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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 23-Dec-2010

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 19

Wordcount: 964

Ho, ho, bro, such joy in da ‘hood



‘The house of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Elizabeth Farrelly,” the Herald Sun’s rabid blogger Andrew Bolt wrote in a moment of rare insight, “must be in a bad part of town.”

Bolt had his own twisted logic, as ever, but he got the conclusion right. So bad, in fact, is our part of town that, although ordinary terraces here routinely fetch well over a million, the ‘hood’s first sign of Christmas is the sudden flourish of back-lane dealer activity that says a new heroin shipment has arrived, bursting the country’s protective membrane for a genuinely festive season.

Junkies slump blissed-out in doorways, little happy bubbles hovering like cupids. Unmarked police, who abound for reasons noted above, ostentatiously harass lane-changers and footpath cyclists while, metres away, the smack boys do blatant business in the street. They lean in car windows, taking time out to say “G’day” as we pass. God rest ye merry merchants, may ye make the yuletide pay. Everyone’s happy at Christmas.

It’s generally about now – a day or so before The Birth – that I am flushed, squawking, from my hide of outright Christmas denial. I catch myself humming the Hallelujah Chorus while I clean the bath (yes, it has been known), or hoping vainly for an unamplified, un-celebritied, unfloodlit, unvarnished Carols by Candlelight, only to realise that was all over a month ago. Why do these things now happen in mid-November? Because the herald angels have been rebriefed to trumpet the Season of Ritual Retail.

But on the shopping front we suffer conflicting exhortations. There’s the spend, spend, spend moralism of a “retail-led recovery”, and there’s the knowledge that every fatted calf and techno-toy wears a huge environmental price tag.

So I’m torn. I’m sorry for the retailers, sure. (Although, after an hour in a three-person queue at Myer, not that sorry). But most people agree Christmas has been “better” this year, meaning less of a ghastly shop-fest. This has to be good. But still I’m not brave enough to tell the kids: “Uh, that present thing? We’re not doing that this year. We’re giving the money to charity.” It’s cowardice and I know it. But there it is.

Plus don’t you hate those loathsome e-cards, bringing the warm fuzzy feeling of having strayed onto someone’s database? I’d rather go without (and no doubt will, after this) than get the “Dear [name], this year we are saving carbon by…” Delete.

And when, grudgingly, I do start to shop, I find in the frenzied streets little enough of the hoped-for delight. It’s the lack of snow, perhaps, as much as the lack of love. Humid, harried and list-bound, we trudge glumly between cash registers, passing The Big Issue sellers, absorbed in conjuring what people who really do have everything could conceivably be considered to want.

Christmas makes me wish a feast were still something to yearn for. That the thought of plumped goose could still make your mouth water; that cherries and chocolates weren’t just quotidian fare and that Christmas-stocking oranges could make children’s eyes sparkle, instead of, oh, right, Mummy has been short of fillers again.

Yearning for less? Am I mad? I don’t crave a simpler life. I’ve no desire for downshifting or peasanthood, and harbour no illusion that life in an earlier era would bring me anything besides smallpoxed children and the ducking stool. (I know, there are those to

whom nothing could seem more apt.)

Rather, I see this yearning as a flickering of possible future.

It’s hard to feel sure the GFC really taught us anything. A bubble is bubble. It was always more than just the banks being stupid. It was all of us, letting our stomachs select a path our heads knew was crazy, as though limitless consumption were ever possible. We were all implicated. And the new semi-sobriety may or may not last.

But there are signs of a mood swing, all the same. Accompanying that under-spend is the increase in household savings, which (like our houses themselves) is bigger in Australia than elsewhere. More remarkably – noted the Reserve Bank assistant governor, Dr Philip Lowe – “unlike in the US, where household confidence is very low, this rise in saving has occurred … when confidence is quite high.”

I know ordinary middle class families who really do give their Christmas money to the needy, and their Christmas Day to spreading goodwill around those who are genuinely short. (I may even take time out from gluttony to do this myself, if they’ll have me. Last time I volunteered for charity work I was rejected, being underqualified. Do not ask how they measured this.)

There’s Cancun, which, if nothing else, did establish a Green Climate Fund to channel UN assistance to poor countries. This, after all, is barely even fair. We rich countries had the fun of generating climate change; now the poor countries get the fun of coping with it.

And there’s the new billionaires club, the Giving Pledge, which, however cynical you try to be – and trust me, where billionaires are concerned, I try – looks genuinely like noblesse oblige.

Started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, its now 57 signatories have pledged most of their immense wealth to world betterment projects.

Of course, you can argue this just keeps them on top. They still get to enjoy making all that the money, then – without sacrificing lifestyle – they get the pleasure of giving, as well.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Giving is the highest pleasure; not selfless, just enlightened – which is exactly what the world needs, if it’s survival we’re after. So I’m anticipating the Christmas when the smack dealers start handing out cash to the bros and hos in our street. Then we’ll know Jesus was da Man.




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