Christmas staff parties. Who goes with Christmassy joy, not apprehension or a need to ‘show your face’? I’m just back from the latest, where there was top-shelf schmoozing. The last time I could make it I saw the Turnbulls across a crowded space. They pulled up hard at seeing me, and Malcolm seemed to contemplate coming over to wish me less than joy. He thought better of it – the afternoon was still young – but lost such inhibitions after cocktail hour, as one hectored colleague can attest. I had long since left, but who, wanting a party full of Christmas bonhomie, would think the presence of Malcolm Turnbull just the thing for extra cheer?
Christmas this year is not at home. The only child still in Australia has a new job in Sydney and no holidays, so parents and dogs are driving over, the car packed with my giant pots for making my traditional Boxing Day soup with turkey leftovers. But next year, where? Is our family Christmas to be in London or the American Midwest? What’s more, when grandchildren finally arrive, what will ever keep us in Victoria, especially now that Dan Andrews has made it positively frightening?
David runs the post office in the next town, where we collect our mail, and tells me he’s retiring. He plans to spend six months in Italy, but hasn’t yet settled on where. My advice: just move every time the fancy takes you. At 17, I boarded my first airplane to go to Europe for a year. I still recall that tremendous high, as if my soul was flying, when I backpacked out of Agios Nikolaos, Crete, not knowing which country I’d visit next and not much caring. My freedom was made complete by a something virtually impossible now with iPhones, emails and Viber – I was literally out of contact, with no obligation or expectation to check on messages from anyone. I haven’t felt such utter freedom since.
But speaking as a parent, thank God for iPhones, emails and Viber. No child is now too far to stay close. I today watched live a TV program which my daughter produced in London, and chatted with her for nearly an hour. An hour! When my parents emigrated from Holland, international phone calls were so expensive that on the very rare times my parents did ring home they talked extremely fast for the three minutes – six at most – they’d booked with the operator. Even letters were pricey, so my parents wrote on every spare space of the blue Aerograms, ten pence a page, including around the return address. When people emigrated then, they truly left home. The cords were cut. Now those cords snake electronically over the world.
I’m tasting retirement. Not that I‘ve finally acted on my threats. No, I just have two months off, almost all to be spent at home. ‘Let’s see how you like it,’ says my wife with a glint, convinced I’m happier shouting on the TV rather than at it. So far, so good, because I shut out the news to avoid being provoked. But in a rash moment I read about Labor’s global warming plan. A typical report claimed Labor would ‘cut household power bills by $275 a year’, by spending $24 billion on green infrastructure. Hello? So if we spend $2,500 per household on Labor’s green scheme we’ll get back $275 a year? Then add the costs big business will pass on from Labor’s tougher emissions limits. Yet no journalist noted the obvious con. Infuriating. My wife may be right.
Holidays for me are for reading, and already two books have astonished me. The first is The Pickwick Papers, the only one of Charles Dickens’ novels I’d never read. Much as I adore Dickens, I couldn’t believe his first real novel could be that good, doubly so given he was so young when he wrote it. But what a revelation. True, it’s essentially plotless, but a young genius announces himself not with a knock but an explosion. Already at 24, Dickens could make his characters vivid with a single phrase, a telling detail, and, above all, dialogue unique to each. That’s rare.
But if The Pickwick Papers is joy, Gerard Henderson’s latest book, Cardinal Pell, the Media Pile-on & Collective Guilt, is fury. I cannot recall the last book which made me so angry. I closely followed the persecution of Pell, so much of the detail Henderson presents is not new to me. What is new is to have all those details meticulously brought together to demonstrate beyond question that Pell was the victim of not just a vicious and depraved media, but an incompetent or possibly malicious Victorian police force and two incomprehensibly incoherent Victorian appeal court judges, overseen by a malevolent premier whose reaction after the High Court upheld Pell’s innocence was to tweet to the ‘victims’, declaring ‘I believe you’. Remember: police charged Pell with abusing nine boys, yet all 26 charges collapsed because they were plainly preposterous. One claimed Pell raped a screaming boy so badly that his anus bled, and did this in a busy cinema without anyone noticing or Pell caring if they did. Read this book to see how so many journalists – not least the ABC’s Louise Milligan and David Marr – seemed guided by little more than malice and blind prejudice. Note also how many people were too gutless to resist this witch-hunt. Shame, shame, shame on Ballarat’s St. Patrick’s College for removing Pell’s name from its honour board and a building, and refusing still to put it back, apparently for fear of the mob. As I said, there is an air of menace in Victoria today.
Did Christ fear the mob? Did he join in stoning the adulterous woman, scared he might otherwise be thought soft on crime or an adulterer himself? Christmas is a good time to pray we still have people who’d risk even just their reputation for the truth.
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