Mad Dogs and Englishmen
This all happened just over fifty years ago. Noel Coward first articulated the concept and did very well out of it. Me: not quite so well. I’m a Ten Pound Pom. The first week end after I arrived in Australia following an arduous, horrendous, exacting but equally exciting journey I decided to take a walk. It was Sunday. There wasn’t much to do. I hadn’t been to church. I really didn’t know anyone. My hospitable host family needed time to themselves. It was a warm, ‘even-hot-for-a-Pom’ day in mid-October. On rare days like this in the old dart it was an opportunity not to be missed. Late morning I set off for Flat Rock perhaps then and now Scone’s premier look out and best kept secret. I didn’t even wear a hat. I haven’t been without one ever since. Mr and Mrs Bain were bemused but supportive. They were both immigrants themselves. What they knew but I didn’t was that no-one voluntarily ‘went for walks’ in rural Australia; all except parvenu arriviste Poms that is. Worse still I was pallid, fair complexioned and naïve. Hatless but hirsute I determinedly defied the midday sun. I was mildly surprised to have the purview entirely to myself. In those days one didn’t even carry a water bottle. No-one had told me. ‘Cool’ eye shades were a generation away. Florid, panting but triumphant I returned to base. I was fitter then. The Bain family were ostensibly relieved to have me back. Their nine and ten year old daughters must have wondered what sort of odd ball was staying at their house. They were agreeably polite. Little did they know what was later confirmed.
Noel Coward also said to ‘book now to avoid depression’. I had to do this to deflect melancholia. In ‘Darkness Visible’ William Styron wrote: “Mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain … it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion……unbearable darkness of being………ordeal of fogbound horror……………plummeting into a glacial downward spiral, the twilight zone of chronic mood disorder”. In writing plunder plagiarize and purloin where possible. Isolation is a curse. Community is cathartic. However I digress. I’m good at digression. All I needed to confirm Sir Noel Cowards’ dire pommy prognosis was a rabid black dog for company. I have never been back to Flat Rock in the succeeding fifty years. A leading Hunter Valley socialite once told me ‘you think differently’. That’s my excuse anyway. Maybe I have a left handed brain? I’ve often wondered. I’ll leave the final words to William Styron: “For those who have dwelt in depression’s dark wood, and known its inexplicable agony, the return from the abyss is not unlike the ascent of the poet, trudging upward and upward out of hell’s black depths and at last emerging into ‘the shining world’. On reflection I think it’s better to avoid the midday sun.