Memories of those early years are, unsurprisingly, few and indistinct... insular events floating in a dark, dense fog of unremembering, an impenetrable sea on all sides; but not wanting to let a lack of facts get in the way of storytelling, the narrative negotiates the uncrossable to bridge the inarticulate fragments of intuition. In Sydney, after my father was back in the cockpit flying for Australian National Airlines and operating as a 'glorified bus driver' - a disparaging description he would regularly use to discourage me from wanting to follow him into the industry - we settled down in Caringbah, in a house next door to his mother and father's place in Yathong road. He only worked for ANA for a couple of years before the excessively bureaucratic Australians frustrated him so much he found a job in Indonesia, flying for Garuda. He would say he'd never work in Australia because of the way they obsessed over procedures. And he never did. Indonesia on the other hand, a Dutch colony at the time, apparently suited him. We flew into Jakarta one afternoon and as the plane taxied to a halt, looking out of the window I wondered how I would find friends in this place. It didn't take long of course because Garuda employed any number of expat pilots many of whom lived in the same suburb not far from the airport. The place was called Pisang Batu. Literally, Banana Stone. Never really worked out what the name signified, but it was a barren sort of place, only a few trees and maybe there'd been some banana trees there once. Deep storm drains along the roads would run full and fast in the rainy season offering no end of good, dangerous fun as we small boys would ride the torrents. The danger came when the water had to go through pipes under driveways. I don't think we ever thought about it and no one was ever injured. There were a couple of swamp-like creeks dividing the houses from rough semi jungle and paddy fields; these creeks were muddy and full of fine green moss, a haven for the domestic water buffaloes who'd wallow with evidently huge delight whenever they could. If you fell in, the mud stank of rot, thick dense vegetal corruption. Sometimes it was hard to avoid. My mother never had to do the washing though; the mud- stained clothes were washed by a servant, scraping them up and down on one of those corrugated washing boards. But the servant didn't do the housework, that was my mother's domain - she probably thought she ought to do something aside from play tennis and bridge with the other pilot's wives in the neighbourhood. She would put the chairs upside down on the dining table, and with Tchaikovsky's Nut Cracker Suite on the record player she'd sweep the floor and tidy up as if she was living back in Australia. A good wife. After a few months I picked up some basic Bahasa so I'd negotiate with vendors at food stalls and in the markets when we went shopping. Most of it I learned from the local shopkeeper. In the mornings, early, I'd get down to his little shop and buy lollies with a few coins nicked from a pile of change on my father's bedside table. I was never caught doing this and suffered some considerable guilt about it all. At Christmas, being a Dutch colony, the tradition involves a character called St Nicholas. Did much the same as the fat guy in the red suit popularised by the Anglo's - he delivered presents. But St Nick had a side kick. A small black boy. Swarte Piet was his name, and his job was to whip the bad kids. Scary stuff for this five-year-old with a guilty conscience. In a pre-emptive move I decided to colonise the character, so early on Christmas morning I got out the black boot polish and smeared it over my whole body and stepped out into the street with my stick ready to lay into any bad kids who came my way. Retribution was not long in coming and the wrath of my mother combined with the pain of getting the stuff off more than appeased my aching little soul… We holidayed in Bali in 1954 where I first heard the mesmerising rhythms of the Gamelan orchestras. My mother brought back a beautiful dancer's costume, gold and red, elaborately jeweled with shiny glass beads; the costume never emerged in its entirety from its blue steel trunk at home until eventually the trunk was lost in translation somewhere between Lebanon and Germany. We also acquired a bow and arrow set. A dozen exquisitely worked bamboo arrows with beaten steel tips and fine feathered flights came with a bow so powerful that once I'd shot an arrow into a tree, the tip was so deeply embedded it was impossible to retrieve. Soon there were no tips left. What did remain was an abiding instinct for the unseen power locked inside that island's ancient culture, a power that was to reawaken when I traveled through Bali in 1971. In 1955, after 350 years of the colonial yoke, Indonesian nationalists finally achieved full independence from their Dutch masters who had tried to resume possession after Japan's brief tenure during WWII. Garuda, at the time was a subsidiary of KLM, the Dutch airline, so all the Indonesian based European pilots were transferred to Holland. We lived in a sleepy little suburb not far from the airport in Amsterdam. In the winter the place was cold, really cold. A seven-year-old boy from the tropics didn't have any conditioning to protect him from the penetrating chill which seemed to cut through no matter how many layers of jumpers were worn. But there was the entertaining consolation of snow and ice. The creeks and rivers would slowly freeze; watching the process happen, as thin layers of ice bulked up to the point where you could walk on the water, always seemed mildly miraculous to me. Eventually there'd be so much ice that entire communities could skate out on lakes of grey and white, so many shades of grey and white, background to the swirling bright primary coloured anoraks and the cutting hiss of steel skates. There was no English school, so I went to the local primary and sat in the back wondering what it was all about. Eventually I picked up enough language to get by and every morning, dutifully, I'd walk to school for my next Dutch lessons. In the winter the walk took me through frozen fields of cauliflowers, tipped with ice glowing in the dim early morning light, the slightly metallic smell of that vegetable marbling through the crunch of my shoes on the stiff, hard ground. My first sister was born here and was the focus of much family delight, with relatives from both sides of the family coming from Australia to Holland to witness the addition. She was born in January. The Christmas just before her birth saw a fabulous new thing for me too. I was up before the dawn to inspect the table and see whether Santa Claus had eaten his cake and drunk the beer we'd left out for him. Incredible. He'd actually been there! And left a scooter. It had a light, pump-up tyres and a back-peddle brake and in the dark, frozen morning I had it out on the street, its toy light dimly cutting through the icy mist as I pushed up and down the suburban streets of Ardenhout. But it didn't take long before my father came face to face once again with his demons. He hated too much organisation and constraint in his work. And flying in Europe would have been a very crowded airspace, even for a man who'd flown in the mass bombing raids over Germany at the end of the Second World War. His Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded after he'd lost all navigation equipment on his way to the fire-bombing of Dresden. He'd flown on, dropped his bombs and returned, presumably keeping his eye on the other planes around him for navigation. It's easy to see how commercial flying in Europe would have been a tame and unchallenging affair. Africa seemed to offer a much more demanding environment for him to fly, so off we went to the Belgian Congo. We lived in the capital, Leopoldville, and for about a year or so I went to the local primary school. In French. My brain was apparently getting used to the idea of learning different languages by then and it didn't take long to become reasonably conversant. The place was equatorial. Steamy, mosquitoed, a variegated playground of many delights. Our house backed onto a wide expanse of scrubby creek. On the other side of the creek, a strip of jungle eventually surrendered to a pig farm where my mates and I'd go with our catapults and cruelly harass the big boar, aiming for his pendulous and target-like balls. This was rarely successful as an attendant would invariably come and chase us off into the jungle. Most of the time we'd ride in small packs on our bikes, often behind a tractor which regularly coursed up and down the streets spewing thick white DDT smoke to kill the mozzies breeding in their billions in the creeks around the place. This was considered loads of fun for us boys as you bumped and crashed into one another, unseen in the mentholated waft of DDT. Sometimes the stuff was sprayed out of helicopters which would fly spectacular, very low passing runs allowing the fluffy white mist to settle gracefully down into the bodies of mosquito larvae and humans alike. The DDT must have worked as I didn't ever get malaria; as to the effects of DDT on the small human? Fifty years later, nothing too apparent - difficult to say. This was another colonial world of expat communities with servants to ease my mother's domestic duties, freeing her for more indulgent time consumption. More bridge, tennis, mahjong, cocktail parties. Ouija board sessions. I was home from school for holidays on one occasion, I would have been about twelve or thirteen and had just sat for the high school entrance exams at the end of my time at primary school in Southern Rhodesia. My father's brother, Ron, also a pilot, had just been killed in a plane crash - he'd been flying a crop-duster somewhere near Armidale in New South Wales. Mum was over at a neighbours having morning tea with a couple of other girls when someone said they had a Ouija board and it might be fun to see if they could get in touch with him. All the women were excited to have a go and started preparing the room. I was on my way out as they were closing the curtains when Mum asked me to stay, but was insistent that I didn't tell Dad about it. She reckoned he'd get cranky. I didn't know whether that was because it was his dead brother who was the focus or just that he didn't like the hocus pocus thing of women's magic. Maybe just unlocking the psyche was too threatening. Anyway, I sat down with the women. There were five of them and me. I'd never participated in anything to do with 'spirits' before so I was pretty interested as they spread out a large roll of what looked like butcher's paper and placed a small plywood platform on the paper. The platform was an equilateral triangle about fifteen centimetres a side with three four centimetre legs, one of which was a pen. We were each asked to put an index fingertip very lightly on the triangle. Pretty soon it started moving about on the paper and wherever it went the pen marked the track, doodling and turning as, no doubt, we all imagined someone else was pushing it. My uncle Ron had been something of an artist apparently, and I remembered having seen a drawing he'd done of me as a baby in a cot. A competent hand. One of his sons inherited the ability. Whichever of the women was running the séance put in a call for whoever was in the air to come in and chat - it was all very light hearted and giggly as we joked at the elaborate doodles emerging on the page. I didn't at this stage think anything other than that the triangle was being pushed by one or another of the women. We had a dog at the time, a young Boxer, probably only about eighteen months old. He had a distinctive profile, a slightly jutting lower jaw. There was some concern he might have contracted rabies, so Mum asked whether the dog had rabies. The triangle kept motoring around feeling pretty uncanny to me - I wasn't pushing it. Then I noticed in the middle of a whole bunch of doodle a perfect profile drawing of the dog. Unmistakeable. Head and shoulders, like one of those profile silhouettes you used to be able to get at Luna Park or the Easter Show. Except it was just linear. Then, in utter amazement we noticed, over the top of the dog's head, in an arc, the words 'no rabies', in a faultlessly smooth running script. Later Mum pulled out a Christmas card from Ron and his wife Kate. The hand writing was identifiably the same. Weird. There was absolutely no way anyone could have pushed the triangle with five other fingers on it to produce such results…afterwards, Mum and I never discussed the séance. Maybe it was just too much to comprehend at the time, but it certainly primed my brain for an interest in the metaphysical. Around that time, we went on a family holiday to a beach resort called Margate in South Africa. While there, a public hypnotist was doing a show in a big theatre. I really wanted to go and see what it was all about and after some considerable struggle managed to convince my mother to take me. At the end of the show the hypnotist asked if anyone in the audience wanted to be hypnotised. I immediately put my hand up. Mum straight away dragged it down. I was keen, it seemed pretty harmless so I put my hand up again. There were maybe eight or nine people who'd volunteered. When he instructed them to stand up, I obeyed, resisting my mother's fumbled efforts to keep me in the seat. Once he started his spiel, she gave up her resistance and I put my hands in the air fingers interlocked and hands inverted and as per his instructions, closed my eyes and looked into the roof of my head. He said we were getting sleepier and sleepier and then I felt myself falling through the air to crash painlessly on the ground. I didn't think I'd made any effort to break the fall but was quite comfortable lying on the ground until he said 'those on the ground should stand up and walk up to the stage'. I obeyed. It seemed like a bit of a joke. I was totally conscious and felt no different to my usual state of mind. I thought I was acting, being a good sport. Once on stage he put us through a whole lot of comedy routines getting us to do dumb things for the entertainment of the audience. One of the routines was to imagine we were deep- sea fishing off the back of a boat. We'd caught a big one and were reeling it in. Then in the middle of this furious action he said "Freeze!" I obeyed. He walked up to me, my forearm extended out holding the imaginary rod, and pushed three very long needles into my arm. I didn't feel a thing. I still believed I was acting and in my usual frame of mind but here were three needles stuck at least two centimetres into my arm and I hadn't felt a thing. At that moment something clicked in my brain. As Bernard O'Dowd noted in 1922 discussing his poem 'Alma Venus', an experience like this could expose you to "a flaw in the visible universe and a bridge to the real universe…and destroy the common sense notion of fixed reality" - Black Swan of Trespass, Humphrey McQueen, 1979. p.98. I don't think the experience destroyed anything - I was probably too young to have any substantive reality concepts in place to destroy but it certainly gave me a sense of the brain's potential. This event also passed by without further discussion at home, my mother no doubt simply out her depth with little language to discuss anything out of the ordinary. Our servants in the Congo were always men and for me, they were my friends. Brothers, Omèr and Raymo. The younger, Omèr did the ironing. One of those charcoal fired irons. I remember seeing him straining his weight into whatever he was ironing, his singletted black torso glistening with the sweat of hard labour. He was always good value and after hearing drumming from the distant township one night I asked him what it was. The next day he brought a couple of drums in with him heating up the skins over the gas cooker and playing with his brother out in the laundry, awakening ancient sensations in my young body with their powerfully evocative rhythms. Those powerful rhythms, combined with an arrogant Belgian indifference to the colony, eventually stirred up the Congolese and rebellion was in the air. Our neighbours didn't come home one Sunday after a drive into the hills where they'd been stopped by a bunch of angry men; the kids were traumatised from seeing their mother raped and their father beaten up, but they all lived to tell the tale. As law and order progressively broke down the deterioration had little effect on my family. The houses were elaborately barred and locked to prevent burglary and only occasionally would you hear a story about someone waking up in the morning to find all the trousers of his suits gone. Stolen from the same room they were sleeping in. Jackets left behind. Apparently the climate didn't require jackets. Sometimes I'd be outside and I'd see a boy running down the road rolling a car wheel he'd obviously knocked off from somewhere. My father had a 4am early start for work one day; in the dark garage the engine revved into life, he put the car in reverse but the little VW beetle whined loudly and just stood there. All four wheels had been stolen and the car was standing on bricks. Most of the really serious stuff happened in the east and north of the country; we were in the west. Eventually the Belgians just gave up and pulled out in 1960. The newly independent Congolese changed the name of the city from Leopoldville to Kinshasa. Forty five years later the country is still in chaos. To emerge from the pernicious influences of colonial patronage, it seems, takes more than just a name change. My anglo-centric father decided that since France didn't rule the waves I should be educated in English so I was sent off to boarding school in Southern Rhodesia, not so far away really, only a few hours in the plane. If he happened to be the pilot I'd get to fly, or rather steer, the plane for a bit, stirring up my interest in the business of flying. But my father's low opinion of flying in the end had nothing to do with my loss of interest in the job. One holiday, back in Leopoldville from boarding school, I would have been about eleven; I got on a motorbike in a car-park, lost control, ramming my head into a wall and killing one of my ears. That was it for the flying career. All the efforts of the king's men, including a specialist in Paris who stuck a long hypodermic needle into the ear, could not put my hearing together again. God knows what he thought he was doing aside from terrifying his small patient. Recent hearing tests have established the cause of ear-death as a fractured skull which severed most of the auditory nerve. After landing in Salisbury there was a two hour drive to where Springvale, a small school of some 150 boy boarders, squatted in a thousand acres of rural wilderness. I was nine. There seemed to be some distress for many of the kiddies being dropped off by their parents. That was a mystery to me, I was quite excited by the adventure of it all. My first impression after the long drive through bush to the entrance of the school was of a huge tree hung with what seemed like hundreds of bird nests. An intensely homely image, a thriving community. Weaver birds had completely filled the tree with their fine, artistic nests hanging like lanterns, the occupants all chirping and squeaking, creating a loud domestic atmosphere, possibly distracting me from my own sense of separation. As it turned out, I would only ever experience the emotional discomfort of separation from my family very briefly, now and then, during the ensuing nine years of boarding school, four here in Zimbabwe and the remaining five in England. Boarding schools delivered a kind of tribal substitute which silently cultivated a self-reliant character accompanied by a detachment from the need for a conventional nuclear family. Not always a happy arrangement. My ex-wife would attest to that. I knew then Rhodesia was associated with the name Zimbabwe, because the headmaster, John Paterson, had done a lovely drawing in my autograph book of the old ruin, surviving from a more glorious pre-colonial past. Around the school there was scant evidence of this ancient culture or African occupation. The countryside was dotted with kopjes (pronounced 'copies'), fantastic granite rock formations of giant balancing boulders all of which had names determined by their profiles. Many of these kopjes were burial sites with mud-walled graves embedded around the base. Many had been desecrated. Under the huge rocks tunnels ran deep into the earth, some only just wide enough to allow a ten-year-old to crawl through to larger chambers many meters underground where you could turn around and make your way back. The tunnels had the musty smell of animal occupation; whatever these animals were we never encountered them, frightened away no doubt by the excessive noise of dozens of small boys approaching and climbing all over the ancient sculptured formations. Troupes of baboons lived on the escarpment, chattering away as they carefully watched their even noisier hairless cousins marching past down below. Their territory was out of bounds for obvious reasons. The bird population however was well within our boundaries and there was a long-lived enthusiastic craze for collecting their eggs. For my part it wasn't really the eggs that I was after, but the business of climbing trees. Some were very high and considerable skill and judgment was required to get out on what were sometimes extremely thin branches to pilfer a clutch of eggs. In the case of a hawk's nest the bird usually took exception to invasion diving and swooping, complicating the dangers, but no-one ever came to grief and some boys had impressive collections. The school was an Anglican High Church affiliate and its beautiful thatched chapel was an integral part of school life with all boys streaming in there for daily prayers and hymn singing. I was recruited to serve at the altar, eventually performing the monkish duties of setting up services, lighting candles, preparing the sacraments in the little room at the back and then officiating at the altar with the school vicar once I'd been confirmed in the faith - at the time I imagined a calling to the priesthood. No options were available to the Christian message so when I came back from holidays with my experiences in hypnosis we had something to play with. In the evenings the privileged senior boys had access to a bit of lawn and here I introduced the crazy idea of self-hypnosis. Crazes were abundant then, as ever, so the idea quickly caught on as we stood around, arms in the air saying "sleep, sleep, sleep" looking intently up behind closed eyes to the mystical third eye. But results were sketchy at best and before long the practice devolved into a more reliable method to achieve transcendence: you'd take two or three big breaths and then hold the last one in. Your assistant would stand behind and grasp you around the chest and squeeze. Pretty soon you'd just black out. Worked every time. The craze didn't last long as nothing really came of it and we probably suspected it wasn't that healthy a thing to be doing anyway. Early in my school career I worked out that sport was the way to climb the social contract ladder and access the privileges on offer in this micro society. To that end I threw myself into the opiate of formal sports. Cricket, rugby union, soccer, athletics, boxing, swimming, diving, and horse riding….so by the final year at Springvale in 1961 I'd scored one of only two bedrooms available. I shared mine with another boy. The head boy had a room to himself but the rest of the boarders all slept in dormitories of varying sizes. Boarding schools were the training ground for the principles of Empire; privilege and power to the élite. All the boys at Springvale were white. The Brits have now lost their empire and Zimbabwe is in crisis as Mugabe compounds and accelerates confusion in the now mendicant state. My interest in things academic was cursory and largely unproblematic; I did however have serious difficulties with maths. The maths teacher put in one report that I'd do a lot better if I knew my times tables. So one forgettable holiday my father had me learning the damn things, and for reasons best known to himself, he thought it'd be good if I knew them backwards. It wasn't until many years later that I had some glimmer as to why I had difficulties with maths and it had little to do with times tables. The teacher, a certain Mr Coney, whose son was also in the class, had a liking for slipping his hand inside your shorts when reviewing your work at his desk. For some reason, underpants weren't part of the school uniform, so Mr Coney had direct access to genitals which he'd fiddle with while marking your exercise book. I don't remember ever talking about it with my classmates, but it was generally thought of as a bit of a joke; I certainly had no idea it was morally suspect. It didn't feel bad so you just ignored it. But I had a lot of trouble with maths. Numbers and equations would deliver me a mind-blank. In high school I had to take Maths "O" level five times before eventually the Oxford and Cambridge examiners, probably out of compassion, gave it to me in my "A" level year. Cricket was a favourite game and in my final year at Springvale, a new teacher arrived to coach the cricket team. He was a fantastic character and I really liked him. Mr Wilkinson, an amiable fellow in his twenties, brought the team much success in our matches with opposition schools. Then one day we were told he'd been fired. There'd been a meeting to which I hadn't been invited in which the details of his dismissal had been discussed. I was greatly upset by the whole affair and cried hot tears of loss. Nobody at the time explained to me what had happened. I eventually found out he'd been sexually interfering with some of the boys - evidently he only liked the pubescent ones - so I'd not been targeted. Coming late to puberty and the ugly influences of testosterone meant that in school plays I was usually chosen to play female parts. I played the Fairy Queen in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. After the final performance the headmaster, came up to me as I stood there in my pink tutu and said he wasn't quite sure about the fairy with the scrum-half knees. Everybody had a good laugh. But I was so intensely innocent there was never any sense that playing females reflected negatively on my masculinity - even when in high school a few years later I played the part of Henry Moore's wife in Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons; maybe it was the scrum-half knees. The headmaster had done his schooling in England, and when it came time for me to move up to high school, he recommended his old school to my family and they booked me into Bishop's Stortford College, in Hertfordshire. English schools end their academic year in July, at the end of summer. Coming from the southern hemisphere the academic year ended in December, so by the time I arrived in Bishop's Stortford, all the new boys had been there a term already. Late arrival into the group set the tone of my social relations for the next five years. I was always an outsider. Being the only Australian in the school might have had something to do with it, and maybe most people felt alienated to some degree; maybe that was the nature of boarding schools. No touchy feely counseling programmes, you just got on with it. Anyway by that stage I was a professional loner and the fact that the environment had gone from subtropical Africa to bleak house England didn't really require too much adjustment to my settings. It was still a hierarchic system with stiffly defined codes of behaviour. Deviation from the code inevitably attracted punishment. Sometimes painful punishment. On two or three occasions I was caned. Four cracks with a knobby cane across your backside would leave serious welts and mild humiliation. Within a day the welts would have subsided making sitting less of a chore, and the humiliation was perversely transmuted into a kind of pride. But I didn't make a habit of it. In that little world however there were a multitude of listed crimes attracting a chorus of possible punishments. And they weren't all dealt out by adult authority figures. In that world some of the senior boys also had the right to punish aberrant behaviours, from the trivial to the slightly less trivial. The punishments ranged from arduous physical tasks, popularly known as 'tracks' where an offender had to change into sports gear and run around a track (was it 400 yards?) up to sixteen times, to corporal punishment which usually involved bending over a bath in your pyjamas and copping four whacks with a wide hair brush on your backside. In the winter that could be really cruel. There was a small compensation though, especially in winter. Your bum was so hot that once you'd got back into bed it was like a hot water bottle in there. The windows were routinely left open summer and winter so it was often extremely cold in the dormitory, but that was all part of the ethos of the place. Stiff upper lip, what. Not that the school was populated with the discharge of an addled, ailing aristocracy, far from it. Although it was a Public School, most of the boys seemed to come from the middle classes - in so far as a lad from the colonies could make such an assessment, but there's no doubt the school did try to indoctrinate a set of values crafted over time to serve the needs of a once global British Empire. The school served in a very practical way the needs of government. This I was only to discover fairly recently while reading the recollections of a former British spy who had decided to retire to Tasmania. His book The Spycatcher evidently caused some consternation and the man was subject to some legal wranglings on account of his tale-telling, clearly not something spies are encouraged to indulge in. In the book he mentions his old school days at Bishop's Stortford College, and his description of one of his pals in the service reminded me of one of my mates who lived in the same boarding house. His dad seemed to have an aura of secrecy around him which was never explained or even discussed, merely an intuition that there was something unusual about him. I always had considerable respect for the boy and remember my surprise on one occasion, we were in town, and a man drove by in a big Jaguar and he yelled out after the disappearing car "affluent bastard!" - probably the only single sentence I can recall from five years at the school. Reading Spycatcher and the description of the man who I thought may well have been his father somehow put my friend's socio-political insult into some kind of perspective. Another friend had an uncle in the service, also mentioned in the book. Around the time of reading the book I found out through the Old Boy's Newsletter that the bloke who'd captained the cricket team I played for went on to be the Director of MI5. So the school had a tradition of providing recruits for the British Secret Services. But the institution was not without compassion. Because I lived in Africa, Mrs Clare, the housemistress would let me have seven or eight blankets in the winter. They weren't much use though when, come seven in the morning, her housemaster husband, in loco parentis Liverpudlian, Mr Clare, imaginatively nick-named 'scouse', would enter the main dorm to make his assault on an extremely whacked about brass gong, rousing his 'house' for the day with seven, nine, sometimes ten vigorous strokes. All boys then made their way to the bathrooms, to stand in a queue for the most invigorating wakeup I've ever known: the cold bath. There were two baths in the main bathroom both filled the night before, right to the brim. In the winter the first boy into the bath would sometimes have to break the ice. Then the cold tap was turned on full bore and the procession would begin. On your turn you had to jump up onto the bath put both feet at the end next to the taps, hold yourself up on the side of the bath with two stiff arms, then just let go, crashing into the icy water before leaping out. I've never since had any trouble getting into cold water. By the time I got to the top of the hierarchic tree we were well into the 60s and revolution was in the air. By the time the ripples of change reached into the provinces and Bishop's Stortford College, it was well diluted. Still, we as a collective of senior boys, known as monitors in the residential houses, decided to go easy on the corporal punishment thing. I think I administered no more than two, possibly three doses of bum-beating. Then, democratically it seems, we just let the practice die out. As to whether that rupture of a long-standing tradition was maintained in following years, I don't know. The school has, since 1995, been transformed by the presence of girls; no doubt the socializing influence of the tender gender will have softened the more brutal aspects of the former male dominated society. Looking at the failure of most leaders in the world today to realise the poverty of violence as a strategy, it would seem that probably not much changed at all and the still small voice of reason survived only in isolated pockets of consciousness, still waiting for a critical mass to be ascendant. We still appear to function, collectively anyway, according to the Old Testament exhortation: if thy…whatever it is…offend thee, cut it off. Hit 'em hard enough and they'll obey you. Maybe a bit of light corporal punishment might work on a three-year-old, but you can't expect a nation of adults, no matter how sociologically enlightened or retarded, to respond in any sort of positive way to big guns and bullying. Empire building continues to require, it seems, the use of strategies characteristic of a more authoritarian time, when the use of physical force brought results. But men like George W. Bush (US), Tony Blair (UK) and John Howard (Australia) strut about the international stage, in some private club fantasy, pursuing a concocted goal which should have been rejected at the first hearing. The goal may have ostensibly been peace of earth and goodwill to all men, but as has been observed elsewhere, if you live by the sword you will more than probably die by the sword. But we should not be deceived; the business of America and its capitalist confreres is business and now they've decided, after a brief flirtation with the new age, ending abruptly on September 11, 2001, they have carte blanche to trample over whoever stands in the way of their pursuit of fertile soil for the seeds of greed - all dressed up for public consumption with the sweetening catch-cries of "democracy and freedom". So far not much has really changed; since the year dot it's been conquest, slaughter, the rise and fall of empires. Now we live in the time of the American Business Empire, its hegemonic vapours anaesthetising the sensibilities of millions. Not to mention the thousands vapourised by the military muscle of a nation led by a none too bright cowboy.
No Man’s Land
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