March 05-11, 2010

Why the Misty Isles Are Still Best Missed

LONDON

A WEEK in Britain certainly reminds exiles why it was that they chose exile in the first place, even as long ago as 40 years in The Diary’s case. There’s the weather for one thing: it hovered in The Diary personal most-hated zone all week – around 5C and raining. It never seemed reasonable that anyone should have to put up with that sort of climate. This deduction was significantly vindicated over the week.

Then there are the herd instincts of the Brits. You have to find a way to get around them. Literally, it seems. Not only do they form queues to form queues, but they wander around like Brown’s cows, and at about the same pace and apparently an appropriately bovine level of sentience. This is not just the view of a churlishly antiquated cockatoo. It is widely shared, even by some Brits of The Diary’s acquaintance.

A series of train trips was instructive too. Standing for an hour-plus’s express journey into London after the business portion of the trip was over, among people who had clearly been in standing-room-only conditions since the train began its six-hour trip from faraway Scotland, was displeasure of the unalloyed variety: One for the record.

Nonetheless, it was nice – in a way – to confirm that the Misty Isles, off remote north-western Eurasia, continue to keep their heads above the allegedly rising waters.

Family Gathering

THE trip was remarkable for a number of things. Among them was that it marked the first time in 32 years that The Diary had seen all three of his siblings in the same place at the same time. That’s probably not a record, but it’s something that should perhaps be recorded.

The circumstances of this gathering were not of themselves jolly. But nonetheless time was found to catch up on a number of important events – in the family fold – and to compare notes on living where we all live. It is a widely scattered brood. Only one member remains resident in Britain.

Of the others, one lives in Bali (out of Australia in 2005 as a refugee from meddlesome regulatory overload Down Under); one in Australia; and one in the United States.

Perhaps that percentage of absconders (75 percent) from British care is unusual in a single family, but there were extenuating circumstances. The family was always peripatetic, a function of the employment enjoyed by the patriarch (whose final farewell was the reason for the trip); it was inevitable, probably, that foreign shores and more clement climates would claim a goodly proportion of that crop.

Of course, life’s real lesson is surely that, wherever you go, in whichever place you end up, you’re going to find some flies in the ointment. But it is interesting to have within the family a whole range of different flies, in very different ointments, to dissect or otherwise deal with on collegiate occasions.

Forensic examination of these diverse elements proved one thing: most of life’s little problems seem actually to be caused by those employed by the people we employ to minimise them. In other words, our politicians. While this is hardly a novel discovery, it was interesting to learn, over a lengthy succession of cups of tea and other beverages, that the inventiveness of the political class – in whatever polity – apparently knows no bounds when in pursuit of supposed improvements to the people’s condition (for which read: more rules to restrict you by) or their own benefit. Hrrmph.

Due Honour

CEREMONY is such an important part of life. It helps to mark events, to delineate epochs, and to honour those to whom recognition is due, or those we love. So it is with funerals. These are very much a part of life in Bali, in the Hindu tradition. The tourists who might see such ceremonies in Bali will not necessarily know that just as much sadness – the sadness of bereavement – exists among Bali’s Hindus as among others. Reincarnation might be the promise, and the expectation; but death severs a direct and warming link nonetheless.

Except in one sense. Those we love (or even like deeply or respect much) live in our minds as much as in the real world. Their absence from the real world, therefore, is not a final termination of their energy, or their extant status. Many of us live partly in our minds, on a separate plane if you like. This is the essence of meditation, after all. And this is where we can still meet and talk with those who are gone.

The materialist nature of modern Western life deny this, assisted by the nay-saying of the scientists who have elected themselves as deities and who think they can explain everything; and that everything they cannot explain but which from their inherent intellect they deduce cannot exist, does not exist. We rely far too much on science to tell us what is and what is not; and what can be and what cannot.  It has become fashionable in Western society to decry or deny the validity of religious belief.

But it is not necessary to worship through a formal liturgy, to a defined version of God, to believe in the things that really matter. And whatever the scientists say, or the rationalists, belief is not deniable and it is undesirable to assert that denial is the only way.

The Diary looks forward to many more challenging conversations with the dearly departed.

Dear Friends

LEAVING Britain to return to the southern hemisphere – already long regarded as the better one; and not only because it points into the galaxy and not out of it – The Diary spent a night in London. This was a joyous occasion because it permitted reunion – far too briefly – with a very dear friend and former colleague, and offered the welcoming comforts of her bed. (She had removed herself to the couch for the night: one benefit of advancing age is that young women, when they notice you at all, immediately think you’re in need of special care.)

A lively dinner and one or two – oh all right then, several – good wines took up much of the evening. Reminiscence took place (such fun!). Personalities from our shared past were re-dissected and found wanting. Events from that history were reprised. It is true that you can neither change nor reinvent history – post-modern historians and vote-seeking politicians please note (again) – but it is still fun to examine the record in a revue format. Comedy is cathartic.

It had been several years since our contact had been more actual than virtual, and it was good to see that those years had been kind to The Diary’s companion. Your Diarist is a desiccated entity, ravaged by the effects of time, but those of a younger generation have yet to experience the decline brought on by that horrific historical period, the late Middle Ages.

In the circumstances, it seemed fair to leave most of a rather fine bottle of Jack Daniel’s 43 proof whiskey as a house present – it would probably only have been a subject of argument at the airport security check, since carry-on luggage was all that was aboard on this trip – and to pay for dinner.

It was rather odd, though, since these festivities took place in the very part of London once ravaged by the activities of a much younger Diarist. A strong sense of déjà vu permeated the atmosphere as a result. The street of former residence was passed on the brisk trot to the underground station to get a Piccadilly Line train to Heathrow.

And dining the previous evening had been at premises which, in The Diary’s younger days, were a rather well known watering place that, a little while after The Diary departed for more clement climes, became an attraction for those with – shall we say – an alternative life view.

Airport View

EN ROUTE to his temporary destination, Perth (home of the Bali Peace Park Association which, one hopes, is actually managing to raise the significant funds its plans for the Sari site demand), The Diary transited Kuala Lumpur’s new(ish) airport.

It runs well enough. The little train that runs you out to the satellite terminal is fun. The duty free shopping is broad-based (not to say ubiquitous). The many eateries seem to do a good trade. And the pay-to-use lounge, popular with travellers who see no need to pay whacking great premiums to fly business class or above but who nonetheless value basic comfort and fair facilities in transit, affords a good view of the airport’s operations (as well as a smoking room of modest dimension with the same view).

It was though rather a pity to see a collection of large blue rubbish bags blow away from the top of a stairway to an aerobridge – where someone must have left them inadvertently, or worse, dumped them – and scatter themselves around the immediate apron area.

And even more of a pity that they were determinedly ignored by several passing apron-employees whose job descriptions clearly do not include engaging the brain.

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