Because of You

I live an inspired life.

I sleep soundly.

I wake with a smile on my face.

 

Because of you

I have learned to walk in stride.

To accept what comes my way.

 

Because of you

I am deeply humbled.

I am eternally grateful.

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Altar, Throne And Cottage: An outmoded vision?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pippa Passes - John Butler Yeats

 

 

...a quaint notion, minted in the early years of the 19th century as a uniform hierarchy for the ordering of society in Britain. Some may argue that, strictly speaking, it belongs to centuries before the English Reformation.

 Or, to put it another way: God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world. So sang Pippa, the little silk-winder from Asolo in Robert Browning's poem, Pippa Passes. I sometimes think he should have made that a qualifying clause: When God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world.

I was reminded of this some years ago by an online article entitled The Power of Words. Marsha Hansen revives the convention of giving honour to God before a public address. She feels that only African Americans of a certain age will know where she's coming from. At the time, I couldn't help wondering what this practice might signify to Barack Obama, or John McCain. Doubtless, it would be as mystifying to Donald Trump as the customs of Ancient Mesopotamia. Few will have been taken in by his charade at the Western Wall of Jerusalem.

Time was, when before a meal, with all family members assembled (simultaneously!) around the table, the head of the household would say 'Grace', a prayer of thanks to God for providing their food, but not only that, a blessing upon it that it would nourish the body and do no harm if it were contaminated. It was a kind of domestic Eucharist. The tradition survived through WWII and into the sixties when a certain degree of affluence and taking things for granted began to permeate social life. Today, it is observed only in religious orders, in academe and at (some) public functions. Even among Christian and other Faith families, it has become an overlooked habit.

This was a way of being for all parties, no matter how wealth and opportunity were redistributed from one term of office to another. A broadened franchise came with the understanding that governments were there to enact policies on behalf of voters, as expressed in general terms through the ballot box. The democracy we prize does demand leadership. Whilst it spares us the tyrants, it exposes us to the tyrannies of our own limitless expectations which, in turn, paves the way for the autocrats we dread. The idea of a democratic free-for-all and the overweening reverence for personal choice in every aspect of our lives creates noise in which the weakest voices are drowned out and the vulnerable get crushed.

It seems this template is in our very DNA, an image of our relationship with the Creator, from which we can’t depart though we may allow other powers and passions to occupy the territory and reconfigure it in their own interests. In the past, it was recognised that divine wisdom was needed in the making of decisions, and in the striving to live them out faithfully. If you prefer, you could say it was to accord an Intelligent Universe its due. Thanks and appreciation really can change our perception of the world and our destiny. What Tennyson articulated was once widely held belief and therefore had a very real charge: More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

We live in an age of glib sound bites, rhetoric and empty promises, but in the beginning was the Word. If we believe in its everyday ability to focus the intentions of the heart and mind (down to memos on the fridge door!) then prayer and the sending of healing thoughts borne out by actions that enable them, must improve the quality of life for everyone, near and far. The extent to which it does so depends on our perseverance and how widely the energy takes fire.

As things stand, the cosmos is in crisis, the nations ungovernable. The rising generations are left bewildered by what life on this planet entails. They have no sense of where they've come from or where they're going. In Britain, they have no systemic connection with their cultural heritage, thanks to spurious interventions in education.

The old framework was as aspirational as it was formed. Yes, it was instinct with nostalgia for what never wholly existed. History lays bare the legacy of corrupt Popes, self-serving kings, disaffected peasants and revolutions that replaced one kind of despotism with another. But does that make the reaching for it misguided and the effects of reaching for it redundant? Politics and Faith in God have never wholly mixed, yet everyone has a blueprint for living in the gentle Beatitudes given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Honouring that 'policy' would go a long way to changing the climate of politics and delivering truer leadership.

Isn't it precisely because of the excesses of human nature that we lose our way and need such a model to get us on track?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come

 

This post was prompted by Stephen Evans' On Rolls the Old World, an excerpt from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

 

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On Remaining Unpublished, or The Most Underrated Novelist of the 20th Century

What could you do if you suddenly fall out of favor, or somehow become irrelevant? A poignant example is the rejection experienced by the British novelist Barbara Pym (1913—1980) after publishing six novels from 1949—1960.

Barbara Pym did not write bestsellers, but she enjoyed a steady success (we have to take into account that in the 1950s most people borrowed books from the library: Excellent Women sold 6577 copies, Jane and Prudence 5052, Less Than Angels 3569 and A Glass of Blessing 3071), and got favorable reviews.

As a published author of six books, she must have felt that she had made it; that she could trust her readers to keep on buying, and reading, her new books. Pym had every reason to believe that her writing career was secure.

Then came a shock: in 1963 when her seventh novel, An Unsuitable Attachment, was rejected by Jonathan Cape, and she could not find another publisher for the work. For 15 years, all her new writings remained unpublished.

Pym was totally unprepared for rejection: as her own reality remained unchanged: she lived in the same place with her sister, went to church every Sunday and kept the same job, she could not have guessed that the world outside has changed. Somehow in 1960s Britain her writing was considered dated and and no longer relevant.

I cannot begin to imagine what she felt throughout that time, the insult, the dismay and distress. She must have started to doubt her whole perception of reality, how could she have been so wrong? What about her loyal readers? Had they stopped being interested in what she had to say? Moreover, writing was her whole life; she had never married or had children.

But like in fairy tales, Pym’ s talent, consistency and hard work were rewarded. In 1977 for its 75th anniversary, the Times Literary Supplement issued a list of the most underrated writers of the century, drawn up by forty-three eminent literary figures. Pym was the only living writer to be named by two people – the poet Philip Larkin, and the historian and biographer Lord David Cecil.

This nomination brought about a renewed interest in Barbara Pym and her work; her old novels were reissued and new ones were published. In 1977 Quartet in Autumn was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Sadly, like in Greek tragedies, in which the greater good always takes precedent over the fate of the individual: Pym was rediscovered too late, she did not have long to enjoy her success and died of cancer in 1980.

Pym was 50 year old when she first encountered this kind of rejection. I know from experience that around this age women start to feel irrelevant, even invisible. I wonder if Pym’s rejection has contributed to the heaviness of her later novels.

At any rate Pym kept on writing novels in her own style about people like her, anyway she was irrelevant, so she did not try to please anyone but herself.

I love Barbara Pym’s work: I wrote my PhD dissertation on her work and published a book about her novels (Social Dimensions in the Novels of Barbara Pym, 1949--1963)

But I especially admire Pym for her resilience and her sense of purpose. Thus whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I remember Barbara Pym and go back to work.

 

P.S. A quote from a blog written recently in the Times Literary Supplement blog by Toby Lichtig about the 1977 special issue

"The biggest winner from this special issue was Barbara Pym, chosen by both Cecil, who described her books as “the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past seventy-five years”, and Larkin: “the six novels Pym published between 1950 and 1961 … give an unrivalled picture of a small section of middle-class post-war England”. The story has now become a part of TLS, and wider literary, lore. Pym, who had been out of print for several years, really was brought in from the cold on the back of this support, and she went on to publish several more novels. She continues to be widely read, and enjoyed, today."

http://timescolumns.typepad.com/stothard/2015/09/reputations-revisited.html

The essay was first published in the Times Of Israel

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Farm Reflections: Beryl

She cups her hands under my jaw, drawing me close. Her touch is soft, a stark contrast to the arduous work she began at 10 years old. She kisses my cheek, skimming the corner of my lips. It’s the kind of exchange that exudes nurture from a mother’s kiss, of appreciation and protection. Those few seconds become tattooed inside of me, such is the power of her touch.

‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘For giving me so much of your time today.’ I tried to leave hours earlier, concerned I was taking up too much of her time, before a plate of pointed egg, and ham and cheese sandwiches appeared.

She smiles. ‘Thanks for coming, dear. It was lovely meeting you.’ Her smile is unfaltering, more spirited and permanent than the Mona Lisa.

I pull out the red capsicums from the box and bunch of rhubarb bound by an elastic band with leaves browning at their sliced tops, and toss the Spanish onions and tomatoes into the bowl in the pantry. SBS Chill plays smooth over the radio, although the tunes seem to hinge in a haunting of melancholy. Shuffling, stomps in boots on floorboards with no time to kick them off or wipe away the lipstick from the day, from one cupboard to the next, doors opening and banging with bongo beats of intermingling that flee to the other side of the world.

‘Here, have you seen this?’ he asks, handing me a bluing photo of footballers wearing Geelong AFL jumpers.

More football, but it seems to be what people are passionate about. It played a big part in the community over the years, with many attending weekend games and dances that followed in the Farm hall.

‘She played on the MCG you know.’

I look up over my spectacles, unsure of truth or jovial yarn.

‘She did! I’m not telling any tales.’

Beryl smiles broadly from her arm chair. ‘Yeah, it’s true,’ she nods.

I look closely at the photo. These footballers are women, having played in 1952. ‘We’ve got photos of women playing football in 1950, ‘51 and now ‘52!’ Women took to the field to the upturned noses of some and admiration of others back more than 67 years ago. The hype of women’s football today was built on the strength and foresight of these women and men.

‘I played in the ’51 and ’52 games. Bob Davis was our coach in 1952.’ The sun streaming through the dining room window casts elongated shadows that autumn is known for, lighting Beryl from behind. ‘Sunny Stewart and Linda Tetsil would fake a fight every game.’

I laugh. ‘I thought fake fighting only happened in wrestling!’

A sip of rosé, the green stem of the wine glass reminding me of faraway. Back to the pantry I prance for that onion already packed away. Peeling and chopping, grating in mechanical auto pilot … a slip of the knuckle on my thumb. Onion juice soon seeps into the graze. It stings but I don’t stop. Blood begins to streak, forcing me to search for a band aid. When the boys were little, band aids always somehow disappeared into that black hole of socks. My grating of fingers is all too common in our household and at the suggestion of one of those boys who is now a man, band aids today live in the kitchen. I wonder how many times Beryl grated her fingers in her day, or worse still, gained splinters and cuts from the logs she chopped.

‘I was Dad’s helper up until he died when I was nine,’ she says.

‘That’s young,’ I say, in jarring knowing of loss as a child.

‘Because I was the second eldest in the family, I took on the outside chores when Dad died. My older sister helped Mum inside. I’d have to chop wood for the wood stove and to heat up the copper for washing clothes.’

‘For bathing too,’ says Don. ‘Don’t forget the bathing. You were a hard worker, love.’

Beryl nods. ‘I’d feed the pigs and milk the cows, and churn the cream and butter.’

‘You’ve got to understand that era,’ says Don. He reminds me of my grandfather, trying to teach me the ways of the “old life”. ‘You had no choice. They had no father, no electricity because they weren’t in the town. Beryl had to do those things with no father.’

‘And you milked the cows, twice a day?’

Beryl nods. ‘About five or five thirty at each end of the day.’

‘She’d do that before and after school and when she went on to work, and she’d have a five or six-mile ride on her push bike to and from Werribee to get to work.’ Don’s gloating is of that other admiration, one of deep and lifelong love between two people.

‘And before Beryl and her family got to the 40 Road and the house in Clover's Yard where they stored fencing posts and concrete pipes and all those sorts of things, before her father died, they lived out at Murtcaim near us. In a stable.’

Beryl giggles. ‘The horse would stick its head through the kitchen window over the kitchen sink.’

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘How could a family live in a stable when every other worker and their family had a house?’

‘Again, it was the era. A single man would look after the horses and live in the stable with the them. It was an oversight to have a family in there. Mr Vincent was the Farm manager at the time and he didn’t know they were living in the stable. But as soon as he found out, he arranged for a house for them to move into.’

‘We moved in on Boxing Day 1939.’

‘Beryl’s Mum had trouble adjusting after the stable. She didn’t know how to use the electricity,’ says Don. ‘She wasn’t confident with it.’

Beryl giggles again. ‘I used to crank the handle for Mum on the car too.’

‘What do you mean?’ Surely her mother hadn’t been driving that far back?

‘Mum learnt to drive in a Whippet after Dad died and I’d have to crank the handle to start the car for her. She would’ve got her licence in 1949 or so.’

I feel her cupped hands at my jaw again before striding out to feed lettuce and cauliflower leaves, carrot tops and onion skins to the chooks.

‘Here chookies,’ I call, swishing through already building dew that sends droplets onto the points of my suede boots. They come scuttling from their foraging behind the bottle brush when they hear me. I think it’s more that they notice the blue container, an ever-reliable source of sustenance for them.

‘The Board had a policy of no women working on the Farm back then,’ says Don. ‘But they gave Beryl’s mum a job when her father died.’

‘Mum cleaned the offices so we could keep living on the Farm. You couldn’t stay in a Board house if you didn’t work on the Farm.’ Beryl barely moves in her armchair. She doesn’t look unwell, with a healthy glow and one of the kindest smiles I’d seen, yet a walking frame on wheels sits by her.

‘Mum had five kids to look after and she was determined to keep her family together. She’d iron for some of the mangers on the Farm and clean for them too to earn enough money.’ Her quiet spoken words are edged in a zeal unheard up until now, revealing a wider spectrum of strength. In her position of centre half back on the football field and as a woman that would tower over me even now if she stood, she would have flung me like a frisbee rather than tackle me to the ground if I had played against her.

Don wanders off into the bedroom, I’m hoping for photos of where he lived as a child on the Farm, in the Murtcaim area. I don’t yet know a lot about Murtcaim.

‘I’m not very well,’ says Beryl, almost whispering. ‘My heart’s not working properly and they can’t do anything more for me.’

‘What do you mean? Why can’t they do anything?’

‘I’m too far gone.’ Her look becomes one of pensive contemplation.

‘But you don’t look sick, Beryl.’

Don returns, clasping a few small photos. ‘Look, here she is. Beryl on her bike and on the fence post. Look at that smile.’

'He's back from the wardrobe,' Beryl jokes.

And there she was. Perched on the flat top of the fence post, holding her knees in close, looking so relaxed and content and with an air of cheery chipper, even with all the responsibilities of back then.

'And look, my car,’ says Don. He throws me three photos. ‘It was that car that made Beryl go out with me to the movies. My black Austin A40 convertible with white wall tyres. How could Beryl resist!’

I bound back into the kitchen to a spicy Latin rhythm, perfect for the salsa … what’s next? I find myself almost shuffling a one, two, three, four around the kitchen … carrots and lettuce for the fridge, broccoli to squeeze into the vegie drawer, a hip to maracas, a thought of him, more of her and him. Zucchinis into the fridge and rhubarb shoved in half an hour earlier pulled out for stewing, although I’m not sure how to cook rhubarb. With lots of sugar I think I’d heard it said, to offset the rhubarb’s tart or sour or something. With apples too I recall.

One, two … Beryl and Don dancing at their wedding reception in the Farm hall, the band playing on stage behind the bridal table across the front of the hall. Guests eating and drinking into the night, joyful and jolly on three long tables adorned in flowers that stretch from the bridal table up the length of the hall … I reach for that wine glass again, cheers to a life, wistful of what’s to come with lands faraway.

‘They can’t do anything more for Beryl you know,’ says Don. ‘She’s had her cancer treatment and now this heart. They can’t help her. But that’s what I’m here for,’ says Don. ‘I’m a fulltime carer now, after all the looking after Beryl has done for me.’

My son walks in. I don’t want to talk about where I’ve been today, or Beryl, or any of those intermingling thoughts. Apple skins into the chook container ... his eyes follow me.

‘Thanks again, Beryl,’ I say. ‘I’ll bring your photos back on a Monday when I’m in the area with my son at karate.’

‘Take your time,’ she says.

Don walks me out and levers the door open for me to walk through. I kiss the side of his face and hug him. He’s nervous with his embrace back, unsure of what to do with his arms. We stroll to the mail box together.

‘My mum spoilt me,’ he says. ‘She did everything for me and my grandfather lived with us so he did a lot of the chores that Beryl had to do. And then Beryl spoilt me once we got married. I’ve been a lucky man. It’s my turn to look after Beryl now.’

Something catches in me, in my gut. ‘Well you know how to spoil then because you’ve been so well looked after, your turn to spoil Beryl.’ The words fall from my mouth, my thoughts spoken before I have time to consider them.

Don gives an uneasy chuckle, appearing to be searching for a reply to my candid comment. He nods. ‘You’re right. I will.’

I drive home to the box of vegetables delivered earlier and waiting to be unpacked, thinking about the sensitivity of Beryl's hold, her appreciation of time to reminisce. Perhaps that’s stronger when you reach an end of life you know is near.

Gratitude’s a very grounding thing. People sharing stories, sometimes deep and personal memories only they can recollect. It’s an honouring that's grounding, an appreciation and trust to hold memories in extremes of harsh reality and sublime pleasure, the challenging and enchanting, all collected in a tiny box locked in the life time of one's heart.

As bearer of these recollections to record as a moment in time, milling over them, mining the jewels that lay within a reef more fertile of the most precious … there’s much satisfaction in holding that pause to reminiscence, of life on the Farm.

 

NOTES:

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1973; the last family moved off site in 1980. The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece. 

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm/  

AFL is a team in the Australian Football League.

The MCG stands for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an Australian sports stadium located in Melbourne.

The Farm is a colloquial term for Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

The Board stands for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the organisation first responsible for establishing and managing the sewage treatment plant. The Board became Melbourne Water in the 1990s.

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