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Basic necessities

  • 25 April 2006

It is common knowledge that the Dunny School of  Philosophy owes little to the medieval philosopher Duns Scotus. Less well known is its debt to his more famous contemporary, William (‘No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary’) of Ockham, the inventor of the razor. Allow me to demonstrate by means of anecdote and inventive memory. As a very junior teacher in the bush years ago, I led an enviably simple life. I would teach English to Forms 2G and 3H and other amiable bottom feeders, practise cricket or football, and play on Saturday afternoons. During what used to be that hiatus between the two seasons—after we’d missed the finals as usual and before the season’s first cricket match—I would participate fully in weekend cultural activities.

These involved getting up about ten on Saturday morning, studying the racing form over the kind of large, eggy, fatty and greasy breakfast that, in later years, marriage would cancel out in favour of muesli, getting some bets on with the SP (this being in the exciting days before the TAB), and arriving at the pub about midday for a few heart-starters and a counter lunch. In the evening, of course, it would be off to the opera or a chamber music concert. Or possibly the local dance. While enjoying this routine one October Saturday, I had occasion to go to the toilet, as you do. There were two other blokes in there: one, a hefty local farmer in check shirt and overalls, with his chewed-up, sweaty hat firmly planted on his head; the other, a very young man, propped in the angle made by two of the walls, being, how shall I put it, comprehensively sick, heaving his heart out. It took no insight whatsoever to infer that he was a neophyte drinker whom peer pressures had brought to temporary ruin.

As the farmer and I completed our toiletries, he turned to me, nodded towards the regurgitating young man, and said in tones of studied reasonableness: ‘I dunno—these young bastards. They’re always out and about without a hat and so the sun, beatin’ down mercilessly on the head, makes ’em sick. Whaddya reckon?’

A saturnine flicker crossed his rugged features as he said these last words and I nodded with equally ambiguous agreement. Then, our fleeting communication concluded, we rejoined all the other ironists in the bar, leaving the young man to the