Cheshire grin

Cheshire grin

England has experienced that rare thing, a long, hot summer, and the heat and extended hours of sunshine seem to have turned the dial on the behaviour of the locals from quaint and eccentric to strange and disturbing. It’s official: the green and pleasant land is now brown and feral.

A case in point is that of Steve Gough who decided that it would be a tremendous achievement if he could walk the length of Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats clad only in a pair of boots and a floppy hat. Reports of ‘the naked rambler’ filled the papers for days in August, with witnesses describing him in the fraught language usually reserved for Yeti sightings, until Gough identified himself. His progress has been interrupted by repeated arrests by bemused constabulary.

Continuing with the ‘there’s something out there’ theme, Kent is supposedly being terrorised by wild cats led by the ‘beast of blue bell’, attacking livestock and scaring the bejesus out of the locals. Crop circles were definitely out this year as a result, probably because the spotters—a race unto themselves born, it is rumoured, already clad in a mac with binoculars hanging from their neck—weren’t game enough to get out into the wheat fields for fear of a mauling.

But the weirdness is not only in the countryside. Illusionist David Blaine, who pretends to slice off his ear in public and wanders around with an eye tattooed on the palm of his hand mumbling nonsense in a monotone someone must have told him gave him a sense of mystery but just makes him unintelligible, decided to spend 44 days in a glass case suspended from a crane next to the Thames. He only had water to drink and a lot of nappies. No-one has been able to answer the question: why?

The poms will say they aren’t responsible for Blaine as he’s an American but he was an accountant in Baltimore before he got to the UK.

I think it’s mad cats and Englishman, Mr Coward.

Nirvana on the run

Meanwhile, back in Australia, bike paths early on Sunday morning are usually bereft of naked runners or feral cats. Last Sunday, however, the local path was divided by witches’ hats and decorated by runners lured by the antipodean cuckoo call that harbingers spring: the oxymoronic fun-run. On the runners’
T-shirts was a coloured rectangle, and on this patch a name and a number; Self-Transcendence 9, Self-Transcendence 125, etc. Along the path, the birds were singing, the bees were beginning their working day harvesting from wattle, and the sun was breaking through the light spring mist. But the runners were self-preoccupied. At the finishing line, there was a large digital clock measuring out the seconds, by the saving of which, it seems, is self-transcendence measured.

Holy (steam) roller

Self-transcendence is usually the currency of evangelists, because it involves a quantum leap which your ordinary self cannot produce or even imagine. The colloquial version of Quantum Leaps is Jump Up, a Koori coining which means rising suddenly beyond your capability. The phrase occurs in the title of Germaine Greer’s recent Quarterly Essay in which she shows herself to be a powerful evangelist. The jump up she pleads for is that white Australians should renounce their colonial attitudes and history and embrace Aboriginality. This is a leap of faith and of imagination: you can stand up and be converted, but you are not quite sure what you are being converted to or how it will save you.

Germaine Greer displays all the evangelist’s skills in evoking the totally corrupted world of white Australian society, and in offering a subtle reading of classical Australian texts in order to bring out the sad reality which we habitually ignore. And her readers are likely to treat her like most evangelists—when they return from the pulpit to the fireside, they will wonder whether things are really as bad as all that, and whether the conversion she calls for is either necessary or enough.

Watch your mouth

Swimming each day through a sea of language, Eureka Street has developed a list of words we never wish to see again. As is often the case, it is not so much the words we despise, but the service in which they are employed.

Historically, key offenders have included lifestyle and nuance. More recent chart-toppers are synergy, actualise, sexing, positivity, discourse and enhance. Adverbs are best used like garlic, sparingly, and anyone caught thinking outside the envelope, square or circle shall be shot.

We are sure that readers have their own list of ‘love to hate’ favourites. To soothe the jangled nerves of serious word watchers, we have three CDs to give away courtesy of ABC Classics: Malcolm Williamson’s Complete Works for Piano, Marcus Stenz’s Mahler Symphony No. 5 and Macquarie Trio Australia’s Libertango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla. Please send your top five words to Word Watchers, Eureka Street, PO Box 553, Richmond VIC 3121, by 31 October 2003.



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