Thursday, 22 September 2011

Skipping around Girlishly

After reading a post where Umbagollah described going to see a 3D movie, which annoyed him or her (I presume you are one or the other, Umbagollah, unless, like me, you are merely fluffy), because the decision about what to focus on was made for him/her by the technology, I walked to Dickson, a local shopping centre that I have always associated with the idea of chronic and incurable depression.

At Dickson, I bought some things - what, I can't remember: objects I thought were extremely necessary at the time, but which are probably, even as I write this, niggling away, together with all the other bits of pointless rubbish I've lugged home and cluttered up this house with and now realise I neither like nor need, at the back of my mind, contributing to my ever present sense of low level but unfocused mild anxiety - in a shop that, when I first knew it, was called JB Young's.

In its JB Young's incarnation the shop was part of a chain that used to advertise on local television, ending each advertisement with a frenzied reeling off of the names of the stores where the things it was promoting could be bought. These were: John Meagher, Yass; Hain and Company, Cooma; and all JB Young's stores, (just in case anyone actually cares).

The most memorable of the products offered by these establishments was a comb which had a razor concealed within it, so that you could cut your hair while combing it. It seemed a peculiar and slightly alarming concept to me. The actor in the advertisement looked as if he agreed with this assessment.

Although he was shot from the back (shot by a camera, I should point out, before anyone gets too excited; this is Canberra, not Chicago, remember), he was facing a bathroom cabinet with a mirrored door. This meant, as my brother pointed out with great delight one day, that, if you looked carefully, you could see his expression in the mirror's reflection. Far from being thrilled by the results the comb was producing, which is what the natty gent in the voiceover promised any purchaser would be, the man's grimaces suggested he was growing more and more alarmed by the effect the gadget was having on his rapidly decreasing crop of hair.

How we laughed - well, let's face it, you took your fun where you could find it in Canberra in 1972 (some things never change).

Anyway, JB Young's - yes, all its stores, even the one in the city centre where I once had a very pleasant conversation about the difficulty of finding really good white material for making shirts with an elderly man who worked in the fabric section and had almost mystical views on the subject - has gone, and so has John Meagher, Yass, I think.

In the years since the demise of the JB Young's empire, however, the erstwhile JB Young's at Dickson has survived through several reincarnations, most recently transforming itself, somewhat misleadingly, given the absence of the smallest trace of Harris tweed from the premises, combined with a fairly limited supply of anything remotely resembling scarves, into 'Harris Scarfe' where, apart from the disappearance of the haberdashery section (haberdashery is becoming increasingly endangered throughout the modern world), almost nothing at all has changed.

Thus, although it might just as well have been for all the difference it made (barring the lack of haberdashery), it was not in JB Young's, or its immediate successor, Allen's, or any of its other iterations (have I used that word correctly - I'm trying to be dashing by flashing vocabulary like that about, even though I'm way out of my depth really), but in 'Harris Scarfe' that I bought the objects I can no longer remember - and, while I was buying them, I wondered about Umbagollah's proposition that we like to see everything, (or, to quote directly from the post in question:, "... eyes want to roam, and the senses fly like eagles, picking up details"). Was he or she correct, I asked myself, standing at the counter, and just at that moment the boy behind the counter let out an exasperated sigh.

'This bloody cash register', he said. I looked over and saw him thump the side of the object he was referring to with his fist. I realised then I hadn't even noticed the register until that moment, even though it was a great big, dark grey, bulky thing made of plastic and almost impossible to miss. Far from wanting to pick up this particular detail - the existence of the cash register - I'd chosen not to take it in at all.

Looking round, I saw that there was lots of other stuff that I was also deliberately ignoring. It occurred to me that, far from picking up details, I was actually rejecting them - and not just in that shop but everywhere I went. While I understood what Umbagollah meant, of course - I hate watching a filmed version of a theatrical production, for example, because it is the director who decides what part of the stage I'm going to be looking at, not me; I can't choose to look to the left, unless he lets me - in daily life, far from drinking in everything with eagle like observation, it turns out that I filter out most of the stuff that I don't like.

Almost by reflex, it seems, I am regularly deliberately ignoring all sorts of ugliness, both in the present and in my memory. When I'm away and I'm missing Australia, for example, it is scenes like these that I recall:

while all this stuff gets forgotten:

I choose not to see the cash registers or housing commission flats or semi-industrial shopping areas. I also manage almost all of the time to filter out the unhappiness, poverty and horror of the lives of most of my fellow human beings. I'm Fotherington-Thomas really. It's all 'Hello clouds, hello birds, hello sky' - let's forget gas stations and factories, misery and brutal pointless warfare - almost all the time for me.


  1. I'm actually quite terrible in an exactly diametrical way: I notice all the little fiddly bits and forget to put it all into one big picture. So I couldn't tell you where I was when I saw somebody take his false teeth out so that he could bend over to look at a shelf. I hope it was in a shop as the alternatives are worrying.

  2. I'm so hurt, Kevin, that you don't remember - it was at my place and it was you, and I've still got your false teeth. Let me know if you want them sent registered or surface mail

  3. I am a small scaled thing with a hinge.

    Often when I'm looking around I'll pick up one fragment of whatever-it-is and then that fragment will stick in my memory, and usually it's something that I wouldn't have imagined seeing if I hadn't seen it -- like the woman I mentioned in that post of mine, the one who appeared in perspective over the musician's shoulder -- something like that -- or the statue of a lion that I noticed down a Thai alleyway once, head and shoulders only, and the body covered by the position of the wall. I think that was one of my problems with 3D -- it killed off the expectation of serendipity. (Do all 3D films blur out the background when the effects come in, or did I just pick a bad one? Is it a problem that they're trying to fix, or is it deliberate?)

  4. 'A scaled thing' - I've never been friendly with a scaled being before, which probably shows what a bigot I am. I hope yours is a brass hinge though, and not some horrid tinny stuff or an alloy. I love the way memory picks out quite unexpected, sometimes dull, little frames of one's life to record, rather than the obvious big moments. I don't go to 3D films because a) I think they're just an attempt by cinema people to make it more difficult to pirate films and b) I think they're part of the tendency to put more emphasis on the visual than anything else, at the expense of content, which is possibly a bit glum of me.

  5. Brass. I polished it this morning.

  6. With a rag, Brasso and your tiny scaled fingers.