dunny (n) Australian colloquialism meaning a (usually) outside toilet. Popularly used as a simile e.g. “As noisy as a dunny door in a storm” or “…stuck out (conspicuous) as a dunny in the desert.”
One day I am in London on holidays; it is Sunday morning and I am walking around Covent Garden. Suddenly – probably from an unhappy convergence of the English beer and Pakistani curry of the night before – I need desperately to find a dunny. Not in the next half hour or even the next ten minutes. Right now.
The urgency is such that I cannot trust myself to even walk so I stand very still where I am. I open my street map to give some ostensible rationality to my sudden immobility.
I look around hoping for a sign of a public convenience but nothing greets my cross-eyed gaze. The pubs are closed; no gallery or restaurant beckons my bowels welcome. Slowly, ever so slowly, I shuffle back towards the tube station thinking surely this will provide relief in the form of a public dunny complete with graffiti and plastic toilet paper. Right now that would be a sight more glorious than the Taj Mahal.
Soon, however, I know that I am not going to make it. I stand on the roadside, pretending to be waiting to cross. There is not even an alley or tree in sight. I am doomed to humiliation and, probably, arrest.
Then I notice this angry man talking to himself and crossing the street towards me. He walks by and then stops as if he has just remembered something. He comes back and stands in front of me. He pushes his half-shaven crazed face into mine and yells at the top of his voice, “F#*K OFF!”
Then he strides off, frequently looking menacingly over his shoulder as if to dare me to ignore his succinct advice. And then I suddenly realise that I do not need to go to the dunny anymore. I get on the tube and make my way back to my hotel without a murmur from my hitherto loudly aggrieved digestive tract.
And I think with gratitude of the strange quirk of fate that led me so unerringly to the one crazy Londoner who could scare me shitless.
A few years ago my father came home fuming. Driving through a large Australian country town, he’d come across the following scene:
Two drivers – one turning onto the main highway and one turning off – recognised each other in passing and stopped to have a talk through their open car windows. This effectively stopped both lanes of traffic in all directions as the two Aboriginal men, seemingly oblivious to the problem, carried on an animated and friendly discussion.
Finally, an irate driver yelled out, “Do people think you own the road?”
Without a pause one of the Aboriginal men looked up and yelled back, “Nah, mate, we own the whole fuckin’ country!”
My father was more angry at the inconsiderate driving behaviour than the comments themselves. But I could only laugh. The black driver’s retort was a valid one and probably designed to upset the white audience to which it was directed.
Even so, it was a hollow gesture in the end. Aboriginal people continue to be the most marginalised Australians with lowest health standards, greater morbidity rates, higher levels of unemployment and very high rates of incarceration.
Still, for one moment, here was an Aboriginal voice rising defiant for a moment over the din of a tragic history.
They say you can tell alot about people from what they laugh at.
I am sitting in a bar on the Champs Elysees with an American I met on the ferry to Calais that day. This is just after the US election that sees Jimmy Carter ousted from the White House and the end of the Iranian hostage crisis. My new friend tells a joke. “Hey, “ he asks, “What is very flat and glows at night?” I shake my head. “Iran, five minutes after Reagan becomes president.” We laugh.
The joke glides calmly over nuclear conflagration and the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. Would we have laughed at a joke about Hiroshima? What if a Japanese person told it?
Friends visit for dinner. They bring their first child, aged about two. We always drink too much, talk, argue, cross boundaries. She is particularly iconoclastic. “There is nothing you can’t make a joke about,” she says. “OK,” I say. “What about child abuse?” Her demeanour changes immediately, she is genuinely unsettled and uncomfortable. “What is the worst thing about being a paedophile?” I ask. She shakes her head. “I don’t want to go there.” I persist, “You have to be in bed by 7 o’clock.” No one laughs.
This second joke, about the rape of children, crosses into territory that is universally decried and represents perhaps the cruellest form of human behaviour. Can there ever be a time when it is funny?
As the film Borat shows, we may be entering into a post politically-correct period when all subjects are presented to us as humour. Some of these topics – e.g. Islam, the Jewish Holocaust, the lynching of slaves, abortion – will deeply offend and even hurt many people.
Is this just an expression of the age-old role that humour has in revealing hypocrisy, exposing lies, challenging beliefs? Or are such jokes simply in bad taste irrespective of their “funniness?”
And how will we know the difference?
Are we merely an amalgam of all the things we remember? Is our sense of self predicated on the memory of experiences throughout our life? Julian Baggini (in his book The Pig that Wants to Be Eaten) suggests the possibility:
“…if we are in a sense composed of our memories, what happens when those memories become confused with those of other people….Or when our memories fade and trick us? Do the boundaries of the self begin to dissolve as the reliability of memory deteriorates?”
Am I really what I remember? If so, then we might have a problem. Take this old friend of mine. About twenty years ago we were in a bar in London. We were drunk and we’d made friends with a group of Englishmen who were in town to visit the Earls Court Boat Show. There was this American man with a limp and a beard who was the boyfriend of the barmaid. Something about him aggravated the young English man with whom I was speaking. Towards closing time, the two men became involved in a scuffle.
My friend, a mostly nervous and timid character but now full of English ale, leapt on to the American’s back and endeavoured to restrain him. With a powerful backwards sweep of his arm, however, the barmaid’s boyfriend cast my friend through the air across the room where he landed amongst a clattering of chairs. The scuffle ended, someone alerted the Bobbies who sent us all on our way. The night was over.
Or was it? Funnily enough, the night has actually grown and metamorphosised over the past two decades. My friend, through a re-telling and re-imagining of the scene, has incrementally transformed his actions into a heroic epic. And I have watched it grow with wonder having, as I do, the contemporaneous account in my diary from the time.
And here is the rub. As his memory of this time and others is recalled, he too has changed. He has gradually become less timid and more the person recalled from the bar in England. He is, at least in part, an invention of his flawed memory.
If we become the sum of our memories, then which memories constitute our essence? And what if our memories are false or merely embellishments? Who are we then?
And who would we be if we could remember all the things we’ve forgotten?
Filed under life, memory, self
Robert Hughes, the famous art critic, was interviewed on television recently and told the following story. As a teenage student at a Catholic school, he was taken with his class to view an exhibition of abstract art. At one point – and in response to one of the pictures – the young Robert guffawed in amazement. When his teacher asked him why he laughed, he replied, “Because that’s not art, is it, Brother?”
The teacher’s reply stayed with him forever and changed the course of his life. “Well, Robert, if that is not art, perhaps you can tell me what art is.”
How simple are some of the words that affect us throughout our lives, particularly those that are addressed to us in our youth.
Paul Simon, interviewed in Mojo Magazine (November 2006), relates how, at 13, his father gave him a guitar. This gifted man, who has accumulated so many influences and plaudits over a successful song-writing career, then goes on to say, “I was sitting in my room singing to myself and my father stopped in the doorway and said, ‘You have a nice voice, Paul.’ That was really important.”
Some of the greatest gifts we are given are written on the air.
Filed under art, life, Music, school
I notice that you can now buy a plaster cast of the penis of the legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendrix for a mere US$1 500. As the maker, Cynthia P. Caster says,
“Because this was one of my first shots at plaster casting, the end result came out kind of gnarly. I prematurely cracked the mould open, only to find a still-moist, broken cast inside. So yes, Jimi did in fact, break the mould! But thanks to Elmer’s Glue, I managed to reconnect the head to the shaft to the testicles.”
Jimi’s penis is only one of several rock stars’ private bits on offer and all are briefly critiqued like footnotes to an art auction catalogue.
Whether or not this is – or is intended to be– art is a matter of opinion, I suspect.
What interested me in the sale of celebrity privates is the contrast it makes to the recent furore generated by photographs of a knickerless Britney Spears. Leaving aside the somewhat vast gap between the talents of the two performers, why are photographs of Spears’s privates viewed as bad taste and the 3D representation of Hendrix’s as worthy of framing and (I presume) displaying in one’s lounge room?
Does one image confirm Jimi’s art and the other that Britney’s a tart, perhaps?
And what is the relationship between a musician’s floppy bits and their music? I mean, seriously, his penis was probably the only part of his body that Jimi Hendrix didn’t play the guitar with.
(You can check out more of the frozen funny-bits of the fairly famous at http://www.cynthiapcaster.org/casts/_dicks/casts_hendrix_page/hendrix_page.htm)