The Family History As A Method Of Torture

I spotted it in a trice – on the shelf of the council library. It was a self-published history of a local family. Paper-bound, A4 size, but about a centimetre thick. I’m a bit hazy about the exact family name but I remember it referred to a country town where they lived and styled them as ” Pioneer Nobility “.

That’s a concept you don’t see all that often in an egalitarian society – but it lurks in the heart of every amateur genealogist. If they can assert that their family is noble, and get you to believe it, they can control the universe.

I come from a mother and a father. They, in their turn, came from mothers and fathers. Funnily enough, so does everyone else riding the N0.507 bus to the train station. And so do you. It is the common experience of mankind to be born because of the combination of a mother and father.

The lucky ones get to know who they were. Even better – they might have gotten to see them for some portion of their lives and can treasure this. But there is a catch to the treasure – a curse, if you will…if you try to grasp too much of it, it turns to fire and burns away your happiness. And that fire can consume all the social oxygen and leave everyone around you asphyxiated.

I met today with a relative of my wife – a pleasant man who is the amateur genealogist for her family. He is good at it and has facts and figures of all the extended family at his fingertips. You have only to sit still long enough and you will find out when in 1887 one cousin shifted addresses in Adelaide, and how we know this, and what it means for the Scottish branch of the family in 1934…

It is not polite to sneer or yawn. Neither is it to run and hide in the toilet or fall lifeless to the carpet. One must look bright and attentive. And not scream.

But, just as with the accounting of dreams, so the history of someone else’s distant family connection to even more distant relations who have done no more than breed and move is the saddest and most banal of communications. No-one wants to know.

None of us are remotely interested in the thing, and unless you can prove in court that you are a direct descendant of a liaison between Benjamin Franklin and Cleopatra, we’re not likely to care. Publish all you like, prattle all you will, thrust forward parish records from the 19th century all you may – We. Don’t. Care.

But let me tell you about my uncle Agnes and the time she met the Kaiser in Woolies…

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Living Your Own History

I have given up pretending to be other people; I have commenced pretending to be myself. Whether I will be more successful at it remains to be seen, but I know one thing – the clothing bill will be considerably lighter.

Do I have enough life accrued to have a history? And is it notable enough to be worthy of re-enactment? I’m not Dwight Eisenhower or Jim Carrey…so I don’t know whether anyone else will want to see me playing me. But I will still pursue the idea for my own purposes.

What was I? A little kid, then a teenager, than a young man, than a middle-aged man, and now an oldish sort of man. I have never climbed a new mountain, nor discovered a new cure for anything. Equally, I have never murdered people nor stolen money from them. Just an average Joe.

But an average Joe who had a great good time doing several things; taking photographs, reading books, and building scale models. If I re-enact what I did then I will not please or harm anyone else, but I can still please and harm myself…hopefully in equal portions.

This column, and the others I write, are part of the re-enactment I do of success in school. That petered out early, but these WordPress posts are going along nicely.

The Little Studio continues to take dance pictures as well as commercial illustration to the satisfaction of the customers.

The Little Workshop is spooling up to produce more and more scale models that please and delight me. And keep me agile of mind and hand. The activity is totally beneficial.

I may decline to wear the clothing of my childhood – the Howdy Doody vest is a difficult garment to integrate into normal day wear – but I’ve noticed recently that I can rock the flannel shirt and work trousers…and as a retired man I can wear them in more places than you’d think. The white moustache and flat cap help as well.

Reliving The Lives Of Someone Else’s Ancestors…

I used to take a great delight in the re-enactment hobby. I discovered it in the 1980’s as an adjunct to the activities of our local muzzle-loading rifle shooting club.

We’re in Australia, but a section of the country that has little colonial history of note – few battles and none of them famous. Re-enacting colonial times would mainly involve hard work, dirt, and discomfort. It is an unattractive prospect compared to the pageantry and bloodshed of  the United States, Britain, or the European continent. There is little in the way of glamour to it all.

So I reached out – gathering materials to pretend to live in 1860’s America, 1800’s England, and various areas during the Middle ages. There were a lot more things to wear and do when one concentrated on these cultures. At various times you could have seen me as an ACW soldier of either side, a British soldier of 1815 or 1860, a medieval dentist or crossbowman…it was a varied picture. But none of it was a picture of my own life …or of the lives of my ancestors.

Ultimately, this is where the activity failed. It introduced me to like-minded individuals here and now, and I value their friendships….but it had no valid connection to my life.

So what has taken the place of this once all-consuming passion? What fire burns in the grate now? And why is it producing a better heat for me? Read the next post and see.

The Ages Of Mankind

I see I’ve made a slight error – that should be Ages Of Man. Not mankind. I’m in no position to decide things for other sexes.

Actually, It should read Ages Of Me, because I can’t even speak for others of my own sex. They may well have different ages in their lives. I can only tally up my own.

0-10 – Kiddyrazzi – Just a kid, doin’ what kids do. In my case doin’ what kids in western Canada in the 1950’s did and then having to strip down in the basement and take a shower afterwards. Spring in Alberta had enough mud to make another entire planet, and if you were not careful most of it stuck to your sneakers. And your hair.

10-20 – Studyrazzi – Always at school preparing for life. On television everyone was already living theirs, but I was just between school holidays and exams. This was the 1960’s minus the drugs and the music. Also minus the sex.

20-30 – Moneyrazzi – Well, add the sex. Plus the university fees, loans, commitments, fees, leases, and childbirth. They even charged for the child.

30-40 – Workerazzi – I was meant to produce so I did. And a great deal of what I produced was taken away to pay for the 20-30 period.

40-50 – Thickerazzi – How did I thicken and wrinkle at the same time? And where was the El Dorado that was promised in the 10-20 period? El Dorado was running well behind schedule. The sneaking suspicion starts to dawn upon me that I may have been hoodwinked.

50-60 – Doggerazzi – Thinking ( mistakenly ) that harder work and more spending and networking and wine evenings and investment counselling would make it all come right, I lurched onwards. It did not come right, of course, and the cynicism started to gel.

60-70 – Cooterazzi – I just started to realise that no-one was listening and no-one was watching. This made me alternately despondent and elated. It was a good time to start robbing church poor-boxes.

70-80 – Bloggerazzi – I intend to spout the most errant nonsense and the most brilliant wisdom and no-one will take the slightest notice. I’ll get ’em used to the flow of sound and then tell the truth in the middle somewhere. They may not even  notice that I cut them off at the ankles. You can preserve ankles in jars and make a rather nice collection.

I shall not presume to calculate past 80. It is a period of time that might be devoted to anything.

 

What Do You Do When You Don’t Have Statues To Remove?

Why, you remove names! Names of people you don’t like. And you make censorship sound virtuous!

Our localities saw fights between whites and blacks in the nineteenth century – for the most part the whites won. Now the blacks want the names of the regions where these fights occurred to be changed so that the settlers are vilified and forgotten.

They have a problem: there aren’t many equestrian statues of the settlers in question to haul away. No-one bothered to cast them back then and the only thing remaining is a few gravestones and the map names of outlying townships and electoral areas. This must be a frustrating setback to the politically ambitious and the racially virtuous.

No matter – local activists have demanded that the names be expunged and replaced by what they tell us are aboriginal names. History will be smudged over, re-written, or outright traduced…and it likely will be with the blessing of local academics and political opportunists. They would howl at the same thing bring done to European or Middle Eastern history, but they are delighted to be able to do it here.

I’m afraid I have a sad prediction to make – the very people who have cried loudest in the past about spiritual matters and sacred sites will likely take to the graves of the settlers in our local cemetaries with spades. I hope the cops are ready for it, and I hope the shire councils can stand the cost of replacement headstones. Otherwise we all stand a chance of being expunged at the convenience of activists.

The Little World – You Can Lay New Bricks On Old Walls

My recent project of building a 1:18 scale model of a house I once lived in went very well – better than I had expected. It is now sitting in my studio ready for the next phase of my art – tabletop photography.

But once I had completed the actual build i realised that the miniatureist has a wonderful facility that other people may miss out on – we can go back in time and rebuild memories.

Some people never want to do that – they have had experiences that they wish would go away. They actively bury them by various means. You can’t re-write history – unless you are a Soviet Ministry of Propaganda – but sometimes you can add extra pages to what is there to modify it – or at least to understand it.

Thus my researches into the model house I built. From a vague image on Google that sparked my memory, through to more images, and then the discovery of an advertising page from the 1950’s that named the house and showed plans of it. I experienced a re-awakening of mental images of the colours, surface textures, and relationships of the place. I’ve almost recalled the furniture positioning – and can certainly remember the downstairs playroom where I had my toys and games.

It is a bit creepy, as well, to look a Google Earth images of the house standing and flourishing 58 years later, and to realise that I could probably open the front door, walk past the startled present owner, and go to the kitchen, bathroom, and any other part of the place unbidden. A stalker on the other side of the planet…Out of consideration for them, I will not do it…

As I built the miniature I started to undersand more of the layout and dimensions of the place – things I would have had not knowledge of in the 50’s; the size of lumber, the types of roofing, the plumbing layout adopted to give the shortest and cheapest run of pipes. Because, make no mistake about it…the theme of this sort of house was economy and quick build and any corner that might have been available to be cut…was. And I would be willing to bet that there are houses built today that are just a few computer strokes away from this design – and probably assembled from cheaper materials.

Still, it has lasted 58 years and still has someone in there…and here…

Good Morning, America.

patriotic001

It is a good morning. It’s election day.

It’s the day your ancestors earned with Lexington, Saratoga, and Yorktown. And you kept it with LEXINGTON, SARATOGA, and YORKTOWN. Good for them and good for you.

Go vote. Vote for the candidate you think is best for the job. Vote according to your own opinion – not the memes of Facebook or the television’s paid commentators…or the umpteen dozen polls that have flooded the net. You have a brain. Use it.

And disregard the overseas detractors that say the country is doomed. They’ve been saying that since 1774 and they’re wrong. The nation has survived war, famine, disease, and pestilence for over 200 years and it will do so for 4 more no matter who gets to be President.

I can examine the records of the chief executives of the US for the last 68 years and find loudmouths, crooks, and political pansies. Sleazers, geezers, and breezers. Loons, toons, crackers, and coons. I can also find genuine patriots, heroes, and able planners. In every administration, each President has made seriously good decisions, and seriously bad ones. They have also all had pieces of good luck and bad luck. The country has survived.

Go out there and do your duty – and do it with pride and pleasure. Regard it as a holiday for your spirit. The rest of the world can govern themselves for a day ( or not…) while you govern yourselves.

The rest of the world will not shut up yapping – the internet and their own egos will make sure of that – but they cannot go into that ballot booth with you.