Friday, 28 June 2013

Game On, Kevin

I've mentioned before that I plan to launch my own political party in time for the upcoming election (and, incidentally, why do people say 'upcoming', rather than 'coming' - surely the 'up' is redundant?* [* Indicates footnote] ). Now it has become clear that Kevin Rudd is to be my opponent. Galvanised by the political turn of events which led to Rudd's return to the Prime Ministership, I have been working night and day to come up with some core promises. Here are the first in what I hope will be a rolling series of announcements that will capture the hearts and minds of the Australian voting public:

1. There will be only one type of charging cord needed for all technological devices under a government I lead.

2. Motorised leaf blowers will be outlawed. A free Australian-made rake will be provided to every voting Australian

3. Much as I love them, self-serve supermarket checkouts will be outlawed. In fact, supermarkets will be too. They will be replaced by shops like Cullens, which we used to go to when I was a child. It was rather dark inside, there were wooden floorboards and shelves everywhere, even, possibly where there might otherwise have been plate-glass windows letting light in from the street. There was a wide counter running the length of the room. Behind it men in coats like lab coats, except that they were beige, stood waiting to help customers. They would greet my mother and listen while she told them what she needed. Then they would  run up ladders to fetch jars from shelves, measuring out portions from the jars into brown paper bags they deftly twisted into a sealed state.

I realise this change will seem inconvenient at first but my government's central vision will be the rebuilding of an understanding of the importance of farting around, a pursuit advocated in an interview shortly before his death by Kurt Vonnegut. I'm sure when I heard the relevant interview Vonnegut mentioned that queuing at the Post Office and being silently in love with one of the women there for years was part of the process, but perhaps that's just the embroidering of my romantic mind, as this is the only version I can find and that detail is missing:

"I told my wife I'm going out to buy an envelope. 'Oh,' she says. 'Well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet?' And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, I ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, I don't know. The moral of the story is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore."

* coming soon, my party's policy on clarity of language, which might have been a big vote winner against Rudd's predecessor but should be decisive against Rudd himself, given that he is the country's chief waffler, bar none, as evidenced by this:

PS You beauty, my brother's pointed me in the direction of the interview I remembered, complete with unrequited love of US postal worker:

"I work at home and, if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterward I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, “Are you still doing typing?” Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, “Okay, I’ll send you the pages.” Then I go down the steps and my wife calls, “Where are you going?” “Well,” I say, “I’m going to buy an envelope.” And she says, “You’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in the closet.” And I say, “Hush.” So I go to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a big jewel between her eyes, and it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Second Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different." Kurt Vonnegut

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Jane Gardam

Over at The Dabbler, I wonder why Jane Gardam is not better known, given how good she is. My first introduction to her was via BBC Radio Four's Afternoon Readings, which they are stealthily phasing out. The ABC is following suit with its own excellent afternoon readings.

It seems to me that radio is ideal for readings of short stories and novels and provides an excellent route for the discovery of interesting authors by listeners. For me, the readings on both stations were an island of pleasure amidst the bletherings of You and Yours and Life Matters and all the other programmes stuffed with the nosy and the bossy masquerading as the 'concerned', (not to mention the interminable music fillers on ABC Radio National, a station that is supposed to be a spoken word alternative to all the other stations devoted to music).

The Gardam reading I heard was of a story called Pangbourne. The reader was Judi Dench and you can find the audio here.

Monday, 24 June 2013

It's Not My Fault

On Abebooks recently, I bought several collections of the Home Life columns that Alice Thomas Ellis wrote for The Spectator "back in the day" (whatever the hell that means - I have absolutely no idea but feel I should make some attempt to look as if I'm "in touch" [with whatever it is I should be "in touch" with]).

I've been rationing them to myself, although really I want to read them all at once, the literary equivalent of gorging on a box of chocolates. Unfortunately, Alice Thomas Ellis is dead, so there's no more coming, which means I must eke out whatever she left behind.

Anyway, I was reading a piece this morning about her staying in a modern apartment and, while the whole thing amused me, what particularly delighted me were her comments on dishwasher men. We had a small crisis with the dishwasher just this weekend and, because I so dread the dishwasher man and his disgust at our dishwasher management - "I don't think I've ever seen a machine in such a state", he told me last time, in high dudgeon (possibly I didn't need to add that; the statement itself implied the level of his dudgeon, I suspect) - my noble spouse spent a good hour and a half of his life lying on the floor, his hand plunged in cold, beige water, fixing the thing for me.

I thought it was something about me that made the dishwasher man so unpleasant. I thought I really was a lone dishwasher abuser. Thanks to Thomas Ellis, I now realise that it's really not my problem, that my dishwasher man is just one of many - a member of an international tribe of disapproving dishwasher men.

Here is Thomas Ellis musing on the modern and on dishwasher repairmen:

"Now, to be fair, it is an extremely nice modern flat with every convenience and no draughts, but we couldn't make the hot water work because the means by which the water gets hot is highly technological and sophisticated and quite beyond the man in the street. I don't like lying on the floor in the ashes, blowing a reluctant flame in the boiler, but I can do it. What I can't do is figure out wildly complicated systems of switches and wiring that require a person with a degree in such matters - so the water stayed cold.

I didn't mind all that much, since I didn't stay too long, but it must be awkward for people who live with these wonders of modern science and are as idiotic as myself. I often think how pleasantly simple it would be to live in a tent and never have to send for the man to mend the dishwasher. For one thing he is always so cross - not only at being called out, but because he so disapproves of people who mishandle dish-washers. No RSPCA inspector faced with a battered pet could be more irate than the man who mends the dish-washer as he glares into its maw and realises that we have somehow buggered it up. I don't like washing dishes by hand either, but apart from blocking it with potato peelings there isn't a great deal you can do to damage the kitchen sink ....

... I think that even when I am very aged I will live in a house even more aged than myself with inconveniences that I can handle."

I agree with almost all of this - except the bit about the tent. I have never even for one moment thought that anything could ever be pleasant in a tent.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

How Did He Know

I went to see the film of the Globe Theatre production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night this afternoon. It is on again at Palace Cinemas all over Australia at one p.m. tomorrow and I highly recommend it.

The cast is brilliant and it was fascinating to see the female parts played, as they would have been in Shakespeare's own time, by men. Furthermore, in the current weird state of federal Australian politics, I couldn't help being struck by these lines from Mary:

"He is ... the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellences, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him"

How astonishingly prescient of Shakespeare to foresee, in Malvoglio, our very own K Rudd. And perhaps the Prime Minister and her henchpeople might do well to follow Mary's strategy when she goes on to declare:

"and on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work."

I'd be intrigued to see young Kevin in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, although I think I'm already fairly weary of his glassy smile.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

We Don't Know What We're Missing

One of my mother's dogs is ancient, almost totally blind and stone deaf. Nowadays, this dog spends almost all her time quietly and deeply asleep in front of the fire. The other night though she started to behave very oddly, unable to settle, yelping and crying inconsolably. Eventually, my mother let her out, hoping she would calm down.

The dog shot off into the darkness and wouldn't come back. My mother had to stagger about with a torch, looking for her. Eventually she found the dog, covered in mud and still acting as if possessed. She brought her inside and tried to get her to relax by the fire. The dog cried like a child and my mother had to get up several times in the night to see if she was all right.

My mother's efforts made no difference. The dog continued to behave as if demented - in fact, my mother began to worry that the dog was suffering from exactly that: a sudden onset of dementia from which she would never return to her usual placid self.

In the morning, however, the dog was back to normal and, going out, my mother discovered the cause of her night-time frenzy. There had been a kangaroo in the garden. The dog, whose life, deprived of sight and sound, we had thought so lacking in vivid experience, had clearly sensed the creature's presence, even though it did not appear to have come anywhere near the house.

Unlike us, mum's dog apparently lives in a universe where smell is as powerful a form of perception as sight or sound for us. What must it be like to be assaulted not just by light and noise but odours - and are there senses at work in the dog's brain that we can only guess at? Were there other signals, beyond mere scent, pulsing through the night air that she was aware of but that we are ill-equipped or unwilling to receive?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Policy Launch

Since making my debut on the political stage a few days ago, I've thought of two more excellent policies. Unfortunately, I've since forgotten one of them. Before I forget the other, I'll present it here:

I will ban all scrunchily wrapped and crackly to unpack or eat snacks from cinemas and theatres. Anything involving cellophane will be incinerated on entry to places of entertainment, ditto crisps of all kinds, plus their packets and also picture theatre popcorn, because it smells disgusting.

More exciting initiatives will follow as they come to mind (provided I reach a computer before they depart again, leaving behind them only a faint wisp of a half-memory that there did once exist an idea of some kind, now irretrievably vanished).

Monday, 17 June 2013

Words and Phrases and Widespread Aversions

I was pleased to read here that I'm not alone in taking against certain words, even though I suspect, given the date, that the whole article may simply be a joke. Certainly it is not a joke for me that, if someone uses 'moist' - I remember a young man I'd earlier thought quite attractive referred to something we'd just eaten as a 'moist meal', and this, along with the rather effete way in which he picked up his chicken bones and gnawed at them, (yes, it is possible to be effete and gnaw), made me decide he wasn't attractive after all (such is the ephemeral nature of romantic love) - I have generally concluded that they are a bit 'wet' in the non-moist sense.

We're not talking here about annoying, overused words, but words that provoke an emotional reaction, words that make you wince. In the same kind of way, I shudder slightly at most shortenings eg 'veggies'. I, along with many others, judging by this article, can't stand 'panties'. I used to hate 'slacks', which the headmistress of my boarding school used to tell us we could wear on special occasions, thus putting me off trousers for a long, long time.

What do you think? What are the words that elicit an involuntary shudder in you?

Friday, 14 June 2013

No Laughing Matter

Almost the first joke I can remember - the very first one was "I never drink, I never smoke, I never swear. Damn, bloody hell, I left my pipe down at the pub", but I'm only telling you that in the interests of openness and honesty - is the one where someone asks you, 'Which would you prefer: to be executed or burnt at the stake?', and you reply, 'Executed' (or, I presume most people do, on the grounds that it's over quickly) and then the joker says, 'What, you'd prefer a cold chop to a hot steak?', (sound of cymbals, drum roll, et cetera).

When I learned earlier in the week that a group of my fellow citizens were taking legal action to stop the culling of kangaroos in Canberra's various bits of pseudo bush, that joke's cymbals and drum rolls echoed once again in my ears. You see, I walk through one of those bits of so-called bush - (while it lacks houses, it does have a reservoir, a power plant and rangers driving through it in utes on a regular basis, not to mention numerous cyclists, dogs and walkers, which, to my way of looking at things, means that it is really a park, but never mind) - on a daily basis. As a result I've observed that, following a couple of really good seasons, the kangaroo numbers in the area have grown enormously. To give you an idea, here are photographs taken in just the last couple of days:

The place is getting kind of overcrowded, kangaroowise. To make things worse, we're having a pretty dry year this year and food for kangaroos is getting so scarce that many are coming further and further down the hill to forage. Many of them will soon be starving. Indeed, I startled one the other day that was clearly too weak to even run away. We stared at each other for an instant, and I've never seen such a movingly human look of fear, shame and utter sadness in an animal's eyes. I know I sound like I'm anthropomorphising, but I don't think that was quite what I was doing. I'm not sure how to explain it, except to say that perhaps when any creature reaches an extreme state of desperation it comes down to its essence as a living creature, rather than as a member of a species - and at that level all living creatures share a lot in common with their fellows whether they be human, kangaroo, bird or fish.

The strange thing was that what I wished for at that moment was a gun and the knowledge of how to use it. It would, in my view, have been kind to shoot that kangaroo. To kill it, quickly and cleanly, would have been violent, but it was less cruel than letting it limp off to die slowly and alone. And that's what the anti-cullers don't get, I reckon. They think they're being kind when what they're actually being is squeamish. They won't admit that many animals will die, one way or another, because there are too many for the food that's available. Our choice is the cold chop or the hot steak, as it turns out. We can kill them humanely, using experienced shooters who can dispatch them instantly, with one shot, or we can leave them to starve, which means a painful, long drawn-out, miserable kind of death.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

With All My Might

I used to work on a charity bookstall that set up once a week in a hospital near where I lived. I enjoyed it but one thing that always surprised me was the kinds of books people wanted.

While there were regulars - a couple of mothers who would bring their children along to try to find new bedtime fodder; a man who wanted nothing but ecclesiastical history; a migrant student needing textbooks on management theory - on the whole ours was a passing trade. Over the course of three or four hours, we'd probably serve 40 or 50 customers - (I wanted to say 40 or 45, of course:

but restrained myself) - and almost all of them were there just once.

In other words, over the space of a year we probably encountered a couple of thousand people across our trestle tables. Out of those 2,000, I would calculate that a minimum of 1,800 had pretty much the same request.

"Excuse me, have you got anything on self-improvement?" "Could you show me your self-improvement section?" "I'm sorry to bother you but I'm looking for self-improvement. Do you have any of those?"

I found this dispiriting. Apart from the fact that such books are almost all texts of such banality and tedium that no-one should feel the need to drag their eyes across their pages, the impulse itself is so full of forlorn humility.

How has the world given so many people the message that they are not good enough? Was it always the same? Did the majority of us always find ourselves wanting - and, if so, against what are we measuring ourselves?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Send in the Clowns

Australian politics is growing madder by the day. First, the redoubtable (such a good word that, its veneer of positivity masking, in this instance anyway, a bemused and disrespectful astonishment) Clive Palmer throws his hat in the ring (although, in the hat department, no-one can really compete with Bob Katter).

Then Pauline Hanson re-emerges from hiding to offer us her dubious services as a representative. Having had the pleasure of struggling with her speeches during her brief time as a member of Australia's House of Representatives - she was among the figures who made me wonder whether being a Hansard editor wasn't really a bit immoral, as I laboured to transform garbled half-baked utterances into something that would give future readers the impression of articulacy and even commonsense (dealing with Bob Katter's burblings usually presented an identical ethical conundrum) - I, if only out of sympathy for all my former colleagues still working at the Hansard coalface, will not be taking up her invitation.

Finally, we have the reappearance of that round-faced goon who in 2007 somehow led the nation into a collective delusion unequalled in our nation's history (unless you count the brief period when we actually believed that Little Britain was amusing). The press are now touting the likelihood that before the next week is out he will once again be our PM.


But what can you do, in the face of such horror? The answer, obviously, is: take a stand.

Which is why I now offer to the Australian public my own manifesto, my vision for our country, my pledge, if you vote for me.  I've already outlined two of the pillars of my vision for the country - one and two. My other major policy initiatives would be:

1. To make public transport something that, like sewerage, is just a given, rather than a service that somehow has to operate as a business. Thus, public transport would be free and efficient and no-one would start muttering about how much it costs. Trains would run more regularly and to more places. Old country stations would be opened up, providing rural employment. Conductors would operate on trams once more.

2. Plastic throwaway biros would be banned and everyone would have to write with fountain pens. Not only would this have a beneficial effect on the environment, it would lead to a reinvigorating of the blotting paper industry, which has been languishing for years.

3. Abolish all the horrible little stickers they've started whacking onto fruit (except these, because they are adorable). The people who become unemployed as a result of this measure can be redeployed to blotting paper factories.

Other policies may follow, but these seem pretty good to me, to be going on with. Let me know if I've overlooked any areas of pressing need.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

I Get It

I'm not much of a Facebook user, but my friend Polly has just gone to Istanbul for a couple of months, (good timing or what?), and so I went to look at her Facebook page to see if she was all right. She is. Furthermore, she reports on her Facebook page that she overheard this conversation as she wandered the cobbled streets of her new neighbourhood:

Tourist 1: Where you from?
Tourist 2: Germany
Tourist 1: Oh , I know it - Hitler!

At last I get the point of Facebook.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Late to the Party

In my first year at university I didn't meet any feminists. Presumably people were being feminists somewhere - after all, The Female Eunuch had been out for some years by that time. In Canberra though, at least in first year Russian and English Literature, (Piers Plowman and the Medieval English Lyric), Unit 1B, it still hadn't occurred to anyone that it was time to revolt against, (or from? - bloody prepositions, the bane of language learners everywhere), the patriarchal yoke.

By the beginning of my second year the situation had utterly changed. A new breed of female had appeared on campus. They spent a lot of time at the Union bar or in the refectory, feet up on the tables, laughing loudly, happy in their own, male-free company. Many looked, at first glance, more thickset than your average Sheila, but labourer's overalls and lace-up boots is a uniform that makes even sylphs look like bruisers. Some had intensified the peculiar impression their costume created by shaving the hair off their heads; almost all had grown - or were in the process of growing - the hair they'd once shaved on their legs and under their arms.

I thought they were mad. I had no money and a cupboard full of flowery Indian-cotton dresses, (all smelling faintly of patchouli oil). I wasn't going to chuck the whole lot out and reinvest in King Gee's and lace-up boots. I couldn't afford to. At least, that was my story. Those clever overall wearers, of course, saw through it. In tutorials, they cast scornful glances in my direction. They could tell it wasn't money that prevented me from crossing the sartorial rubicon. They understood as well as I did that economic necessity wasn't what stopped me getting rid of all my pretty frocks. No, the truth was I was still in the grip of an appalling, unreconstructed impulse that made me want boys, (ugh, gag, wash your  mouth out, disgusting), to like me and think I was pretty.

The shame. And given my early experiences with boys, (see pic below - and, yes, that is my wigwam and my tomahawk, and no, I don't know which parent thought it was more important to photograph my distress than to do something about it, but I think I deserve compensation from all concerned), I really ought to have known better. I can only assume I was suffering from the compulsion Freud describes where you keep going back to a bad experience and repeating it, in the hope it will eventually come out as you want it to.

Or possibly it was just that from earliest youth I'd thought my dad was marvellous and therefore assumed that all his kind must be as well:

Actually, there were other, less flippant reasons that made me resist the blandishments of feminism. If I'm honest, my reluctance to join the movement had little to do with my fondness for men. The sticking point for me was mainly concern about the movement's aims and intentions. I feared that, like many of the political developments of the twentieth century, feminism's main driving force was not sober reason but anger. My radical friends were merely caught up in a reaction. Their aim was the destruction of existing structures, rather than the construction of positive change.

I had no doubt that within the existing social edifice women were treated as second class. That was not where my argument lay. What bothered me was that, while I could see that there was definitely an appetite for smashing, I could not identify anywhere amongst the sisterhood a simultaneous desire to analyse why we'd arrived at the way things were. I thought it important to know, first of all, why the system had been constructed in the way it had been. I thought we should find out what the underlying problems were that the current status quo had tried - however unsuccessfully - to provide solutions for. Only when we'd worked that out, I reasoned, would we be able to produce better solutions ourselves.

Things weren't thought through. That's what put me off. The movement arose from the kind of emoting that Susan Brownmiller describes in her 'Memoir of a Revolution':

"If the anger of enough people has reached the boiling point, the exploding passion can ignite a societal transformation"

I suppose I am fundamentally very English - as such, my instinct always tells me that anger and explosive passion are destructive and not creative impulses.

Most importantly for me though, the central conundrum of women's lives - how to combine achieving things using your talents and intelligence with the bearing of children - was not adequately addressed by bringing things to boiling point and breaking everything up. As Sheila Rowbotham states in the BBC documentary, Libbers

'We didn't think through quite how else you bring up children.' 

One approach, of course - possibly that of Susan Brownmiller, who, according to the Libbers programme, had three abortions - was not bringing up children at all. In this context, abortion became a liberating tool. This was another hurdle between me and feminism, and remains so.  Of course, I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of abortion being free, safe and available, but I do not - and will never - regard abortion as in any way liberating. On the contrary, I believe that a woman's need for abortion is almost always emblematic of her continued dominance by masculine forces, since it is only in a world shaped by long centuries of male authority that having a baby causes problems.

An abortion is usually sought because a) the other part of the making-a-baby-equation has not taken up his burden of responsibility in the issue and is not routinely expected to and b) bringing a child into the world and looking after it thereafter makes doing anything else immensely difficult, because things are structured in a manner inimical to women. The obstacles that are placed in the way of mothers who want to be other things as well ought to be the things that feminism aims to remove.

Thus, to my mind, believing that abortions are liberating is deluded. If we were truly liberated, abortions would not be something we'd need. Instead of fighting for the right to abortion, I believed that we should have been fighting for an obstacle-free path through the world and the workplace for mothers. Once we achieved that, I reasoned, we would be truly liberated. By fighting to be freed not from man-made obstacles but from our own children, we were accepting a set up made by men.

Now I know better. At last, I've understood how madly idealistic I was. I recognise that I was wrong and all those women who chose the path of least resistance and fought for abortions understood what was actually possible and what was not. 

Watching the outraged reaction to the proposal by Australia's opposition leader to levy Australia's largest companies, in order to ensure paid parental leave is paid at a woman's actual salary for six months after the birth of each of her children, I have learned that I was simply utterly naive.The reaction to the proposal from men of all colours - apart from the instigator of the scheme himself - has proved to me that most men couldn't care less about women, (or children).

Sure, over the years men have been forced to accept us as we've begun infiltrating their workplaces. Grudgingly they've allowed us to work alongside them - but only provided we do it on their terms.

The abuse that has been heaped on the proposed scheme - which seeks to very slightly adjust the terms of work towards the needs of women, (and children - and need I go into the uncosted health benefits arising from the babies concerned being breastfed for longer and the women concerned being able to breastfeed for longer, not to mention the importance of making it easier for people to have children, in a country where house prices et cetera work against childbearing), is evidence that Australia's male leaders are utterly unenlightened about women's biological dilemma. Therefore, I have finally become a feminist, having too late - and very sadly - recognised that few men give a stuff about what happens to me and the rest of my sex.

Monday, 3 June 2013


I've been taking a more relaxed view of typos lately, but this woman has rekindled my zeal, (if that's not a mixed metaphor, which I think it probably is):

In Pippa Kelly's honour, I've added a few more posts to my blog of unbridled pedantry. You can find them here.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Music Master

I'm a bit on the cloth-eared end of the spectrum, but there are many people who, unlike me, respond better to music than to words. For them, I imagine, a musical guru would be more suitable than Shakespeare. One such told his rather wonderful story during a segment of Cultural Exchanges, the terrific new feature included regularly on BBC Radio Four's Front Row:

Saturday, 1 June 2013

My Guru

When I was young, a lot of my friends were drawn to Eastern religions. Some took to wearing orange, which would have been a step too far for me, (my dear, I look utter death in orange), even if the whole movement had been less patently a scam. Others went off to India - and still do from time to time - to visit 'ashrams' and be blessed by 'spiritual masters'.

One such pilgrim told me what is actually quite a good story, (which I'd love to believe - and almost do), about visiting a blind healer, who sat behind a desk and as each person shuffled past him, (there was always an enormous queue to see him), grasped their outstretched wrist and took their pulse, handing out advice based on what he'd divined from their heart beat.

My friend visited him one afternoon and then, just for the hell of it, went back again a few days later. The healer was sitting just where he'd been on her last visit, his eyes closed, never looking directly at his clients, (he was supposed to be blind, but, in the face of my doubting questioning, my friend insisted that, even if he hadn't been, he certainly never glanced at the passing crowd or even opened his eyes). When my friend offered her pulse for a second reading, the healer took it and said, without an instant's hesitation, 'You were here last week. I've already told you what to do.'

Anyway, leaving that story aside, I don't believe in exotic answers to Western problems. I think we have perfectly good sages of our very own. One of them, possibly the greatest of the lot really, was William Shakespeare, as I was reminded today when I went to see a film of the Globe's production of Henry V (which was superb - Jamie Parker, who I saw years ago playing the young Hal, has grown into the role as the more sensible adult Henry, and the whole production, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, was outstanding. [You can catch it again tomorrow; I highly recommend it.])

Shakespeare, somehow, knew everything, and each time I see one of his plays, some new facet of his omniscience is revealed. What I noticed this afternoon in Henry V, during a discussion about who bears responsibility for injury suffered during the carrying out of someone else's orders, (most particularly, in the context of the play, whether a King must bear on his conscious the deaths of all those he sends into battle who do not return), was a speech, from a minor character called Williams. It conjures up the human cost of war and yet is almost a throwaway in the midst of the play rather than, as it would be for most other writers, its central core, its one major perception:

"But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs, and arms, and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all, We died at such a place, some swearing, some crying for a surgeon; some upon their wives, left poore behind them; some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left: I am afear'd, there are few die well, that die in a battle: for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument?"

"When all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day." What an image. And made entirely out of ordinary little words. Marvellous. Shakespeare, I worship you.