Past-life influences

When a little grandson struggled, while seated on his mother’s hip, to reach me each time I visited my daughter, and then hung on to me, I felt that this baby knew me. He had to be the son my wife and I lost 30 years before. My wife had a similar feeling.

Then I met a 6-month old baby relative who seemed to be angry or unhappy for no reason. He was supported by loving family and other relatives. At 3 years, he was still unco-operative and grumpy. By 7, he was a normal happy child. I surmised that a past life had bothered him severely initially.

Reliable research shows that some young children, all over the world, do remember their most recent past life; and that, by about 7 years of age, that memory is totally lost. I have seen videos of young children, clearly under 7, playing with great skill the piano, or the drums, or ‘conducting’ a musical program (in one instance playing with an orchestra). Only inbuilt soul-memories of past-life skills could explain such proficiency, but without the child being necessarily conscious of anything unusual.

Yet, I have had a frightening psychic ‘flashback’ of being buried alive. It was a very real experience, which took me about 3 days to overcome; I was way over 60 years old then! My then attempt to delve into my past lives, through auto-hypnosis, produced scenes involving red sand, again and again.

My urge, when facing overt discrimination, to wield a scimitar, has implications; perhaps of a deliverer of steely justice in another life. Yet, I have never seen a scimitar, but do feel an attraction. My wife noted that, asking why. Perhaps it is a past-life memory, I responded.

As well, when I was sketching designs for fabric painting, my initial designs replicated the shape of the beautiful mosques of Central Asia. So I discovered many years later. Perhaps this is why, in spite of being a Ceylonese, I was born amongst a tolerant Muslim people, the Malays.

Then there was an English fellow-migrant. She and I became blood-brother and sister soon after we met; there was a strong bond between us, discernible to others. Another psychic flashback showed that we had been twin brothers; our skin colour was white. We supported each other psychologically through turbulent lives, although separated by oceans for much of the time.

A local psychic healer, assisted by her Spirit Healer, told me about a couple of my past lives. Her intention was to alleviate physical pains reflecting past-life trauma. She was successful.

Another clairvoyant told me recently that she could see me in my scimitar-wielding past life. This view coincided with my earlier views of Central Asia. Was she reading my mind? Or, do clairvoyants, with assistance from the spirit realm, see scenes of relevance to the client?

In any event, since past-life memories are no doubt attached to one’s soul, could they not occasionally seep into one’s conscious mind or unconsciously affect one’s thoughts? Am I not my soul? With an accumulation of memories from many Earthly lives?



“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 5)

The path to peace

Taking House aside, Whicky explained that he was a member (even as a cat) of a Western family that had adopted Buddhism, the fastest growing faith in Australia. Together with Virginia, whose intuitive understanding of all things material and spiritual and whose grasp of the language of mice and cats implicitly indicated that she is the reincarnation of an old soul, he knew that Buddhist beliefs, like those of yoga, did not conflict with the teachings and rituals of the other major religions.

Whereas doctrinal differences have separated one religion from another – and such differences represent merely the egoistic pretensions of the guardians of the institutionalized faiths – Buddhism, by emphasizing the moral obligation of sentient beings, one to the other, encompassed the ethical teachings of Christ and all the other known religious and spiritual teachers. When one bypasses the gongs, drums, bells, chants, and the other rituals which had grown as encrustations to the Buddha’s original guidance – like the rituals purveyed by the priests of all the faiths – there is only one simple exhortation for one and all. And that is to offer love, protection, care, and compassion to others whose existence is also due to the universal Creator.

House was flabbergasted. Here was his old mate displaying so much wisdom, which also explained his tolerance of the tribe of mice sharing his home. Like Virginia, he too might be an old soul. Together, they would surely light the way for those not privileged to be so enlightened.

Whicky went on to explain his plan, which had been agreed to by Virginia. Both would lead House and his tribe in meditation – daily. Out in the open with the sun (another product of the Creator) bestowing its blessing upon them all, Virginia and Whicky would lead the Buddhist chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum.” This was only a variation of the “Om Nama Shivaya” chanted by the adepts of yoga or the simpler “Om.” Uttered through the back of the throat and drawn out over a few seconds, Om would reflect the primeval hum which preceded the Big Bang of the modern physicists’ cosmology.

With the support of the Committee of Wise Mice, House put Whicky’s plan to the tribe. Intrigued, a little confused, anxious, but desperate, the tribe agreed. The next day, out in the open, within sight of Max, the meditation program started. Max was intrigued. Closer and closer he came to the mice each day – merely to see what was happening. The closer he came, the more he was influenced by the aural aura of the chant. The more the chant engulfed him, the more he realized the peace which enveloped the mice. The more effective this peace on the mice, the more Max became absorbed spiritually. A warm, caressing, mist-like atmosphere bonded them all in a cocoon of mutual acceptance and tolerance.

Can mice and cats become imbued with spiritual peace or was Whicky’s plan an aberration? On the contrary, both mice and Max eventually became submerged into that ocean of consciousness from which the physical Cosmos arose. Thus was Max conditioned to change his ways; that is, not to eat mice. Thus did peace reign over the mice, the cats, and little Virginia. So says Virginia, the old soul.


Here ends the parable of mice and morality. Virginia’s sojourn into another improbable world awaits another day.


“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults (Part 4)

The Bell

The Committee met. They sat in a safe niche in the garden wall from which they could contemplate Max sunning himself. What was more disconcerting was that the mice could hear him purring in his lethargic state. Was he mentally visualizing his catch of the day? They were naturally aware that hunters, like sportsmen everywhere, tended, from time to time, to rehearse those actions which were essentially inherent in any success in their endeavors. Collectively, the mice then veered their minds away from such a debilitating and despairing vision.

When they began to consider their problem, their minds turned predictably to the idea of a bell tied to Max’s collar. This was normal. For minds, whether human or animal, tended, like cars and mountain goats, to follow the tracks already laid down. Some of the tracks of the mind would have been laid down generations ago, and genetically transferred. Like most of mankind, mousedom does not bother to ask, “How is it so?” I mean, who goes about asking, “Who made the sun rise today?” Of course, roosters in the farmyard (and humans born in the Chinese Year of the Rooster) intuitively know that they cause the sun to rise (when they start to crow). This they do when certain electromagnetic vibrations integral to both sentient life and the allegedly inert rock called Earth coincide. Such synchronicities are really not coincidences, but predictable – like the minds of House’s Committee of Wise Mice.

At their first meeting, they chose to live up to their name by deciding wisely not to call for submissions from the rest of the tribe. The thought of Mona (the moaner) and Porthos (the Insistent) offering relevant and sound advice was akin to believing that Max would suddenly fall dead. The morbidity of that menace, consequent upon some strategy concocted by the Committee, was to be deliberated upon later. Foremost in their collective minds was the bell. Virginia had already donated a light bell with a superior tinkle from her toy collection.

Their deliberations went thus. Logically, they first dealt with the question of how. That was easy. The bell would be tied with a loop of fishing line found in the garden to Max’s collar. The question of who led them unimaginatively to Virginia, but she was really too little. A Lilliputian solution was discarded as there was likely to result a great carnage. Mice are not like ants, capable of acting in concert. The prospect of achieving Nirvana prematurely through collective action, even in the interests of a common cause, was not enticing. The mice were not as foolish as those men described in the so-called World Wars of the twentieth century as gun fodder, and who seemingly periodically were sent to save empire, introduce democracy (even with a tribal twist), or to reduce the number of unemployables in the economy (dastardly as this may appear). Whicky, they knew, would not do it – he was an honorable cat. Conscripting an adult was to imagine the impossible. The bell was clearly out – never to be heard tinkling the arrival of terrible terror.

Deportation or death

Other options had to be considered. Could we, asked a Committee member, have Max taken away; that is, sort of deported? After all, some nations get rid of their unwanted residents by deportation. But then, the deportees-to-be first need to be identified as illegal residents. However, Max was a legal resident, adopted by his owners (Max’s imagined slaves). Ha, said the Committee, in our yard he is an illegal arrival like the boat people sailing onto Australian shores. Could we ban him from entry? What a lovely thought, the Committee said. But how? Have the garden hose turned on by a switch tripped by their infamous illegal as he hopped over the fence? No, this is beyond the capacity of mice, cats, and a little girl. In any event, mice too do not like to be made wet – not involuntarily.

Could we have the menace somehow removed, asked the Committee. I suppose the people living under the heavy heel of Stalin, Pol-Pot, or Hitler had asked the same question, said House – and in the same act of futility. Could Virginia’s family somehow convince the owners of Max to get rid of him? A parallel was the past practice of moving to another parish those members of the cloth accused of molesting some of their flock. Ah, that would mean, said House, opening the Pandora’s Box of the unusual connection between the normally unwanted fellow occupants of Virginia’s home (to wit, the mice) and the hitherto unknown and unbelievable communication (spoken and otherwise) between mice, cats, and their child. No, no, that would not do at all. Some matters are best left alone.

That Max might voluntarily keep away from Virginia’s back yard was not even considered, as it was totally improbable. Cats, like the Romini of old in mankind, are the most nomadic spirits in the animal kingdom, are they not? What then? Death? By suicide squad? A sort of jihad? Were there mice in Iraq or Palestine who might be consulted? Whereas there is no evidence of jihadist mice in these countries, perhaps they might offer advice based on their observations. House chuckled to himself at the thought of some of his tribe sidling up to Max with explosives strapped to their backs, ready to take their enemy and themselves to kingdom come – for no one escapes life alive.

The Committee met again and again – and found no solution. Unlike Senate Committees in certain parliaments in the Western world, the members of the Committee were one-pointed (in the vernacular of the Hindus); that is, totally focused on the point at issue. There were no divisive politics, no stage managing, no political mummery, and no bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. The urgency of their deliberations was indeed underlined by the daily loss of a constituent. If the mice had belonged to a religious institution, their priest would certainly have been very busy and the vendors of religious artifacts and icons would each have made a small fortune. For it is the nature of religion that the agony, fear, or uncertainty of the faithful provides the priests and profiteers with sufficient sustenance to submerge their own subliminal insecurities.

Finally, House and his Committee admitted defeat. Despondency descended. The derailment of the intended death-defeating drama of belling Max brought despair. House felt keenly the desolation of the failure of leadership. Then, hallelujah, a savior came to House’s aid. Miracles may be as rare as hens’ teeth, but they can occur. At a private meeting, Whicky suggested to House that he might have a solution. His idea was so problematic, he said, that the stars, which are normally value-neutral, might just take pity on the defenceless mice.



“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 3)

Whicky, the Tolerant

Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear! What is to be done with Maxwell? There he is, resplendent in his shiny black coat and sleekly cuddly because of his skill in capturing a mouse-sized snack each day. Yet he is grumpy. He does so want the respect that he feels he is entitled to because of his Egyptian heritage. At minimum, he would accept his birth name Maxwell. He thus hates Virginia’s Maxie-baby. She likes him in spite of not approving his extra-mealtime foraging. He hates more being called Max by the family, although he realizes that many Australians have grave difficulty in articulating words of more than two syllables – something to do with their low-brow ancestry, he feels.

He most hates the name Mangy Max that House prefers. Yet he accepts me addressing him as MM – a sign of pure friendship. On the other hand, yes, on the other paw, who else could he talk to since he barely deigns to recognize his human slaves? Of course, being required to be celibate makes him quite cranky and a little vicious. He has heard of similar behavior in certain religious schools in his neighborhood – which enables him to be more tolerant of himself. Ah, the self-satisfaction of self-satisfaction! Only we cat-gods can understand that.

In his arrogance, MM is ignorant of House’s plan for him. Virginia is, however, well aware of all that is going on. How so? She is strangely gifted. She is able to hear as well as understand the language of mice and cats in all their simplicity (a little like the Malay language now known as Bahasa) – and tells me all she knows. After all, she is my pet slave. And I suspect that in lifetimes past we may have been together in old Persia with her as queen and me as god. It is of course possible that our roles were reversed then. Gods have indeed been transmogrified (no pun intended) into humans since Earth became inhabited.

Unlike MM, I am able to share my home with House the Mouse and his mob. This is because I am aware, as the followers of the Buddha have taught for centuries before the advent of Christ, that all sentient beings are worthy of respect and care. Since, in their philosophy of the meaning of existence, the bodies of all sentient beings (that is, beings with the power of self-perception) are interchangeable as temporary homes for our souls, the imperative of mutual respect, if not love, is paramount as a guide for living. Did not Jesus later talk of the imperative of mutual love and care for fellow humans? Those of us who have been gods and humans are empathetic to his teaching, although we believe that it is regrettably truncated in its compass.

I think that it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for the mice to nobble MM by belling him. Could I help them? How? By holding him down while they tied a large bell round his fat neck? What would MM’s slaves say about that? Had the mice thought about that? MM’s slaves might indeed like MM to reduce the population of mice in the paddock, even if it is not their property. For it is the nature of the landed gentry, no matter how they had acquired their land, to exhibit an almost prurient (as in morbid) interest in adjacent properties. I wonder if in these circumstances little Virginia might be able to help. But how? She is indeed little and possibly not strong enough to either hold down MM or to tie the bell in a Lilliputian scenario with a horde of little mice tying down a sleek cat. Now that would be a sight, would it not – a descendant of one of the gods of ancient Egypt being held down by common, nomadic, foraging, lesser beings like mice?

House, the Leader

“My, oh my,” I said to myself soon after that tumultuous confabulation of the members of my tribe. “There’s that sleek slob of a sanctimonious, self-satisfied scum of the moggy breed, salivating in the sun, no doubt at the thought of a slight snack on the sly, so to speak.” To be fair, I realize that Mangy Max is only displaying an inherited instinct, neither greed, nor hunger, nor any viciousness. I am aware, even as a member of a lesser species of the animal kingdom, that the gods of yesteryear had already displayed an almost infinite capacity for destruction, acted upon with indifference (as is the right of the gods). It was their nature, as the ancient Hindus and early Greeks had been made painfully aware – the goddess Kali comes readily to mind. There were, of course, no pharmaceutical companies around then to modify or rein in an inherited behavioral attribute.

“What to do,” I thought, day by day, as Mangy Max pawed off yet another member of my tribe. There was, of course, no risk of total depletion of my mob. My tribe could indeed be compared with that major Christian sect which had, until recently, a great propensity to multiply. Eventually, in the same way that this sect would have out-numbered every other sect of every religion had its leaders been successful in their efforts to keep their women in the kitchen and perennially pregnant, so my tribe would have increased in a probably Malthusian manner; that is, where the available food could not fill all our empty bellies. I realize, only too sadly, that Mangy Max was thus in tune (even unconsciously) with the instincts of Gaia (the Soul of Earth). That is, I do realize that there has to be a balance between the capacity of Earth to produce nourishment and those bellies which need that nourishment.

Malthusian proclivities aside, there is the issue of fairness. Sneaking up on someone to kill, rather than to indulge in open warfare, is an act of a terrorist. My tribe has therefore started (perhaps in the manner of Emperor Bonsai) our own war on terrorism. However, just as European colonizers blasted their way around the world in recent centuries by using their big guns, so Mangy Max has the benefit of a big and heavy paw (or two, or four), each armed with sharp claws. My inoffensive tribe, like the poor so-called natives in all the ravaged continents, has no defense against a marauder offering pillage, rape, or sudden death. It must be recognized however that, in contrast with the destruction of whole economies and their associated societies (in the name of mercantilism and Christ), Mangy Max was, in reality, a relatively kindly soul. Yet, he had, as I have fervently repeated, to go or to be nobbled or to be made a Buddhist. That is, Mangy Max’s future has to be either conversion or containment or (as lesser options) deportation or death.

Being down-to-Earth, as good leaders are expected to be, I have set up a Committee of Wise Mice to inquire into the problem of who would bell this cat. Since we have no realistic way of belling our persecutor, I propose to widen the Committee’s terms of reference to examine appropriate alternatives. These (obviously) are to have Mangy Max destroyed, removed, reduced to incompetence as a mouser, or forced to change his ways; that is, not to eat mice.


Virginia continued her narrative. She might have been modeled on Scheherazade, but her motives were different: her life was not at risk!


“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 1)

This last piece of bicultural fiction in my book “Pithy Perspectives” has entranced readers. I offer it in segments, because of its length, but also to allow ‘Wordpress’ readers to digest the events presented. The New South Wales President of the Federation of Australian Writers was quite entranced by this parable.

The Plan

House spoke. He had the right to speak first because he was the Elder of the tribe. Speaking first has traditionally been understood in all manner of societies to indicate unobtrusively, implicitly, and without further sign or signal the authority necessary to lead. Yet, it was also understood that age or seniority did not necessarily deliver that authority. However, House’s tribe had agreed in that democratic way that had been lost since the demise of the Athenians (who, one might remember, had resided in that location which, nearly 1,500 years later, had become part of a new nation called Greece), that House was entitled to speak first.

So, House the mouse spoke first. But, as soon as he started to articulate his scrambled thoughts, for rapidly advancing age does tend to scramble – as with an egg in a frying pan being man-handled (so to speak) – thoughts, both formed and preformed, Mona (his number one wife) began to moan. Her moaning did not, however, discomfit the tribe because Mona always knew what House was going to say – so she claimed.

Was she clairvoyant? On the contrary, she had lived with House long enough to anticipate not only his words but also his thoughts. Ah, so she thought! She really should have consulted his sainted mother, now in the land of the angels, and thereby able to guide her. For House was not a common house mouse (that is how he received his pseudonym) or even a garden mouse. He was indeed an intellectual mouse who, when the moon was in conjunction with Pluto (not the neighbor’s dog), could not only see into the future but also anticipate trouble. That might explain why he had not been eaten by Whicky, the Persian cat who shared the house with him.

Whicky, so named by little Virginia who, at age eighteen months, had displayed the normal age-related inability to say certain sounds, was a very relaxed beast. He must have been since he seemed unable to see or even sense the presence of House when they were only a meter apart in the kitchen. But Whicky was not the problem. It was Mangy Maxwell (MM), Whicky’s best friend, who lived next door, who posed an existence-threatening problem. Existence is, of course, as Whicky had already intuited, an ephemeral matter. Well, not so much matter as energy perhaps. For, as the ancient Hindus have taught, not only is matter interchangeable with energy, all existence is only Maya; that is, neither real (but not in a Platonic sense) nor unreal and that both real and unreal are merely transitory emanations from that ocean of consciousness from which all objects with form and name arise.

To counter MM, the mice in House’s environs had tried travelling en masse. Yet, after each foraging trip through the paddocks adjoining House’s domain, there would be one less member. They believed that cunning MM had somehow managed to side-swipe into his maws one of their lot.

House had finally decided to have a confabulation. He, in his Whicky-derived wisdom – because it was Whicky’s demeanor which had allowed House to grow old and thereby wise – knew what the solution was. But, before he could speak, Mona had risen with all the authority of ancient wives to speak for him. Big mistake! Wife number two, Angelina, much younger and not as bound by habituation, was not about to let Mona upstage House. So she broke into the moaning that had just begun to flow like water over-flowing a bathtub and insisted – ever so courteously and in that acceptable voice of gentility which is far more persuasive than any other kind of oral delivery – that House should have his leadership say.

Gratefully, House stood up (on his hind legs of course) and spoke. He spoke with that authority which can only come from leadership – whether imposed or earned. He uttered these words of profound wisdom: “We need to bell that cat!”


The Problem

Thus, in the beginning were the words. The words were: “We need to bell that cat!”

Then came the void – the void of ocean-deep silence. And what silence! Was there such a silence after God had said to her entourage, “I am, there I create”?

The silence convinced House that he had not dropped a clanger. His suggested solution for the tribe was sound. That terrible silence surrounded the mice and suspended all potential sounds in much the same way as a sea mist seeps onto its foreshore, engulfing, as it were, all other matter whether alive or dead, animate or inanimate, conscious or unconscious. The silence which had suddenly flooded the consciousness of the mice was not as heavy as that winter fog that can press down upon one with its weight of moisture about to be deposited without discrimination upon freedom-filled flesh or feathers. It was also not like the summer mist that filters the dawning light to produce an enlightening glow which yet renders insubstantial all that it subsumes.

Instead, in that deep void of silence, all the brains brought to the confabulation of mice suddenly went berserk. Never had these brains been so stimulated. Never had the normal chatter of trivia which so occupies the lives of mice (and mankind) been silenced by the enormity of this plan of concerted action. And thus and thereby, all the brains went into hyper-drive. If channeled into some kind of propulsive mechanism, collectively they could have found themselves in one of the inter-galactic “worm-holes” alleged by certain speculative cosmologists to link any one universe with another.

But then what would mice know about the Cosmos? On the other hand, how are we humans to know whether intergalactic or interstellar travelers (viz. anthropologists, members of the food supply industry, or armament merchants) have not already insinuated themselves into each and every life-form on Earth? If this has already happened, it would only be an extension of the now well-known path of neo-colonialism. This process of entrapment of the resources and minds of “others” (that is, those who are not “us”) is currently being propagated with a prodigious proficiency by the lust of the last of the white-skinned colonizers. As ever, similarly pigment-deficient accumulators of the assets of others had, over a few recent centuries, not accepted that all humans are but projections from the one and only Creator of the universe and that the urge to control resources that transitorily belong to “others” is truly futile. After all, one cannot even take one’s material body into the ether on Judgment Day. It must be admitted, however, that mice normally do not bother themselves with matters which preoccupy the minds of socially sensitive souls of the human kind, intergalactic and interstellar observer-participants of mice (and mankind) possibly (and probably) excluded.

After an extended silence of the void created by many minds in gear, one mouse started to speak. In his excitement at having suddenly produced a clear and undeniable thought, he forgot to ask for permission to speak from the chairman, his tribal leader. House therefore would not accept his right to stand up (on his hind legs of course) and to speak. As soon as the others saw Porthos (the mouse who thought that he had a clear and undeniable thought) stand up, they erupted. Vesuvius, that great volcano of ancient lore, would have been envious. Fortunately, unlike that eruption that had destroyed Pompeii, the eruption at the confabulation of mice was only oral. An observer of this aural reverberation might be forgiven for remembering, with some amusement, that famous childhood aphorism: “I tought I tought I saw a puddy tat”. For any vision of the pussycat MM, whether real, imagined, or illusory, would certainly have caused a comparable decampment.

The dam was now broken. All those mouse brains in gear, silently churning all manner of clear ideas and fragmentary thoughts as well as visions and feelings not quite ready to be transformed mentally into unspoken words now switched from processing to projection. All that mental grinding, not unlike the grinding of the tectonic plates below the surface of Earth, led to the uplifting into potentially vocal sounds, again not unlike the uplifting of ground-up magma within a volcano, and finally to that mighty explosion of sound. Vesuvius would indeed have been envious.

In the process, poor Porthos was drowned out, but only aurally. Even if the sounds were all near-subliminal squeaks, the uproar was truly deafening. But House cleverly allowed them all to jump up and down and have their say. This they all did simultaneously. He realized that all that brain-power had to be released. He therefore waited patiently for that strange phenomenon demonstrated by large vocal groups: when all the froth and fury of self-expression had been exhausted, there would be a silence – the silence of uncertainty. The unspoken question would then be: “Where do we go from here?” Or, more pithily (as that great Chinese sage Lin Yu Tang might have said to his porcine pet): “What now, old sow?’



EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (4)

Academics come in diverse contours. The one I respected for both his intellect and his liberal philosophy was a Russian, a scholar at the Australian National University in Canberra, the national capital. His partner and he socialised with my wife and I, until he suddenly died. In a city full of self-important people, he stood out as one worth knowing.

This was in the 1960s. In the agency in which I was employed was an elderly-looking, grey-haired man. I invited him home for dinner regularly. We discovered that he had 2 Ph.Ds from a European nation, and was a piano player who made up his own tunes. He had family in Sydney; but we did not talk about that. Our conversations were yet rich.

An outstanding character was our medico, also a friend. He too ate with us regularly. A fourth-generation Chinese-Aussie with a wicked sense of humour, he would tell us (in confidence, of course) about all the mishaps which occurred at our hospital. Snooty doctors and matrons were made human by our friend.

How snooty were they? When my daughter was thrown by a horse and injured her neck, the specialist attending her at the hospital refused to talk to me. “You are not my patient” said he. I was the one to pay his bill. As well, many of the matrons (the title seems to have disappeared now) were reportedly not only authoritarian, but also rude.

How things change, but yet remain the same. We now have nurses with university degrees, some of whom talk about “delivering clinical services.” Reminds me of my early years in Australia when I met ‘engineers’ who were actually mechanics (their blackened finger nails so testified). I have also met a senior nurse in a major hospital who refused to bring my wife a glass of water, unless she asked for some pain killer medication. My wife had just been returned to her bed after major surgery – and she would be bed-bound for at least a week.

Status awareness so diminishes the human spirit. The national capital was overflowing with status-identification. Senior or rising public officials (known as public servants – a most misleading description) would not socialise with anyone below their classification. Academics, by and large, did not socialise with public officials. “What are you doing here?” asked a fellow-chairman of a school board, and an academic, when I was at a dinner given by an academic friend of mine. Our family doctor did not invite us to his wedding, although he had, as a bachelor, dined with us for years. His bride, a widow, had been of Sydney’s social elites.

Since retirement, I have met truckloads of fellow retirees. The notable characters amongst these are those ‘feather-dusters’ who strut around the place pretending to be the ‘roosters’ they had once been, or the ‘roosters’ they thought they should have been. Alas, a feather-duster is for ever a feather-duster, a retired nobody! Such is life.

EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (3)

Ranked high in this collection is my Indian drinking mate. Tall, erudite, and wearing a cracked lens in his glasses, he was a natural leader. My other drinking mate was the gentle-giant mountain-climbing Austrian. We had some interesting discussions.

I remember standing up to the Austrian at about 2 am at the International Conference set in a small township. He had advised me to keep away from his mountaineering girl friend. With my nose at about his chest level, I threatened to hit him, as she was a friend of mine too. His advice came after he had seen me protecting the girl’s right breast during a post-prandial talk-fest. The next morning, as he left to do some shopping, he agreed to buy me a bottle of brandy for the evening – a true friend. Youth can be forgiving.

Back in town, at about 10pm one night, a Malayan friend rang me in great consternation. During an encounter of joy with his landlady, his sheath had become torn. “How” I asked. A “corkscrew manoeuvre” he replied. “Run for the hills” was the only advice I could offer.

In the guest-house I lived in there arrived a young Dutchman from Indonesia, which had just gained independence. He always wore a cravat. I noted that he sought my company. Indeed, I seemed to attract European immigrants. Did they somehow feel my interest in their background, and in what they might have to say?

Amongst these was a sad Yugoslav ex-soldier who had been separated from his family by the war, and never heard of them again. An educated Greek, who had escaped the takeover of his nation by the ‘colonels’ (I believe that is how they were described) and the Yugoslav were employed as filing clerks where I worked.

An escapee from Col.Nasser in Egypt (I came to know well a number of these escapees) cleverly became wealthy in Australia; but was then jailed. When in jail, he was reliably described to me as “living like a king.” On release, he then joined his wife in the UK “in her castle” (so reported the media).

Then, once a week for about a year, I spent an hour absorbing the knowledge of a learned anthropologist, who had escaped the Nazis in time. He couldn’t get a university position (so it was said) because he had not studied the Aborigines. He was an erudite man, who widened my perspective on psychology to take in anthropology.

My interest in physiological psychology was raised by a lecturer who seemed to spend all his spare time writing political letters to the press – which kept him in the public eye. I disliked him because he denied me an honours pass that year “because you are only a pass student.” I was studying full-time (at the expense of my sleep) while also working full-time; and the head of the psychology department was encouraging me to work for an academic career in his discipline.