Modest Expectation – Andorra

The pollution index in Ha Noi as we drove around the city in an electric car last week was 5. Melbourne and Sydney were 1 and 2 respectively on that day. Only Kolkata in India was higher at level 6.

Vietnam is in a state of construction. Heritage listing does not seem to be a word much used in this city. Driving from Ha Long to Ha Noi is an example. Driving down the long esplanade along Ha Long Bay, to the left are the long sandy beaches and beach umbrellas and beyond, the Bay is littered with Nature’s limestone obelisks. On the right was a wasteland boarded up waiting for the next multi-storied building, the condominium development of which dog beachfronts all over the world, especially when the sand seems to be endless and the sun shines benignly as it does generally in October and November in northern Vietnam.

I had heard that Graham Greene had written The Quiet American in the Metropole Hotel in Ha Noi where he had a dedicated suite on the second floor. The Quiet American, which has been twice filmed, is said to have presaged the American War. I said casually some time before that I would like to stay there, but when we arrived there from Ha Long, it was very much a snapshot of Vietnam on its way to becoming yet another “Asian powerhouse”. The Bamboo Bar beside the swimming pool exemplified what life in Ha Noi in the period of French occupation may have been like. Here Graham Greene, as he wrote, would have had by his side his signature cocktail – gin, Italian sweet Vermouth and cassis – a Negroni without the Campari. For my part, I ordered one and was surprised to see it was served with raspberry sorbet which one tipped into the drink à la affogato. This accompanied my steak tartare rather than any novel in progress.

Hotel restaurants exist to recreate the theme of past privilege within a cocoon of luxury; where celebrity nudged shoulders with other colonials – and where life shone through an air of colonial insouciance  – the Bamboo Bar as one of these inglenooks.  As you move to the infinity pool through a tropical garden surrounded by the brilliantly white hotel building, it is easy to imagine this as once an oasis to get away from swirling hoi-polloi in the streets. Now, rather than colonial expats there are tourists and local citizens. Business deals are being done in this relaxed atmosphere. The French colonial rulers have long since gone.

Ha Noi inter alia is a religious jumble of pagodas, Confucian temples and Christian churches. The cathedral is grey, concrete on granite, a hint of the grisaille in appearance of its façade, with apologies to Notre Dame. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is pointed out to us as we drive – a place of secular homage.

Train Street

The hotel is on the edge of the Old Quarter, with its narrow streets, the most spectacular of which is Train Street, where trains pass along within touching distance of the dwellings and the now closed cafes. In many of the promotional pictures, tourists are seen walking the railway line. No longer, after we were told a tourist was killed by a train, which effectively gave reason for access to the street to be closed to tourists. The Old Quarter is what one would expect in an Asian city, and even though the government is clearing swathes of it, it still survives with the distinctively curled tiled roofs, the plethora of shop signage designating its cheek by jowl activity, the narrowness of the façades, often three-storied, like the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” three-tiered levels as found in English town houses. Houses and workshops are crammed together. There is Silk Street, yes complete with worms; and lantern street; specialty streets abound.

By contrast outside the Old Quarter, there are the wide boulevards, and the old colonial buildings here have been converted into government buildings – the government is in session and the National Assembly Building is an off white cube – the exterior walls are clad with vertical slats. Circles and squares – all with symbolic significance. There are 400 parliamentarians – we are stopped as two uniformed motor cyclists with sirens blaring sweep past followed by a bus carrying politicians off to lunch; no separate limousines here.

We pass the house which General Giap owned. The large property is surrounded by high walls. Through the gates we can see several jeeps. Giap died in 2013 but his family still owns the property. But I thought, what about the jeeps?

To be frank, Ha Noi was a series of glimpses, except when the time when we were parked while my wife walked around, the passing parade was of a bustling live society, and the police have a low profile as the people go about their daily life. It seems that the Vietnamese are an industrious lot, generally friendly, willing to help and if there is widespread poverty it is hidden. Shoes are said to signify the prosperity of the country. The Vietnamese are well shod.

Just before we went back to the hotel, we had the signature drink created by Nguyen Van Giang, the head chef at the Metropole Hotel, just after WWII. Our guide darted into a nondescript building, down a passage, and emerged with two egg coffees – espresso coffee with this mixture of egg yolk, condensed milk and vanilla whipped and placed on top. My wife’s response; she bought two egg coffee cups and we await the first egg coffee on home soil.

Responding to my glimpse of Vietnam, in the end I ask myself about the American War – why? why? Then I think of Ukraine, “today’s Vietnam” – and that common modern day nemesis, Lyndon Baines Putin.

“Hanoi Jane” – Burden and Stigma

One of the people who had, for a period, intruded her celebrity status on my life – although there would never have been an opportunity for our paths to cross – has been Jane Fonda. We are about the same age, and both lost our mother when we were young and, whether it had any connection, Fonda has confessed to growing up with low self-esteem. I read that her father was demanding; and I remember one of my father’s sayings was “What are you doing that for, John?”

There were three films she made early on her career which still stick in my mind. They were:

“Barefoot in the Park”



All are remembered for different reasons. The first was fantasy, but it was easy as a newly married couple, as we were, to identify with a feisty couple in the movie adapted from the long running Neil Simon Broadway play. Robert Redford was the stage male lead, and Jane Fonda was the female lead – the trials and tribulations of the newly-married couple, girl and boy in love; girl and boy divorcing; girl and boy reconciliation, and the glorious sunset. I saw this film before I had ever been to the New York. New York that Woody Allen knew so well; it is a great backdrop to comedy where interpersonal tension is being played out. There is a certain brittleness in all these comedies, and Jane Fonda character epitomised this. However, what attracted me at that time in New York was the ride through Central Park in a horse drawn carriage. It is kitsch, pure kitsch – but watching the film it seemed to be something I wanted to do with my then wife.

When we did go to New York in 1971, we stayed at The Plaza Hotel. Outside were the drivers with their horses and carriages. The area exuded the pungent smell of horse excrement and to get to the carriage one had to pick one’s way through it to get to a carriage. The allusion was gone.

Klute was a great film. We saw it in San Francisco in 1971. I always found Jane Fonda edgy, with her voice just too well articulated as if she was constantly self-conscious. In many ways, she would have been perfect to play Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. This edginess was absorbed into her role as a prostitute being stalked. It was at this point in the film when the serial killer was about to strike, that we got up and hurried towards to the exit. There was a murmur around as we ran up the aisle – to the effect of “what the hell are they doing leaving at the climax of the movie?”. I had looked at my watch. We had a plane to catch to Australia.  In those days, there was no security and boarding just was a matter of turning up and presenting your ticket and passport. We were travelling light as our baggage had gone missing somewhere between Frankfurt and Stockholm. In the end, we just assumed that Donald Sutherland, as the gumshoe Klute, had rescued her. The reaction to our exit was unexpected – you would think at such a point in the film nobody would have noticed us leaving, much less comment.

In between those two films was her marriage to Roger Vadim, and his attempt to turn her into another Bardot; but whereas Bardot was sensuous, Fonda was hardly a sex-kitten. Her approach was a bit like the school librarian doing porn, but by the time of Klute she had lost the “Vadim cute”, and become the anti-War activist. Both she and Joan Baez were photographed in Ha Noi. She earned the nickname “Hanoi Jane”, because of the ill-judged picture of her, wearing a helmet, behind a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. The activist label fitted Joan Baez more comfortably, as her protest against injustice and war always seemed to have a deeper commitment. After all, Fonda married Tom Hayden, well-known as a foremost anti-War activist, and they stayed married for 17 years from 1973, until Hayden called it quits.

The third film “Julia” was a complete tour de force. Jane Fonda here played Lillian Hellman, the American playwright. The Julia story formed part of her memoir “Pentimento”. Vanessa Redgrave played Julia, the Jewish German student in this filmed nightmare of Germany in the 1930s. Irrespective of whether it was only the product of a fertile mind, the film was so harrowing in its depiction of life in Nazi Germany that whether it was total fiction or not was irrelevant in depicting such a spectacle of horror. If there was any doubt about the quality of Fonda’s acting ability, this film dispelled it.

Jane Fonda after her marriage to Hayden ended in divorce in 1990 married Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, and I lost interest in following her career. In fact, the only times I seemed to remember – but remembered vividly – were those three films, and her antics during the “American War”. In film work, she was also in “Cat Ballou” and then in “Coming Home”, a film about the aftermath of the War; and then “On Golden Pond”, which played out a role with film and real life coinciding in the relationship between a father and his estranged daughter. Katherine Hepburn played a prominent role in the film since it needed such an actress with presence as she had. It was a tribute by Jane to her father, who died the year after the release of the film, in 1982. None of these made the same impact as the three other films I mentioned above.

Jane Fonda remains on the Vietnamese screens in the garb of the anti-War heroine who visited Vietnam and was photographed behind a weapon designed to shoot down American planes. Never mind, that the installation was there to protect Ha Noi from the destruction being wrought by American aircraft – Ha Noi was carpet bombed, certain sections of Americans who were traumatised by the War exercise their God-given right to abuse her, even spit on her face with tobacco juice. She has apologised for her Ha Noi appearance, said she was sorry…

When his and Fonda’s son married, Hayden concluded his toast to the couple and reportedly introduced Fonda by saying, “We know how Jane always becomes the part she’s playing. Hopefully, that won’t be the case in our son’s marriage!”

Maybe, that interlude when I selected Fonda films was to reinforce my view of a certain other lady. I don’t know. Funny thing to think about leaning over a writing desk reaching for my mouse in a posh hotel in Ha Noi.

Requiem for a Neo-Liberal

CNN National House USA Mid-term Exit Poll

R +13             65+

R +11             45-64

D +2               30-44

D +28             18-29

I remember lying on this lawn watching the kites leisurely drifting overhead in the thermals against a clear blue sky. Broome in July of that year was a leisurely place, when I had the opportunity to try and absorb “The Road to Serfdom”, Hayek’s classic treatise underpinning of neo-liberalism. It was a time in the late 1970s.

Hayek bangs on about freedom. “The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognised before.”

Hayek, all in one sentence – authoritarian, paternalistic, elitist. His book is an attack on democracy cloaked in academic jargon, I thought at the time, as I rolled over and watched the drifting birds.  He offered no structure to replace democracy. Yet it took time to show neoliberalism to be an illusion, reaching its apogee in Donald Trump.  In the meantime, be “vewy, vewy, vewy” afraid since Elmer Fudd is “vewy, vewy, vewy” likely to run for President in 2024.

But perhaps I never could distinguish between Hayek and the Beach Boys in “Serfing USA”. From this latest USA poll it seems that the younger generation, as the figures indicate, at last are replacing the “E” with a “U”.

Surfing is a more more shared  relevant experience to the younger generations than serfdom under an old man with an addiction to fifty shades of yellow.

It is about time that politics is less about Me but more about You, the community. What! Idealism building to a crest? Not a red or blue wave, just in these perilous times the wave vanquishes that authoritarian madness that we have to tolerate with people like Trump, Putin and every other ruler who attempts to assuage his deep feelings of self-loathing by transferring these dark recesses of their collective minds to the destruction of the World.


There we were on the South China Sea, and since the sea was a little rough, and balance is already a problem, I started to do some channel surfing. And there it was, unexpectedly, the 2022 Melbourne Cup being shown in real time. What other horse race would be shown on a French ship in Vietnamese waters. Not an Everest; nor a Kosciusko; not even a Wycheproof. Despite the huge amount of money which this guy V’landys seems to be able to fling on horse races for the benefit of Arab sheikhs and other deserving racing nobility, such as Lloyd Williams and the Waterhouses and their ilk. V’landys has, as far as I know, not arranged for his wonderful collection of highland flings to be shown in the South China Sea. And do not I think he would care a damn if they were ever shown – probably not.

Nevertheless, the Melbourne Cup remains still the icon borne aloft in the minds of the small men and normal sized women who are named jockeys, and the men and women who are called trainers – and of course the Innocents, the owners, people inured to throwing their money down the equine toilet, as though it were tossing three coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. As they sang in the eponymous song: “Make it mine”, as they wished, tossing their money away.

Democracy at Work

Excerpt from Boston Globe

After a tumultuous summer during which his company temporarily lost its liquor and entertainment licenses after fights broke out at the venue and on the Block Island Ferry, Ballard’s Beach Resort owner Steven Filippi may have lost his unopposed bid for a town council seat.

The businessman, who was on the ballot (unopposed), received just 92 votes, while more than 1,050 people wrote-in alternative candidates. The three candidates with the most votes will win the three open seats on the Block Island* Town Council, which also serves as the island’s licensing board.

*Block Island is an island in the U.S. state of Rhode Island located in Block Island Sound 14 km south of the mainland and 23 km east of Montauk Point, Long Island, New York, named after Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. Population 1410.

Mouse Whisper

I had just come back from visiting my bush relatives, the Marsh Yellows, and was nibbling on a piece of Roquefort Grand Premier Bleu, when I heard him say to nobody in particular, “Well, fancy that, born on the same day, same year as Tom Hayden, the prominent anti-war activist. Married to Jane Fonda for 17 years. You know it is a fact of life, there are two times when you are unique – the moment you are born and the moment of death. Even though it is only for a femtosecond, you are the youngest person on the planet. Now that is one for the curriculum vitae of everybody – “I once was the youngest person on the planet”.

Tom and Mouse Meister, sharing a common 1939 birthday with Betty on the cover of Life.


Modest Expectations – Biden & Boehner

Here I am still writing a blog over two years from one I started inter alia with a eulogy of Jacinda Ardern, which caused some ruction among my acquaintances. I use the word “eulogy” because I was seen as being over complimentary. Yet in retrospect, given the revelations which have come out about the predatory behaviour embedded in the contemporary political scene, she has emerged as an exemplar of how a female political staffer can become Prime Minister – and not only become Prime Minister but also be prepared to hand over the reins to her then deputy, Winston Peters, while she had a baby.

Now the self-confidence that exuded coupled with the compassion and leadership she has shown in the face of the tragedy of volcano eruption and mass shooting have been so heartfelt. But I better not lay my comments about Jacinta Ardern on with a trowel; otherwise others may wonder aloud why I am still Mr Starry-eyes. Maybe it is because she does not wear a baseball cap – well not often. It also helps if instinctively you know how and when to smile and how and when to grieve.

A Woman in White

The question always arises – am I responding to an illusion? The quote below is elegant in the way it describes such a reaction.

In the novel’s famed opening scene, art teacher Walter Hartright is walking back to London on a desolate street around midnight “when, in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me.”

He turns to see “the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to toe in white garments …”

“’Is that the road to London?’” she asks.

The encounter is both unexpected and cinematic. The dark deserted road, coupled with the late hour contrasts vividly with the light touch of the extraordinarily dressed woman and her mundane question.

No; the woman in question in this excerpt is not Christine Holgate coming home from a Parliamentary ordeal, but the woman who gives the name to Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel “The Woman in White”, some say the first mystery novel. Her name, Anne Catherick, a woman dressed so by her mother, but it is a different way of looking at the one subject – a woman dressed in white.  Beware what you wish for, even when wafting as a Friday AFR supplement apparition, who was once a Premier of a State of Australia. Was it is meant to create an illusion like Anne Catherick?

Order Arms!

During the Vietnam War, there was an increased requirement for doctors. My relationship with military activity ended when I left school and, among the many wonderfully mindless activities I left behind, was the cadet corps for which, despite my years of faithful service, I was never rewarded with promotion.

My friend and I bore scars of our service. On our uniform sleeves – mine with crossed flags to signal my devotion to the signal corps – and my friend’s, who was also a crack shot and had crossed rifles in recognition of his membership of the school shooting team. The school even then had a rifle range on the top of one of the buildings – long since gone.

But perhaps if my early love for the military camaraderie had not been dampened, who knows where Sousa would have taken me. At the annual cadet camp my friend and I tried to implement that camaraderie by inviting some of our fellow cadets who, unlike us were distinguished with stripes of authority, to share our gin in the methylated spirits bottle. Our invitation was met with undue hostility. We were not to know they were militant abstainers. The problem was we had no chevrons to be stripped from our sleeves, so long-term punishment was limited; and the matter was settled within the tent. I still remember being hit from behind and the rifle butt on my neck.

When it came to national service, which persisted into the late 1950s, I was excluded because of my calcanea vera which, in common parlance, translated as very flat feet. All my life, if I walked long distances or had jobs which required my standing on my feet for many hours, the spasticity and consequential pain particularly of my peroneal muscles and tendons and the small extensor muscles on the dorsum of the foot was intense. The pain was often incapacitating for a day or more, and the only antidote I found very late in life was R.M. Williams boots. Surgery was excluded very early.

My friends came back, but apart from the “Nasho” anecdotes very few continued with any association with armed forces. A number of the medical students committed themselves to the various armed services in order to pay for their tuition but also to provide 1,500 pounds tax free a year until they finished their course.

On graduation, they would be promoted to Naval lieutenant or equivalent and in return after their intern year they were expected to give four years of service. My father, who had strong links with armed service through his work in the Repatriation Department as a doctor and somebody who spent both pre-war and later during World War 11 as an officer in “the wavy navy” was keen that I join the Navy. His attention to polishing his handmade shoes I could never emulate; so that fantasy drifted away.

However, during the 1960s, with two kids and a wife also involved in post-graduate study, money was tight. I was working in the Monash Department of Medicine at the then Prince Henry’s Hospital in St Kilda Rd Melbourne, which was conveniently located next to Victoria Barracks. Out of the blue, a doctor with strong links with the medical corps whom I remember as Colonel Hogan, asked whether I would do some of morning sick parades at the Barracks. This led to more work undertaking the annual medical examination of the ranks, there and elsewhere in Victoria.  Then, as the ballot came in for Vietnam recruitment, I was asked to undertake the medical examinations of the conscripts.

I had kept my opinions very much to myself, but I was personally devastated by the 1966 khaki election where the Coalition achieved a landslide as they played “jingo bells” all night. It is why I find this continual beating of the tom-toms of war even now so appalling. Apparently Vietnam has not been lesson enough, witnessing a generation of damaged men and women who emerged from that conflict and initially without the plaudits of a substantial number of their own generation, who instead protested in the streets.

Yet here was even the opportunity to examine young men who had been conscripted by the roll of a roulette wheel to fight in a foreign land for what proved to be vacuous objectives. I did not hide my distaste but nor did I volunteer my opposition on a street corner.  The fact that my step-mother shared the secretary role of the Australia-China Society with Myra Roper at that time and that she and my father went to and were lionised in China several times during the course of the 1960s did not affect my job with the army.

We were a strange bunch, who used to gather several nights a week to examine each bunch of conscripts. Two doctors were teamed, one older and one younger who did not know one another beyond vicarious professional association. Nevertheless, there were times when I was rostered alone to undertake the recruit examinations. One night when alone I had about ten young blokes, all of whom failed my medical examination. My strictness on ensuring fitness to die perhaps swayed some of the decisions that evening. It was such a calamity that such a number were unfit, but it passed without comment from above. Incidentally we were asked not to say anything beyond that required to elicit symptoms, but if a significant disease was discovered then all one could say was that the potential recruit should go and see his local doctor.

The ability to detect mental illness was very limited and the illness had to be florid. This was the case when I was confronted by a restless young man walking up and down the corridor who insisted he wanted a gun so he “could kill some commies”.  When I found he had an eyeball tattooed on each buttock, I regretfully failed him by writing “atypical strabismus” on his form, thus avoiding an essay on his obvious mental troubles. These examinations did not give us leeway to highlight mental health problems; I hoped that the local medical doctor, if he ever saw one, recognised that the young man had a serious problem.

At the other end of this medical cocoon was the recruit who turned up, complete with caftan, beads and sandals, a flower child in all ways. He stood defiantly with his principled stance, refusing to be examined. Fortunately, the only doctors left that evening were a few of the younger ones, who knew one another and thus were never rostered to work together. This defiance was an exceptional situation. The older doctors left us to sort out this problem.

Thus, we did have an advantage of youth in that we did not pull out the “I’m a doctor; you’ll do as I say” line. We just negotiated and as the night wore on, he knew that we would wait him out. He wanted some exposure as the “victim” being taken away, but as my fellow doctor said, “Look, we all want to go home. Just get up on the couch and let us do a quick examination”. For us, it was about the minimal set of words which should have given him the hint, if he had listened, that we were going to fail him. After some more tedious palaver, he consented to a limited examination.

We did not have to examine far – only needed a stethoscope on his chest. Listening to his heart, he had a very loud “machinery murmur”; all that trouble he had put us through. There was no way he could pass his medical examination; in fact, he needed to see a cardiac specialist.  He had got his exemption.

Realising that all was not well, his attitude changed from truculence to fear – poor bugger – as he saw us discussing the finding – but all we were permitted to say was that he should go and see his local doctor as soon as possible. Even here we were not even allowed to tell him he had failed, even after such close contact. “Just don’t delay, but go home – and good luck”.

A Catalyst

Nick Coatsworth is an unusual doctor.  He has an impressive career inter alia working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) from 2004 in Congo-Brazzaville, the Republic of Chad, and the Darfur region of Sudan. Before becoming President of MSF Australia in 2010-11. I have never met him, but during my professional career, I have met a couple of doctors with his easy confidence and natural charisma with the underlying skill to match. “This man ain’t no desk jockey,” as they say. However, this past  week he has shown perfect political timing. The boyish grin has been replaced by the serious “defender of the Faith”.

I think he is a beacon, despite being the face that tried to flog the COVID-19 App, which was such a dud, and which I thought might have precipitated him moving out of the Department. He was truly handed the Australian “sandwich”. There are two ways such involvement can be interpreted, apart from bad judgement – of which we were all guilty of at one time or another. The first is that he genuinely believed; and/or he was the epitome of the loyal public servant.

The Toblerone Zone – 1942

There is such uncertainty about the government. This is a government once applauded for its suppression of the Virus. Now, its success is being assailed. Words like “hermit kingdom” and “gilded cage” are bandied about. But the polls suggest that Australians support border closure. There is another metaphor for the current situation “Switzerland in 1942” – a neutral country surrounded by ongoing war.

Australia has been inured to defending the borders. Against the “boat people”, we have an enduring policy of making asylum seekers very unwelcome and thus over more than 20 years of border closure and the construction of basic facilities offshore, in PNG or Nauru and countries like Cambodia which took money for not much of anything. However, it fuelled the flame that has never fully died of “White Australia”.

Stripping all the self-interest away, there are distinct matters that face the Government linked to the changing times –

  • The intertwining of political and scientific speak – the prize example is “herd immunity”. Ask a politician to define it; I remember when the late Senator Button asked the then Minister for Science a question with notice along the lines of “what was the relationship between an inch and a centimetre?” The Minister could not answer. Here are the key words – “without notice” – to which I would add, “without understanding”. Senator Pattison, in his cameo appearance on Q&A this week, has shown in his responses that this lack of understanding has persisted in the plush red of the Senate.
  • the efficacy and uptake of the various vaccines. The Government bet on the AstraZeneca vaccine where controversy seems to have engendered the hesitancy beloved by the anti-vaxxers. Unfortunately the chance to obliterate that hesitancy by providing a choice of vaccines has not been an option. Choice is important provided there is a similar proven efficacy. As for anti-vaxxers – they are not hesitant – they are clear about their opposition.
  • the prevention of community spread and the fact that there has been an attitudinal and behavioural change towards hygiene – masks are one example. There is a developing phenomenon of living with the virus as vaccination rolls out; the images of Australian intensive care units and dying patients have been removed from the media screens to be replaced by images of India. Nevertheless, so long as the health services are not compromised within Australia, then the government has eased restrictions locally. After all, there are few politicians who want to be unpopular, and in many countries this loosening of the restrictions is very much ad hoc and often premature.
  • the construction of dedicated quarantine facilities for incoming travellers, where it seems there is no plan beyond expansion of the current Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory.
  • the agitation for Australian border opening. Now the Genie is well and truly out of the bottle as the business groups are beginning not only to agitate but also, as one influential person initially showed by her disdain for the collateral damage of lives lost, to question what might be an “acceptable” level of deaths from COVID that would accompany open borders. “Death at the Australian Open” would be a title for a crime novel; or schadenfreude.

The Coatsworth message was at its heart very authoritarian. All the seers, laureate prophets, tea leaf examiners, bird augers, and hand washing experts should be sidelined, and the only collective voice should be those who have to articulate and implement the policy.

It could be a long shot, it but sounds by his oratory that Coatsworth is submitting his application, and the one image I have of him is a very thoughtful guy, but one who when he makes up his mind that’s it! He may be able to accomplish this huge Medusa head task, especially as he has a track record of leadership. Good to give him a go.

On second thoughts, maybe the application should be for Prime Minister.

Reformation – COVID1517

The Clown at 95 

In Danville, the boy spent a lot of time at the movies. Fifteen cents bought a ticket to the Palace to see westerns, Bela Lugosi’s latest or slapstick comedies with Buster Keaton, the moody pratfall master, and Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel, the British-born comic with the bow tie and bowler, was a particular favourite and he would practice his routines. Years later, after his own rise, he tracked down the reclusive Laurel and visited him at home. When Laurel died in 1965, he delivered his eulogy with a tearful Keaton sitting in the front row. “God bless all clowns,” he said, delivering his hero’s favourite poem, “The Clown’s Prayer.” “Who star in the world with laughter,/ Who ring the rafters with flying jest,/ Who make the world spin merry on its way.”

A year later, he did the same at Keaton’s funeral. 

Dick & Mary

I could not resist putting this extract into my blog. The “he” is Dick Van Dyke, now 95 but in amazingly good fettle, an actor to whom I have never paid that much attention. His show “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with his co-star Mary Tyler Moore was always somewhere in the background wherever there was a television set in a house. The times I watched it, it was a combination of slapstick towards us, the audience; yet an underlying sexual attraction between him and Moore. Otherwise, it was just conventional American sitcom.

I knew he was very tall, and that he was always fresh-faced youthfulness disguising a man who was both an alcoholic and smoked too much. Yet, teetotal but still chewing nicotine gum, he now looks remarkably fit and ever broadly smiling, his signature.

I was fascinated by the reference to Stan Laurel, and the fact that as a relatively unknown actor he gave the eulogy to Laurel at his 1965 funeral, where another famous comic, the deadpan Buster Keaton, was sitting in the front row. Keaton died a year later and again Van Dyke was the eulogist at the funeral. Before his death, Keaton gave Van Dyke one of his most valued possessions – a set of billiard cues – which Van Dyke still possesses.

These names mean very little today, but in their day, each was huge at the box office. Comedian Stan Laurel was one part of the Laurel and Hardy duo. Stan Laurel was in fact English born, in Ulverston in Cumbria, where a statue of the two has been erected.

All very interesting along the pathway of nasturtium trivia, but what caught my eye was that there is a Clown’s Prayer which, in abridged form, is somewhat different from that quoted above, says:

As I stumble through this life, help me to create more laughter than tears, dispense more cheer than gloom, spread more cheer than despair. Never let me become so indifferent, that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child, or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged. Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people, make them happy, and forget momentarily, all the unpleasantness in their lives. And in my final moment, may I hear You whisper: “When you made My people smile, you made Me”.

Clown’s service, Hackney

It did not take much further research to find out that there is a Holy Trinity Church in Hackney in the London East End which is known as the Clown’s Church, because every year there is a service in February to celebrate the life of Joe Grimaldi, the first archetypical clown to use the white-face makeup and the term “Here we go again”. Since 1967, the congregation has been permitted to dress as clowns. Notwithstanding, the most recent vicar is not only a chaplain to the Queen, but she has been made the Suffragan Bishop for Dover (which means she hangs out in Canterbury Cathedral).

I have travelled a long way from Mr Van Dyke, unless he has performed at one of the Clown services – but then meandering, as I say, plucking the nasturtiums as I go is one of the features of blog writing. And I refrain from suggesting a new form of opening prayer for Parliament – but the words of the prayer belie the title the Clown. More I think of Pagliacco.

Mouse Whisper

In many places of worship my image has been carved under many a pew.

I as a mouse may be one thing, even venerated. Mice in plague proportions overrunning and destroying the world are another. Mice showed the way in demonstrating the efficacy of penicillin, and you humans have benefited mightily by our sacrifice. Ask Howard Florey who also said that humans were 500 times the size of a mouse.

You as a human may be one thing and you too may be venerated. But humans overrunning and destroying the world are another.

It is just a matter of how the plague is controlled, especially when all who are running around don’t acknowledge that they can be a plague within their world of Horizons.