Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Return to Oz

A week and a half in London, a week and a half to go, and already I’m looking forward to Oz again. The weather here is as bad as I remember: apart from the odd hour of sunshine on two days, it’s has either been dark and grey and/or raining the whole time I’ve been here.

Of course, that means the colours in the countryside are much more vibrant than I’m now used to: instead of dusty reds, browns, and grey-green, it’s mainly vibrant green grass – the garden’s just had it’s last mow of the year – with trees mostly still deep green, but here and there red and yellow as the leaves turn and fall. Soon it will just be the charcoal sketches of bare branches against a background of green grass, grey sky, and ploughed brown earth.

Back in Eltham I hear it’s hot days and cold nights. There the view from my balcony across the valley is green, but it’s that grey-green of eucalypts, and to English eyes all Oz trees look half-dead, near-leafless, hurried impressionist sketches of trees, arty minimalist trees, compared to the thick foliage of England. Nowadays, however, my eyes are Australian, and the thick lush English countryside seems excessive, almost oppressive, as if the trees were only just held in check by humans, standing ready to take over once more as soon as we are gone. Tolkien’s ents seem much more likely here than in Oz. I guess Australian ents would be like those incredibly thin, bony aborigines, more twig than trunk. Here they’d be hulking Schwarzeneggers. Termin-ent-or?

Good day / Bad day

Mother is having a good day so far today: she’s humming to herself, tackling housework, and can remember her PIN number, so we can get some money from her account. Two days ago she didn’t even know what a PIN was. Today she’s argumentative and pretty near normal. You never know how long this will last, however. Yesterday, by contrast, was a bad day, culminating in an ‘accident’ in the bathroom which today she doesn’t remember, the consequences of which are currently in the washing machine. Still, at least this brief stay gives me some time with her (while she still knows who I am, as my sister puts it), and means my sister doesn’t have to worry for a week or two. And compared to what Sis deals with 24/7/365, it’s a small sacrifice.

More of a theme park than a city

None really, although it might have been nice to catch a show or two. On the other hand, looking through the listings, there are shows still running that I saw before I left the UK almost ten years ago. It used to be The Mousetrap was the only show that ran for ever: now London theatre has morphed into something like a theme park, where most of the rides run for years, and occasionally one is torn down for something new.

A new Lloyd Webber, for example, much the same as the old one, or a new Les Mis / Miss Saigon / Blood Brothers. Once a roller coaster is scrapped, it’s gone for ever, but old shows never die, so every so often there’ll be a ‘new’ Shakespeare, or a revival of a Sondheim, this time probably by an opera company. Most West End productions nowadays, rather than representing the pinnacle of an actor’s career, have become the equivalent of a stint as Prince Charming in Disneyland, or a residency on a cruise ship. On the other hand, the generally high standard demanded and the constant turnover of cast members means England still produces and trains lots of good actors. It just gets very boring for the people who actually live here.

Old fags out

As to schlepping around the gay scene, I have no interest in it whatsoever. It was bad enough when I was thirty-five, being ignored and avoided, and I’ve no reason to enquire how much worse it might be twenty years later, having committed the cardinal gay sins of getting older, fatter, and wearing glasses. I don’t like the music, I don’t dance, I don’t do drugs, I barely drink any more, I never liked drag, I don’t care for group sex, backroom sex, rent sex, or sex in public, the kind of guys I fancy don’t fancy me, and anyway, I’ve got a man back home in Oz. Why on earth would I bother?

New fags in

It’s wonderful to see how much we’ve become part of the mainstream here. While the situation is still far from perfect, it’s light years ahead of Oz. I have yet to open a newspaper that doesn’t have at least one GLBT-related story, and while the coverage isn’t always positive, at least it’s there. Gay couples are a standard feature of soaps, dramas, cop shows, doctor shows, quiz shows, lifestyle shows, property shows and gay issues feature regularly in the nightly local and national news.

Last night I watched a lifestyle show which aims to find an ideal second home / holiday home / rental property for a couple: the twist is that they show them three properties in the UK and three in a European country, such as France, Spain or Italy. So far every couple has plumped for Europe, after discovering that what will buy a two-bed row house in the Lake District will net them a six-bedroom palazzo in Piedmont. Mother sleeps through it every day, so I’ve seen quite a few editions.

Mostly they’ve been comfortably-off suburban couples approaching retirement, and last night was no exception, bar the fact that they were two mid-fifties guys, retiring after running a B&B in Devon. The fact that they were a gay couple was never mentioned, nor ignored, just taken for granted. And the same thing happened – this time with two lesbians – on another show which aims to help couples starting out find a home within their target area and budget. And these are shows on the commercial stations.

Then in the evening news third lead was the Anglican report on gay clergy, while a feature piece covered the gay group in the European Parliament teaming up with the socialist bloc the get rid of that dreadful Papal bedwarmer, Rocco Buttiglione, who thinks homosexuals are sinful, single mothers bad mothers (Really, asked the press? You misunderstood me, he said, actually they’re heroines of our time for refusing abortions), marriage is to give women children and a home and the protection of a male: and this is the man who the Italian Prime Minister (and the Pope) wants to see installed as the European Justice and Human Rights chief.

Later we had a brief item on the progress of the civil partnerships Bill in committee. And please don’t get the idea there was anything abnormal about this level of coverage in either the press or television - it’s normal. OK, the news bulletin above was on the BBC, but all the issues have also been covered on the commercial channels, too.

The situation on the ground isn’t quite as rosy, especially in Northern Ireland, where sectarian bigots on both sides, no longer able to terrorise each other, have taken to terrorising gays and lesbians instead. The fact that the government south of the border, in the Republic of Ireland, is looking at legalising gay marriage, only fuels the fire in the north. And I do mean fires – people’s houses have been set alight, people have been attacked, and the suicide among young gay men in particular is the highest in Europe.

And you wouldn’t want to live in the West Country – Devon and Cornwall – either, with England’s highest reported rate of homophobic violence. Now we know why that couple sold their Devon B&B and plumped for a place in Italy

Friday, October 15, 2004

Australia Through The Looking Glass

England is making me feel I have gone through the looking glass. Here, for all Tony Blair’s troubles, the Labour Party is well entrenched in government; gay issues are just news stories in the mainstream media like any others – at least in the quality media; television programs on commercial stations are watchable and not interrupted by ads more than once every 15 minutes; the national broadcaster is well-funded and creative; the national TV news really is national (and international) and not just local parish pump stuff – even the “I took a dive,” says Beckham story remains in the sport section; television presenters (and checkout operators) are all colours of the rainbow, including grey; and stories about loony god-bothering would-be moral arbiters, censors and general holier-than-thouery is confined to the quirky pages.

Gay politicians, actors, TV presenters, radio commentators, characters in soaps and dramas and comedies are unremarkable – indeed it almost seems as if you want preselection as an MP you have to be gay nowadays.

How different from the home life of our own dear Aussie queens!

Say Hello to Dementia

All of which has only a glancing impact on my mother. Doctors, relatives, carers all use words like “memory loss”, “confusion”, as if an anodyne label on what is happening to her makes it somehow less horrid than it is. It wasn’t until I opened her Care Plan that I suddenly met the word DEMENTIA spelled out in capital letters.

This “confusion” over what exactly is wrong with her allows people to pigeonhole her actions and behaviour according to their own needs rather than hers. For example, the care plan shows that her carer, who is supposed to drop in before ten each morning to make sure she has eaten breakfast and taken her meds, has been arriving later and later, until now she doesn’t show up till after 11.30. It clearly states, in the comment column some weeks back, “visits must commence before ten.” Yet when I challenge the carer on this, she tells me she can’t come earlier as she has another client at that time, and she OK’d the change with Mum. Whose care plan clearly states DEMENTIA.

Mum, of course, has no memory of this event, if indeed it ever happened. She resents having strangers in her house and doesn’t listen to anything the carer says – she just makes the appropriate responses while she waits for her to leave.

There can be nothing new in Mum’s world. Her television broke down after 20 years, yet each time she uses her new one, which she’s now had for over a month, she cannot remember how it works. Ditto the washing machine – each day she stares at it as if willing it to work, but cannot remember how it works, and when she finally presses the right button, is convinced the machine is broken, because it takes longer than the old one, and sounds different.

Yet when I suggest she write down the instructions and tape them to the TV and the washer to remind her, she goes silent. My sister says she did exactly that for her, but they vanished within a day. In one of the lucid intervals, I press Mum again, “Write things down. Remember what the doctor said, write things down. Keep a diary with you and write down who comes and when, when your appointments are – and keep simple instructions on the washer and the telly.

“But folk’ll think I’m going daft!!”

Sorry Mum, but you are – and they all know it anyway.

Some days, some hours, are better than others, and it’s possible to have something resembling a normal conversation. These are times to watch for, because you can press her to accept a greater level of care. And these conversations she remembers, for the most part.

The house shows evidence of neglect. It isn’t particularly clean. A drain in the back yard was blocked and flooding the patio over which mother must walk to fill the dustbin. And a freezing winter is forecast. I clean the drain, but it seems to have been that way for a long time. Mother hasn’t noticed, and my sister, who usually comes only after dark, hasn’t either.

All the kitchen appliances are grubby and fingermarked, and the floor is sticky. There are cobwebs in all the corners of the rooms. The belt driving the brushes on the vacuum cleaner is broken, making it nearly useless, but no-one has noticed that, either. But mother doesn’t want ‘just anybody’ messing with her things, she’s ‘managed all right up to now’, she ‘doesn’t like some of the things you’re trying to make me do’, she ‘wishes I’d go home and leave her alone.’ She says she’ll be alright when she gets over her cold, stop fussing,

At other times she says, “It was alright when you were looking after me,” even though I haven’t been here for four years, and have never looked after her. When the psychiatrist at the local hospital, assessing the progress of her memory loss, asked her if she lived with my sister, she said yes.

Much of the time our conversation goes round small loops. You have to imagine short pause – no more than a minute or so – between each exchange. It’s like a Pinter play, minus the meaning.

My carer didn’t come this morning.

Yes she did Mum – I was here – and look, it’s in the book.

When’s that woman coming?

She’s been.

No she hasn’t. I haven’t had my pills yet – she’s supposed to make me take my pills.

You had your pills – look at your dose box.

What day is it today.

You’ve got a newspaper in your hand – look it up.

She’s late this morning.

She just left.

I didn’t get my visit today.

Yes you did.

I haven’t had anything to eat yet.

You had breakfast an hour ago.

Are you making breakfast?

You had it.

Did I?

And on and on, the same point having to be made twenty, thirty times. Tomorrow morning she’ll say she didn’t eat anything all day.

Yesterday I popped out for some shopping, returning at four in the afternoon. She woke with a start, having fallen asleep in front of the TV. She was convinced it was four am and she’d slept there all night.

But she is capable of focussing, albeit briefly, if the issue is important to her. After several attempts to get her to accept cleaning help, I finally said, well Mum, you could always go and live somewhere where all these things, like cleaning, taking pills and so on, are done for you.

I am not going into a home! They all sit round staring at the walls and smelling of wee!

So let us get you all the help you need to stay here – it’s obvious you can’t manage on your own.

It’s not nice to be told you’ve got a dirty house. Is it really? It’s only while I’ve had this cold, it’s got on top of me a bit.

Mother, from what I’ve been cleaning up, it’s obvious this has been happening for months. We’re trying to get you the help you need to stay here.

Yes, and I don’t like some of the things you’re trying to make me do!

This is one conversation that sticks, is remembered, and returned to. Eventually she agrees, after three days of coming back to it, trying to think up objections, to let me arrange something.

But if I don’t like ‘em, they’re getting their marching orders!

Return to Oz

Little news seeps out of Australia now the election is over – Londoners ideas of Oz are derived from Summer Bay and Ramsay Street, not Canberra, and the pretensions of a little Sydney solicitor aren’t of much interest.

That’s another looking-glass effect. Australia is still living through that revolting time known in the UK as Thatcherism, without the swivel-eyed old harridan herself. Howard’s kinder, gentler presentation of that smug, self-satisfied, me first and bugger the rest of you creed, his veneer of respectability over the snobbishishness, has allowed it to continue, whereas here, people have gotten over it, and in fact mostly are a bit shamfaced for having been taken in for so long. I guess lounge-bar fascism finds colonial soil more fertile somehow.

What Thatcher – and Howard – have done is taken the half-baked unthinking nastiness that emerges from otherwise fairly nice people after a bottle or two of Chardy and dressed it up in polite language, elevated it to a political philosophy. Bush does much the same. The Cretin Fundamentalists like this kind of politician, because all of them prefer an unthinking electorate that simply does as it’s told, that operates on feeling, not thought. They offer simple solutions, either those of popular prejudice, or nostrums conjured from a 2000 year old book of magic and fairy tales. And behind this façade they more or less do as they and their backers wish.

Blair may be an over-earnest bore, and his government unwieldy, but although commentators bleat about his huge majority rendering him untouchable and in effect undemocratic, alternative parties still flop about in the shallowest of pools, gasping for support. He doesn’t offer easy solutions, but does try to spark honest debate. He would probably prefer an opposition – any opposition – to keep his party on it’s toes, the competition generating new ideas. What he doesn’t do – or at least, not so much – is over-simplify the complex, or pander to prejudice. Like him or not – and I don’t – he does at least try to do what he sees as the right thing, then packages it for sale.

What a difference from John Howard, who tries to do whatever will retain his grip on power, and if it means a few poufs and abbos have to be thrown overboard, who cares anyway? I suppose what I find most offensive about Howard is this power-at-any-cost attitude. Blair wants power for what he can do with it, and mainly wants to do good. Howard just wants.

The Hebbers of Wagga Wagga

The Dutch have a label for the sort of people who, a generation ago, were peasants on the land. They’ve moved to the city, done well for themselves, and have turned into mindless consumers. They want a big car, a fancy flat, flashy clothes, a big TV, the latest gadgets, fashionable furniture – all discarded as soon as something new comes along, again and again. The Dutch call them Hebbers, from the Dutch verb hebben, to have. They have to HAVE things, and once they have them, they lose interest, and want the next things.

It seems that this is the class Howard panders to. They want reconciliation – give it to them. They prefer the blacks died out – leave them to sniff themselves to death. They want to play at being American – sell the farm to the Yanks. They want to feel British and superior to the Yanks – keep the Queen as head of state. Contradictions don’t count, so long as the Hebbers get what they want when they want it. Howard isn’t concerned about principle, consistency, or doing what’s right, although he’ll use those words to cover his arse.

He knows the environment doesn’t play with these people – the hard decisions there mean telling them what they can’t have. So he doesn’t sign Kyoto, he doesn’t put money into renewable energy.

There are English Hebbers too – a recent cartoon had a smartly-dressed woman, leaning on her Humvee outside her suburban home and shouting angrily at a protester, “We’re very concerned about global warming too – we’ve just ordered an amphibious four-wheel drive.” She’d make a beaut Aussie!

At present, the Australian way looks for cheap petrol – cheat the Timorese, take a bung from your ethanol mates - the British way patiently explains the need for high petrol taxes, and uses the money to promote alternatives. And puts up with the squeals.

Oh well. Mother is stirring, so I’d better make a move.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Liberals, God, and the Succession

Does anyone really think J Howard Esq. is going to give Peter Costello the leadership when the time comes? Why would he? Costello's from the small l liberal wing of the party, and Victorian to boot.

Tony Abbott is far closer in belief and temperament to the PM, as well as being an NSW boy. What's the betting the whole Costello thing is just a furphy to keep little Peter onside, till Pell's little altar boy is big enough to get out from under His Master's Robes?

Family First: Australia's Totalitarian Taliban

So the Coalition hopes to get over the line with the help of Family First. People should know exactly who these people really are.

It’s not hard to discover: they are the political wing of the Assemblies of God (AoG) church. There may be no legal connection, and no direct funding, but:

FF Federal Chairman, Peter Harris has been a church member for over 10 years and is on the board of AoG, and almost all FF candidates are either ministers or church members or staff.

In NSW, for example, all the candidates are either church ministers or parishioners, with 11 of the 23 lower house candidates from Hawkesbury Church.

Hawkesbury Pastor Ian Woods is NSW AoG president – his wife and co-pastor Joan is lead FF senate candidate, their son Mike and his wife Melanie are both candidates. Another Hawkesbury pastor, John Dorhauer and wife Caroline Dorhauer, are also standing. The number two NSW Senate candidate Ivan Herald is an AoG pastor. Five more are members of the church’s paid staff and the rest are ordinary church members. The only NSW FF candidate who is not a member of AoG is Greg Briscoe-Hough.

According to the Syndey Morning Herald, Briscoe-Hough is a Catholic father of six who says he is motivated by concern that other parties have "weird" social policies in areas like the "gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/intersex agenda".

Other Family First candidates with strong church connections are: Andrew Evans, founder of AoG in Australia and pastor of the Paradise Community Church SA (who also gave the world Guy Sebastian, the man with the Pubic Hairdo); his two sons – Ashley, Pastor of Paradise AOG Adelaide, and Russell, director of Planetshaker Ministries (AoG youth wing) and Pastor of City Church Melbourne, who meet at Storey Hall RMIT.

They connect to other fundamentalist churches, too: Louise Markus, FF candidate for the western Sydney seat of Greenway, on paid staff of the Hillsong Community Church. Danny Nalliah (aka Evangelist Danny), pastor of Catch The Fire Ministries – who was recently on trial for religious vilification concerning his remarks on Islam - standing for FF in Victoria.

Where do they get their money from? AoG Australia founder Andrew Evans specialises in Business Ministry, which reassures rich businessmen that their profits are sanctified if some of them are devoted to church purposes, so it seems likely some donations come from there.

And candidates and representatives are known to come to AoG services and spruik for money. Sunshine Coast Daily reported elderly parishioners at Nambour church getting very annoyed at a service being interrupted by 15 minute appeal for funds and votes by an FF representative.

It’s not hard to find out what they really stand for either. They may have taken down their Australian website at the start of the campaign to hide their true colours (it’s now flagged “under construction”) but AoG Australia is an affiliate of the American church, so it seems fair to assume church members, especially pastors, espouse the same beliefs.

To put it bluntly, if you favour a Taliban-style totalitarian regime in Canberra, vote Family First. The US parent church believes:-

The answer to everything is in the bible, so all laws should be based on it; it is the sole, first and last authority on everything, inerrant in every particular

Only Christianity is the truth – all other religions are false; therefore laws forbidding discrimination, or banning hate speech, are wrong because they prevent preaching against Moslems, heathens, pagans and gays, among others

No mixing with non-Christians or those who call themselves Christians but lead ungodly lives; never date or marry an "unbeliever'

Environmentalists are pagans whose beliefs are a form of witchcraft

Wives must always be subject to their husbands authority; a good marriage is characterised by mutual love, respect, submission and servanthood

Divorcing your partner, even if they’re abusive, is an absolute last resort, and even then, only permissible if they abandon you permanently or are persistently unfaithful

Homosexuality is a choice which can be reversed if the sufferer wants to. Strong hints that the penalty for gay sex should be death, because the Bible says so

The internet, television, radio and all forms of communications should be censored to ensure ‘decency’. In the meantime, be guided by your pastor

“Social dancing” (i.e. with members of the opposite sex, for pleasure) is not permitted; single sex charismatic dancing and speaking in tongues in church under the watchful eye of the pastor is OK - in fact, it’s a condition of being considered ‘saved’

Dress modestly, no tattoos or piercings – these things are “heathenish”

There are pages of this nonsense - exclusivist, divisive, smug, and replete with all the apparatus of thought control and manipulation. These are the truly evil people.

Don't mix with people who don't think as we do - you might change your mind.

Don't read or listen to or watch anything we don't approve of - you might see things in a different light.

Incidentally, isn't it odd that all these self-styled 'pastors' can watch / read all this allegedly harmful stuff unscathed, but they want to withold it from us because of it's supposedly evil effects? That must make them the most corrupted people on the planet and hence unfit to lead anyone, mustn't it?

Dress modestltly and don't dance, you might 'provoke lust' either in yourself and others, and discover there are other things in the world besides AoG.

Do yourselves a favour and put Family First way down the bottom: at least Fred Niles and his gang have the courage to show us who they really are, not like this bunch, who seek to pull the old 'bait and switch', pretending to be nice Mums and Dads instead of people who would like to stone to death others they don't approve of.