Monday, October 01, 2007

Cultural Whinge


Mr T, Pants and La Formidable on top of The Hedgehog

Things have been a bit quiet around House of Pants lately I know. I find work physically and mentally draining – and not in a good way. This last week has been exceptionally debilitating. The condition of my friend Age who’s in Whipps Cross Hospital continues to cause concern. He has Parkinson’s Disease and is diabetic and is parked in care awaiting a triple bypass operation. With the Parkinson’s, it’s critical that he gets his drugs at exactly the right time. I went in to see him yesterday to find that the drugs were delivered fifteen minutes late and he was in a very poorly state. Everyone knows that diabetics are restricted in what they can eat, everyone that is, except nurses. This would seem a relatively simple thing to get right, given its critical importance. Apparently not at Whipps Cross.

The food trolley comes around and there is almost nothing suitable on it except watery potatoes and processed peas and carrots. The nurses at Whipps Cross do not seem to understand that adequate nourishment is vital to life. Age is now frightened because when he has tried to assert his needs, he’s been severely roused at by the bullying staff and told he must ‘play by the rules’. What game are they playing - Russian Roulette? 

Something doesn’t add up here. Hospitals now routinely supply kosher and halal choices to patients, which although a cultural imperative, is not actually a solution to a life-threatening problem. I thought the Homerton was bad but at least you could order your food in advance so you knew what you were getting. As it is, Age is dependent on friends bringing in food that he can actually eat. It’s chaotic because we don’t know each other well enough to organise it properly and it’s also dependent on the good will of the nurses because Age won’t necessarily remember what’s been put in the fridge for him. Yesterday he was so hungry he wolfed down some very unsuitable chicken pie. I was able to add an organic avocado and lemon I’d brought in to liven up the limp salad that accompanied it but it was a dead cert that he’d suffer later for the decision to defy his long-term condition in favour of immediate survival.

Last week I also saw one of my oldest friends who was in town on business and then went off on a short holiday with Mr T. La Formidable is a wonderful woman and we will be friends for life, unless she reads this post of course. We all went out for dinner three times and had three arguments, all of them intense and stimulating. I believe my brain may have even broken into a canter once or twice. It was hard to tell because there was a lot of wine involved. You can’t really argue with Mr T, which is why we’ve been constant friends for over thirty years. His fallback position is always to propose the converse of whatever I’ve posited, thereby neatly circumventing the possibility of ever meeting in the middle over a three course meal. I quickly tire of this and requesting the dessert menu starts to seem like a good idea after Round 2 of both of us struggling to articulate our point of view from opposite poles. You so can’t see around latitudes.

LF tried to help me get my second novel The Way of the Pear published a few years ago. Our third and final dinner argument took place at the wonderful Mango Room restaurant in Camden Town. I apologise unreservedly to anyone who was sitting in our immediate vicinity. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lived away from my native Australia for the last twenty-five years. And I’ve also mentioned that I’m about to go back for good in the next few months. The crux of our argument was that Pear contains a representation of some Aboriginal legends. The purpose they serve in the novel is metaphorical. LF says that this is a total no-go area and there is a word for it – ‘appropriation’. I backed off because I thought I’ve been away from Australia for a long time and there may have been advancements in thinking of which I’m unaware.
 
Let me give you a bit of background about why there is Aboriginal mythology in Pear. I spent some time as a young(ish) person at Moongalba, the home of Aboriginal poet, artist and diplomat Oodgeroo Noonuccal. ‘Kath’ as we called her then because she had not yet taken the Aboriginal name Oodgeroo, had a constant stream of mostly white school and university students visiting. Her purpose was to teach young people the true history of the country which they called home. The message that I got from her, which is indelibly etched on my consciousness, is that newcomers must learn from the Aboriginal people. My personal experience of spending time with Oodgeroo only lasted a short while but it had a profound impact on the way I think about the country in which I was born.

The argument with LF was not the first warning I’ve had that I’d written a completely unpublishable book. Last month I registered alarm at Kate Grenville’s improbable confession that she’d not had any awareness of Aboriginal people as anything but ‘museum pieces’ until 1988. I’ve previously lampooned the venerable Germaine Greer for her frankly ludicrous stand on the Bangladeshi writer Monica Ali’s fictional representation of the Bengali community in her debut novel Brick Lane. What both seem to be suggesting is that a fiction writer has no jurisdiction beyond her a posteriori experience when referencing living cultures. This is fairly restricting unless you’re content with writing episodes of Doctor Who or live next door to Pete Doherty.

I’m wondering if it’s just an Australian thing as I’ve just now watched a DVD of The Last King of Scotland, a fictional scenario where a Scot becomes Idi Amin’s personal physician. It’s based on the novel by Giles Foden who’s not Ugandan or Scottish or even a doctor. As far as I know, no one has been freaked out by Foden’s fictionalising of this particular black man’s life. Is this because Idi Amin is considered a ‘bad’ person? You see where the argument falls apart when you start sketching in arbitrary boundaries based on unfounded assumptions. 
 
Most of us can understand there are ethical issues when harvesting knowledge and understanding from groups of people who have been abused and exploited. Surely sensitivity is a more appropriate response than hysterical denial. If white Australians decide en masse to ignore the original traditions of the land they inhabit, how will it ever be possible to arrive at a shared identity? Am I missing something here? To further complicate the picture, the distinction between white and Aboriginal Australia is not always neatly drawn. I could discover tomorrow that I have an Aboriginal great grandparent, as cousins of mine recently did. Would such a revelation somehow alter my entitlement to add what I know of Aboriginal tradition to my personal narrative? Oodgeroo had some white ancestors, as her striking blue eyes demonstrated. Our white male ancestors shamed us all by their theft and rape but their legacy is living, breathing individuals who may not necessarily fancy being rigidly categorized.
 
We forget sometimes that knowledge is free. I can’t help thinking that the whole argument betrays a certain free-market perception of ownership. I could take all the Aboriginal fables out of Pear without materially affecting it. What I can’t do is ‘unknow’ those stories. Thank fuck for that… 


32 comments:

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Pants,

Work - I remember how it can do that to you and it can be particularly draining when you have been out of that rhythm for a while. Hopefully you won't be encumbered for too long.

London hospitals scare me - because I once lived there and have this old and long out of date idea, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it's still basically ok, the good old NHS, and will do the necessary to look after us when that's needed. We should weep for people like your friend and all the others who don't have people like you to keep an eye on them. There is no reason that I can understand why the nursing has to be as bad as it is. What can we do about it? Why isn't there more coverage about how dire things are? It isn't just money that's needed but a whole change of heart and a recognition that what is happening amounts to criminal negligence and is a reflection of some deep sickness in our country.

Thanks for the link the the Mango - I've been wondering about a good place to gather for my daughter's birthday.

I saw Jindabyne at the cinema last night. Still processing it but think, generally, that it's rather fine. It's based on a Raymond Carver story but set in Australia. I would be very interested to know what you made of the ending.

x

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs

I think you'll like the Mango Room. Will go see Jindabyne.

Thanks

Pants

Miss Hacksaw said...

Dear Pants, sorry to hear about your friend, and am sending you and them my very best wishes. That sentence doesn't sound right, does it? With any luck the message will shine through the terrible use of English. Miss H x

That's so pants said...

Hi Ms H

Lovely to hear from you. I will tell Age that a hacksaw wishes him well. I know it will work.

xxx

Pants

Dame Honoria Glossop said...

I worry about the vulnerable and the elderly in hospitals today. Being a feisty sort of dame, I can speak up for myself & am usually allowed to look after my own meds (they probably think it's less trouble that way), but others cannot & have no-one to look out for them.

trousers said...

Thank fuck indeed. Wonderful post. My attention span felt too short for it but your words dragged it along and it had no choice but to follow.

That's so pants said...

Hi Your Dameship

How are things at Castle Glossop? I have just come from visiting Age. I took up some brown basmati rice and organic broccoli. Another friend (Ned) brought a selection of fruit, including a Leytonstone cox from his own tree. We can get the food working but the drugs remain a problem.

I discovered today that the pharmacy made a dangerous error in dispensing, something Age worked out himself by keeping a written record of what he was taking. With three separate life-threatening conditions and his failing memory, this can't have been an easy task. However, he did manage to convince his doctor he was getting the wrong medication. His will to live is quite incredible.

He has been left very weakened but is one of only a couple of people on the ward with an old-fashioned iron bed. I asked the cocky male nurse if he could have a modern bed that can be reconfigured at will by remote control as he is now quite unable to get himself comfortable. Given that the hospital itself had rendered him into this immobile condition, I expected some conciliation. My query was met with a lecture on prioritising. I was nice to the idiot because the consequences of being rude would accrue to Age rather than myself but I actually felt like shoving his head in a bedpan.

Hi Trews

Thank you, I think. I'm taking it as a complement anyway.

xxx

Pants

trousers said...

Yes pants, it was meant as a compliment! A bit of a cryptic looking comment I made there: what I meant was, despite feeling like my attention span was too short for reading the post at that point, I was drawn in, read it and very much enjoyed it.

:)

That's so pants said...

I know sweetie. Thanks again


xxx

Pants

Wisewebwoman said...

Great Post, Pants.
How awful for your friend. The health care systems can be atrocious, which has everything to do with the attitude of the bottom ranks and they can be down right nasty on these, the most vulnerable of us. All good light goes his way.

As to the stew over First Nations (as we call our aboriginals in Canada) and the usurpers (us) - fiction is fiction. I've written from the viewpoint of an aboriginal and workshopped it amongst aboriginals (with trepidation, I should add)and apart from their statement of the fact that I "could never know" I showed a good grasp of what it was like for a native coming out of a residential school and being adopted by 'whites'. What do we ever really know of another's life anyway? That's why we write fiction, we attempt an understanding with the threads from our own lives.
Longwinded - sorry, P, but the brouhaha over your prior novel needs to be deflected. You wrote honestly and undoubtedly well and we need to stand behind our writing.
Ha!
XO
WWW

That's so pants said...

Hi WWW

Thanks. I actually do think that the present attitude of non-Aboriginal Australians is divisive and naive and will have the effect of further isolating Aboriginal people and ensuring that parallel cultures develop.

xxx

Pants

Janejill said...

You said it very succinctly Pants - "We forget sometimes that knowledge is free" I cannot accept that one should be limited by one's birth; imagination and empathy and having the ability to enter someone else's world, instead of only observing it is a valuable and important part of the recording of history too. So sad about your firend; I wish I lived closer to try to join the helpers. My mother had so mush frustration inher last few years in a nursing home; there is a mind set which is totally unalterable I think; you were wise to resist a full attack as that is what some of these morons in hospitals seem to want. Age knows he has your friendship and that must give him some conmfort and hope. Cannot deide now how you look as your two phots (three counting the omne from the 80s?) look so different. You look a little bit too gentle in the latest one :)-

R.H. said...

How could something with aborigines in it not get published? It's usually guaranteed.

That's so pants said...

Hi Jane Jill

Thanks so much. I was thinking tonight that we might need to form a proper Team Age as our well-meaning but chaotic efforts don't always provide him with the right resources at the right time. You're right - it sucks that we have to even think about it.

My friends are all HUGE. It's no wonder that I have an inferiority complex and wore very high heels for a long time. I'm not even short.

Hi RH

Whether or not someone wants to publish my book is not something I have control over, unfortunately. I have a feeling that it won't rest entirely on the presence or absence of Aboriginal legend.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

It does enormously well here, more fashionable than that black thing women wear, what is it, the pencil skirt?

That's so pants said...

Well I'm wearing a pencil but I don't know that it would work as a skirt, exactly. It's more of an ear accessory.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

It's a definite dress of some sort, I saw it mentioned on a blog here, I'll see if I can find the reference and tell you exactly what it's called (blogs are the cutting edge of fashion).

That's so pants said...

Hi RH

I confess I was jesting. My head knows what a pencil skirt is, but my hips are in denial.

xxx

Pants

Janejill said...

I want to say sorry for not vetting my comment . I wish there were a way of removing it after I have posted it... I will be much more careful in my typing efforts. If it's any excuse at all, I usually have a purring , inquisitive little leopard spot cat weaving up and down the keyboard. For some reason, he usually manages to save most stuff to draft- cleverer than I imagined.xx

That's so pants said...

Hi Jane Jill

Don't worry about it. I committed some awful faux pas in the spelling and grammar dept from being too tired late at night but unable to drag myself away, usually after a couple of glasses of wine. Given that I'm always going on about literacy, it is a tad embarrassing.

xxx

Pants

NMJ said...

hey pants, if i could take age something good to eat, i would. i could weep reading your post about him. i send him my warmest wishes. x

That's so pants said...

Thanks NMJ

I was in there tonight and the STUPID nurses were STILL shaking their heads incredulously when he turned down the sausage rolls. I said to them 'he's diabetic you know'. They looked at me like I'd told them he was a Chelsea supporter. He's just now sent me a text to say that his blood/sugar is through the roof so we've now got to get him proper food every day. We can do that but what is going to happen to the most vulnerable people who don't have a dozen friends who can and will come to their aid?

Nice to hear from you. Hope you're well.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Bubble dress.

And thank you Miss Jahteh: Copperwitch.

Ann O'Dyne said...

1. Sydney NSW has just had a scandal at Royal North Shore hospital.
I think a patient took their own NURSE with them for safety.

I have said for years "hospital is no place for a sick person".
Wishing your friend the best recovery soon.

Ann O'Dyne said...

oh! the photo.
you look quite different to your gravatar pic - and just like my Brisbane friend Berys Marsh.

Is there a 'Brisbane Look'?

Q2. Is LF the percussionist I haven't seen for 20 years?

That's so pants said...

Hi Annie

Q1. There's a Brisbane 'look', like there's a Brisbane 'sound' - you what I'm saying?

Q2. What do you think?

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Just popping in to say hello and that's a much better picture of you than the gravatar.
-Auntie, that's what it says; safe with the things you couldn't tell mother.

R.H. said...

This word verification takes longer to do than a comment, sometimes it wants three goes. What a stupid thing!

That's so pants said...

Hi RH

Thanks for stopping by. Pants is the one in the middle - you got that, right?

Word verification is the blogosphere's way of preventing you from making a tit of yourself after a few too many sherries. Works on me anyway.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Well I didn't think you were the one on the left.

When I drink I'm even more stupid. I have a rule, if I drink, I don't write. It means less fatality.

michael aitkens said...

anne o dyne

I was looking for my old friend BERYS MARSH and the only current google result I could find was your ref to her as your Brisbane friend. Could you please pass on my e-mail address to her and ask her to get in touch. I am maitkens@blueyonder.co.uk

michael aitkens

That's so pants said...

Well excuse me!

Never mind Michael - I will pass the message on to Ms Annie and hopefully you and your mutual friend will be reunited - after all WHAT ELSE AM I FOR!

xxx

Pants