Aussies. Don't get me wrong: I'm fond of our neighbours. After all, my grand-daughter'sne of them, and both my sons are naturalised Aussies, if that's not an oxy-moron. After all, there's an awful lot about the country that's either artificial,or has a fascination with things manufactured.
We do, as well, but I think we're closer to the land and the scenery... all that green stuff - than the Aussies are. They've had to congregate into cities for protection from their natural wonders. Everything there (including the seven remaining koalas), it seems, is a threat to the life of mankind. There is a species of spider over there that's harmless, but it's only found on an outlying island... and that island's drifting away from the mainland so fast that in 170 million years or so it'll be in Antarctica, and the spider will have evolved a huge fur coat. It'll be slaughtered in the million by sentient crocodilia for use as handbags. But this is taking me ever further from my point, which is this: Don the Brash came out yesterday waving a document in the air. He'd been briefed by the government to find out what it would take to drag us up/along/over/down to the same level as the Aussies, GDP-wise. I really want to ask the question: do we want to become like the Aussies, and if so, why? Is personal wealth all that important? Why not look at nations that share some similarities: Norway, or Sweden, for instance. On the Happiness Quotient that's taken every year, the so-called doleful Scandinavians are at the top of the heap. Wealthy, yes. But they're gone about accummulating and distributing their wealth in a different way. Their wealth is in their society... not in the individual. The gap between the wealthy and poor is narrow. There are extremes, of course: the very rich, the impoverished. But the Scandoes don't have the vast numbers of poor that the Aussies (and we Kiwis) have, and the relatively few rich. We've followed the British and American models... and they haven't worked for the average Joe there, either. Any society that has 95% of the wealth in the hands of just 5% of the population is unhealthy. And it leads to unhealthy envy-worship, and bad journalism. Probably obesity, as well, and too much attention being given to fashionistas and celebrity chefs. So there.
I advert to all budding writers the existence of NaNoWriMo. I'm gonna be part of it next November. Heard about it too late this year.
WORD OF THE DAY: Languid. It's just such a superb word. Sounds like it's meaning. Have a go, and roll your tongue about as you're saying it...La-a-a-ngu-i-id.
LISTENING TO: Neil Young, "Hawks and Doves".
READING: The John Birmingham book. Sacre Blue, mate! The body count started at 300,000,000.... And some Canadians and Mexicans, too.... But I also got Frank Miller's "Sin City" out today. Ooooh! What to do?
As for Arthur? Arthur was discovering that he wasn’t the man he’d fondly imagined himself to be.
The stories that were filtering back about the treatment of the Conchies were horrifying. The rumours of Soames Island, so easily dismissed just months previously, were now being openly discussed. Filthy cells, in darkness, with no sight of the sun or moon. Being made to cut and stitch and sew the battledress uniforms that brave young men would wear as they faced the Hun’s or Turk’s bullet and blade and bomb. The thought of it made Arthur tremble. The thought of it made normal folk grimly cheerful.
George Weatherby had been a humourless boy, and had grown into a purse-lipped man, one who believed in himself and his destiny to eventually lead this tiny country at the bottom of the world. He was 34 years of age, and every move he’d made since graduating from Cambridge University with a law degree had been carefully considered. One of two sons of Benjamin Weatherby, a local circuit court judge, George had made his ambitions plain from an early age. Since his return from England he had worked tirelessly to advance himself in the local Liberal party’s ranks, and had risen far enough that he would be considered for candidacy in the next election. The coming of the war gave him more opportunities for advancement, and his campaigning had borne great fruit. Now all he needed was a way of announcing his news, and he thought he knew how to do it to the very best effect.
Grampa Smith spat onto the horseshoe, and shoved it back into the coals, and pumped the bellows again. He grunted as he spoke. “Anyone’d think he got a quid for every mother’s son who joined up, eh son.” It wasn’t a question.
“Aye,” replied Arthur, drily. “There’s another man who’d sooner see the boys go than the men. Especially men of his station. Or ambition.”
Weatherby had drawn a small crowd about him, men and women cheering his patriotism and stirring words. He lifted the enamelled tin speaker’s horn to his mouth, and spoke: “I call on all young men now! Your nation calls on you, your King calls on you. If you’re 18 or more, heed the call and take heed, and say yes to the requests our good King, his prime minister and councillors here in our fair Dominion make: the flag’s flying over the fields of France, boys, flying in the face of a fearsome foe.” His was a good voice, warm and mellow, and he used it well. He coaxed velvet tones out, but when the phrase was right his voice cut like a razor. He looked up at the great Union Jack flying over the council buildings, and pointed to it. “For all these years the three great united crosses of the British flag have been our protection! And now,” his voice dropped to a hoarse, tear-stained whisper that nonetheless carried to every ear “and now the flag calls for us.” Cheers greeted the call. Weatherby drew a breath, and carried on, his rich baritone carrying the whisper of a sob. “The flag of Great Britain calls for our sacrifice, for a few short months of our time. And yes, it may be that Britain will call for us as individuals to lay down our lives, or the lives of our sons or brothers. But what are our lives, ladies and gentlemen, lads and lassies? Eh? What are our lives, those lives, when measured against the Empire that has given us suck since the days we were brought mewling into life? It has been the Empire, the great and glorious British Empire that has sustained us, schooled us, and taught us the great eternal truth that is this: in Britain we are great, and our greatness of heart and spirit and courage must be returned to the Empire from whence it came!”
Grampa Smith sucked on his pipe, and screwed up his broad face in distaste. “I tell you, boy, that if I hadn’t been brought up to fear the Lord and respect His teachings in all things, and if it wasn’t too late, I’d geld that bastard. There are boys out there in that crowd who are going to die one day, purely because of the vile claptrap – Christ in His mercy, is that young Tim I see, cheering?”
Arthur raised his head, and looked across the square. His uncannily perfect eyesight swiftly picked out the boy. Timothy Copthorne's bright red hair was a giveaway at any range.
Weatherby had been keeping a weather-eye on the open front of the smithy, and he’d seen the old man’s gesture. He smiled: this was his opportunity. “How about you, young Copthorne? Will you take the banner, and follows the drums to glory?”
Arthur sucked in a deep breath, and shouted “Tim! Tim, you young scamp. Come over here, lad! I need a hand with Miss Jayne’s horse!” Arthur’s voice drowned the politician’s, and Weatherby glared back across the square, and held back his smile. He could have cheered.