I found myself murmuring this line recently. For a moment I thought it was a fragment of my own poetic juvenilia. On further consideration, I realised that though a little mawkish and decidedly purple it was far too good for that. Of course [Ah! Of course!], it comes from Kenneth Slessor’s Sleep – a poem I studied for the HSC, so the juvenile association is not entirely amiss.
I’m conscious my memory is getting worse. As the water-table of my pianistic competency recedes, I find I can read through Beethoven sonatas, including ones I really learnt quite thoroughly at one time or another (OK, OK: it’s volume 1 on the piano, not the wilder reaches of volume 2), and enjoy them virtually anew, albeit with some fudging of the more demanding technical passages. And what a wonderful body of work they are! When I read recently of a dementia crisis projected for the future in Australia, it reminded me of the old jokes about the benefits of the condition, though I couldn’t actually remember any of the actual jokes.
Earlier this year, visiting my father, I was affronted on his behalf that my stepmother, who had gone away, had stuck up a number of prominent signs about the house reminding him to turn the hotplate off and shut the fridge door, or somesuch. Not that my father was affronted: he accepted these tokens of care. I told D about this. Recently, D left the country for a few weeks. His flight left in the afternoon and I was unable to see him off. On my return, I found the following stuck up inside the front door (another copy, sans the handwritten “car” was put up in the kitchen):
The plea is justified: a couple of months ago my mobile phone and camera were both stolen from my car in the small hours of the morning when I neglected to lock it: it’s probably as much a question of carelessness as forgetfulness. To decode and explain the remainder, “over” probably means “oven” and quite often I leave the key for the back screen door in the (inside) lock.
Recently, it took me about 24 hours to summon to recollection (eventually, it came all of a sudden, quite unbidden) the word “shibboleth.” I knew the bones of the story: if (when challenged as a sort of password) somebody pronounced the initial consonant the wrong way, they were of the wrong ethnic group, and were slain. I tried googling “old testament” and “slew” but, for fairly obvious reasons, that wasn’t sufficiently discriminating and as it turns out I probably needed to search for other forms of the verb. To save you clicking on the link, here is the relevant passage from Judges 12 (in this case, apparently the New Jerusalem Bible translation):
Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, ‘Let me cross,’ the men of Gilead would ask, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ they then said, ‘Very well, say “Shibboleth” (שיבולת).’ If anyone said, “Sibboleth” (סיבולת), because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.
All of this is a meander (the real title should probably be just “life”) brought on by dinner with an old friend and former pupil, back in Australia for the European summer. He has had a brilliant career but by now it is not as brilliant as once he hoped. Most of us have been there and almost all will eventually get to that point, because though hopes may be dupes, the possibility that fears are likewise likely to be liars is no proof against disappointment, even if life is really still going quite well, or well enough, all things considered.
And in the long rung run, we are all dead (as has famously been observed).
Time to go to sleep, I guess: I shall counterfeit beneath my counterpane.