Victorian Vulgarity

I hasten to add that I am not referring to the Australian state of Victoria. It is not a vulgar place – far from it. I am thinking of the instances of vulgar behaviour that pop up in Victorian novels and that are so disparaged by the heros and heroines of these books.

It seems that it was very easy to be vulgar in Victorian England. All one needed to do was be from the continent or North America, be in trade, or be poorer than the main focus of the story. Ethnic birth ensured it – Jew, Hindu, or Muslim – all were irretrievably vulgar in the British eye and the British novelists made sure that their readers knew it.

I may have made a slight error when I said that vulgarity came with poverty. Not if the pauper was an Anglican clergyman or a female member of his family. That was impoverished gentility, and to be pitied…from a distance. The Catholics – Irish, French, or Italian as they might be, were vulgar to a soul.

Vulgarity could also be assigned to the rich, if there was no prospect of getting any of their money. August Melmotte in Trollope’s novel ” The Way We Live Now ” comes to mind.

I am so glad that we have advanced past these days and that now there is a universal brotherhood and sisterhood of tolerance and kindness. If only we could get these damn foreigners to kneel in the street when they pass our cap, eh?

The Key To Happiness Is…

What? You expect me to tell you? How the hell should I know what your key to happiness is? I’m not you.

My happiness? Toy airplanes and rum toddies and pinup girls. Hardly do for you…I don’t think you could build a toy airplane if your life depended upon it. You need entirely different keys. The only thing I can help you with is to tell you where to look for them.

Where you left them, dummy. They will be where they were before you went off and started scrabbling for a living. While you still had it all before you to do, the things that you loved to do were your key. Now that you have been doing the no-fun stuff for years the old keys may seem rusty or inadequate…but they still fit the lock. Time to polish them up and give it a try.

Were you an explorer and traveller as a kid? If you were and hated it, stay home and be happy. If you loved it, go out the door and don’t come back in until way after dark. When the world opens again, stay away overnight…then the weekend. Then go anywhere and you’ll be happy.

Did you love to read? You can join multiple ending libraries, haunt bookstores, build your own library. You can write your own books – journals if you are shy, or novels if you are not. Remember that you can tell lies as well as truth when you write so take yourself seriously.

If you wanted to paint, go buy the fanciest and most useless box set of paints in Jacksons and burn canvas. Or go sketch live models at a class. Or get a camera and take pictures…I promise you it will seem easy until you try to get better.

Nearly every division of human endeavour can be done to some extent, and there can be happiness found within the boundaries of that pursuit. And you can tailor the key to suit the lock perfectly.

Picking Up The Breadcrumbs

Picking up breadcrumbs is an innocent enough thing unless you are trailing Hansel and Gretel – then it becomes harmful. A Grimm event…

Jokes aside, picking up snippets of information is a very useful way for an author or spy to gain useful information. The spy can piece together the movements of an army or the operation of a new secret weapon – the author can gather enough material to write a biography of someone at a distance. You may toss up for yourself which is the more dangerous practice.

Everyone drops breadcrumbs – bits of information about themselves that they either announce or write down. In our information age we are constantly filling in forms or supplying details to the nosy. Just this week I sent all my banking details to Berserkistan when they phoned me up. I’m sure it’s all legit – what could possibly go wrong? I mean, it’s not as if I told them the real numbers.

Coming back to the idea of the biography – think of the books you have stolen from the library. Some are marked “authorised biography” – some are marked ” unauthorised biography” or ” independent biography “. These divisions are arbitrary – all the books have been written by an author and the only difference is the quality of the lies. The unauthorised and independent ones have juicier stuff  – and strangely enough are likely to be closer to the truth. More people can remember more things and all the author needs to do is be a diligent collator and curator – eventually the truth will appear between the connected dots.

And then there is the autobiography…like auto-eroticism, it can be a lot of fun but you have to be careful or the pages stick together…

The Kampf – Part Four – Done At Last

Well, I did it. I finally read all of the Manheim translation of ” Mein Kampf ” – it was the English edition put out in the 60’s. It had lain untouched on my bookshelf for over half a century while I tried to decide why I bought it* and why I should read it.

Hard reading – Germanic phrasing in English makes for difficult sentences and this author was not a good writer to begin with. Hard reading as well when you see it veering into the most virulent hate-speech. And it was surprising how often it did veer. Of course Hitler hated Jews, Marxists, Bolsheviks, and black people – that’s a given – but it was somewhat diagnostic to see how often his worst thoughts would erupt in the middle of what might otherwise be a dry passage. There was only a thin barrier between his moods.

Also surprising…and grab your eyebrows before they disappear forever into your hairline in surprise – Hitler did tell the truth sometimes. Not about the rest of the world and the people he hated, but about the people who he wished to control. And he sometimes laid out his operational methods proudly  – like a mechanic might roll out a tool kit – and announced exactly how each tool would be used…and upon whom. He had a devil’s grasp of propaganda. I was surprised to see him spell it all out.

Unfortunately this sort of noise sometimes echoes far after the gunshot that finally silenced him. The last few weeks on the social media platform Facebook have seen  ” meme’s ” or ” shares ” drop through that embody a number of the propaganda principles that Hitler set out; the targeting of a declared enemy with ridicule, then with unalloyed hate, then with relentless use of the lowest abuse. Simple abuse that is simply repeated, with no let-up or debate. Hammering the hate into dim minds.

It was also interesting to see the memes use an admixture of simple sentiment with simple statements –  uncontroversial in nature – and  then a sly slipping in of the propaganda message or abusive remark. The people who read and then share these things on Facebook are the vehicles – not for the sentiments or simple statements – but for the propaganda abuse. And they probably don’t realise it. As they keep doing it, they are brought to agree to wilder and wilder things.

Hitler lied about a number of the events in his past within this book – the scholarly footnotes make this abundantly clear. Yet he grasped at as many real events as he could to promote his hate. And I am afraid I can see where some parts of the 1920’s were bound to serve that purpose. They could well have driven the German people to desperation…or preconditioned them to take the virulent infection of his speeches.

Unfortunately, I suspect many did not need much exposure to become just as deadly in their turn. In the end, I don’t think Hitler such a writer that would move normal people to abnormality. The ones he moved were in motion already…

Well, that’s the conclusion. It can go back on the shelf forever, along with the Protocols Of Zion and whatever other rubbish is thrown up from time to time. I won’t burn it because that is not what a thinking person does – but I will not bother with it again. It can go on the Untouchable List.

*  Youthful foolishness.

Who’s Ya Hero? – Part Three

As a child, youth, and young man I was invited to admire various heroes. Idols of history or current culture; Gordy Howe, Elvis, Churchill, John Wayne. As time went on they either rose or fell in my estimation according to new information that was disclosed. Also as time went on I learned to seek out truth and did not take the cultural advertising at face value.

It was an easy thing to do – Canada was a free country and you could ask, read, speak, and think pretty much as you wished. You might  be wrong or right but it was your decision which road to follow.

Same here in Australia – substitute Don Bradman for Gordy Howe and do what you like with the rest. People might say you nay but that was just their voice and you could still read and speak freely.

I eventually ended up with a revised list of people I admired or wanted to emulate. And an equal list of those who caused me revulsion.  They’re my lists -and private; if I haven’t thrown a rock at you, you’re probably on the first one. But the fact that I revised them eventually made me curious to see whether other people had also gotten past childhood idolatry. In some cases I fear not.

This was particularly poignant considering my determination to finish reading ” Mein Kampf ” in the Manheim translation. It was no fun. As I read it, I was drawn to wonder how much it influenced the thinking of people with whom I’ve had personal contact. Was something published in 1933 still echoing in 2018? Did they regard Hitler as a personal hero back then, and did they secretly cling to that 80 years later…?

I’d started reading the book to find a reason for other people’s behaviour – so far that was inconclusive. But eventually I became aware that my interpretation of it may have been at great variance to how it was seen by them.

That Book – Part Two

I hope I wasn’t too scholarly and dry with my first part of this essay. I’m dry but not an academic. I rarely read, and never write, footnotes. None of my writing has a bibliography attached to the end of it. There are no credits rolling. What you read is what I got…off my chest.

As I read MK over the weeks I realised that I started out for an answer to why Hitler was such a shit – and hadn’t found it yet. Other works that detailed his early life could probably have told me more, if I cared to read them. In the end I didn’t care – I used to ask myself why the schoolyard bullies were the way they were when I was a child, but the reason there was that I was an easy victim and they were pack animals anyway.

I also started to think that my quest to understand why the German people conducted themselves as they did for 15 years – out of millenia of existence – was a biased one. I was hoping to find a good reason for bad behaviour. I was hoping to find something that let the ghosts of my ancestors lie clean and quiet.

Ancestors? Well, the furthest back I know goes to Austria and East Prussia and is merely family stories. A grandfather out of the Tirol and a grandmother out of Posen. Another grandmother’s predecessors out of Vienna – admixed with an Irish family from Cork. 3/4 of them Germanic and 1/4 Hibernian. With a ragout mixture of religion and association withal. The Irish ghosts could flit as they liked between brewery and peat bog and good luck to them. It was the Krauts I wanted to address.

Note: I needed not fear the history of my parents, nor of their brothers and sisters. All Americans and all pretty honourable characters. Some veterans and some not, but no-one ended up in either jail or Congress.

My reading of the book  gradually settled into a search for brilliance. For captivating charm, political insight, economic wisdom, and noble statesmanship. You might laugh or grimace that I was expecting this sort of literature from Adolf Hitler but try not to be too enraged. If it was written in such a way as to persuade me to leap from my seat and attack the Polish border or set fire to the New Era bookshop, it meant that it was good enough to do this to the German people. And that might have let them off the hook somewhat.

Otherwise, the premise that Daniel Goldhagen put forth in his 1996 book was all the more probable.

Note for readers of this column:  The previous post that dealt with this topic was published yesterday but disappeared from the list of posts on my WordPress dashboard. It’s still  accessible through my Facebook page. I can only assume that some editor, censor, or automatic program picked up upon the topic and removed it. There are two more instalments before it finishes, and it will be interesting to see if they are allowed to exist.

Careful writing and considered judgement would seem to be contrary to some internal cultural laws. Let’s see if this N0. 2 column and then N0.’s 3 and 4 are expunged.

Is it the ghost of Goebbels riding shotgun?

Postscript Note to the above:  The missing N0.1 column isn’t totally gone – it’s has been shifted to the 24th of February…how, I have no idea. Wonder if this one will similarly disappear…?

Notorious, Unwise, or Forbidden? – Part One

Have you ever been confronted by a book that meets any of the above criteria? If you have, what does it say about the society within which you live? If you pick it up and read it, what does it say about you? And what, in the end, can you say about it?

I’ve had such a book in my possession since the late 1960’s. It is a copy in hard cover of ” Mein Kampf ” published by  Hutchinson of London. The frontispiece identifies it as the Manheim translation with an extensive introduction by D.C. Watt – a reader in International History  at the University of London. Wikipedia suggests that it was deliberately published in expensive form to prevent wide circulation; the selling price was $ 13.85 in the old Albert’s Bookshop in Forrest Place, Perth. Bear in mind that the tank of my Renault 10 motor car at the time could be filled nearly three times for that price.

I have kept the book unread on my library shelf between 1969 and 2020 – over 50 years – and for most of that time have not known why…both why I kept it and why I did not read it. In the meantime I have taken two trips to Germany, met many German people alive at the time it was first published, visited Nürnberg, and paced the lanes of the Dachau KZL. I’ve bottled up any thoughts about it but still saw the spine of the book there all that time. Why? Why have I not sent it away as I have so many other publications over the intervening years?

And why should I take it down earlier this year, open the first page, and start reading? I thought I had no answer to this, but gradually as the months have passed I think I have arrived at a real reason: I am looking for a real reason.

The reason I am looking for is why the German people did what they did.

These Three Guys Walk Into A Bar…

And ask the bartender where the library is. He directs them down the street three blocks to the Public Library and they thank him.

WRONG. ALL WRONG. The bartender has done a great disservice to literature and society and himself. It should have gone like this…

These three guys walk into a bar and ask the bartender where the library is. He directs them to the next room, where there is a wall of bookshelves full of books. Old, new, big, little. Picture books and books crammed with text. The library has a reading bench and pens and paper in trays . There are big chairs by windows with plenty of light. It is cool and comfortable.

The three guys go in, pick books from the shelf and sit down to read them. The bartender asks them what they’re drinking and they all order. As the afternoon wears on they read more and drink more and the till grows fatter from the cash. The readers do not fight or watch horse races on television. They do not swear or spit. They just read and drink. When closing time comes they are still mostly sober and perfectly satisfied…and will come back again and bring more money with them.

Keep books. Your bookkeeper will approve.

Note: Years later when the third guy writes a seminal novel and the second guy writes a definitive scientific text and the first guy becomes a gossip columnist, they all mention the bar during interviews…and the place is overwhelmed by literary customers eager to imbibe either culture or beer. If you want good advertising, get good advertisers.

The Bookworm And The Screenfly

I sat in my local bus shelter this week, heading for town. I had a book, so I was fine. The bus was due in 10 minutes.

A car went by on the street. A man tooted his horn and waved…so I waved back. Then sat there puzzling about who he could be. Didn’t recognise the car at all… Then I turned to my left and saw the teenager sitting looking at her mobile phone screen.

On a chance, I asked whether the horn tooter was for her. Yes, apparently it was her dad going by. I gave a sigh of relief – I was off the hook. He might now be wondering why I waved but at least I wasn’t ignoring someone I should know. We went back to book and screen.

And the bus went by. Neither of us had thought to watch out for it, get up, or signal it.

There was nothing to do but wait another ten minutes…but put away the book and the phone at the eight-minute mark.

See? Being absent-minded is not just a sin of old age.

The Local Holiday – Part Three

Review yesterday’s reflections on why people travel for their holidays before we go on.  And then consider why staying at home may meet all your needs.

a.  You wanted a change of scenery. There are new sights to see within a mile of your easy chair. You can go to them on a bus or train ( for free if you’re old enough ). You can walk to them in some cases. I’ll bet few of the readers have been to all four corners of their respective towns. Who knows what sights are to be seen there – I rode a local bus through what I thought would be familiar suburbs and found that the town has changed into a new place. And I was not riding some death-bus full of grinning bandits into unknown peril, at $ 10,000 a go.

b. You wanted a change of weather – this really amounts to wanting cool when it is hot and warmth when it is cold. Or dry when it is raining. Got news for you – Cool comes out of air conditioners – if you have one, use it. If you don’t, go to a mall that does.

Same thing when it is cold. Sit in front of the fire or go to a warm café. Libraries are warm and quiet and they have free entertainment for all ages. They also have seats and let you sit there reading all day if you wish.

Weather will eventually change anyway – in Melbourne, four times per day. Just be patient.

c. You wanted new food and drink. Oh, please…there are more restaurants in your town than ever you have eaten at. And more bars, pubs, taverns, etc. for exotic drinks. You cannot eat or drink more than a certain amount in any one day and all you have to do is go into a new joint and sample their menu. Most Australian cities have more ethnic variety in their eateries than any of the countries that they emulate. Where exactly is Generia , anyway? Their cuisine seems familiar, if bland.

d. New people? Go to a new pub, club, mall, church or temple, and look around. Go clean, friendly, and polite and you’ll meet people you want to meet. Every newspaper and radio station advertises groups looking for new members every day.

e. Duty Free? Really? Is it really a good idea to pay $ 10,000 in holiday money to come back with a giant half-price bottle of Johnny Walker? You could go to the local Dan Murphy and whack down $ 100 and come away with all the whiskey you can handle. A queasy liver at 1/100th of the cost.

f. Relaxation? If your idea of relaxation is sitting on a beach getting skin cancer, you can do that at Cottesloe or Swanbourne. If you want to break your arm surfing, Margaret River is just three hours away. If you want shows and movies, there are plenty going on every day right here at home.

If relaxation for you is sitting in a café, there are a number of districts here that want your dollar.

g. Peace and quiet. This is the best news of all. You can get this in your lounge room for just a few dollars. Here’s what you do:

  1. Clean the house. Not a major campaign – just a day’s tidying. Sets the scene.
  2. Get in a week’s worth of ready-to-cook meals or a handful of local restaurant menus.
  3. Get a carton of beer or cola or whatever. Or a few bottles of the local vin ordinaire.
  4. Get an armload of new books from the library or book shop.
  5. Put on your holiday clothes – loose ones.
  6. Unplug the land line phone.
  7. Put the mobile phone under two pillows.
  8. Turn on the air conditioner and make yourself comfortable.
  9. Watch TV, read, practice your hobby, write letters or postcards, sit and think, nap, or eat and drink. All week, if you wish. Go to bed as early or late as you please.

Amazing how good it feels, isn’t it? And you are not dependent upon airport transfers, bell hops, tour guides, airline schedules, or any other travel hazard. You will not be stranded anywhere, as your bed is a room away. You are near your medical base. You can ring out for food if desired and ring friends to invite them to share it. You can binge watch on telly. You can be as vacant as you wish.

You can write internet weblog columns undisturbed.