Tuesday, 29 November 2011

My Taxes at Work

Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory had a local government foisted upon it, despite, when asked to vote to decide whether it wanted one, responding with a resounding 'No'*

Since receiving the gift of our own local government, we have had plenty of opportunities to recognise how right we were to say, 'No', but Saturday's Canberra Times unveiled possibly the most vivid demonstration of our good sense yet:

The only silver lining to this nuttiness is the effect the news may have on the attractive, non-criminal classes. Possibly, on learning that tattoos are so eagerly sought among the inmates of penal institutions, they may reconsider their own aspirations to have their bodies covered in indelible daubings. Instead of defacing themselves, they will seek other avenues of pleasure, such as helping their elderly parents to do the washing up.

Actually, now I think about it further, perhaps I should support Ms Gallagher's initiative, for, if it does result in non-criminals eschewing tattoos, tattoos may soon become exclusive to the occupants - or former occupants - of jails. This could, in fact, turn out to be an extremely good thing: in the future, thanks to the ACT Labor Government,  it will become extremely easy to work out exactly who is who.

*   Here's the history, from Wikipedia: "In 1978, the Australia Capital Territory voted at a referendum on whether the ACT should be granted self-government. Voters were given the choice of becoming a self-governing territory, a local government or continuing with the Legislative Assembly being an advisory body to the Department of the Capital Territory. 63.75% voted to continue with the then current arrangement.[3] Despite the outcome of the referendum, the Parliament of Australia passed the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act in 1988 and the ACT became a self-governing territory in 1989."

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Easily Missed

If you walk up the Duke of York steps,
ignoring the sight which always makes you wistful - policemen on horses, the job you dreamed of as a child (you saw a television programme about it once - it appeared to involve cleaning tack all morning, plus grooming, then ambling around London's streets on your gleaming horse for the whole of the afternoon):

Look at them, lucky sods - living the dream.

Anyway, as I said, if you ignore the mounted policeman and also don't get distracted by heading off toward Admiralty Arch and the poignant statue of poor old Captain Cook that stands down there on the right, hidden by those trees:
but instead climb the Duke of York Steps:

and turn sharp left at the top, you will see some railings:
and behind those railings you will find a tiny tombstone:

which you might easily have missed, if I hadn't pointed it out to you. And, if you do find it and you want to know what its story is, you can find out here - where you will also see some fairly startling photographs of a 1936 funeral - although not of the funeral of Giro.

Saturday, 26 November 2011


I blame my father for the negligible impact I have had on the world so far. He called me Mrs Mop throughout my childhood - and, indeed, throughout that part of my adult life that he survived to see. The reason he called me Mrs Mop was because, he said, he believed that I would grow up to become the cleaning lady in the public lavatories at Waterloo Station.

I remembered his prediction when I saw a cleaning lady in the window of a smart shop in Mayfair, animatedly advising the girl who was laying out the wares:

Imagine the pride in my father's eyes, if I'd managed to transcend the transport system and landed a post wiping down surfaces at Lalique.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Speaking as a Sog*

Sometimes there is an attempt to argue that Canberra is no longer a public service town but actually a vibrant artistic hub or a centre of enterprise (or even of excellence - but not a multi-function polis, that much beloved chimera of the late 1980s).

I don't believe such nonsense, nor will I - not while it is still possible to turn on the local radio, as I did just now, and hear exchanges like this one:

"Interviewer: 'Do you think there's a need for more APS* 4 and 5 positions?'
Person being interviewed, after a gasp and a pause: 'Gosh, that's a big meaning of life sort of question.'"

As long as anyone exists in this city who regards that as a 'big, meaning of life sort of question', Canberra will continue to be, warp and weft, a public service town.

*A SOG is an acronym for some kind of public service position - as you walk the streets of Canberra (provided you don't get certified - it is a town where you are allowed to jog or drive [or drive somewhere to jog {or even, if your car has a bike carrier, to drive somewhere to bicycle while wearing lots of lycra, an activity that always puzzles me - surely it would be better simply to bicycle somewhere, without first transporting your transport in another dirtier, noisier bit of transport?}], but strolling is regarded as evidence of mental instability) you will often hear snatches of conversation that go something like this, 'He's a SOG B, but he's only acting up,' or 'She's hoping to get a SOG C position in Defence' or 'They're both SOGs in PM&C', et cetera et cetera. I haven't actually ever been a SOG, perish the thort. I think I was once a Clerk Class 4, which sounds quite Dickensian, but, disappointingly, lacked any of the grotesque semi-Gothic splendour that I associate with the great man's writing. In fact, I would have to admit that from what I can remember it was uninterruptedly dull. Perhaps that's why the designation was deleted - it was probably deemed misleading under the Trade Practices Act, or maybe it caused problems with recruitment, attracting all sorts of wild-eyed fans of Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby et cetera, eager to scratch out their livings perched on high stools in dimly lit offices or hoping to emulate Melville's Bartleby Scrivener, literature's most enigmatically heroic clerk.

*Australian Public Service

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Overnight Conversion

We are meeting friends we haven't seen for ten or twelve years and suddenly Islamic head-to-toe covering seems a highly appealing idea. Greying streaks of hair, forehead criss-crossed with two-inch deep indentations (also known as wrinkles), all rendered invisible by forgiving folds of hijab, (or burqa or whatever the correct term is - I'm sure I've got it wrong, but I don't really care), only the ever youthful personality still on view.

What lies beneath the intriguing layers of fabric can still be constructed by the imagination of the viewer, who one hopes will be kinder than daylight. Mind you, it is that element of Islamic garb that always seems to me to defeat the thing's purpose - my impression is that, in earlier days, when women's dress was much more modest than it is now, almost anything became erotic, because forbidden. I suspect there is something far more alluring, tantalising and all round exciting about a woman's form that you can only picture in fantasy than there is about one whose body - or reasonably large expanses of it - is revealed for all to see.

This Must Be a Fake

A friend via another friend sent us this photograph, which supposedly was taken at one or other Wall Street protest. If it is genuine, it is hilarious, in a poignant sort of way:

But it can't be genuine. Please tell me it can't be genuine. No, of course it's not genuine. Someone somewhere is definitely having a laugh. The 'Hispanic' element is the gilding of the lily that uiltimately reveals the whole thing's a fraud.

And yet I am torn between thinking that it's a sign of my cynicism that I've worked this out and wondering if it's actually a sign of my naivety about exactly where we've reached that I don't believe the photograph's real.

In my experience, though, cynicism can usually be trusted (I hope that statement makes somebody laugh, besides me).

Care in the Community

After a long discussion with a Polish friend the other day, in which she insisted that the Germans' persecution of the Jews was a direct result of their concept of 'Pflicht', which she claims makes the events of the Second World War uniquely German - a discussion made longer and considerably more muddled by my confusion of the word 'Pflicht' with the word 'Pflege', (although, even now that I've cleared that up in my own mind, I still don't believe a word of her argument) - I was interested to come across this article on the wonderful Sign and Sight site, (although this excellent book, rather contradicts the  statement near the beginning of the article that Jews were never allowed to enter the military).

Clearly, the Germans recognised that the Jews were beating them hands down, and they didn't like it. This is a universal reaction, when one racial group sees a group of fellow citizens of another racial group, (particularly a group who are regarded as incomers), excelling at their own game. For example, at Sydney Grammar just a few years ago, when the school's selective entrance tests seemed to be resulting in a preponderance of students of Asian origin entering the school, there was a push to try to weigh things in favour of 'the all round "more stupid party"' (to quote a quotation within the Sign and Sight article).

Any nationality can feel envy; only the Germans can feel a sense of 'Pflicht'. How nice it would be to relax and think, 'What happened was just something to do with being German; it wasn't an example of the potential nastiness of the entire human race.' I'd love to be let off the hook like that, but I don't think it requires much thought to recognise that envy and resentment can rise up anywhere and, when combined with the wrong economic circumstances and leaders, (and, in that context, I liked the story someone told me the other day about Kokoschka, who, supposedly, applied to Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts at the same time as Hitler, but got in. In an interview years later, he made this comment: 'I sometimes wonder if it mightn't have been better if they'd accepted Hitler and rejected me. I know I would have run the world rather differently'), things can go horribly wrong.

*Incidentally, could one see this statement within the article - 'the intellectual superiority of the Jews was in no way eradicated by conversion to Christianity' - as one in the eye for Richard Dawkins and his ragtag band of zealots?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Who Were They

Once, when we lived in Vienna, we had two sets of rather grand Austrians round for a meal - one lot the arty but still at heart snobbish son and daughter-in-law of my godmother, a woman who I overheard uttering this carefully-learned phrase to the new, Czech nanny of her grandchildren: "How do you do, I am Countess X, but you don't have to call me Countess"; the other lot, our landlord and his wife.

When the first set - the godmother's son and daughter-in-law - arrived, we gave them drinks and chatted. The wife asked who else was coming to dinner, and I told her the name of our landlord, saying that he and his wife would be there quite soon. 'Who was she?' was the woman's immediate inquiry, 'Who was she before she was married?'

I often think of this question as I look up at all the myriad faces on Budapest's buildings. 'Who were they? Who were they before they were transfigured into stone?'