Rita Hayworth via Graham Greene


Do not cull your books – you will regret it

I started to cull my books recently. As old age approaches I routinely decide that I need to gain more space, and to really get rid of what I will never get around to reading, sort of like “use it, or lose it”. I noticed once, in a list of ‘best-ever books’, Stendahl’s Scarlet and Black. Some time later I spied a copy in an op-shop for $2, and promptly bought it. It has been gathering dust ever since. No disrespect to M. Stendahl, but I will never read it. Not even if he could arrange for someone, maybe his great grandson, to pay me.

There are other books, and authors, with whom I have a warmer relationship. The finds can be illuminating, and as often as not the books you find can be a trap, because once you start to pull them out of their hiding places, you are apt to find old friends, and enemies, and then your state of mind is thrown into turmoil. Forgive the over-wrought writing, but we are discussing literature, we hope, and it probably sends your pulse racing. N’est ce pas?

How does Graham Greene connect with Rita Hayworth?

One such book pulled from a dark corner was ‘Travels with My Aunt”, by Graham Greene. Greene died in 1991, and his reputation has not faded, as much as receded into the background, with qualifications. Easily pigeon-holed as a ‘Catholic writer’ he is so much more. Anyway, I happened on this book again, and found myself drawn down an interesting rabbit hole. Bear with me as I re-trace my steps.

Reading about his fictional aunt reminded me of what might be called a meme now, maybe a theme then; that of the rogue maiden aunt, who is wild and free, against all expectations, and unashamedly so! We have one in our family, but that is another story!

The name Auntie Mame sprang to mind, and having a minute on my hands, I googled the term. Were the fictional aunts connected, had Greene lifted the character, was his tale an original book, or was it all based on a movie, written by someone else?

Discovering Rita Hayworth – You will love her

The first entry for Auntie Mame was a YouTube film clip. It was of Rita Hayworth dancing, and her dancing was, to my untrained mind, spectacular. But even more spectacular was the fact that Rita Hayworth could actually dance, at all. I’d heard of her, but she was of the distant past. Some had described her as the most beautiful of the Hollywood female stars, but I expected that the funny hair-do, and the wooden speech, would lose me.

That video was of her dancing with Fred Astaire. We’ve all heard of him, but he is very definitely last century. You know, the 1950’s called, and they want their tap shoes back. The song is called “The Shorty George”, and I defy anyone with a pulse not to be gobsmacked by their virtuosity, and the swinging charm, and sheer joy, of it all. See it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUhhKELUxB0 You don’t see dancing like that, anywhere, anytime. She is one of six dancers to have danced with Fred Astaire, and also Gene Kelly. Gene Kelly was known as the most athletic of the male dancers in movies, but Rita Hayworth matches him, every step of the way. Watch this and breathe in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz3CPzdCDws If I sound awed, I am.

By now I was wasting lots of time, so I decided to waste some more. I looked Rita Hayworth up in Wikipedia. Her biography is relatively straightforward, but with profound and disturbing facts, which are treated as incidental, and almost glossed over.

From a very early age she was sexually abused by her father, and the abuse appears to have continued until at least early adulthood. She seems to have, in some ways at least, overcome this horrendous start, however, and managed to build a very successful career, over a long time. She was the most successful female actor of her generation.

She was however, then married to a succession of exploitative men, some of whom were introduced to her by her father, and she never found happiness with any of them. She was battling dangerous demons, however, and the Wikipedia entry tells a tale of monumental rages, escalating alcohol abuse, and mental deterioration. It is almost a relief when Alzheimer’s Disease makes an appearance, because she shows a steady decline in her physical and mental health. In this way the movie industry can move on. She has a disease, and that explains her demise. No problem.

There is no speculation about the effects on her, and her mental health, from her early, and sustained abuse. It is quite shocking to read, because it assumes a level of acceptance, of another one of life’s hurdles, with no sensibility of, and no admiration for, her resilience. And of course, her father is not mentioned again; he was not sent to jail, he seems to have sailed on into obscurity, and her life was shortened, so that she died at age 68. Her daughter looked after her until her premature death. Thank God for small mercies.

Of course she has been dead for thirty years now, but it seems that history has treated her roughly, and without due care and consideration. Her tale, to me, smacks of courage, character and indomitable will. Who knew her story in full? Her videos still deliver much, of vitality, of an inner beauty, and of joy. Fred Astaire always said she was his favourite dance partner. Watch her here, again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz3CPzdCDws

Travels with My Aunt is a great book. I must review it sometime.

A Tour of a Pentecostal Church service.


Each time Scott Morrison scandalises or shocks Australians with a new low in parliamentary, or Prime Ministerial standards, he is likely to completely blank any questions asked, or to make some sort of ‘take it or leave it’ rejoinder to the questioner, especially if the questioner is from the press. He seems not to understand that the press asks those questions on our behalf, and are not attending simply to be independently insolent.

Having gratuitously brought us into his confidence regarding his religion, he has consistently annoyed thinking Australians with his seeming disregard for accountability. Perhaps he answers only to his God.

Morrison is a member of the Australian Pentecostal Church. Last week I visited a church which falls under the umbrella of Morrison’s church, in order to better understand his beliefs, and also to perhaps explain his apparently unassailable, and unaccountable behaviour. He reeks of arrogance, which appears to be at odds with his professed Christianity.

The church in which I find myself, is known as a Central Christian Church, which is an affiliate of Assemblies of God in Australia, or so the pastor’s business card states.

I was in regional Australia, so the church was on the outskirts of a small regional city. It has a large parking area, and paddocks opposite, and to either side of the block. It shares the space with the Baptists, whose service is conducted at the same time, every Sunday morning. They are located in separate spaces, at opposite ends of a largish bush-style building.

The congregations share a tea room/kitchen, and after their respective services, they co-exist, without really mingling. Women from each congregation share the washing up duties, and the men form small groups, within their own, informally segregated areas.

The service in the Pentecostal ‘church’ was broken up into three separate segments. The first is rock and roll themed, with the congregation seated in family groups, watching the band, who are up on a stage. The music is ‘on’ the minute the service begins.

The band is made up of three backing musicians, with a girl and a boy singer out front. The boy singer has an electric guitar. The band is incredibly young, with all the members looking to be in their late teens, at most. They are well presented, dressed very much in ‘everyday’ clothes, but young, modern and wholesome.

The music they sing has a mild rock and roll sound, with two guitars, a drummer and the vocals provided by the boy and girl up-front. The words to the songs are projected onto the wall, and are easily read. They sing of worship, God as saviour, and there is a fair amount of allusion to “the Enemy”, who is the Devil. The songs are repetitious, and the depiction of the words on screen has the owner of the copyright indicated at the bottom of the screen. Most of the songs played that morning are attributable to Hillsong, the church founded and led by Morrison’s friend, Brian Houston. Presumably they are paying a royalty to Hillsong, for every song they play? There are several favourite songs, wherein God is described as the “keeper of promises”, the “light of the world” and generally regarded as reliable for those in need.

During the musical segment, various members of the congregation are inspired by the music, or the words, and engage in waving of the hands, apparent swooning from emotion, and gasps of “yes” and other fervent affirmations. The music is gentle, but it still has a regular beat, and is quite stirring, even to the stoical, or non-believing.

The second part of the programme is a type of personal reflection time. The pastor’s wife rises, and quietly bears witness to moments during her day when God and she speak, quietly chatting. She is not claiming anything otherworldly, but more a relaxed world wherein God is a real presence in her everyday life. The pastor takes over for moments of reflection, and then a man, very old and stooped, and wearing a woollen beanie, speaks clearly, with an old, but strong voice, about once being an angry man, who accepted God, and has now found peace. He is earnest, and believable, and he disappears back to his pew as quietly as he approached the microphone. There is no sense of staging, but a confidence that, whatever their message, they will be heard.

During this middle period there has been an informal coming and going of the very young, maybe five or six of them, of kindergarten age, and that number again of early teens, often in sibling groups, very cleanly presented, and loving towards each other. The group appears to have a low impact, peaceful dynamic, and I am constantly welcomed by older members, hands outstretched, enquiring as to whether I am an old devotee visiting from elsewhere, or maybe someone interested, perhaps searching? It is friendly, without being pressurised.

The third and final act is one where the pastor formally presents a sermon, with biblical citations, but an everyman’s interpretation of the language. There was a presumption that his congregation knew him, and his family members, and could relate to his search for tangible safety, amid the real dangers presented by evil, or temptation, in the body of the Devil. The subject matter was reasonably interesting, and dealt with the fact that God hears the voice of the faithful, and delivers, against the constant threat of evil. Moses, and Aaron, in their search for water in the desert, was the quest, and trust in God’s word was the solution, against a very real threat of failure.

He explained the nature of the universe, divided into three; the realm of the real world, the Kingdom of the Devil, and the Kingdom of God. The surprise, in such an everyday setting, is the weight that is afforded the Devil, and his ability to change outcomes. He is seen as very real, very vindictive, and very active. Mankind is shown to be in constant peril, and pretty helpless, without throwing his hat into God’s Kingdom. But once one has accepted God’s word, and God’s help, one is safe.

The overall impression I got from the ninety minutes was the dualistic nature of the beliefs expressed. Life was an eternal battle between the forces of Good, and Evil. Good would triumph, but only on the acceptance of God’s protection. Without it, one is exposed to the wiles and the evil power of the Devil, and it seems to be that man cannot hold out against that sort of power.

I wonder if this is a universal belief amongst all the Pentecostal believers, or was I merely exposed to the idiosyncratic beliefs of a regional pastor?

Having seen the workings of the church, and presuming that the beliefs on show were not too far from those which drive the current Prime Minister, what are we to make of his world-view?

Although the congregation was made up of well-meaning, kindly people with no obvious signs of elitism, or even judginess, there is the dualism, the division of the world into those for Good, versus those for Evil, the very belief in such figures as the Devil, the separation of those who are saved, against those who are not, the helplessness in a sea of turmoil … The list of uncomfortable, unsophisticated beliefs goes on.

I actually don’t care what gets Scott Morrison out of bed in the morning, other than to serve the Australian people. I care about his commitment to deliver honest, decent, humane government, and to ensure that the prime in Prime Minister means he asserts control over his ministers, and polices standards. His religion might even make this task easier, although I have yet to meet a ‘believer’ who actually lives by Christ’s code.

There is a troubling lack of humility in the man, as well. From his refusal to engage with the media, and his penchant for making one-off captain’s calls, without referral to us, the people. And his lack of human compassion is noteworthy. Back in 2011, when he was in opposition, he questioned the cost to the taxpayer of funerals for families mourning the loss of loved ones, lost in the Christmas Island shipwreck tragedy. His apology extended to the timing of his comments, and not to the substance. That is something of his style – part apologies, part truths.

His treatment of asylum seekers in the last six years, whether in the portfolio, or not, has set standards so low that many of us feel shame about our international reputation. And never forget that the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept. He has failed to remove Peter Dutton, who makes what should be career-ending mistakes almost every single day, and yet he continues to enjoy the PM’s confidence. And his treatment of those on Newstart is scandalously smug, ideologically driven, and wantonly cruel.

What does that say about the accidental Prime Minister? Are his beliefs blinding him to common humanity?