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
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. Whipps Cross Hospital
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.
LFtried 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
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
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…