It seeks not to serve so much the self as the comfort, complete care of and consideration for the other. Justin sees love as a living action. Inasmuch as I have so been treated by my very dear and dearest friends, so may all life unfold as it should, as it would. As it is written, so it too shall be. Your love, my love. Let us thereby be free.
23) NO BULL, PLEASE!
To: Qantas Customer Care
Dear Fiona Morris,
I am very grateful for the great circumspection and care with which my dear old friend, Mr. Michael Jablonski, has protected my interests. I am grateful to you and your airline too, for the Qantas souvenir bag from Oz that you presented at my hotel. Yet it is very important to have you realize, please, that as far as I know Mike not once traded on your sympathies with regard to my physical disability.
Allow me to let you know why Mike, a fellow Pretoria Boys High boy from back in the 60's, has been dubbed The Great Elephant, indeed long before this unfortunate incident in your Qantas lounge. He is a man of immense care and consideration for others, carries huge responsibility and power within his company, appears as rugged and battle-scarred as an old bull elephant, and can get riled by what he perceives as a slight to his friends. No wonder his defense!
Being wheelchair confined with chronic inescapable stenosis, I had just spent some 30 combined hours of travel from Canada. Mike, traveling frequently, has a very high ranking Qantas privileged club membership card, and intended to treat me to just a little peace and quiet out of the bump of pedestrian traffic, since every simple bump and jolt adds to my pain. It being my very first trip to Oz and I was about to connect to Perth to see my 90 year old friend, Nancy Sinclair. Mike wanted me to see her too, though I really came to Sidney to visit another old school friend of ours, Simon Brink, who has been given but two months left to live due to liver cancer. Given our current emotional stress, no wonder Mike felt so provoked! To be so brusquely turned away, when your lounge was so empty, seemed outrageous. Mike, my protector, went into action.
As I write I am in the United Lounge awaiting UA 870, and then connect with UA to Victoria. A friend took care of booking me First Class, given my condition, there and back. He easily might have chosen Qantas instead. In fact, the sheer expense of the trip at such short notice, once I knew of Simon's illness, is astounding. Yet throughout the now famous Qantas incident Mike did not want you to process out of sympathy. He was interested primarily in that we treat people with dignity and compassion. Had I perhaps been an ordinary passenger I might more easily overlook the entire episode. But check your videotapes and you will find that not once did your personnel enquire as to my welfare. My physical distress was great. Yet it felt as though I was the elephant in the room. Unnoticed that is, except by the Great Bull Elephant.
Now aboard my UA flight to connect to Canada, I complete this missive just before take off. I came all this way for a mere nine days. I cannot afford to come back 'on my own shout', as the Ozzie's say, even though I'd dearly love to see Nancy and my dearest firends again. It took me almost 20 years just to get here! Lest my motive be misconstrued in telling you all this, when circumstance arises that I return, I shall perhaps book with Qantas, were you to reassure me.
I understood from an impressed Mike that you, Fiona, and your caring assistant, Penny, are models of diplomacy. Thank you. This letter, then, is written out of my wishing for Qantas to know that as unpleasant as the episode appeared for all of us, it was attended in the background by a great deal of extenuating circumstance. So too for a lot of travelers. Rules are evidently necessary, but a compassionate discernment is invaluable. Mr. Mike Jablonski, I trust, got his point across. Every person should be so fortunate as to have such a friend. Qantas too!
Richard Michelle-Pentelbury Www.RichardMichellePentelbury.com
24) INNER PEACE
The tipping point arises. Life is a balance on a fulcrum, horizontal as a see-saw, vertical as a telegraph pole, or else one takes it, paradoxically, entirely as it comes. Ha! In that acceptance lies the true balance. We have ups and downs. We have leans away from and around about the vertical. We step off the straight and narrow. Acceptance allows for all the differentials, allows for compassion, allows for integration, allows for moment to moment. Stasis is a perception. All is in flux. Exercising presence is the way for the way, even as one goes away, or comes home. How else to stay in balance?
San Francisco remains this place I once visited back in '82, even though I've now spent some four hours in its airport, with another two or more to wait before takeoff, even as I type. From the aircraft window coming in from Sydney, after a 14 hour flight, San-Fran looked like a suburban sprawl. Little to identify it from my vantage. I did not see the Golden Meme. Nor did I visit Robin Hoods island. But it did feel like I was a kid again while at arrest by security, playing at cowboys, with my hands up in the air while they frisked me. Thing is, all the personnel and all the passengers and all the people and all the souls involved in the traffic of life are either in flow, or chugged up in a sense of purgatory. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. To visit San Fran, solo, during my day's stopover would simply not be my preference. But had someone like my dearest friend come to collect me, then I would easily and happily have left the confines of this noisy United Air lounge, and taken my respite!
Cell phones are ubiquitous. We are a communicating species. We chirp and tweet like birds on the wire. Some are discreet. Some, like the man about twelve feet away, holds forth as if this is his bored-room. We may all be of the same chattery species, but we are as differentiated as a menagerie. Beware the vultures. Beware the canaries. Both will suck your soul, and then fly away. There are times I avoid the company of others; this is one of them. I have no desire for constant chit-chat. I often wonder just how much we retain of the brief connection we make with strangers, especially he who plonks by, catches your eye, and tells you a life story. Yet listening is a service. Necessary, to him.
Like this essay. Parables are meant not to inform but to draw out enlightenment. For me. Absolutely. Yet absolutes are not a parable. Facts are concrete, irredeemable. Even though some people call a spade a shovel. Even though some people have a beef. But certainty and the concrete, the iron-clad, the irrevocable, have a place. I do not wish for the person who fixes my vehicle's brakes to tell me a lie, especially once I'm down the highway. It is the constructs of the only way to drink one's tea that I speak of. How silly!
Bit firmness of purpose attends me. This fulcrum of the San Francisco connection, while I await going on, affords reflection and repose. My dearest friends are now behind me; I have to go it alone. Nancy, Mike, Rob, Anthony await my return. Justin, Denver bound, left me an hour ago. I shall see him when I go in July to make my presentation to the Dabrowski Symposium. Just today, in this lounge, I received confirmation of my abstract to be published; yet another feather in the academic cap. But it does not fulfill me to do so anymore; I have reached the tipping point; I have spilled over into something else.
Autonomy is not easy when one is physically dependent. But inner peace is. Yes?
The Lake Isle of Innesfree
I shall arise and go now, and go to Innesfree,
And a small cabin build there of clay and wattles made.
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wing.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep hearts core.
By W.B. Yeats
26) SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED
Elvis had it right. One can indeed be all shook up. This last lag of the flight takes me by surprise. It is akin to the biggest hill of the marathon that is saved for the last agonizing steps. Not that I'm complaining, but to have to be so embarrassed in front of so very many people was rather quite the surprise!
San Francisco is experiencing sunset as I type from seat 2a on UA flight 6494. My window washer neglected mine in this cigar case, with its two seats down each side of the aisle. The camera works though, once Justin taught me how to remove the flash. The air is smooth. The jet is fast. The plane is packed. We should be there on time.
It is the boarding that had me flummoxed. I've been trained by this Oz-going experience to get first-boarding privileges and to step into virtually empty planes. So when a jolly Gabriel the wheelchair attendant (truly his name!) fetched me from the gate, and then cleared me through an aside security door and next, Zoro's sword-like, wheeled me down a rugged series of outdoor metal switchbacks that would do any hiker justice, I thought they were going to put me away, hey, hey! But we break free at the bottom, scoot along the Tarmac toward the waiting jet, and I see these eight or so metal steps awaiting passage. 'At least there are railings,' I think. I know full well what's coming.
The plane looks empty and just waiting for little old me to board. Good, I think, at least no one will see me when I get to the top, since neither stewardess nor purser are in sight. Assuring that my carry-case and chair will indeed be loaded and offloaded for me at the other end, I stand and manage not too much to shake and shiver with nerve pain by keeping my core muscles extra tight in front of the luggage handlers, my old chair pusher, the stair minders, and some six or seven people also waiting just for me to ascend. Good. So, free standing, I decide to make a goodly James Bond go of it and take those stairs like a marathon man, hauling myself up with absolute determination, gripping with both hands on the railings, and pulling myself along like lifting weights. And I step at last into the portal, yay! And then the big series of sword-stabs comes. Dang!
So I've got my eyes closed and my mouth clamped lest people hear me say in a kind of indelicate swear something sinfully wicked and completely selfish like "oh my goodness, if only me dearest firend was here beside me now" and my body shakes and shivers with rather evident pain. My face, from what I've been told before, goes quite red with such exertions. I'm convinced it's from trying not to swear! My eyes I keep closed, the better to stay within, to calm the beleaguered psyche, and to focus on my breathing to get the body to accept. Pain is inevitable; Suffering is optional. Ha! It's my mantra. And then I open my eyes.
An entire aircraft, choc-a-bloc full of people, is watching me. "Oh my God," I exclaim aloud. And then, rather stupidly since the only vacant seat is very obvious, but five or so steps away from me, "Where is seat 2a?" Dead silence, staring at me. Some helpful hands indicate the vacant seat. A kind seat-mate gets up to let me past. I feel guilty. And then I process my passage. Ha! I wish I'd not said such an obvious thing: 'Oh my god!' Tisk, t'sk. What was I thinking? It would have been so much cooler just to yell, "O.M.G.!"
27) TOO TERRIFIED FOR TRUTH!
"I lied," was Justin's opening gambit, awakening me back in Canada. He was writing of the amount of photos he said he'd taken; the reality of memory. It was, in his succinct way, a summation of several conversations we'd had about the first principal of ethics, do no harm. Truth, as a concrete concept, does not appear in ethics. It is among the reasons some take situational-ethics classes. It is the art of lying on behalf of wanting the best for all, so that we all may live more peaceably. But some truths need telling.
Linda, my wife who happens to be a psychologist (or is it the other way round?) picks me up at the airport, 10:30 p.m., or was it 10:33? In the car on the long way home she invites, "Tell me everything. I want all the details. I want all the facts. I read your essays, but I love to listen." Well, Linda my dear may not have said exactly those words, but the gist of what she wanted went something like that. I do plead guilty of misrepresentation. Warming to the memories, I plunge in with a stream of consciousness story summation of my entire trip, as though parsing down these past 27 essays about Oz into but two or so pages. How much do I not indeed thereby leave out, no matter how loquacious I may get? Yet after all is said and done, it's just as my very dear friend, Justin put it:
"Thanks for sharing this stream of recollections of what was, and now lives only in memory. It will be processed and adjusted and reprocessed and verified and reprocessed and embodied in the shaping and becoming of each participant. Fact? That which is agreed and verified based on objective evidence. Truth?"
Exactly! Indeed! He was there! He should know!
Let's take the marmalade jar, for example. (Take it where?) O.K., let's look at the example of the incident with the marmalade jar.
M'Lady Nancy (her famous father was Sir A. D. Street!) had only two of her precious home-made jars left. (No, she didn't 'make' the jars!) She knew I liked the thick chunky kind, and she'd kept one back just for me. I had it carefully wrapped in my carry-on bag and from Perth it went with me to Sydney, and travelled with me everywhere, since that bag contained my passport and my camera and my... Well, the jar did not make it past the International check-in when leaving Sydney! Alarm bells went off. Police cruisers and humvees and sniffer dogs and weapons of mass destruction all hovered around my evidently most offensive jam jar. An inspector, blue-gloved, deigned to hold it up in the air for all to see. "What we have here," she announced in a senatorial voice, "is a breach of situational ethics! The entire continent is at risk. What exactly is this? Jam? What? Oh! Mar-ma-lade! (She was beginning to sound like the haughty caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland) What we have hear," she repeated, ensuring she had everyone's focus, "is a failure to communicate!" And then, most horrible of all, she opened up a great green bin like a pirate ship with its emblazoned skull and crossbones, and dumped my precious marmalade jar inside! At least, that's how I choose to tell the tale.
The thing is, when hearing this story my wife, who also cares deeply for Nancy's welfare immediately suggested we don't tell her. What harm, her not knowing? I nodded. She'd be so disma... Ha! But now her jam lives on longer, in words! Situational ethics, indeed. To Innesfree!