Saturday, 18 November 2017

Making life better

Hi everyone,


I was on an SES callout from about 1000 this morning.  It's now 1400 and I'm about to go home.


Do you find that the Sunday blues kick your a**e too?  They seem to hook into me earlier and earlier every weekend.  Certainly at the moment I'm finding that I'm going back to the dark times I went through at other jobs.  At one stage at my first job as a lawyer I found the only part of the day I looked forward to was lunch, and that's basically my position now.  And at the job after that I dreaded the end of Sunday.  Not only was my marriage collapsing by then, but I'd go home every day feeling sick with worry and failure.  At a very black point it was a relief at the office to imagine the sense of a noose closing around my neck.



Unlike those other times, however, I'm doing something about it except waiting with that "deer in the headlights" look on my face.  I'm managing the blues themselves with medication as per usual.  And with the warmer weather I'm finding I can get a decent hit of endorphins regularly by running and exercising.  In particular I've also found that the ABC's Classic Flow yoga podcasts are something of an oasis of calm when things are tough.


A post shared by 🎹 Classic Flow 🎻 (@classicflow_yoga) on


I keep it together at work by thinking of groups of five things that I'm grateful for.  This really does help life my spirits.  More substantively I'm also looking for a new job.  This work is all very well, but the pay is low and the conditions dispiriting.  I can do so much more for the world than be a labourer and factory hand.


I'm not sure where life will end up, but I'm sure it'll be good when I get there.

Friday, 29 September 2017

When you stop supporting

Hi everyone,

I just finished writing a difficult letter.  For years I have supported the Royal District Nursing Service as much as my means permitted.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, they have undergone a change of name.

No automatic alt text available.
Image from here

A recent letter persuaded me that they have also changed their values.  So with regret, I've now sent them this letter -
Mr Stephen Muggleton
Bolton Clarke
Level 3
44 Musk Avenue
KELVIN GROVE  QLD  4059
29 September 2017
Dear Mr Muggleton,
Cessation of Support
I refer to your letter dated September 2017 soliciting a donation of $970.00.  I was staggered to receive a request for a donation of that magnitude.
I was a longstanding supporter of the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) after witnessing the care its nurses gave to my grandmother in the mid-1990s.  The home visits she received, and the relief this gave to my family, was priceless.  I was also very proud to help fund work that provided nursing care to the homeless, isolated and disadvantaged.
The organization now called “Bolton Clarke” is not the service I was proud to support.  Based on its 2016 Annual Report, and on its Facebook activity, and indeed on your letter of September 2017, Bolton Clarke appears to be simply a provider of retirement living options.  Nursing appears to be little more than a fragment of its activity, preferably delivered over the internet.  Personal contact seems to be viewed as a luxury.  Care for the disadvantaged has apparently ceased altogether.
In the circumstances, a request for a donation which represents (for me) nearly two weeks’ wages is astonishing.  With very deep regret I advise that I will not be supporting your organization further.  I have instructed my solicitor to redraw my will to remove the clause making a bequest to the RDNS.  While my values have not changed, it appears that your organization’s have.
Yours faithfully,
Stephen Tuck
Has this happened to you?  Have you ever needed to give up supporting an organization because it stopped being something you could support?

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

[Book Review] Hanson, The Dreadful Judgement (2001)

Neil Hanson, The Dreadful Judgement (Doubleday: London 2001)

Nobody could accuse Neil Hanson of not writing a gripping story.  This account of the Great Fire of London fairly tears along, from the closing stages of the plague that preceeded it, to the condition of the poorer quarters of the town on the eve of the fire, to the disaster and its aftermath.  His gaze shifts rapidly from the highest levels of the court of King Charles II to the primitive relief camps outside London. 

The Dreadful Judgement
Image from here
Hanson takes issue with the traditional death toll of four people, although he seems to accept that these are the only deaths that are known with certainty to hsve occurred.  Knowing what we do after Black Saturday, it is hard to disagree with the assertion that the actual loss of life was hundreds or even thousands that number.  Intriguingly, he leaves open the possibility that the fire may in fact have been started deliberately by French or Dutch saboteurs.

A connecting thread in the story is the experience of the baker, Thomas Farriner, whose shop is traditionally thought to be the cause of the fire.  He shifts between details which seem to have been drawn from contemporary accounts to narrative which seems to be a mix of inference, conjecture and speculation.  This is the unsettling part of the book: it is difficult to tell precisely where the history ends and the imagination begins.  This makes it hard to trust his commentary on (say) the likely cause of the fire.  The situation is not helped by inexcusably poor footnoting. For example, claiming Samuel Pepys' colossal diary as a source is useless when the reference simply refers to "Samuel Pepys, Diary" or "Samuel Pepys, op. cit.".  A first-year Arts student would not be allowed this sort of scholarly sleight of hand, and Hanson's editor should not have permitted it either.

This book is a good yarn, and perhaps a good place to start researching London of the 1660s, but it would be a poor place to stop.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

[Book Review] Antonia White: Diaries 1926-1957 (1991)

Antonia White, Diaries 1926-1957 [vol. 1], ed. Susan Chitty (Constable & Co: London, 1991)

I don't read a great deal of fiction, and until I saw this book in an op shop I'd never heard of Antonia White.  However, I love reading diaries or letters by artists (one of my desert island books is the Letters of Bruce Chatwin).

Diaries 1926-1957: Volume I
Image from here

White's diaries did not disappoint.  More than anything else, she was a writer's writer.  Clive James' memorable description of Turgenev could equally have applied to her -
The temptation is to call Tolstoy a stylist. But in Russian, Turgenev was the stylist. Turgenev was the one who cared about repeating a word too soon. Tolstoy hardly cared at all.

In the later stages of the diaries, especially as they stretch into the 1950s, you get a real sense of the life of a professional writer: the difficulty meeting editors' deadlines, self doubt, and becoming bored with one's characters or subject.  You also get a sense of the black hole into which prose stylists can fall, as she writes and rewrites the first chapter of an ultimately unpublished book (one thinks of Joseph Grand in Camus' La Peste, only without the hint of comedy).

Real life keeps breaking through, especially in the years up to 1950, as White chronicles a string of failed marriages and questionable relationships.  Susan Chitty - her daughter and editor - deserves praise here: White frequently writes about her own quite-active sex life and editing this material can't have been fun.

Antonia White was too singular a person for her diaries to be a time capsule of her age, either of the big- or small-picture type.  However, they do have the same crystal-clear quality of George Orwell and Earnest Hemingway without the former's bitterness or the latter's irony.  They may not be everyone's taste, but they should be on the list of every aspiring writer.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Rosie and Me

I have a job!  Three weeks ago I applied for a job as a metal fabricator at a local signmaker.  I was completely straight with them about my skills: I learned to do my welding on-farm and most of my practical talents are what I learned in the same place and with the State Emergency Service.  A few days later they offered me the job: there had been better candidates, but they “liked my attitude”.  I started the next day.


The work is hard: a great deal of it involves lifting and moving items made out of aluminium and acrylic.  My first few days were spent either installing signs at Benalla and Shepparton and Melbourne and polishing letters which will form part of a sign halfway up a building.  The start time varies from 0500hrs to 0730hrs.

 

There was a “you are here” moment when going out to a sign-repair in Melbourne.  The sign belonged to a medical practice from which I used to request medical records and repeats.  This proved something, but I’m not sure what.


For the last few days I’ve been working blisteringly hard cutting lengths of aluminium for welding into frames for signs.  The client is a very valuable one and each cut must be accurate to within half a millimetre.  The target is enough material for 134 signs; as at 1730hrs on Friday I had completed 116.  The most satisfying thing in the world is working hard at something worthwhile.  I found myself wondering if this work truly is worthwhile.  It was hard not to wish I was putting this much energy into serving the Red Cross or the SES, or that the army hadn't knocked me back.  This led me to thinking about the “Rosie the Riveter” women who went from being housewives and secretaries and shop assistants to being welders and bomb assemblers during the last World War (it was the closest analogue I could think of for my own change in circumstances).

Image from here

At first I thought: that was worthwhile work.  But then I remembered that the reality as lived by the people was probably closer to the munitions factory setting in Foyle's War: the work was worthwhile, but done in a setting which was venal, bullying and unrewarding.



This was a salutary reminder not to expect the world to be what it isn’t.  The same thought has been on my mind since I received paperwork last week advising that one of my favourite charities – the Royal District Nursing Service – has changed its name to Bolton Clarke.  Allegedly this is to reflect its expanded range of services.  The cynic in me suspects that this is an initial step to becoming a for-profit enterprise (less likely) or sold as a going concern (more likely – the public would be outraged to hear that Royal District Nursing Service assets are being sold, but will barely notice when the assets belonging to what sounds like a firm of accountants are sold).  It saddens me to think that a charity I love may be acting like a low-grade bait-and-switch.


I’m not sure I know what to do with any of this.  I don’t know if I’m over-naïve or over-jaded.  Simple economics dictates that I have to keep working.  But I wish I was doing something that made the world a better place.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Review: Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (2005)

Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Paulines Publishing House: Manila, 2005)

Like most papal documents, Paul VI's exhortation on evangelization is deceptively easy to read.  It is supremely quotable and textually dense.


Pope Paul VI
Image from here

The text spans the need for evangelization in the world of 1975, when it was first released.  It remains a necessary text today for many of the blocks of opinion which the church encounters in- and outside itself.  Chapter 3 demonstrates the point well.  This chapter seems to be a rebuff to Liberation Theology as an error, or at any rate as a sufficient form of church practice.  The Church's role in ending suffering and systemic injustice is accepted (¶30) -
It is well known in what terms numerous bishops from all the continents spoke of this [liberation] at the last Synod, especially the bishops from the Third World, with a pastoral accent resonant with the voice of the millions of sons and daughters of the Church who make up those peoples. Peoples, as we know, engaged with all their energy in the effort and struggle to overcome everything which condemns them to remain on the margin of life: famine, chronic disease, illiteracy, poverty, injustices in international relations and especially in commercial exchanges, situations of economic and cultural neo-colonialism sometimes as cruel as the old political colonialism. The Church ... has the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, many of whom are her own children- the duty of assisting the birth of this liberation, of giving witness to it, of ensuring that it is complete. This is not foreign to evangelization.

However, readers are cautioned, this is not the end of the work: "in order that God's kingdom should come it is not enough to establish liberation and to create well-being and development" (¶35).

Two parts of this discussion are equally resonant today.  Commentators who view the church as tolerable only to the extent that it perform's socially useful services are cautioned that this limit is not acceptable (¶32):
[M]any, even generous Christians who are sensitive to the dramatic questions involved in the problem of liberation, in their wish to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God.

There is an equally stern rebuke to the modern writers who talk gleefully about 'Elijah house-clearing with a shotgun': "The Church cannot accept violence, especially the force of arms - which is uncontrollable once it is let loose - and indiscriminate death as the path to liberation, because she knows that violence always provokes violence and irresistibly engenders new forms of oppression and enslavement which are often harder to bear than those from which they claimed to bring freedom" (¶37).



The discussion of responses to non-Christian religions bears re-reading when Evangelical belief has shrunk to a crude rejection of encounters with other faiths as 'fellowship with Baal'.








Without conceding to a vague 'kumbaya', the significance of other faiths is firmly announced (¶53):
The Church respects and esteems ... non Christian religions because they are the living expression of the soul of vast groups of people. They carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God, a quest which is incomplete but often made with great sincerity and righteousness of heart. They possess an impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts. They have taught generations of people how to pray. [However,] ... neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised is an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ. On the contrary the Church holds that these multitudes have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ - riches in which we believe that the whole of humanity can find, in unsuspected fullness, everything that it is gropingly searching for concerning God, man and his destiny, life and death, and truth. Even in the face of natural religious expressions most worthy of esteem, the Church finds support in the fact that the religion of Jesus, which she proclaims through evangelization, objectively places man in relation with the plan of God, with His living presence and with His action; she thus causes an encounter with the mystery of divine paternity that bends over towards humanity. In other words, our religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven.
Chapter 6 covers the role to be played by members of the church in advancing evangelization, from the episcopate to the laity.  The merit in the monastic life is firmly restated: Monks and nuns "embody the Church in her desire to give herself completely to the radical demands of the beatitudes. By their lives they are a sign of total availability to God, the Church and the brethren" (¶69).  This bears repeating in the light of a hostility that seems to have begun in the Reformation and never quite ended:



Chapter 7 follows up with a reminder to the various Christian denominations that internal squabbles are deeply unhealthy for evangelization.  Polemicists from Catholic, Protestant, Mormon and Orthodox traditions will probably all feel a little stung by the criticism in ¶77:
The power of evangelization will find itself considerably diminished if those who proclaim the Gospel are divided among themselves in all sorts of ways. Is this not perhaps one of the great sicknesses of evangelization today? Indeed, if the Gospel that we proclaim is seen to be rent by doctrinal disputes, ideological polarizations or mutual condemnations among Christians, at the mercy of the latter's differing views on Christ and the Church and even because of their different concepts of society and human institutions, how can those to whom we address our preaching fail to be disturbed, disoriented, even scandalized?


Most of the points His Holiness made in 1975 were strong than.  Many have become even stronger in the intervening 40 years.  Evangelii Nuntiandi should be read by anyone of a religious persuasion who wants to share their faith with the world.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review: Sarah Palin, Going Rogue (2009)

Sarah Palin, Going Rogue: An American Life (HarperCollins: New York, 2009)

I wasn't sure whether I was going to like Sarah Palin's autobiography or not.  Having finished it, I'm still not sure.

Image from here
Palin came to (inter)national prominence with her nomination as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.  Since then she's bobbed about on the political scene as a speaker and talking head, but not as a candidate.  Her 2008-and-after career, however, is a little misleading. It distracts from her time as a competent and effective governor of Alaska.  This is fundamentally the puzzle with this book.  Slightly over half covers her early life, the start of her political career, and governorship of Alaska. This part is genuinely interesting.  The discussion of the process of reforming the oil industry is a gift for a policy wonk, taking in issues of revenue, royalties, land use and resource planning.

It's less easy to like the discussion of her time as a Vice Presidential nominee.  This section of the book feels remarkably disjointed, as if each episode were remembered and written down separately and then copied and pasted into more-or-less chronological order.  It may be that Ms Palin did write this section that way: the book came out in 2009 - the year after the election - and the memories may still have been a bit raw.  It's also possible that it reflects the McCain campaign itself.  The presidential and vice presidential wings of the campaign seem to have barely communicated with each other, resulting in the latter learning about (say) the decision to abandon Michigan from the morning news.  More seriously, the professional campaign staff seem to have decided to retain a tightly controlled message which meant they could not effectively utilise Palin's skills as a grassroots campaigner.  One must, of course remember that this is Palin's side of the story and (like every political writer since Thucydides) there will always be a temptation to set the record crooked on key points.  That said, the impression from the book matches my recollection from the time. That is, the McCain-Palin campain was poorly organised and wasted the opportunities it had to finesse a win from an already difficult hand.

Image from here
The style is folksy throughout and I'm not sure how much was ghostwritten.  This becomes a little tiresome after a time (the phrase "commonsense conservative" is used ad nauseam).  It also rather does Palin a disservice: one has the impression of a competent backwoods politician out of her depth at a national level - a kind of Alaskan Joh Bjelke-Petersen, with none of Bjelke-Petersen's ruthlessness or strength of personality.

This book is useful as a record of a time.   Not everything in it is sound, but it will repay reading by students of the art of campaigning.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Shot during sex

The further I drift from my life as a university graduate and lawyer into a life of hi-vis and manual work, the more I find myself seeing the world through the lens of rounded edges and sharp edges.  That is, it's remarkably easy to be relaxed about parole laws if you live in (say) low-crime Toorak.  It's much harder if you live in Noble Park (which is basically a war zone with a postcode).    It's easy to encourage drug decriminalization if you live a safe middle class life and you're not likely to encounter a nutter in an ice-fuelled rage.



In both cases, one group of people live in a life of rounded edges, where few actions have truly serious consequences.  Even truly anti-social acts are more a cause for therapy than punishment.  The other group lives in a life of sharp edges.  That is, where misfortune fuelled by crime or economics occurs essentially arbitrarily.  Where cruelty is esentially casual.  And where bad decisions tend to have long-lasting potential impacts.  In general, the people I have met in the State Emergency Service and other emergency service organizations tend to live in a world of sharp edges.  Pain and loss, in our world, is as easily caused as a moment of distracted driving and as arbitrary as a summer storm.

This is on my mind this evening particularly following the account of a police shooting last night in Melbourne.  According to The Age (which is basically the journal of record for the world of rounded corners) -
Superintendent Hardeman ... said police received "a number of phone calls in relation to the male with the firearm, including from the venue ... People observed the firearm down the front of his pants."
The police "shot the man after he aimed a gun at police"  The man and a female partner -
... were attending the erotic Saints & Sinners Ball, which is described as "Australia's raunchiest party" for "broadminded adults".   It is believed the couple were engaged in a sexual act in front of other party-goers when about 40 police from the heavily-armed Critical Incident Response Team stormed into the club.
The venue operator's comments are revealing -
 


I'm struck by the casual statement that the man was "in a compromising position with his female partner, which is a normal activity with the nature of this event".  To a police officer (indeed, to anyone in the world of hard edges) a man apparently with a weapon in a 'compromising position' sounds remarkably like a man committing a serious crime.  And while the people may well have been "enjoying each other’s company", one cannot descibe it as 'innocent' in anything but a legal sense.

Image from here
On the information to hand, I'm struck by the different world views on display.  On one hand, people who appear to have believed they could behave as they wished, in any circumstances, without consequence.  On the other, people who must deal with the hard edges of the world, and where everything has consequences for themselves and for others.  Kipling's bitter observation on the divide is as true as it was a century ago -
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
    Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
    But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
I don't know if the world is becoming more anarchic and less self-restrained.  I certainly don't think peoples' desire for order and safety is any less.  But I think it will be ever more the job of people in the world of sharp edges to provide that security.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Review: Berlitz, The Lost Ship of Noah (1987)

Charles Berlitz, The Lost Ship of Noah (W.H. Allen & Co: London, 1987)

Berlitz's exploration of the Great Flood and the search for Noah's Ark is much better than it should have been.  It's a compact 187 pages but still gives the impression of covering significant ground at a slow amble.

The Lost Ship of Noah by Charles Frambach Berlitz

The book is best described as an examination of different aspects of the tale of the Flood.  Each chapter more-or-less stands alone.  One covers Flood myths from around the world (and the different personages 'Noah' has taken).  Another covers the difficulties of climbing Mount Ararat, and still another the verbal accounts of sightings of the Ark in the mountains of Armenia.  This has a few drawbacks.  The book seems fairly undisciplined and no real line of argument emerges.  Sometimes information seems to be included simply because the author was aware of it rather than because it was relevant.  I'm not sure why the final chapter discussed the prospects of the world ending in 1999 (pp. 171-187).

The author seems to have made a genuine effort to be objective.  For example, he recounts that timbers brought which Fernand Navarra claimed to have recovered from Ararat were variously dated to 5000BC and 560AD (pp. 94-95).  On the other hand, he studiously avoids commenting on how documentary evidence of Ark sightings can miraculously never be located.  For example, the report of a Russian search for the Ark was apparently destroyed by Leon Trotsky (p. 33).  People who have photographed the Ark will show the pictures to others but not release them to the press or allow them to be copied (pp. 41-42).  A statement from an eyewitness is mysteriously destroyed in a house fire (p. 150).  Newpaper reports can somehow never be found (pp. 42 and 150).  He is also remarkably unselective about his material.  He accepts as genuine an absurd claim by a man in Arizona to by the son of Tsar Nicholas II (p. 37).  He quotes from a fourteenth century Ark sighting by Sir John Mandeville, despite Mandeville being a fictional character! (p. 18).  And his account of flood legends from around the world seems to be drawn from secondary sources quoting secondary sources quoting secondary sources quoting ... you get the idea: what the primary source material might be is anyone's guess (pp. 129-136).

Fundamentally, this book is less history and more a collection of folklore.  It's worth flipping through on a long train ride, but don't take it too seriously.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Book Review: Knight and Lomas, The Second Messiah (1997)

Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, The Second Messiah (Century Books: London, 1997)
 
Some while ago I wrote a fairly cranky review of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods.  I think I should apologise.  To Mr von Daniken.  He actually hasn’t written the worst piece of faux-scholarship I’ve ever seen.  That honour goes to Messrs Knight and Lomas for The Second Messiah: Templars, The Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry.
 
The Second Messiah by Christopher Knight
Image from here
The authors basic hypothesis runs like this:  Jesus Christ was the child of a teenager called Mary who was sexually assaulted by a priest of the Jerusalem Temple.  Paul the Apostle misunderstood that Christ’s resurrection, which (the authors say) was a Jewish ritual and not an actual return from the dead.   As a result, Christianity developed into a strange set of ideas which Jesus would not recognise.  The priests of the Temple fled to Europe as refugees after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.  There they established themselves as the “Rex Deus” families and, a thousand years later, conspired to launch the First Crusade, recapture Jerusalem from the Saracens, recover the scrolls and other knowledge buried under the site of the Temple, and found the order of the Knights Templar.  This order continued to exist after its suppression in 1307 (the image on the Shroud of Turin belongs to their final Grand Master, Jacques de Molay).  It morphed into modern Freemasonry, which has itself lost sight of the ancient knowledge it was meant to preserve.
 
I think it’ll tell you everything you need to know about this book that before I’d finished reading the first page, I’d already written “bollocks!” in the margin.  I repeated that word, and worse, for the next 244 pages.  In fact, the only pages that I didn’t write something like that on were the ones were I’d largely stopped reading and was just skimming with increasing annoyance.  Let’s speak plainly: the authors have not done even basic research into their subject.  They appear to be unaware of the scholarship surrounding how the New Testament came to exist (for example, they seem to believe that Mark’s gospel came into existence spontaneously, and don’t seem aware of the hypothesised “Q Source”.  They plainly know nothing at all about mediaeval spirituality (reading Norman Cantor’s landmark ‘The Crisis of Western Monasticism, 1050-1130’* and JH van Engen’s ‘The “Crisis of Cenobitism” Reconsidered’** would have done wonders, for instance).  Weirdly, they seem to think that a priest and a monk are the same thing (pp. 23 and 75), that canonization and beatification are identical (p. 40), and that the Celtic church denied the divinity of Christ (as, in the authors’ view, did some parts of Christianity(!) before the Council of Nicaea (pp. 70 and 199).
 
 
More exasperating, though, are the errors suggesting that not only did the authors do no research, but that nobody actually read the manuscript before it was published.  How else can one explain the baffling conflating of the Greek letter Tau (Τ) with the Hebrew letter Taw (ת), when the shape of the letter is critical to their argument (p. 41)?  Equally, how did nobody notice their bizarre claim that the serpent-and-rod symbol for medicine is the Rod of Asclepius from Greek mythology and not a symbol from the Jewish Essene sect (p. 213).
 
The entire “Rex Deus” argument is based on an account given to the authors of a story spontaneously told to another writer by “a distinguished [French]man of advancing years” who claimed to be a member of the Rex Deus family.  The Frenchman is never identified, although one wonders if it was the infamous fraudster andhoaxer Pierre Plantard (pp. 77-9 and 198-9).  The authors seem unfamiliar with the concepts of “hearsay”.  Or “lying”.  Or “bullshit”.
 
It would take a couple of pages to itemise the errors in the book, and I’m not going to do that.  It's simply not worth it.  The authors should perhaps not be condemned for writing drivel if the public was willing to buy it.  The publishers, however, should be strung up for aiding and abetting this exercise in historical negligence.
 
======================================
 
* (1960) 66 American Historical Review 46.
** (1986) 61 Speculum 269.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

First visit to an LDS Church

Hi everyone,

I spent most of the weekend in Melbourne at an SES Unit Controllers' Conference.  I had some time spare on Sunday and so I went to an LDS Church service in Wantirna South, not far from the conference venue.  I hadn't been to one before and it seemed a good opportunity.


LDS Temple, Wantirna South, Victoria, Australia (Image from here)
The congregation could not have been more welcoming.  One of the older gentlemen there (he told me his role but I'm afraid I can't remember) took me in hand.  He introduced me to a number of members of the congregation as well as to the Bishop and Missionaries.  They were welcoming but not overwhelming, which I found ideal.  I happened to have arrived on the Sacrament Sunday, where the bread and water is passed around and members give testimonies about the church and about the Book of Mormon.  In addition a "Sister Alice" was approved by the congregation to be a Sunday School teacher.  Three things stay strongly with me about this part of the service.  Firstly, there were many families there, from babies through to the elderly.  That part isn't new to me: any given Sunday a Catholic church will look the same.  Secondly, everyone was well dressed.  The women and girls wore sober dresses and blouses.  The men and boys wore suits.  I'd opted for Tommy Hilfiger slacks, a white shirt, blue tie and black windcheater, and felt almost slovenly!  This really was different: usually I attend church as neatly as I can, but I've been known to go wearing work clothes stained with mud, diesel and soot.  Thirdly, everyone seemed happy to be there.  Excited even.  The young lady who was appointed the Sunday School teacher positively beamed.

In my Sunday best.
The second part of the service was described as "Sunday School".  Notwithstanding the name it consisted of group scripture study by adults.  The discussion covered the Millennium and end times, particularly as covered by the Doctrine & Covenants.  I noticed that everyone had a keen knowledge of the Bible, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine & Covenants.

I think I was allowed into the third part of the service - the Priesthood Meeting - as a favour.  It sounds terribly catty to say it (and I only mention it because it's a strong recollection) but it was at this point I realised what I could smell: soap.  Every man present was not only clean shaven but seemed clean enough to be performing surgery.  This was appropriate: the discussion finished by noting elderly and infirm members of the congregation who needed help in one way or another.  Everyone was genuinely keen to see that these people were safe, looked after and cared for.  The outer cleanliness matched inner goodness.

The church seemed (I don't say it lightly) like a little vision of heaven.  It was clean.  It shone.  The people genuinely radiated the love believers are called to have for one another and for God.  This fitted: the more I learn of Mormon doctrine, the more I find in it which approaches perfection.  And I think this is why, right now, I doubt it's for me.  I don't belong in heaven, or at least in its earthly analogue.  Everything I know about serving God and loving my neighbour I've learned giving quick and dirty advice in a free community legal centre, or tarping rooves in the rain, or extricating casualties from wrecked cars.  The only things I do which are good involve dirty hands and cut corners.  I think that's why I love Pope Francis' call for the church to be a field hospital.  One columnist has put it particularly well -
One of Pope Francis’s gifts as a communicator is a peculiar feel for the memorable image: .... The most striking analogy in the interview is this: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” No doctor doing triage on a battlefield is going to be fussing about his patients’ cholesterol or blood sugar levels. He is going to be treating major wounds and trying desperately to stop the bleeding.


I think my place is to be where people hurt and where I can help them, and where everything is imperfect and shopworn and down-at-heel and damaged.  I don't think I can serve God and neighbour as well anywhere else as I could do where I am.

 
There's one other thing.  I wasn't born into my church, but entered as an adult.  If I wasn't caught up by its firm teaching on divorce and remarriage, I might never have thought about leaving it.  To convert out of it feels a little like desertion.  No, actually it feels like something worse: cheating.  I know that my current status is problematic at best.  I know that if I repartner I'm in grave danger of damnation.  That doesn't seem a good enough reason to change my loyalty.  Whatever happens in this world or the next, I will not have dodged the rules*.

I have arranged, despite all of this, to speak to the missionaries in Shepparton next week.  At the very least one should put the question to them and hear their side of the matter.  They're such plainly good people that it would be a sin not to hear them out.  In the end, one must find the best place to serve God and neighbour and act accordingly.  Everything else is details.

-----------------------------
* I'm endebted on this point to Camus -
They have wagered on the flesh, knowing they would lose. ... These men have not cheated.  They were gods of the summer at twenty in their thirst for life, and they are still gods today, stripped of all hope.  I have seen two of them die.  They were full of horror, but silent.  It is better that way
Albert Camus, 'Summer in Algiers' (transl. E.C. Kennedy) in P. Thody (ed.), Lyrical and Critical Essays (Vintage Books: New York, 1970), pp. 81, 91-2.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Ten years, new days

Hi everyone,
 
I'm typing this tonight on 1 June 2017 because I doubt I'll have a chance to do it tomorrow.  I'll cue it to post sometime in the small hours.
 
This post will go live on 2 June 2017.  June 2nd is my wedding anniversary.  This year would have been (is?) the ten year anniversary.  I'm sitting here typing this and wondering why I'm not reacting to it in any significant way.  I only noticed the date was coming up the other day.  In the last year or two, I've been generally aware of June 2nd in the same general way I'm aware of July 15th (Fall of Jerusalem in 1099) or October 25th (Russian Revolution in 1917).  Since noticing it, I've vaguely thought that I should do something to mark it.  Truthfully, though, I really can't be bothered.  Not in a huffy "letting severely alone" way.  I just can't really give a toss.
 
I suppose I should mourn in some way the life the ex and I started all those years ago, and the death of all that possibility.  Still, it's been over a long time.  I feel less regret now than ever.  It only recently struck me that after it all went kerplooie, I was entirely cut off by the my children's godparents.  The former in laws (save for the ex's parents) have made little if any effort to stay in touch.  These two points feel oddly liberating.  They are (or were) faithful and committed Roman Catholics, and their repudiation of me so much mocks the sacraments of Communion, Baptism and Matrimony that I feel largely absolved from my obligations of faith to anyone except my beloved daughters.
 
I have wondered if I am missing the city life I had with the ex.  I suppose I am: after all, I've gone from having a window office in two of these buildings -
 
Long time readers will know that I previously worked in Bourke Place and the Rialto Tower
 
- to working here today as a rouseabout -
 
Shearing shed near Costerfield, Victoria, Australia
It may or may not be significant that today in the shearing shed pictured I was working in the Tommy Hilfiger jeans she wanted me to buy years upon years ago!
 

The old life is slipping away a little more each time.  I guess I'm OK with that.  God does not intend us to be prisoners of the roads we have travelled.  If he did, He'd never have allowed us to see new horizons.
 
Image borrowed from Janie and Steve, Utah Trails: Almost Spring in the Grand Canyon
 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Into the Tiber and Wading

I mentioned in my last post that I'd been looking closely at the Mormon Church.  The counterpart to that, obviously, would be leaving the Catholic church which I joined ten years ago.  Oddly, this doesn't seem much of a wrench.
 
It would be a bit of a wrench, of course.  Leaving a church which is such a force for good in the world is a wrench, especially when everything else in your life screams out 'loser'.  On the other hand, I ask myself how I would change if I remained in it.
 
By and large, I've been tolerably at peace with the church's teaching on marriage and on the position of divorcees.  I'm also conscious that it's poor form to look for reasons to be unhappy.  Yet the more I look at my situation as the 'abandoned spouse', the more disenchanted I become.  It seems to me that for all the episcopal blather about pastoral support, my future in the Church is a choice between two unpalatable options:
  1. If (and only if) I'm prepared to remain alone until the day I die, I can remain a member in full communion with the church; or
  2. If I can't endure lifelong solitariness and repartner, I can remain part of the church as long as I'm content to be restricted to sweeping the church, making the tea, running the errands, and keeping my eyes on the floor during Communion.
When I posed this dilemma in a Catholic group on GooglePlus, a commenter pointed out that the way I've worded (1) is a little unfair.  Rather than being alone for the next fifty years (or until I get hit by lightning; whichever happens first), I'm called to live in chastity and continence.  The commenter was perfectly correct, but I still think my wording was justifiable.  Everyone over the age of about 15 knows that the unique bond of love between man and woman is something different from the love one has for one's friends or family.  The latter is at best an ersatz when it's used to replace the former, and it's deception to pretend otherwise.

The second item is more complex.  No less a figure than Pope John Paul II said
I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.
However, this help and care always looks the same: Integrating those who are divorced and repartner into the life of the parish means giving them other roles than being a communicant.  It's unlikely those roles can include being on a church committee, or teaching, or being a eucharistic minister or a lector*.  It does mean that priests should "involve them in the charitable works of the Christian community for the poor and needy, and ... awaken the spirit of repentance by acts of penance that prepare their hearts to accept God's grace".  As I said above: making the tea, sweeping the church and running errands. It's terribly hard not to take this as being told "you really do have a place in our community - just don't forget that it is and always will be right at the bottom".


Probably I'm guilty of the sin of pride, but this is why I'm very close to leaving the Church I was so happy to enter. If I stay, I hate the thought of what I'll become after 50 years of negativity and bitterness.


======================


* "However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.": John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, at para 84

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Goulburn, the Tiber and the Great Salt Lake

Hi everyone,

Short update tonight.  It's been a 'kinetic' couple of days.  Wednesday, to Tatura for a cheque handover for SES followed by the Blood Bank to make a plasma donation.  The latter had something of a left field event: because I'd been scrambling to get to things all day, I was still wearing my work clothes, which are by and large grimy, dirty and ragged (typical farm hand!).  Come to find out, it was my 125th donation, and they asked to take a picture of me.  Why did it have to be the day I looked like a man who'd dressed himself out of a brotherhood bin?!?


Thursday I brought mum into town so she could go to the dentist and I could go to the dentist and I could go to the doctor.  I needed a prescription renewed.  Unfortunately my usual doctor was home sick, and so I saw a stand-in who was understandably keen to rattle me through fast so he could see his own patients.  I may need to go back and see my own doctor in due course and have my medication reviewed.  I seem to be having a few days of late when I'm keen to take a double-dose (no, not to try and top myself; only to lift the clouds a bit).  Either that or I can start listening to Little Sarah.




It was a good day and so I went out for a run late afternoon.  While I was running my phone began to buzz with messages as there'd been a callout (a combined assist ambulance / land search job).  I finished my run and drove in.  The team had been well lead and done a great job, so I just waited at the de-facto staging area in case further hands were needed (they weren't).

Friday saw me back in Shepparton to see my new jobsearch provider (I sacked the last one and transferred my file).  God knows if it'll lead to work of any sort.  I'm less than optimistic at the moment.  Just at present, nearly everything I touch in my own life seems to malfunction or backfire.  This may or may not be why I've been feeling a weird pull towards the Church of Latter Day Saints in the last few months.

Perhaps I should explain.  A few months ago I saw a copy of the Book of Mormon at the op shop.  I had a hankering to buy it then but didn't, but the thought of it kept nagging at me.  When I went by the next time, I bought it and I've been slowly reading it.  I'm not completely convinced - yet - that it's divinely inspired scripture.  However, I'm far from convinced that it's a fake.  Even allowing for the accounts of its translation (or composition, depending on one's bias) being embroidered, it would have required Joseph Smith to have an imagination and breadth of vision worthy of Tolkien for it all to have sprung from his brain.  Added to which, it frankly doesn't 'ring' fake (for comparison, try Ronald Weinland's effort 2008 - God's Final Witness).  I've still been feeling a 'pull' in the direction of that church, and the Mormons that I've talked to online simply couldn't be more welcoming.  I've never had any cause to feel not-welcomed by the Catholic Church, save that as a divorcee (which at the moment is a large whack of my identity) you do feel like you're less a member of the faithful and more a problem to be managed.  I guess the thing is that just at this moment, what I want most in life is a fresh start.  The image of the Mormon wagon train heading west to the Great Salt Lake for exactly such a thing has an undeniable appeal.

A Mormon wagon train entering the Salt Lake Valley (Image from here)
I'm sure I'll write more about this in the weeks to come, but right now I'm so badly out of ideas that perhaps any way forward looks good.  And if that way is a challenging one?  I don't think I mind that.  I swam the Tiber once.  Perhaps, despite anything the atlas says, the Tiber flows into the Great Salt Lake.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Cannery Days

Hi everyone,

So I'm out of work again.  "What?  You were even in work?"  This is what happens when I fail to blog for ages.

I picked up some work at the cannery in Shepparton from early March until yesterday.  The work is seasonal and matches the summer harvest season for fruits.  I was initially placed in the peach section for a few weeks, and then I was off for about a month, until last week when I was called back in to work on tomatoes.  Each time I was placed on afternoon shift (that is, 3pm to 11pm).  My role was described as "Knockdown Wash" and was much the same for both peaches and tomatoes: that is, to go to a series of hoses and use them to hose down conveyor belts and machinery so that the produce kept moving smoothly and muck didn't build up.  In each case the challenge was to do this without spraying other people with water by accident,

We couldn't take phones into the factory.  Doing so would have been essentially instant dismissal.  However, the National Archives of Australia have a couple of photographs which are reasonably representative.  The one which most sticks in my mind if this one, of a woman sorting peaches in 1963 -

Sorting peaches before canning, Shepparton Preserving Company
(NAA: A1200, L43906)
It sticks in my mind because the sorting bench in the peach area seems basically unchanged since that photo was taken.  I'm not sure how old the peach slicing machinery was, but it didn't look new.  What did look new was the machinery in the tomato area, which seemed to have been bought from Perri & Catelli in Italy -


Image from here
The work wasn't especially arduous.  A little dull, at worst.  The pay was good.  Every so often I wondered what the people from my past life as a lawyer would think if they could have seen me.  Note: I thought about it, because in an 8 hour shift you have a lot of time to think.  I didn't really give a toss.  It was work and I needed the money.  That's all.

A post shared by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

I'm not sure what the next job will be.  Whatever I can find I expect.  There's a climb ahead of me, but at least there's something ahead of me.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The run for Red Cross

Hi everyone,

Finally blogging again.  I've been away a while - I found some work and also found that the time I had available to write mostly went on things that I thought might pay.  I'll catch you up on all of that in later posts.  I wanted to tell you about an interesting run I was on the other week.

If you're linked to me on Facebook, you'll probably remember that I set up a fundraising page. I was going to run the 26 kilometre (16.25 miles) Axedale-to-Heathcote event in the O'Keefe Running Festival in order to raise money for Red Cross.  I completed the run, and I'm very happy to report that I was able to raise $313.00.



This run was tougher than any other race I've entered.  The day started with two emails that I saw as soon as I woke up.  One was an update fron LinkedIn about a former colleague whose career is going great at a time when mine, well, isn't.  The other was an email from the ex (enough said).  Anyway, those emails pitched me into a bad attack of the blues all the way over to Axedale.  Even my tablets couldn't budge it, which is saying something.


 
 I walked down to the starting point for the race, by the Campaspe River at Axedale.  It was a beautiful, peaceful setting on the O'Keefe Rail Trail.  I dropped off my bag with the nice folks from Athlete's Foot, collected my race bib, and started stretching as the race briefing started.  What was unusual was that I wasn't excited.  The blues were robbing me of any enthusiasm to race.  The only real thought in my head was "I'm here: let's just get the bloody thing done".  I think it's the only time I've ever started a race like that.  The race photo from the start pretty well captures my state of mind (it's also one of the few race photos of me where I don't look like the offspring of a hippopotamus and the Michelin Man).


The trail follows the route of the old Heathcote-Bendigo railway line.  The line was closed in 1958.  As best I could tell, it rose more-or-less steadily from Axedale to Heathcote.  However, you really didn't feel the climb: the railway engineers who built the line had much the same goal as runners today: as many gentle gradients and straight lines as possible.


The blues kept at me through the run.  I suppose everyone experiences depression a bit differently; for me it's mostly physical.  I feel like I'm wearing a kind of harness that straps a 25 kilogram (55 pound) sack of salt onto my chest and back, and as well as carrying the extra weight they squeeze the air from my lungs.  This was precisely the feeling that accompanied me on the run: a crushing extra weight.  I've run in ankle weights before.  I can tell you I'd pick them over running with the blues any day.

The trail ran through the bush around Axedale and eventually began to climb into more open country.  At about the 18 kilometre mark it skirted Lake Eppalock.  Every so often other groups of runners joined us from other events - the quarter marathon and 5 kilometre for two.  The race was remarkably well organized that way, with cohorts not clashing as they merged.  Drink stations were set up about every 5 kilometres which suited me fine.

 

I crossed the finish line in Heathcote in a time of 2:41:48.  Not my best time, but reasonable given the length of the race.  The end point of the race was genuinely welcoming: fruit and water were provided to runners, and there was a bevy of community groups holding barbeques and selling coffee.  I love this sort of thing that brings towns together.  It was a nice touch that the finish line was marked by miniature pit-heads: appropriate as one of the major sponsors was mining company Mandalay Resources!


Because this was a point-to-point race, the organizers supplied buses to take runners back to wherever they'd left their cars.  The soft chair in the coach felt heavenly.  The blues were still gripping me when I got back to my car.  In a way this was a relief: there was none of the sense of letdown when the race was over.


I've run longer distances than this race.  I've certainly been over harder terrain.  But I don't think I've ever done a race this tough.  Athletes of all stripes tend to use cliches like "digging deep".  This one required me to go on when there was nothing left to dig into.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A stranger cared enough

On 23 April 2017 I’ll take part in the 26 kilometre Axedale-to-Heathcote race to raise money for Red Cross.  I’m doing this because of a three letters exchanged between that organization and a young woman.



Photographs from the first world war must be seen to be believed.  Once you’ve seen and believed enough of them, they start to numb your mind.  The endless black and white images of mud and destruction shade into one another.  Shamefully, the young men in uniform become indistinguishable one from another.  Different nations can be told apart, perhaps, by the shape of this helmet or the cut of that coat.  But the ubiquitous khaki of the English-speaking nations causes Australians and Britons, New Zealanders and Americans to become a single mass.  Even the most compassionate person tacitly comes to accept Stalin’s cynical observation that the death of a man is a tragedy and the death of a thousand is a statistic.


English, American and Australian troops lunching in a wood near Corbie the day prior to the attack and capture of the German positions at Hamel and Vaire Wood (3 July 1918)
It’s a partial reaction of course, because to men and women of the time every soldier was a son or brother or a husband or a boyfriend.  And as we’ll see, total strangers in the Australian Red Cross cared enough to ensure that every one of their fates was recorded.

On 19 February 1916, farm labourer John William (“Jack”) Tuck enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces.  He was aged 22 years and a bachelor.  He was assigned to the 21st infantry battalion.  On 3 July of that year he embarked on the troopship HMAT Ayrshire for England.  While he was en route, his cousin Henry Thomas Tuck had been killed in action while serving with the 46th Battalion at Pozieres.  It would take a year, but eventually the Red Cross would be able to tell Jack and others of the family his fate.  One of his comrades reported that (1)
Casualty went out to the attack on the 11th August at Pozieres near Chalk Pitts.  He was killed outside the trenches by shell fire.  I actually saw him killed.  He was buried by the 5th Pioneers behind the lines.  There was no mark put over his grave as far as I know.  I was present at the burial.
Jack arrived at Plymouth on 2 September 1916.  His service record notes hospitalizations for different illnesses and that he rejoined his battalion in France on 22 November 1916.  He was returned to England, suffering bronchitis, on 16 January 1917.  He did not return to France until 9 August 1917.  He returned to England on 22 October 1917 after suffering a gunshot wound to the left ankle in the Battle of Broodseinde.  His record is tantalizing about what may have happened while he was in England; when we can say confidently is that he was absent without leave from 15-18 December 1917, and that he returned to France on 1 February 1918 and did not thereafter return to England.

Jack’s battalion was caught up in the German ‘Spring Offensive’ of 1918 and by April of that year he was hospitalized with ‘trench feet’.  And it was then that the care of a stranger came into play.  A note in his Red Cross file dated 28 May 1918 records his whereabouts.  Some person must have enquired after him, because a letter (apparently from the army hospital) to the Red Cross dated 30 May 1918 commences “In further answer to your inquiry for [Private Tuck] – We beg to inform you that …”(2).

After Tuck’s discharge, the 21st battalion fought in the Battle of Hamel alongside newly-arrived American troops.  On 23 July Tuck was wounded by a gas shell.  Five weeks later, he rejoined his unit which then took part in the attack on Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918 and the Battle of Beaurevoir on 29 September 1918.  On 9 November – with the Armistice only days away – he was admitted to the 3rd General Hospital with influenza.  On 14 November 1918 he died of broncho-pneumonia.

Three Australian officers beside a Red Cross car at No 3 Australian General Hospital (Abbeville, France)
On 4 December 1918 the Australian Red Cross Society in London received the following letter –
56 Overcliff Road
Lewisham SE13
Dec 3rd
Madam,
Could you please tell me if Pte JW Tuck 5126 D. Coy: 21st Battn AIF France, is on the casualty list.  The last letter I had from him was dated 29-10-18 and this morning I had the last letter I sent him returned marked “not with battn”.  I shall be very grateful if you can give me any information concerning him.  I remain,
Yours truly
(Miss) Gladys Allen
The Red Cross didn’t delay.  By 10 December a note in their file recorded Tuck’s death, and on 13 December 1918 the Society wrote to Miss Allen
Dear Madam,
In reply to your enquiry for 5126 Pte JOHN WILLIAM TUCK. 24th Battalion, AIF.  We much regret to inform you that he died of Broncho-Pneumonia on 14.11.18 at 3rd General Hospital, B.E.F.  Kindly let us know if you wish us to make enquiries for details of his death and burial.
With sincere sympathy
Yours faithfully
(Miss) [signature]
Secretary
A further letter on 5 February 1919 advised Miss Allen that Tuck had been buried in Abbeville Cemetery.

We can surmise that Miss Allen was Jack Tuck’s girlfriend.  He cared about her enough to write to her between returning to France on 1 February 1918 and his last letter of 29 October 1918, and she cared enough about him to try and find him.  The romantic in me likes to think that she was the reason he went absent without leave between 15 and 18 December 1917.

I imagine that this was a common story.  In each of the belligerents of the Great War there must have been many thousands of young men and young women who met, loved, lost and sought.  Many must have been left wondering what happened to the young man they cared for and asking whether he had been too mutilated on death to identify, or run away, or been taken prisoner.  Why am I raising money for Red Cross?  Because these strangers cared enough about one young man in my family to find out what happened to him.



==========================
(1)  Statement of Cpl. S. Mahaffy to Red Cross on 18 June 1917.
(2)  The initial enquiry to the Red Cross has been lost, as has Red Cross’ enquiry to the army and their earlier reply.