Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Alamein train

I sprayed my glasses with lens cleaner this morning to get a better perspective. I wiped them with the soft cloth one of my daughters gave me some time ago after her travels in Holland.  It imitates a Delft blau pattern of birds, flowers, leaves and squiggles, in blues, black and white.  

I need a fresh perspective. 

When I was ten I sat one day at the front gate of our house in Wentworth Avenue for long enough that the sun began to warm my skin. I sat still, hopeful no one might notice me.  

My older sister had issued house-cleaning instructions to me and my other sisters and brothers and I did not want to join them. 

I could have been clearing out lost objects from under my bed, or wiping over the dusty mantelpiece, instead I sat in the sun.  

Why must I work?  Why must I bother with the busy stuff of life when there was all this peace to be had at a gatepost in the early spring sunshine?

The others must have been busy enough not to notice my absence, or they, too, might have taken to hiding.  Only my older sister would be hard at it, cleaning and sweeping, mopping and dusting. 


Only my older sister cared about these things.  She still does.  Her house is immaculate while mine is a frenzy of clutter. 

In those days, our mother took the train from Alamein.  It stopped at all stations to Camberwell and only there joined the Lilydale line to the city.  

My mother was the only one in my family to take this train. Every Saturday when she was rostered to work she took the train to Alamein and from there she walked to Elgar Road and the children’s home where she worked.  

And every Saturday at the end of the day from five o’clock onwards my sister and I waited for our mother’s train to make the return trip to the city, stopping at all stations, including ours in East Camberwell, from which she would emerge. 

Train after train came and went and each time I heard the thrumming on the line that signified a train approaching, I peered ahead filled with expectation. 

 My sister and I watched after each train had stopped as doors opened and passengers alighted, hopeful that the silhouette of our mother might soon step onto the station and then we would be safe. 

But there were as many trains passed without my mother on board as the train that eventually carried her to us.

My sister and I, one on either side, then walked with our mother through the tunnel from the station that led up to the electricity output station, across past the scout hall and down through the park that eventually joined Canterbury Road and the final stretch home.

We did not tell our mother about our day at home with our father. We had learned to keep our minds focussed on the happy things, the good things, the joy of walking side by side with our mother at last, the smell of pink blossom from the trees outside the scout hall, the first sprinkling of spring rain. 

We held our hands over our heads and sped up our steps to keep from getting wet before we reached the shelter of the shops. 

I did not want to go home to my father, but I knew there was no other choice, no other way of living our lives other than the way we lived. 

By now his mood had dropped into one of darkness.  A tall angry man stuck in his chair, cemented there, as if frozen in time.  His comfort, the bottle at his side from which he took slurps, like a hobo in the movies. 

We did not greet him on our return but went straight for the kitchen where my mother took off her coat and filled the sink with water.  She dropped in a pile of potatoes and held each one in turn to scrub off the dirt with her fingernails, until her nails were black and each potato bare skin.  Then she left the potatoes on the sink to rinse before taking them to the chopping board for skinning and cutting. 

My father staggered into the kitchen from time to time and each time he grew louder and angrier.  He hectored my mother from the door but we said nothing.  

We were trained in the art of pretence.  We were skilled at behaving as though we were not there. 

Two small girls crouched under the kitchen table holding onto our dolls as if they were safety harnesses until our father left the room, only to wait again for his return. 

In time, my mother went into the lounge room to talk to my father who had called out for her so often she could no longer ignore him, however skilled she was in the art of invisibility.

We two girls sat under the table and addressed our dolls.  How bad they were.  How much they needed scolding.    

The potatoes boiled in their water till there was no water left to boil. 

'Autobiographers lead perilous lives'. We write our version of events and wait for others to attack in much the way my mother waited for my father in the kitchen.  We wait for someone to raise objections to what we have written.  To some, those most critical, the content of the writing is all that matters.  The content and the associations these readers make to their own lives. 

‘You have violated my privacy,’  they say.  You have spoken about people who do not want to be written about.

‘Tough,’ my daughter says when I complain of recent events.  ‘That’s what writers do.  They write about people.’ 

And those who read with an agenda, who seek to find traces of themselves in the words, or to find fault with the writer, do not read with open minds, but with a scorched earth policy that says:  you have exposed the family to ridicule.  You must be punished.

In totalitarian regimes, writers develop ways of communicating underground, ways in which the powers-that-be are unable to detect dissent. 


How else can we offer a fresh perspective in this perilous world?

8 comments:

who said...

not to be crass, but they no longer have the power that they once had, so it really doesn't matter anymore and you should never feel like you need to hide or be in fear of speaking the Truth

The People far out number the idiot men whom way back when, and still some today believe they can intimidate the world into submission

They cannot and it doesn't matter what ever the consequence they threat, the Truth is worth dying over because there will be another unafraid to practice honesty and She too, or hymn will stand up and be prepared to not deny the practice of honesty

And those who do will not die, but only sleep until they are reborn awakened

And only those who cannot begin practicing honesty will find they cannot bear to live, so they will die instead of resting, by their own choice

If you are waiting for man and his idiot men to announce that you may now speak the truth, it won't ever happen

The People must find their faith to know that their sisters will stand up behind them, and the men whom cannot find the courage nor the strength to be women, never will if they haven't by now

Don't wait for permission from men to give you permission to not deny the Truth

It's the men whom are afraid, whose life literally depends on US believing their bullshit stories of Women causing the fall, of them walking on the moon, and every piss poor excuse for The People of different Countries to call each other enemies and evil

Do not be afraid to speak your Truth, the man's world of yesteryear is already over, and only the idiot men whom will never be able to recognize the Truth, will be dumb enough to carry on with the charade

And it will be very apparent the closer we get to nobody being able to deny it, as only men will let their foolish pride lie to themselves and believe the lies must be carried on

Better to learn to let the dead march to their death, without those who know better then to follow along

I have no problem telling them to go fuck themselves, not to be crass, but just because it's always OK to admit any lie told yesterday, humans make mistakes, but only men are afraid of the Truth

Only a man would rather die to avoid admitting what is blatantly obvious

Women prefer life, for only God knows why, perhaps they just aren't dumb like men

Louise Allan said...

I think I understand exactly where you're coming from, Elisabeth. And it's hard. However, the story, the real story, and the need to tell it, is stronger than the forces against it. I hope so, anyway.

Anthony Duce said...

It’s the honesty I know has to have been experienced in your writing that take your writing into the wonderful range..

PhilipH said...

I can feel your fear. You show how scary your young life was and it's not good to know how despicable life was for you and your mother and siblings then.

Sadly, your story is one of millions, and they continue today.

You tell it quietly and clearly.

Kat R said...

Very evocative. By all means write!
Kat

Jim Murdoch said...

The instructions that come with my wife’s glass cleaner say not to use it except in… I suppose ‘emergencies’ would be too strong a word (and she’s not here to ask) but you get the idea. I use washing-up liquid or liquid soap if I’m in the bathroom; they’re less damaging to the lenses. I clean my glasses a lot. I don’t recall ever having to put as much effort into seeing things clearly as I do nowadays. In the past a quick wipe with a tie was quite sufficient. (I think we have a metaphor building here.)

As always with your posts—and Ken Armstrong’s too—I find myself being pushed to remember my past, trying to find common ground when often it seems we have little in common. I don’t recall chores as a kid. Not as a regular thing. I can picture me washing dishes and vacuuming the stairs and weeding in the garden—which I loathed (I detested my hands being dirty)—so I know I wasn’t completely idle growing up but it wasn’t until I got my own flat—by which I mean until I got married and hence became responsible for half of everything—that I took to choring (yes, it’s a real word) with any degree of enthusiasm; I was surprisingly house-proud. Now I find housework hard work. Carrie’s in the States again and so I volunteered to have the carpets in the living room and hall replaced while she’s away and I’ve clearly forgotten what hard work’s like. It took me a week to empty the living room and nearly a fortnight to get everything back. Granted I’ve been pacing myself but the bottom line is I couldn’t’ve really done it much quicker. As it is I’m exhausted. Just thinking about washing the dishes is tiring.

Trains were very much a part of my childhood, just not getting on them. Much time was spent hanging around railway yards or watching trains but I never got on one until I was sixteen. Since then I’ve travelled by rail often and’ve always been fond of trains especially the old-fashioned carriages; not so taken with the new open-plan designs. I find though I’ve no memory that corresponds to meeting your mum off a train. The bus stop was at the end of our street and so there would never’ve been any reason to hang around there awaiting anyone.

What I do find myself struggling with is your continuing need to revisit your past. You’re not alone (although somewhat more focused than most) and it’s really me that’s the exception. For the early years of our marriage there was one phrase my wife opened most monologues with: “When I was a little girl.” Now she’s told me all the stories. When pressed I could usually dredge up something, as I do for you and Ken, but I’ve never had this cloying need to wallow in the past. Mostly it’s painful, even the good times. It’s not that I’m not prone to a bit of nostalgia—before bed last night I spent an hour on YouTube listening to hits from the Seventies (so much ABBA!)—but I’m sad enough most of time without doing anything to aggravate the situation. I say ‘sad’. A psychotherapist like your good self would probably talk about a low mood but I’ll stick with sadness, plain and simple.

Sadness unchecked—in me at least—seeks out depression: so I’m always peering into the abyss, perpetually on the lookout for signs that I’m becoming Depressed again. It’s always worse when Carrie’s away because I can pander my predisposition towards miserableness and all I need do is put on a half-decent show for the daily phone call and mostly all that consists of is me listening and making appropriate and understanding noises; I do little worth talking about. When I’m properly depressed I’ve a propensity to ponder the imponderable, to ask the why-oh-whys there aren’t any real answers for. I sometimes think this is what you do even when not necessarily posing formal questions. Attempting a memoir would make me ill.

Do I come to you with an agenda? I come with limitations. I judge but because your motive's unclear—why this prolonged assault on the past?—I don’t know what the sentence should be. You’re guilty—we’re all guilty—but of what? Clearly there’re extenuating circumstances but the evidence is unclear.

PhilipH said...

Just read Jim Murdoch's comment, most interesting as usual.

I am often looking back to times long gone and to those I once knew and loved. Some long gone too. Yes, it does sometimes make me feel sad, depressed at times, but I seem to love the memories, some far stronger than others.

Elisabeth, I think your postings are quite superb and love them. Never look back may be a sensible creed but I'm sometimes a bit of a dope in that respect.

who said...

The only time you should be careful as opposed to carefree with truth, is when using it as a weapon. Truth as a weapon, is the wrong curriculum for men to choose for learning how to live honestly.

The most common fallacy I hear or read about truth, is the bullscript claim that some people do not want to hear the truth. The written and spoken forms of the English language often have several meanings, and often the meanings are in direct opposition, which makes those two forms of English ideal for the typical male whom by choice, choose to not be responsible for their words

when a woman asks “Does my ass look fat in these jeans?”

the irresponsible, and unintelligent male shirks responsibility, and chooses to lie while putting the blame on the woman with the tired old excuse of she couldn't handle the truth

The Truth is that instead of understanding what She really meant:

“Do these jeans make my ass appear more fat than than it does wearing something else?”

The idiot male does not do what is right

the right decision would be to either stop thinking cruel, mean, hypocritical thoughts about a woman he claims to be friends with, or let the fact that he is an asshole shine and sign the truth of his character

at the very least, take responsibility for his lies and quit blaming it on the woman

A male is the type of person who will attempt to invoke inferior feelings about yourself. They may complain you don't have artistic ability, that your speech is too rigid with German like precision , then turn around and blame you for his own incompetence, claiming his inability to understand was because your speech was not German enough

carrying on a friendship, even if only an editorial relationship with such a male causes the laymen term of “crazy-making”

as a therapist, your first suggestion to people with clients should be to point out all of the crazy-making things that men habitually engage in, and teach them how to use the tools of clearly understanding the thought form of the English Language

comparing the different forms of language used by the idiot male is the sure fire way to identify a crazy-maker, however there are numerous signs one can easily become familiar with if one doesn't desire to learn the third translated form of the English Language. Being able to identify the signs is almost always sufficient to remedy the problem of crazy-thinking

As a therapist the most important thing for you to emphasize to a client is the importance of their children being able to recognize the signs of male idiocy, as prevention is so much more efficient than treating or attempting to cure the extremely damaging disease of male idiocy