The Way It Could Be.
Part 6 of 6.
Day 3: Afternoon
By the time he returned to the green there were more people there than Mike had seen previously, mostly milling around tables and stalls set up on the edge of the Green outside the workshop and under its front awning. Some people were still setting up, carrying in boxes and taking things out to put on the benches.
"Markets open," said Pete. "Go and have a look at whats on sale."
"A lot of people here," Said Mike.
"People come in from the surrounding homesteads and hamlets on Saturday afternoon."
Mike strolled through the throng. Everyone seemed to be chatting to someone, some in little groups. Many were trading, buying things or carrying boxes away. Many were just sitting in chairs on the Green. Kids were running around noisily.
At first Mike couldnt work out what was unusual about the situation but then it dawned on him that everything on sale had been grown or made by the sellers. There were no imported items for sale, and no trashy trivia. There were many food items, mostly unpackaged fruit and vegetables, but also pottery, leatherwork, candles, bottled jams and honey and pickles, clothing, materials, bundles of things that looked as if they would be used in craft work. He spoke to a lady sitting at a bench with table mats, croche work, table clothes, and a quilt, and found that these were samples and that she was mainly taking orders for items to make, discussing patterns with potential customers. Some of the vendors had very little to sell, a few boxes of seedlings or fruit, a small range of toys. One table had a range of bottles of honey with different flavours. Several had toys for sale, some wooden and many soft sewn. Some had only one item to sell, such as a bike. A chest of draws had a sign on it, but no vendor in sight. Mike heard more than one trading pair arranging a barter rather than a monetary exchange.
He had almost arrived at the last table when he spotted Barry and a lady sitting at a bench talking. He watched idly for a few moments, then it struck him that here was an opportunity to sort Jan out. Before long the lady left and he went across, sat down and started talking to Barry. He toyed with the idea of asking straight out whether hed been an eye surgeon. But he thought it best to approach indirectly.
"How are you finding you visit?" Barry asked. This led to a discussion of some of Mikes experiences and inevitably to the hunt. Barry had the language and manners Mike thought would go with him being a professional but then he notices Barrys forearms were almost blacksmith grade. On one was a large sticking plaster. Mike saw a chance here.
"I got hit by a hot rivet. Didnt have it aligned well and when my stiker hit it shot out sideways. Good workmen dont injure themselves they say."
"So you do metal work?"
"Oh yes, not so often these days though. We were repairing a heavy gate and "
A voice interrupted, "Barry, Emily says she wants you to bring a lettuce home sorry to interrupt but Im on the run."
Mike turned to see a boy looking over his shoulder as he walked away. Barry called, "Alright. Are you going to perform tonight?"
"Great. Looking forward to it."
Just then, over Barrys shoulder Mike saw Jan on the other side of the green and immediately he wondered what would she think if she knew he was trying to pump Barry. Shed probably think he wasnt very good at it, for an investigative journalist.
Barry had turned back as if to start talking again, and Mike saw there was about a second in which the conversation would go one way or the other. What would Jan think? More to the point what had she said? Would she want him to find out? The thoughts collided and indecision wasted more than that one second. Barry was saying, "Theyre just great those kids. Theyre a gym club. Theyll be doing some tumbling and balancing for us later." Mike chatted about this for a while and knew he was not going to try creeping up on eye surgery, at least not this time maybe thered be another chance later in the day.
Then it hit him. These were his last few hours at the Glen. He was getting the only train stopping that day, the 9.35 p.m.
A change of pace was evident. People were beginning to pack up their wares, and some of the tables were being carried back into the workshop. A loud gong sounded just as Pete came over to where Mike was sitting.
"Working bee time. We organise some of them for a couple of hours mid afternoon on festival day. Suits people who live further out. Remember you and I are down to have a crack at Elsies tree?"
"Hey Im on that gang too," Barry said, getting up.
Pete led into the workshop. "Trevors in charge of this job."
" I didnt think you had any bosses around here."
"We dont. Trevs just taken on nutting out the coordination. Hes had a look at the job and knows what well need to do and what gear. By the way out here is our public works depot. See, lots of chains, crow bars, saws, jacks, tarps, shackles, you name it. All the gear a working bee might need. Anyone can borrow it anytime but its town property mainly used to do town maintenance chores. Mostly hand tools youll note, although we have a small tractor."
A four people were rummaging around, assembling ropes and chains and saws. Pete made sure Mike had met the others.
"Are we taking the chainsaw Trev?"
"No, the cross cut will do. Your technique needs a bit of practice. Actually its not a big tree."
They picked up the gear and walked out through the back of the workshop.
"Whats the tree problem?" asked Mike.
"Ah, very sad," Barry explained. "Its a lovely blue gum thats suddenly gone delinquent. Got a lean on it in the big rain and blow we had last week, must have weakened the roots hold. Anyway the bigger it gets the more it will threaten Elsies veranda, so hed better go."
After less than ten minutes walk they came to a cottage on the edge of the settlement. An elderly lady wearing an apron came out to greet them and led the way down the side of the house. There was the culprit. Mikes response surprised himself. What a pity to have to cut down such a nice healthy tree. It was really only middling size , but a noble beast, well proportioned with a long straight trunk and a heavy canopy.
People went straight into action without much discussion. Everyone seemed to start doing something useful making Mike feel a little out of place.
"What do you think Jack, take the one cable over to the Blackbutt there? Thatll be enough to make sure it swings to the East a bit more?
"Yes, thatll be fine. You organise that and Ill start taking a scarf out."
Jack was standing at the butt of the tree with an axe, looking around to line up the fall, then he started to chop out a V. Meanwhile Trevor and one of the others had sorted out a roll of light cord and he began to swing a small weight, then let it go, to sail up and over a high branch. Cheers. "Hey youre getting good at that."
One of them pulled the cord over the bough as another clipped the wire rope to the other end and soon they had the wire shackled to a block and tackle chained to the base of the blackbutt. Three of them took up the slack and formed a line on the heavy rope running from the triple block. Mean while Jack had finished cutting, put the axe aside and took one end of the double crosscut saw Trevor had ready. They knelt and after a few short strokes to get the blade through the bark they swung into a long powerful action ripping fast through the wood and spraying orange sawdust onto Trevors boot. After only a few seconds they paused and Trevor stood to check everything. "Better take it up now I think," he said to the team on the rope, and they leaned into their task making the top of the tree sway. He and Jack got back to the sawing and within less than a minute cracking was audible and then it slowly started to fall. Trevor and Jack stood and stepped back diagonally a few paces. The team on the rope began to move back faster and ended up running as their pulling swung the tree to crash on the open lawn.
As the noise subsided Mike was surprised to hear a mournful wailing. He looked to the side and one of the rope team was standing with arms in the air chanting in a high pitched voice. Some of the others joined in.
Mike looked at Pete quizzically. "Oh its a lament, a wake, funeral oration you might say. Sadness for the loss of a noble life, and gratitude for his services to us."
"Yes, for what he has done and for what he is about to do."
"Hes about to become log cabin walls and flooring. Well knock him into logs now and later hell be taken down to the mill to be sawn. Tops will go to the methanol plant."
The tree had hardly hit the ground before Barry, Mandy and Mike moved in and began cutting up the branches and dragging them away to stack neatly. Barry seemed surprisingly wiry and agile for his considerable age. Mike could now see that he was capable of much more than delivering eggs.
"Whats the cabin, 6 by 4 isnt it Trev?"
"Yes. I estimate we will only get one of each out of it. Ill measure."
"Leave enough to lop off that scarf bit."
Trevor used a pocket tape and a crayon to mark the lengths.
Pete said to Mike, "Well get two nice logs out of this trunk for the log cabin we re going to build down near the big lake. It ll be another little bunk house for a couple of visitors."
Trevor and Jack had the cross cut saw flying again and had soon cleaned up the jagged end of the log. Some of the others had moved in with two crobars and bits of branches to lift the trunk where the first main cut would go, to prevent the saw jamming. Mike began dragging one of the bigger branches to the heap. Amanda said to him, "Wait a bit, Ill get another little post out of that one."
"Alright. Post for what?"
"Nothing in particular but we hack up the thin bits into whatever will be useful if we can. That lower end is straight enough to make a rail or small post. The scruffy bits will become fire wood well leave for Elsie."
"Damn!" someone said, having got his saw jammed in one of the bigger branches. "I thought the balance was further back and the cut would open as I got through, but its leaning on that other branch there. Can someone lift the end a bit?"
"Ill do it," said Mike and began to climb over branches. They both lifted but couldnt free the saw. "Hang on, Ill get my back under it and use my legs."
They were both perched awkwardly with feet on branches a metre off the ground but Mike was able to lift enough to allow Dan to saw furiously until cracking was heard and the weight came off. But as Mike moved out of the way his foot slipped and his shin hit the branch hed been standing on. He let out a yelp although he knew it wasnt anything serious, but he sat back awkwardly on another light branch, which bent, and he found he couldnt get his foot out.
"Whats up?" called Trevor.
"Damn. Im stuck." Then with some alarm he realised he was sliding sideways and down, further jamming his leg.
From out of nowhere Barry scrambled through the foliage, plunged a crowbar between the offending branches and quickly levered them apart enabling Mike to slide backside first to the grown.
"Aw, bad luck mate, youve barked your shin," he said. "Mikes barked his shin."
"Its nothing; bit of skin off," as he sat rubbing his leg vigorously. "Thanks for getting me out."
"Sure youre OK? Mandy, can you get the kit?"
Mike hobbled out of the branches and sat on the log. Mandy and Barry fussed around and had a bandage on in no time. "We always bring a first aid kit," said Pete.
"Any brandy in it?" asked Mike, as he stood up.
"Hows it feel?"
"Fine, no problem. Thanks doc. Just send the bill."
"Sorry you got clobbered," said Barry.
"No problem. Shouldve been more careful. Thanks again for the quick crow bar work." He couldnt help wondering whether the arms responsible belonged to a blacksmith or an eye surgeon.
Mike helped Mandy put the kit together again and then went back to helping with the dragging and stacking.
His shin was a bit sorer than he had let on, but the event had had a strange effect on him. It impacted as a kind of turning point, an initiation. He was a member of this team, doing a humble but important job, doing it quietly and efficiently. At last he had ceased being a mere useless observer, an aloof outsider taking notes on the natives, and had joined them and felt good about being useful, and was conscious of a vague sense of commararderie. Nothing like what it must be like on the battle field of course, but its nice to work with friends to get the job done, and to take a little pride in how well we are doing it, and to appreciate how your mates are competent and conscientious, all of us quietly doing something good for someone. And as a bonus, to have gone through a painful ceremony of acceptance!
Then he realised, he hadnt thought to bring his notepad. But strangely he was not wishing he had it. It had symbolised his separateness, his role as outside observer, studying the natives. Somehow that was no longer quite how he felt.
In no time the poor old blue gum had been reduced to a few neat and pathetically small piles of logs and sticks. As Jack was raking up the last of the wood chips and leaves and others were winding up ropes Elsie appeared on the veranda with tea, biscuits and scones. They sat in view of the job well done, chatting and complimenting Elsie on her cooking. She thanked them for dealing with the tree, but Mike thought she could have been more expressive. He would have made much more fuss if people had done all that for him. After all to get a tree lopper in would have cost several hundred dollars.
After a little thought as they were walking back he mentioned this to Pete. Pete said, "I think the difference is that were quite used to mutual assistance around here. Elsies grateful, we know that, but she didnt need to go on about it. Its just standard practice that if you suddenly have a tree problem you cant handle people will organise to come and fix it. Now what you might not realize is that for decades Elsie has been doing things like that for everyone else. Shes not so active now but she helps on working bees and takes loads of veggies and eggs down to the surplus benches, and is always ready to come over and help others. She helped with organising the hunt."
"Yes I can see thats different. Where I come from if someone cut your tree down for nothing it would be unusual and youd feel it appropriate to make a big fuss. "
"Yes, you mainstream people live as a individuals who have to buy and pay for everything you get, so you feel obliged to repay precisely, even if its only thanks. Here were giving and receiving all the time so this one tree event doesnt stand out as something that needs to be paid for especially. We all know that although we in a sense gave something today, thats only part of the big picture where we get a lot in the long term."
"Is there any sense of keeping a tally?"
"No. You know that in the long run you will get as good as you gave, more or less. And of course, did we give anything really, on balance? Or did we have an enjoyable time? Something different to do. A chance to exercise some skills we havent used for a while. Got some exercise. Nice to work with a team that knows what its doing, because weve dealt with lots of trees before. Nice to feel that our town can do this competently and easily -- we have the gear and the experience and the organization. Nice to work with people whore pitching in to help someone. Nice to think about the social credit, the solidarity events like this maintain. Would you have preferred to sit at home and watch a football game?"
"No, despite my shin. Maybe we should go back and pay Elsie. Hey isnt Barry fit for his age?
"Yes. Older people around here are in good shape. Look at Elsie, and Gran."
"I guess its because they keep so active. By the way, Ive decided not to sue."
"Oh thats a relief. By the way, weve decided not to charge for the medical attention."
As they came into the workshop to return the equipment Jan was there. Pete called out loudly, "Were back. Heroes return from great battle against Nature. Tree vanquished. We won! We cut the puny bastard to shreds. Human superiority confirmed again. Mere wood no match for steel forged in fire and shaped by the mind of man. And Mike was magnificent. Fought bravely. Right in the thick of the fray, flailing about with bits of the fallen giant. But he suffered grievous wounds. The enemy got through his guard and dealt him a dastardly to the shin how low can you get! Hail to the brave warrior here. Hang up your shield great Sir Michael and put yer feet up mate."
"Peter Shaddup! Want a cuppa?"
"Not me. Elsie filled us up."
"Well get moving or youll be late for the banquet."
Back on the Green Mike saw people setting up tables and chairs and unloading things from barrows and horse-drawn trailers. The tables had been spread with loads of tucker and elaborate decorations. One was an ornate silver galleon. "What an odd thing to have on the table," Mike said to Jan.
She laughed. "Thats the salt. You know, at the royal table there would be an elaborate salt container and the really superior people sat between it and the king. If you were seated below the salt you were of inferior status. Wheres the salt on this table?"
Mike looked. "Right at the end."
"Correct. No one sites above or below this one! There are other symbolic things on the table too."
Mike thought about jotting that in his notepad, but couldnt be bothered getting it out of his shirt pocket.
Before long everyone was tucking into the banquet, some sitting in deck chairs, some wandering around handing around plates of food, some standing in little groups.
Boys and girls dressed in peasant finery came out of the workshop carrying large pots of hot soup and bread. The gong sounded. "Grubs on !" said Pete for Mikes benefit. No one else needed the prompt. People swarmed to the tables and began loading up their plates. Chatter and laughter almost drowned out the sound of the string quartet playing their hearts out just inside the ring of tables. "One of our pumpkins is in this soup," said Jan.
The peasants brought out other dishes from time to time. The late afternoon light began to fade prematurely. "Rains still about," said Pete.
"Hope it holds off until the performance is over," said Mike.
"Yes, but if it starts well just cram into the workshop."
From behind him came a cheery "Hi Mike!" He turned and there were four girls, one of them Amy. Then he realised the one next to her was Penny. All wore big smiles on their faces.
"Oh, hi there?"
He stared to see what Penny looked like without her mask.
"Heard you hurt your leg," said Amy.
"Yeah. Hey we both got a crook shank now. Hows yours?"
"OK. Howd you like the hunt?"
"Great. More to the point," he said turning to Penny, "howd you get on. I was worried about you and your mate there for a while."
"We were OK," Penny said. All the girls seemed to be in a slightly giggly mood, probably hyped up by the party atmosphere. Kids were everywhere hurtling about and making a lot of noise.
"Is Charlie still here?" asked Mike.
"No. They all left on a bus while you were on working bee."
"Oh, sorry I didnt say goodbye."
"He was great wasnt he? Funny guy. I thought he was mean and nasty at first."
"Me too. But I guess that hunt does strange things to people."
"Sure does," said Amy, still beaming. "When are you going home?"
"Pity you cant stay longer. There are lots of places we could show you. You havent been to the hills at all."
"Well maybe next time, eh?"
"OK, its a date."
They ran off as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving Mike a little confused. For some reason he was in Amys good books at last.
About ten youngsters began to put down mats in a row, and positioned a mini tramp. The gong sounded and kids began to tumble across the mats, build pyramids and generally have a great time. It was more like a fun work out for the club than a performance, with the big ones helping the littlies to go for moves they were still learning. It seemed to Mike as if some of them were good enough to get a job in a circus. Two were excellent jugglers and one had almost mastered unicycle. There was much goofing around and miming. At times all the other action would stop as two or three acted out a comical little scene, like the two drunks trying but failing to have a fight. A boy and a girl did some pair balancing to music from the quartet that moved into a semi-circle close behind them.
A clown came on, demanded to have a go at everything, and crashed in a variety of comical ways. But then he charged at the mini tramp, flew high into the air, and his baggy pants came off. He ripped his jacket and face mask off almost before he landed, to reveal a lithe and fit looking acrobat in tights. He turned, and ran back into a blur of tumbling, to the cheers of the crowd. The troupe packed up and left abruptly.
Within minutes the quartet had somehow grown into a large group which began belting out lively tunes. People got back to milling around, eating and talking. A few began to dance in front of the musicians. It was now fairly dark, with the low cloud ominous but holding off.
Amanda and Alice were sitting with them. Harry and Frieda came over and chairs and benches were shuffled into a rough circle.
"Hows it been? Harry asked Mike. "How do you like our little Glen?"
"Just great," said Mike. "Really cute. A lot of how it works is still hard to sort out though."
"Oh, such as?"
"Well, one thing is I guess why the pace is so relaxed. Ive explained to Pete and Jan, where I come from lifes about finding something to produce and sell, and its not easy. It doesnt seem to be like that here. Most of you seem to spend most of your time pottering around doing things you feel like, without having to worry about selling your labour or some product."
"Yeah, we think you lot work about three times too hard!" Amanda said. "Much of thats because you are forced to waste your energy in zero-sum struggles against each other for things that should not be scarce in the first place."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we avoid the terrible problem of vast numbers of people pushing on doing things that are unnecessary, harmful or criminal, simply because they have no alternative way of getting an income. For example why do some people continue to advertise cigarettes, or produce weapons. Most of them would probably happily stop doing those things if they could get a job doing something else. But thats not possible in your economy; its difficult to get a job doing anything. So you have many millions of people working at so many stupidly unnecessary and wasteful things."
Harry had to jump in. "Meanwhile many people are trying desperately to begin little businesses, and they go bankrupt because there isnt room for them. Whatever theyre trying to get into theres already too many people doing that. And then theres all the time and effort and worry and resource use due to firms competing against each other for the same limited market, like Coke and Pepsi trying to get soft drink sales from each other. All because you have an economy where everyone must search for something to produce and sell when theres already far more being produced and sold than is needed."
Amanda again. "We avoid all that terrible waste of resources and time and work and the wreckage that comes from the struggle to be among the winners. We do it simply by making sure just enough of our productive capacity is organised to produce whats needed."
Suddenly Mike thought to ask, "What about disabled people here. How are they cared for?"
Harry said, "Well, really no one is disabled. We all just have different abilities. I cant sing. Percy Hodges cant walk. Daphne Simpson cant speak well. But therere useful and satisfying things we can all do. Daphnes twelve now and shell probably never be able to do arithmetic but she helps her family on the farm, joins in working bees, and does lots of useful things. When she feeds the chickens thats something that needs doing and its less for others to do. So we simply make sure all people who have some kind of difficulty are able to contribute to some of the work that needs doing. Its all looked after by a subgroup of the economics committee, the one that allocates paid work and makes sure everyone who wants work gets a share."
Predictably Amanda took a more critical angle. "Think about how your society deals with disability. It doesnt provide enough jobs for people with university degrees, let alone for people like Daphne. Her parents would be left with the problem because no one in her street would help much. Her parents would have to go to work each day so shed soon be put in an institution, creating a need for professional carers, but your government would refuse to give enough money to provide for her, so shed be bored and neglected at best. Shed have a rotten life and would be a social cost. Here she has a nice life and helps to meet costs."
"Its the same with aged people," Harry said. "To you they are a troublesome and costly problem. Firstly you cut them off from making any contribution, through compulsory retirement, and then you have to provide expensive housing and professional care. They have nothing to do all day. Firstly we dont have retirement. People with life time experience just go on doing their job, tapering down as they wish, maybe teaching more than doing. They are of huge value in the community because of their experience and knowledge, especially their memory of local conditions and events. They know that there can be a severe frost or drought that affects this or that crop every ten years, or that variety of grape just doesnt thrive here, or that something was tried years ago and didnt work, or bush fires have never taken in that gully. They know people well so they can feed in advice on how best to handle problems. They can do many valuable things within the household economy, like cook fabulous dinners -- what skills more important than that. They are our priceless village elders, valued for their wisdom, with many important things to do all day."
It had become dark although the banquet was lit from the workshop and from a number of fires that had been started in stone fireplaces around the edge of the green. Mike made what he swore would be his last trip to the food tables, dawdled back to where Pete was sitting back in his chair, legs out in front and hands behind his head, just staring at the green now cluttered with groups mostly sitting and lying on the grass
"What are you thinking Pete."
After a few seconds Pete said, "Im looking at this scene and thinking to myself, this is what its all about isnt it? Who could want anything more than to be part of this. A fabulous feast, after a great day. Fabulous entertainment. Bottle of Maggies moonshine beside me, half empty now though. And among people who are not just my friends, but people who are so admirable, noble. Thats the most valuable thing you know. These people are not just friendly and caring and helpful. They are great citizens. They care about, think about their society, they focus on the good of the town, they can sort issues out, they can deal with difficult cases and express criticism without rancor, they can defuse conflict. They are very very wise. And they are humble. They are not conceited concerned about image. Look at Gran over there. She knits the best jumpers in the universe, and cooks the best baked dinners and Christmas cakes, but isnt interested in being praised. And, most important of all I think, they are not greedy. They dont want titles or wealth or luxuries or high incomes or big cars and houses. Theyre content with frugal sufficiency. Dont you just love Harrys duds. Harry refuses to speak proper English you know, because of his contempt for the pretentious airs of the privileged classes. Wears duds that risk prosecution for indecent exposure, despises the fees his city colleagues charge, and if the wind blows the roof off my house tonight hell be over before it hits the ground, and Frieda will be five seconds behind him with some hot scones wrapped in a tea towel. Look at Toby over there. He could never get a job in your society. Cant even read or write, but he is a great fellow, always cheerful, always helpful, works hard on working bees, cares for his sheep as if they were close relatives. These people are good, humble, solid citizens. Without them you cant have a satisfactory society. Just knowing they exist is the main thing that sustains my morale."
"And Ill tell you another thing about them. They are critical. They think clearly and fiercely and thoroughly. They will nut things out, logically. They will see the faults, theyll see the better way. Theyll look for the assumptions and check them out, and theyll tell you where you are wrong, nicely. Thats so reassuring. I know that if theres something I need to get right or the town needs to get right, there are people here who will help with that and will be good at it. Why are they like that? Because again we all know that our dependence on this locality means we must get the right answers or we wont get the food and the water and the energy and the community we must have. In that situation you dont muck around, you dont tolerate sloppy or emotional or invalid or deceitful reasoning. You have to get it right. And you have to be able to reason and explain things well to others, because we all have to agree on what to do."
"I can see the logic there, but Im surprised at you saying people are critical. They seem nice to me, not fierce, in fact I sometimes think you are too easy going."
"Oh, critical doesnt mean hostile or, nasty or even negative. It means thorough and careful and reliable I think. It means being determined to sort the issue out, get to the bottom of it. Sometimes youd think someone was a bit abrupt or abrasive, saying I dont think thats right, or Why? but after you explain they can say, OK, I see, yes I think thats right. To question is not to contradict or condemn or attack. Im delighted to have my utterances questioned all the time, because that means others are interested in helping me sort out what I mean and whether my position is sound. People around here are very critical and very nice about it. Its important to be both, because its important to convey a different view in a friendly way, so theres the best chance it will be taken on board. Those people are very good at all this, because we have had years of practice at these kinds of interpersonal skills that are crucial for making the town work."
Neither said anything for some time. Pet hit the bottle again.
"For several thousand years humans have wished they could find the secret that would emancipate them from the horrors tyrants, governments and their peers inflict -- and we have it. Its good people like these. Gawd, dont Maggies booze make a man rattle on."
He took another swig straight from the bottle.
"Not that they are saints mind you. Im not saying theyre perfect. They are full of quirks, irritating blemishes and weaknesses, me included. I drone on too much, even without Maggies moonshine. Jan is too hot headed at times. Harry overdoes the yokel thing. He tries too hard to contradict the typical arrogance of the professional. Tom can be as stubborn as a mule. And Andrea gets too angry; shes right of course, but theres no point getting that cranky. So we are all lumpy, scruffy, imperfect humans, but they are precious. You, young Micheal, cannot possibly get out of your mess without these extraordinary ordinary people."
"Im not sure I follow you there."
"Ah it must be the grog. Let me put it this way." He thought for a few seconds. "What is the most precious thing we have here Mike? What is the core source of our great wealth and security?"
Mike didnt say anything.
"We are very secure in so many important ways. If a storm damages my house I know people will come over immediately to help out, and I know that tomorrow they will start work on repairing it. I know that if Im ill lots of people will care and will drop in and will do the housework or run me to the doctor. I know there will always be some one in the neighbourhood center I can chat to or watch potting or get advice from. I know there will always be a warm gathering of friends at Marios most nights and many there on Saturday night and there will be great entertainment. I know there will always be Marys Dell to sit in, and this beautiful landscape to soak up. I know Ill always have stacks of perfect fruit and vegetables. I know people around here will think carefully about whats good for us all, they are very concerned to see whats best for the town done, they will take the trouble to discus and research. They know it is crucial to sort issues out and get the right answers, or well all be sorry, so they dont obscure issues or bluff or try to get away with shoddy thinking. I can trust them; I respect their wisdom and conscientiousness. I know they will examine ideas critically but sympathetically. They know the history of the place, its soils, past issues, what people want, what we have found works best. They are good, reliable concerned people with the welfare of this place at heart. They would not tolerate for an instant someone being poor or unemployed or lonely. Above all they understand the global situation, and that the simpler way is crucial if global problems are to be solved. And they clearly understand that dependence on leaders is not acceptable, that its no good expecting a few leaders to make the decisions that will lead an apathetic mass to satisfactory solutions."
Mike chose to nod and let Pete go on.
"And what about my wealth? I am rich beyond measure arent I? I have access to all these skilled and caring and interesting and wise and nice people. I can learn from them almost anything, any time. I benefit from their great wisdom and skill at meetings. Look at the landscape I have. Look at the perfect food. Look at the workshop and the dells and ponds and Alices poetry and the performances on Saturday night and Alvins fiddle. That is great wealth. Now what secures it for me?
"Yeah you get it from the people here, from their mentality and values and ways of thinking."
"Yes, thats right. The most precious of all things, the source of the wealthy and security and happiness, is not a powerful economy, or technical wizardry, or a charismatic Prime Minister, or great military power or sacrifices to the gods. It is the responsible citizenship that comes from the fact that most ordinary people have the right ideas, values, habits, ways and commitments in their minds of and the hearts. Without this you cannot achieve a good society and you cannot guarantee its maintenance."
Mike nodded gain.
"Think about Marys Dell, that magical beautiful, magical place, surrounded by maybe 300giant spotted gums now. That timber would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now what if someone wanted to cut those trees down and e sell them? Should I worry about that possibility?""
What if some entrepreneur wanted to build a supermarket in the center of town and put all our small firms out of business? Should I worry about that possibility? No I dont, because I know that no one around here would tolerate those things for a micro-second. Theres my security in the knowledge that people around here have the right values and are fiercely vigilant and could not be budged from those commitments. I know that if problems that could threaten our way of life started to develop people would identify them immediately and deal with them sensibly and cooperatively and effectively. And they do that not out of any sense of burden. They do it because they like being in control of their fate, because they get immense satisfaction in keeping this paradise in good order, in taking responsibility for their situation, in keeping their town in the shape that brings such a high quality of life to all."
"And think about evil in the world. Why the wars, the poverty, the hunger. The plunder by the rich? Its not because there are evil people who want to pillage and plunder. There are such people, but the problems are there because they are allowed to get away with their nonsense, because there isnt any citizenship. The bad guys would get nowhere if there were citizens who would not tolerate war or poverty or hunger."
"How unique do you think all this is? I mean your way of life."
"Not at all. There are lots of little alternative villages like this now, but theyre not very conspicuous unfortunately."
"How historically unusual is it? Do you think many other societies have had the sort of citizenship you are talking about?"
"Well my understanding is that many tribal societies, and peasant societies, and some of the early settlements in New England USA, and the Medieval Towns, were based on what you might describe as intensely responsible citizenship. But in some of these, especially tribal societies, I think the commitments would have been based in unquestioned folkways or traditions. All would have held strongly pro-social values but maybe without any critical awareness. And of course some of their folkways were not very socially desirable. I think in the Medieval towns there would have been more awareness of the importance of thinking about the welfare of the town, because they realised that their fate depended on their solidarity because the town was on its own. In New England citizens were involved in many minute decisions via town meetings, even things like how much wood was to be cut for the vicar in the year ahead. In Switzerland isolation in narrow deep valleys forced them to take responsibility for the running of the community, and to this day the central government has relatively few functions. And of course the ancient Greeks were active citizens. In fact I understand that the word they used for anyone not involved in public affairs translates into English as idiot."
Neither said anything for some time. Pete thought hed droned on too long, again. Mike had been leaning back, slumped in the easy chair, with his legs stretched out, notepad in his hand. He slowly sat up, elbows on knees, staring at the fire. He slowly raised the hand holding the pad, looked at it, then leaned forward and tossed it into the fire.
After some time Pete said quietly, "Why did you do that? It must have been full of notes by now."
Mike kept staring at the fire. "It is. But notepads are things aliens use when they observe the natives from the outside."
The gong sounded and the lights suddenly changed, spotlighting a patch in the centre of the green. The sound of big clumsy feet and something being dragged. Out of the darkness came a caveman, hunched, scruffy hair flying in all directions, and pulling a huge bone after himself. He sat heavily, scratched his backside, lifted the bone onto his knees, pulled two smaller bones from his animal skins, and slowly, clumsily began to tap on the big bone. After a few seconds he got into a simple interesting rhythm. Then another caveman came out carrying some bits of wood. He set them out on the grass, sat before them cross -legged and began tapping on them with another bone, weaving a tune into the first cavemans rhythm.
Two more came forward, then another three, all with strange odds and ends. One bundled together a crude frame from sticks and hung several bits and pieces from it, then proceeded to belt out music using the different pitches of the hollow vessels. By now the pace had hotted up and the cavemen went into a series of furious and fantastic percussion items. At one point one of them crept up behind another and began drumming on his head, huge grin on face, as someone out of sight synchronized loud hollow dull thuds.
The rhythm got faster and faster, and the drummers got more and more frazzled, until with a crash they all collapsed backwards with their big feet up in the air. The lights snapped out and the audience roared its appreciation.
Jan said, "Last time we saw them they were metal workers, in big boots and overalls, all banging away at bits of scrap, iron and anvils, all tuned differently. Another time all the instruments were hanging bottles partly filled with water. Their instruments cost nothing but arent they a terrific group? Thats the overture. The performance is next."
Mike became aware of activity around a raised staging that had been set up while they were away working on the tree, just in front of the workshop. Occasional beams of light from high on the workshop indicated spotlights being checked. A little later the sound of a trumpet broke through the background noise, playing a sort of fanfare that quickly quietened the crowd and magically prompted people to find chairs and settle down. Pete shuffled his chair around to face the stage, so Mike turned that way and saw children lighting candles along the front and taking others from the tables and placing them there. A flute began to play a strange melody, soon joined by a cello, and then by woodwinds and other instruments. Mike couldnt see the musicians but know they would be locals, surely including people he had been talking to that day. The music was a kind of atmosphere-setting overture, very melodious but slow and calming. Lights were being switched off. Soon the onlookers were quiet although kids were still crawling out in the dark to sit just in front of the stage.
At last a figure began to move slowly out of the darkness onto the stage, dancing to the music. Soon others came into view from the back and from the other side, all strangely lit by the candles and by some soft lighting from the workshop balcony. Some of the figures had striking brightly coloured costumes and wore grotesque masks. Some were very agile, darting and strutting, one was huge and stolid, one was very thin and seemed to be blown about by the wind.
Jan leaned towards Mike and said, "These are spirits. See that one, hes Enthusiasm. See the way he rushes about, all energy, but not much thought. There, hes crashed into someone. Hes a good guy but you watch the trouble he gets into without Sobriety. Look hes trying to jump but mucks it up."
"Yes, there she is." A tall female figure slowly came forward from the shadows and moved to the centre, gracefully moving her arms high overhead while approaching Enthusiasm. There followed duet between the two, in which Sobriety gradually calmed him down somewhat. With her help he managed the jump.
"Watch out for Pride," Jan warned.
"Whos Pride?" said Pete. "Oh I see the guy strutting around and posing with his chest out, and look at his Napoleonesque tights on. Isnt he a dandy!"
"Yes and wait until his good friends Nobility and Status appear. Theyll swan around arm in arm trying to be the centre of attention, but causing all sorts of trouble."
"And I suppose they get their just deserts before long, get brought down to earth with a thud eh?"
A little later there was a crash from the hidden drums and two more figures lept from the dark onto the stage and began an energetic dance, leaping and darting and stomping feet. They wore frightening costumes, fiery red with jagged bits sticking out and fierce masks. The music was now loud and jarring, even menacing. One of the characters was very athletic and frenetically active but the other was like a great gorilla with a mean face, moving with slow stomping steps as he advanced on others. Both intimidated and scattered the other figures on the stage, then herded and harassed them with threatening gestures. Pete could see they represented evil of some kind.
"Thats Anger and Aggression," whispered Jan. "Look at the trouble theyre causing. See, poor old Sobriety has been pushed to the shadows there."
Suddenly there were noises from the side of the stage, as if things were being dropped. From the dark emerged a figure carrying so many objects that it could hardly move forward. It was struggling to balance parcels, some wrapped like Christmas gifts, with several under each arm and many jutting out of the rucksack on his back. His hands were encrusted with big rings and jewels, and he was even holding two objects by his teeth clamped around their ribbons. People laughed as he kept comically dropping and trying to gather up all his stuff. Other dancers circled around him trying to attract his attention but with no effect. Pete could see that he was obviously intended as something to be laughed at but wasnt sure what.
Then one of the figures came forward and held before him a large gift-wrapped box, sparkling with cellophane and ribbons. The overburdened buffoons face exploded into a huge happy grin and he grabbed for the box, thereby dropping several of his possessions. He desperately tried to gather them up again and go after the new thing all at once. The tempter danced back leading to another grab followed by more clattering falling parcels. There followed an amusing sequence in which more figures came forward to tempt him and he went after all the objects offered but with increasing confusion and desperation and failure to go anywhere.
"Get it?" said Jan. "Hes Acquisitiveness. Mr. Greed. Silly old sod isnt he. Cant resist getting something more but doesnt really go anywhere because hes bogged down by his possessions."
"Aha said Pete, so do you know exactly what is going to happen next? Is this performed every year? "
"We know the sorts of themes thatll be played out but we dont know how theyll be done. The drama group works out a new performance every year. That makes it very interesting. You look forward to seeing how theyll portray the themes this time. When a character comes on stage you look to see who this is, and you anticipate how it will fare. But yes the whole thing is about human motives and attitudes and it judges them in a sense, it portrays nasty things as problematic and leading to difficulties, and it affirms nice attitudes. Its like a western, or a corroboree. Its a ritual performance. You know in principle what will happen. But each year there are loads of new twists and comical little bits written in and unexpected developments. They work for months preparing the performance."
From time to time one or two other figures would enter. Some were desirables and some undesirables. Two people in a horse suit stumbled on slowly, looking like a lovable but dull witted old Clydesdale and pulling a heavy cart. The chorus figures danced around happy to see him, some of them getting behind the cart and pushing to help. Two girls put a straw hat heavy with flowers on his head but it wouldnt go over the ears. Consternation. Then one produced a pair of scissors, smiled broadly to announce her solution and moved in to cut off the ears. The other snatched the scissors with a scowl and proceeded to cut two holes in the hat brim, then in triumph they both lowered the hat in place. Dobbin grinned in appreciation, but with the hat brim down over his snout couldnt see a thing and tripped and stumbled across the rest of the stage as the circling chorus of happy figures escorted him off.
Mike looked at Jan. "Thats Plodder" she said. "Good old fellow is Plodder. Hes a bit stolid and slow, but he just keeps going and he gets there. We like him. They were happy to see him werent they? Last year he was played by a wombat, trying to dig a hole while mice and ants kept distracting him and a cheeky possum kept stealing the best roots he came up with. In the end he just sat on the possums tail and that kept here out of the way. Amy was the possum last year."
The overall style of the performance was deliberately a little exaggerated, Mike thought perhaps to make sure that the kids watching got the messages clearly. It seemed that this made the performance more enjoyable to the performers too as they could really lay on the big smiles and the despair and surprise and the waving of hands and dead faints.
By now it was clear that the chorus figures were starting to call the tune. At the beginning of the performance they had been in the background and rather dependent variables. Now they were acting more as a cluster, and taking the initiative. Various good figures had made their entry and been involved in dramas, sometimes confronting the nasties. Mike could see that the chorus figures were drawing on or using the good figures to help them deal with the trouble makers.
Yet he thought their solutions tended to be anti-climactic and somewhat disappointing. Better if some fairy god mother or heroic figure had defeated the baddies, maybe run them through with a magic sword, or at the very least drive Aggression and Pride and Greed ingloriously off the stage.
The funniest part was when a great big, clumsy smiling chicken came on stage. It waddled around to a clucking music. It took a little watering can and sprayed a pot plant at the front of the stage and all the drooping plants suddenly sprang up straight, waving and smiling their faces at the audience. Mrs hen then waddled off and did other nice things, sometimes to other players, such as tucking in someones shirt and picking up a dropped handkerchief. She was a fussy old mother hen, comically silly but good natured. Someone came on carrying a pile of objects, tripped and executed the most spectacular fall in history, desperately trying to keep balance but finally going down in a sliding belly landing that sprayed tin cans and boxes and plastic plates all over the stage. Mrs. Hen flapped around in a panic, firstly helping to pick up and dust off the accident victim, then gave his elbow a massage, and then raced around to help pick up the debris, and pack the carrier up again, finally assisting him across to the other side of the stage, amid much dropping and picking up again and rearranging and fussing about.
"Thats Care," said Jan, although this was pretty obvious. "She can be a terrible fuss pot, but shes important. In fact shes about the most important character in the whole performance, and you will have noticed she isnt portrayed as a dignified and noble character, let alone a heroic one. Shes very humble and ordinary. Shes grandma or the fallible person next door wholl come over and give you a hand. It is important that care should be very ordinary and everyday and common and everywhere, not special and available only via professionals or saints or government departments."
A large and bombastic figure slowly strutted across the stage, huge arms folded and chin stuck out. But as he reached the centre the spot light revealed that the chorus figures has formed a solid group blocking his path. They just stood there looking at him as he came to a stop, gestured in disbelief, waved his arms and spluttered and fumed, ordering them out of his way. They started back a little, looking uncertainly at each other, but held their line. Then he exploded again, jumping and waving and looking furious, accompanied by jagged music from the orchestra. Again the group withstood the onslaught. Again he raged, then stopped and a long silent face to face standoff occurred. Then an arm slowly emerged from the group holding a flower, and offered it to him. He just stared at it, and then with a loud pop -- he started to shrink. Mike watched in amazement. The costume must have been inflated somehow. Anyhow, he certainly soon ended up very deflated, and humble looking. Then a very slight boy wriggled out of the heavy costume, dressed like the people in the chorus, and danced his way into their midst, soon becoming indistinguishable. The group then picked up the crumpled costume and carried it to the back of the stage, placing it on a light framework of dead foliage. Pete could see that the group of quiet little people had managed to stand together and stop the monster, and knock the wind out of his sails, so to speak.
He leaned towards Jan. "But I dont get that. Why didnt they shoot him full of lead, or string him up or like in the Western when the baddie really gets his ass kicked? The guy didnt get what was coming to him."
"But they persuaded him to stop being a pain, and he ended up joining us. Better to win him over than thump him dont you think?"
The other nasties crept onto the stage again, circling in the shadows, but not getting much attention at first. When they came closer to the main group and started their harassing again appropriately discordant notes came from the musicians. The chorus group formed a tight circle facing out as the nasties prowled around them. Mike thought some sort of showdown was building up. Maybe hed get is shoot out and vanquishing at last.
But then the chorus split and little groups of three or four moved out and slowly danced into circles around each of the villainous figures, who at first threatened and stomped in an effort to reassert their dominance. After some advancing and retreating the circles prevailed and Mike could see that the gestures represented a kind of casting of spells or attempt to hypnotise. Aggression became a bit less wild. He began to slump a little, to be driven back, and tweaked and made fun of. Clearly they were no longer intimidated. Very soon his power had entirely evaporated. His arms fell to his sides and he slowly sank to his knees. The expression on the circling dancers began to change from grim and determined to more pleasant, eventually to happy smiles. Some came closer and began to make friendly gestures. Eventually two small girls slowly reached out to lift the heavy-looking helmet from the kneeling figure, which didnt move but seemed reconciled to his fate. Mike was confused. Were they going to slay this monster after all? But they didnt look at all vicious enough for that.
As the helmet rose it revealed the face of a slight boy protruding from the heavy costume, wearing a very sad expression. The music stopped and everyone stared in dead silence. Then the mood flipped as Mrs Chook waddled forward, paused, bent down and reached out, and patted the boy on the head with a motion that obviously said "There there dear. Itll be alright." One of the girls took his hand and the boy slowly stood up, his huge costume slipped awkwardly off his shoulders and the figures around him reached out and started to help him out of it. Mike could see that although this group was to the front of the stage the same thing was happening in the other little groups further back. Soon each of the monster figures had been transformed into young and attractive dancers who had been helped out of their old costumes by the encircling groups and then had merged into the chorus.
The music gathered pace, becoming loud and joyful. The stage was full of ecstatic figures leaping and plunging in delight, before coming together in a tight scrum, all holding hands.
Mike thought that must be the finale, but then the music suddenly dropped to a quite different mood, almost sad, and the performers broke into groups which circled around the crumpled costumes still on the stage. These were gathered up and placed one at a time on the framework of sticks and leaves at the back of the stage. The performers formed a semi circle holding hands with their backs to the audience looking at the costumes. They were still for a long time. The music had stopped and the lights had gone right down. Then Mike could see a flame flicker at the base of the frame -- a fire had started and it quickly grew into a rather large and fierce blaze. The costumes caught fire, and flared, and soon were no more. The fire had been the sole light source and as it died the performers were slowly turning to face the audience, expressionless. With their backs to the fire, they joined hands again and slowly raised them high above their heads, to stand motionless. The music was now strange, quiet and serious, even mournful. Why not a triumphant ending? The flute was the last instrument to be heard. It ceased, then in silence and darkness the performers left the stage.
After several seconds lights came on here and there, and people began to applaud, rather sedately.
Mike took some time to gather his thoughts. It has been absorbing, a great piece of theatre with marvelous performances, choreography and costumes, but his head was full of unanswered questions .
Jan said, "Wasnt that great. Id heard Care would be a chook this year but I had no idea what shed do."
"Do you know who played the parts? Some were brilliant."
"No. Sometimes by accident you get to know, like with Amy last year. But it doesnt matter. We dont make a fuss about stars and celebrities. Did you notice that none of the pictures hanging in the workshop gallery were signed. Recognition isnt very important around here."
Pete came across. "Lets start walking home. Its early but well want time to leave plenty of time to get you to the station. They slowly moved through the throng, Pete and Jan extricating themselves with difficulty from temptations to linger and chat.
"Who were the chorus?"
"They were us."
"They were people, ordinary people. At first they were not prominent and were scattered ineffective individuals and they were at the mercy of the strong undesirable characters. As it developed they gained confidence and unity and eventually stood together as a strong group and were able to solve their problems."
"The costumes were destroyed but the wearers werent. Why? In a proper Western the baddies get shot."
"Its the aggression thats the baddie", said Jan," Not the person. The task is to help the people separate from the aggression, which is the moving out of the costume."
"And there was no showdown. I was expecting the climactic shoot out when evil was defeated and destroyed."
"Well you could say we destroyed the costumes but you see the disruptive forces and individuals were not confronted and defeated were they?"
"No, they were converted I guess. But the monsters were not even ridiculed. OK so maybe you dont have to kill them off, but wouldnt it be appropriate to poke fun at them, make them see how stupid or obnoxious they are."
"You mean they should still be punished in some way?"
"Doesnt justice demand that?
"Retribution, vengeance and punishment might make Clint Eastwood feel good, but they leave problems. Even if you humiliate in an effort to reform, well thats just another form of confrontation, conflict and defeat isnt it. Its still an effort to attack them and try to win by spurning or putting down or repudiating. Theyre not going to willingly come across after that are they?"
"Hmmm. But if some bastard persists in making trouble its natural to want to stop him and punish him."
"No, that just the way youve learned to deal with trouble in consumer-capitalist society. You think that because youve watched so many Westerns! The Amish never do that. People around here tend not to cause trouble for each other but when something does go wrong they know its best to avoid a conflict someone has to win and they have the habit of wanting to find a solution that the other person is happy with. If you dont then theres a good chance you are only going to create more problems later if he feels unjustly treated or beaten. Remember we all run into each other all the time around here. We have to live with each other, and work together well to get important things done. Our society, our welfare depend on this. Its important that we think very carefully about keeping relations as harmonious as possible in the long run. Lingering resentments and desires to level old scores would seriously undermine all that."
Pete provided the detail. "See, were very conscious of the importance of integrating troublesome people or tendencies, of working out how to reconcile and include. Its a very serious technical mistake to set out to defeat, destroy or alienate. If you solve a problem by defeating someone or forcing a solution on others then you have only created more problems. You have disgruntled people and theyll probably cause more trouble before long. So it is wise to avoid show downs where the goodies beat the baddies. It is much better if you can to have a chat with the baddies, make friends and get them to come across and join us. That way their resources can add to ours."
"And its very important to realise that this is not just a morally nice thing to do, to incorporate rather than vanquish. Its technically, necessary, crucial in fact. A highly self-sufficient local economy simply cannot work unless we focus on getting everyone to pull together eagerly and happily. So its imperative that we encourage and reinforce and facilitate that mentality all the time."
"Who was the star of the performance?" Jan asked.
Mike thought for a moment. "I liked Anger. He was so agile, an expressive."
"Yes but would you say he was the star? He wasnt on stage much of the time was he?"
"No thats right," Mike thought again. "Well really its hard to say who the star was. There really wasnt any single one."
"No. And who was the hero?"
"I dont suppose there was one."
"Thats right. Again, we dont like stars and heroes. It was a great performance all contributed to. No single person could take much of the credit. No one was more important than anyone else. Thats quite important to us. The solutions were gradually arrived at by everyone. They didnt need any one to save them. They did it themselves. It isnt good if you can only be saved by some super-human hero who rides into town and drives out the evil for you. That says you cant solve your own problems, you need an expert or special person. But ordinary people should be able to tackle their problems and collectively work out good solutions."
"What a waste to burn such great costumes. That made me wince. They must have taken a lot of time to make. "
"Yes, they do. But thats symbolic too. Its important to pay a price for what the play achieved. I mean you must be prepared to pay a big cost in time and trouble and vigilance and effort to achieve or secure commitment to the right path, to keep the faith strong. You cant have a good society easily or without cost. It is sad that those costumes are destroyed. We all know they are valuable and took a lot of making. But their burning represents what we must give, to achieve important ends. Its a kind of sacrifice."
On the subject of symbolic burning, Mike wondered if Pete was thinking about the notepad.
"OK, OK," Mike said slowly. "I can see the point of all that. I can see its valuable, I mean important to do. But I mean it seems a bit contrived and overdone. I mean, dont you think you go on about it a bit too much, making everything have some deep symbolic or spiritual significance. Remember the salt on the table. Isnt it a bit like, say the Amish who cant do anything without it having a religious significance as if they are scared that if they loosen up for an instant they might lose their whole faith. I mean I can see the point, but you all just seem a bit obsessive and unduely focused on making the moral point all the time."
"Yes I can understand that," said Jan. "I can see how it would strike you, coming from a society where nothing like this seems to happen. But you are just about as heavily involved in morality plays, of a different kind. You are unwittingly constantly immersed in presentations, mostly on TV, which reassert and reinforce ideas and values in you without you realising it. Theyre teaching you all the time to consume, to attend to trivia and to ignore things that matter, to compete, to be politically apathetic, not to expect any say, that great wealth and poverty are legitimate. They tell you who and what to admire and idolise, they tell you whats important. They define success for you. They tell you whats normal, outrageous, to be accepted. They teach you to crave affluence and luxury. They blitz you far more profoundly than we brainwash ourselves. Look how well they have got you all to think in the ways that make consumer society so unqustionable."
"OK, yes, I agree. I suppose the difference is that youre conscious of the process, and you deliberately set out to make sure that what you see as socially valuable ideas and values get the reinforcement."
"Right. Nothing matters more than that the members of a society are firmly committed to the ideas and values that make for cohesion, solidarity, trust, mutual concern, cooperation, collective spirit, concern for good standards, and social responsibility. If these things are not strong, then the society is literally rotting away. A society is constituted by these commitments. If they are not there, you only have a bunch of selfish individuals each struggling for their own advantage, against the others. Thats not a society. A society starts to exist only when theres cooperation and concern for the public good etc., and these things involve values that transcend self-interest. Such values are precious and they dont appear out of nowhere. They have to be produced. It takes many years of hard constant work to produce a good citizen, i.e., someone who is firmly bonded to these sorts of pro-social values. If that bond is lost, society crumbles. Having a powerful army or an astronomical GDP or sophisticated technology means nothing if your people are apathetic, cynical, cheat on their taxes, never vote, dont value their public institutions and property, and dont care about the plight of poorer people. That is literally a rotten society. Its foundations are diseased and it is crumbling and if nothing is done it will literally collapse. The social bond in consumer-capitalist society is in alarmingly bad condition. You are not much more than a collection of self-interested competitors for wealth. So, is it possible to over-emphasise or over-do all this? To us it is appropriate and crucial to place a great deal of emphasis on the reinforcement of the social bond."
"Do you go to Mass?" Pete asked.
"No. Im not religious."
"Well, why do some people go to Mass again and again, when they know exactly what will happen there? See its a ritual. Its the going over of a familiar but very important and valued celebration and reaffirmation. We know Sobriety will tame Enthusiasm somehow, but the point is we like to see that played out again, and more importantly we know that by watching the performance our commitment to these values and ideas will be reinforced. If these things are not reinforced they will fade and eventually disappear. Thats why Aborigines have corrobories, Its why people go to church. That performance was a religious or spiritual event."
It began to rain lightly as they came into the lane, for the last time. At the back steps Mike said, "Ill race upstairs and finish packing."
"Good idea. Well put the kettle on."
As soon as Mike reached the bedroom he realised that hed finished packing that morning. He picked up the two cases, looked around to check, then went down stairs again. No one was there so he sat in the corner of the main room. It was now raining steadily.
He heard Jan and Pete coming into the kitchen, talking in a quiet but agitated way. They stopped in the kitchen, not three metres away.
"But Harry thinks we shouldnt use it. I agree. I think it would be overkill."
"Well I dont agree," said Jan with some conviction.
"Look, we agree we dont know where he is. He keeps telling us what Eleanor would think but what the hell does he think? All we get is how cute it all is. Theres very little time left, and we dont seem to have got anywhere with him. Either we try to make sure or weve wasted three days not counting all the preparation."
"Yes I know, I know, but its difficult to know what to do. Maybe its all sunk in well enough and hes just not revealing. If we use the clincher on him we could ruin what we have achieved."
"Youre assuming weve achieved something. Why?"
"Im not sure. I could be wrong, but some things he said at the banquet made me think we might have got through but I dont know."
"Damn, damn, damn. Some of them really give me the "
"Yes, Im as fed up with it as you are. What does Tom say?"
"He agrees with Harry. So does Mandy and Fred. We should use it."
Gawd, if Bernie didnt shift him would the clincher? Barry thinks it would work. Hes usually a good judge."
"Well we just dont know do we."
"Probably wasted another three days again," said Jan with exasperation bordering on disgust.
Mike was stunned and confused. What on earth is going on? They were talking about him. Why were they angryat him, out of the blue. Thered been no sign of this. And as if he was some object being processed, what the hell was this clincher thing. Panic. What to do. Couldnt get out of the room without going past the kitchen
And too late anyway he stood as Pete then Jan came through the door.
All three froze, gaping at each other.
Nothing happened, for a long time. Then Jan said, "Oh dear," sighed heavily, turned and sat down. Pete just stood with his chin in his hand staring at the floor. At first Mike thought of apologising for overhearing the conversation, but the anger in him only allowed a grim, "Whats that all about?"
Pete fumbled, "Sorry sorry, we didnt know you were there," as if that needed saying.
"Well," said Mike at last. "This kind of changes things doesnt it. Im some sort of nasty problem it seems. When I thought we were getting along OK. I mean how contrived has it been all along? How dishonest?"
"Dishonest?" said Jan.
"Yes. How genuine has any of it been, if here you are plotting the next scene? Was Padme a man in a sheep skin, set up to get me? Did water committee come back from their holidays in Bali to rehearse for when I came in? And what about the star performer, Dr Bernie? Is she hired for the day? Where is she now -- ankle deep in a mink carpet in her high rise city apartment sipping a martini?"
Pete said very quietly, "Right now Bernie will be sitting by the fire writing. Want to go out and check?"
"You get my point? What can I believe now? How much of this has just been set up to make an impression. I never suspected. Its a kind of betrayal."
Pete was surprised at the strength of the reaction, but saw that it could only come from something important having been jeopardised.
"Mike," said Jan, "most of it has been set up. Its been set up for your benefit and at the considerable expense in time and effort of many people."
"To show you how things are here, obviously! The landscape cant be faked. The workshop wasnt put up the day before you got here. Weve only organised to make sure you experience some things that are important here, that might not have been visible otherwise. Yes we contrived some things, out of your sight, to get them to happen. In fact Padme wasnt needed here. Shed done our lawn last week, but we got her over, for your benefit. Is that misleading, or deceptive?
"But it looks like a giant conspiracy, cast of thousands. So now I dont know what to believe in. Cant you see that?"
Pete said, "Quite frankly it is a huge conspiracy." Then he changed gear abruptly, banged his fist on the table and said loudly, "Bugger it! Dont you understand. And youre scolding us. Ten people on visitor committee who have invested a hell of a lot of time in you, and "
"Why?!? People have fussed over me for three days. I didnt expect that. I thought Id pay for a room, sleep half the time, wander around now and then, talk to a peasant maybe, take a note or two, and have a rest. But Ive been dominated, embarrassed, worked to death, and Ive taken up peoples time that I cant repay."
"You still dont get it? Why have all those people done all that? Because you are a journalist, for Gods sake! If we can get you on side you could be a powerful force for us, for years and years. The whole problem is that the mainstream ignores us. The problem is educational. The problem is getting The Simpler Way on the agenda. How can we get them to even think about The Simpler Way, to see its merits, to see that if they dont adopt it they are dead. Now who can help with that more than teachers and journalists? Who therefore do we put most time and effort into getting here, and who do we , as you say, fuss over most when we finally do get them here."
Mike had cooled down somewhat. No one spoke for several seconds. Then he said, "Why is it so important to you to know what I think. Im not your problem. Eleanor is your problem. I might come across, but she wouldnt."
"We arent after the Eleanors Mike. Were not that silly. Most people dont even reject us with anger. If they did that would be marvelous because it would mean they had noticed us. Most people just ignore us. We can tolerate that, so long as we feel we are getting through to some, and to crucial people "
" such as journalists," said Jan.
"Do you think theres high job satisfaction in all this? Or might it be extremely tiring and demoralising, a source of constant pain and despair, watching the planet go down the drain, thinking you have the answer, but they are too preoccupied with sport and their property values to take any notice, and when you explain it all in great detail, they can take it or leave it because its like another visit to Disneyland, cute and interesting, but irrelevant, so lets get back to the main game of competing and acquiring and watching football and soap operas."
"Cant you see that you symbolise whether or not theres any point for us. Visitors are straws we clutch at. Are we getting through? Will he go home a believer, eager to work for the cause? When they obviously wont, its bloody difficult to convince yourself you are not totally wasting your time. Can you grasp that?"
"We are not in the tourist industry you know, we didnt do it just to give you a nice time. We take a lot of visitors through, some for half a day, some important ones like teachers and journalists for several days. The hope is that they will go home determined to raise the issues again and again in their work. They will or they wont. Asking you here and now whether you will would not achieve anything. But whether or not we have wasted out time depends on what you are thinking when you step on the 9.35."
"The ones I really love," said Jan almost to herself, "are the nice middle class people, the privileged people, who are in the best position to help, but by and large cant be bothered, who come and enjoy the outing and think its all very "
" cute," said Pete.
"and who even accept all the arguments, but then go home and immediately forget it all and get back to the real world of watching the football and going for that promotion, and renovating the kitchen. Even idiots get tired of that Mike. Weve been at it for some twenty years now and we think the readiness to take notice, let alone do anything, is getting worse."
"Look," said Mike, quietly now, "It could be done if people in my suburb were like you, but the problem is they are not. They want wealth and luxuries. They want to get richer every year. They want to be winners. They would rather watch a quiz show on TV than go to a meeting. If you called a working bee they wouldnt go. They will not buy something from Tom if his price is one cent higher than the supermarket. They want to go to Bali for holidays. They want big cars. They think that if they can afford to buy and consume they have every right to. They have no interest in coming to meetings to govern themselves; thats for governments to do. They wont darn socks. They would see your frugality as silly, in fact revolting; they want nice, glamorous, luxurious things. They couldnt and wouldnt make a place like The Glen work."
"For crying out loud Mike, or course they couldnt!" Pete threw up his arms. "This place can only work because people here have the right ideas and values, only because they understand why it is so important to go to working bees, and more importantly, because they want to go to them, and to live cooperatively and frugally and self-sufficiently. It can only work because people choose against affluence and against competitive individualism. This place could never function if people here had consumer society mentality, always keen to maximise their own advantage and to get richer."
"Yes, or course," said Mike, heatedly again. "And thats why The Glen is irrelevant for us. Its no solution for normal people. Its not a model for us. We need solutions that will work for us, not for saints. Whats the good of designing a system that will work like a dream only if its staffed by people who arent like us, like most people? You are a quaint, contradictory, counter-culture, an irrelevant backwater."
"Mike, you still dont get it. Mike there are no solutions for you, you normal people. Cant you see that?!. There are no solutions for you if you all insist on staying as you are. The way you are, the systems and values you have, create the problems. The problems can only be solved if you stop behaving in the ways that cause them. You are like someone wishing desperately that they were not dying of obesity while flatly refusing to stop gross overeating, indeed while flatly refusing to even think about the possibility that overeating is the cause of the problem. You want a solution to the problem that lets you go on doing whats causing the problem. Dont you see, the problems can not be solved unless you stop doing what is causing them and that is essentially striving for affluence and growth, and you cant do that unless you face up to some absolutely fundamental value changes. A sustainable world cannot be achieved by consumers."
Jan said, "Remember, on your first night here I said youd only seen the easy stuff that day, the permaculture and windmills and mud bricks and edible landscapes, and that the important and really difficult stuff was yet to come. The crucial sustainability problems are to do with the need for radically different systems and culture, and mentality. It can only be achieved by people who abandon the consumer-capitalist mind set and come across to embrace The Simpler Way."
"Well then it will never be achieved!" Mike said gruffly.
""Do you know what I think about that?" Pete snapped back.
"I think you are right."
"I think you are right. I dont think consumer society has the wit or the will to save itself. It gives no sign of even recognising that its greed thats the cause of the problems now threatening to destroy it. Even its intellectual leaders, its politicians, its educators and economists and journalists and most of its academics flatly refuse to even think about this. Let alone is there any sign that they will ever accept the need for radical change to The Simpler Way. Let alone start working for it."
"Then why the hell are you working on The Glen?! Why are you working for radical change in the entire world if you dont think its going to happen."
"Thats very annoying. ˙Thats an extraordinarily dumb question."
"Because if you have an ounce of sense and an ounce or morality you work hard for the transition, no matter how rotten the chances are. You know whats at stake. The welfare and the lives of several billion people and the fate of the biosphere. If theres no radical change what do you think their future is. What will Amy inherit Mike? How will she be in, say 50 years time. You know that saying, Gentlemen, the situation is hopeless. We must press on. So theres only one thing to do -- work to get The Simpler Way understood and accepted whether or not theres a significant chance of succeeding. Do you think we could have any peace of mind if we didnt? Ill probably live to know whether we are going to make it. How would I feel if we do, and I didnt help, and how would I feel if we dont and I didnt try?"
After a short silence, Mike said "Does the whole of The Glen see it that way?"
"No. Many do and we run the educational program? Some agree with our view of things but dont think its worth trying to do anything. Some live here just because its a nice escape from the rat race."
After a pause Mike said quietly, "Thats very sad You are doomed. You are dead, but dont know it. On a sinking ship but refusing to accept the inevitable. I cant work out whether you are heroes or idiots. If you get points for heart you get none for brains."
Jan said, "Excuse me, whos on a sinking ship? Weve just spent three days explaining that you are. Anyway, do you know we wont make it?"
"If you dont know, then surely the only morally acceptable course is to try."
Another difficult pause.
"You werent to know, but its sort of come to a head with you. You have sort of blown up Visitors Committee.
"You triggered things that have been festering for a long time. Several of them have becoming increasingly disenchanted over the past couple of years. And most of the committee seems to have gone over the edge in the past three days."
"Because they no longer think its worth it. Because we think its all a vast waste of time and energy."
"The response from the mainstream is worse than when we started, fifteen years ago," said Jan quietly. Mike was almost shocked at her demeanor, usually so energetic and almost irritatingly chirpy, now slumped in her chair and exhibiting a mixture of anger and despair. "When we started few listened much, but we assumed that if we just hung in there in time the mainstream would start to see, and a movement would slowly develop. Well, it has, actually. There are people doing what we are doing in little groups all around the world. But the tide flowing the other way has now become a flood. For decades now the growth maniacs have been told theyre on a suicidal path, but they are more indifferent to the message now than ever before. Sales of Four Wheel Drive vehicles have never been higher. You tipped the balance for us."
"But why me?"
"Maybe just because you seem to have been an especially difficult case. You dont seem to have been convinced. We thought we could recruit you fairly easily."
"Because of our research."
"Visitors Committee watch what journalists and others are saying. We look for people we might persuade, and we try to get them here."
"Gawd. More conspiring. Whats this clincher thing anyway?"
"Just an experience we sometimes set up for late in the visit, if we think its appropriate. Wed better be going to the station soon."
"Why am I so important though. How can I single handedly blow up visitors Committee?"
"I guess its just symbolic. We clutch at straws. If we had succeeded with you, then, that somehow might have restored faith. To us each special visitor sort of comes to represent society out there, dont you see. Which way will it go? When The Simpler Way is explained, will it be accepted, or have we been silly to think it might be? If he can see the sense of it maybe they all can."
Mike was silent. At last he began to respond, but Pete cut in abruptly.
"You have been remarkably non-committal. We all thought youd have expressed an opinion long before this. We have no idea what youve made of it all. I now want to make a final request."
"That you dont tell us what you think. You will have made of The Glen what you have. You will either have joined the team, and will work for the cause from here on, or you will not. Theres nothing we can do about that now." After a pause. "Wed better go."
Mike moved to pick up his bags. Expressionless faces masked chaotic feelings all round.
"Rains started. We can get you a cloak if you dont have anything."
"Ive got a raincoat. You realise I cant tell you anyway, dont you?"
"Because I havent been here twenty years."
For once Pete was puzzlee.
"If I said I am very impressed, Im a believer, and Ill work hard for the cause, would you believe me? You wouldnt know whether I was genuine, or just being kind. Youd need to have been on working bees and committees with me for twenty years before you could judge, wouldnt you?"
No one spoke. Mike felt that he had kind of evened the score a little, but it didnt feel very satisfying to be racking up points now. The focal thing was the rift, quickly getting handle on how serious it was, whether it could be patched enough, what has been lost, how to part? Not every thing was lostof course. How to acknowledge what was beyond dispute?"
"Wheres Amy?" Mike asked.
"No idea," said Pete, predictably. "Why?"
"Just thought Id like to say goodbye," Said Mike.
"Im afraid she might not have wanted to. Evidently she had some sort of problem with you." Jan said.
"We patched it up."
Jan said in surprise, "How did you know about it?"
"Im an investigative journalist, remember."
The three of them filed down the steps into the drizzle. The vines and branches were hanging lower then ever, weighed down by the water in them, making the way seem more awkward than when Mike had come in -- such a long time ago. Damn, havent these primitives discovered torches yet or cars.
The rain must have been heavy earlier as the path was quite soggy in places and they had to wind around puddles. Mike gave up trying to judge where he was and just followed the cloaked forms in front of him.
As they cut across the meadow Petes discomfort was added to by the knowledge that Mikes feet would be getting as soaked as his own. Mike said, "Well I guess this will be making Freddy happy."
It was a sufficient gesture, redefining the situation a little. Jan took it up. "Charlies lucky he doesnt have to wade into that pig pen tomorrow."
Pete helped out, "Must remember to go over to The Basin tomorrow to see if were losing run off there. Wonder if its cold enough tonight for Bernie to be warming her brick beside the fire?
"Jan, about Barry "
"Is he on visitors committee?
"Yes. Have you figured him out yet?
"Oh yes. Long ago. I am an investigative journalist you know."
"Well what is he?"
"Oh, do you really want to know. I didnt think youd ask that kind of question."
Slightly combative, yes, but a small price to pay to lift the mood a little. But Jan remained silent.
"Barrys a good bloke. Great with a crow bar. His black-smithing technique needs a bit of polish though. But hes good at putting bandages on barked shins."
Then it occurred to Mike "Is Harry on the committee?"
"And Frieda, and Amanda?"
He thought about saying, And all the others who have been nice to me I suppose?, but kept it to himself.
The conversation fell away. It seemed to take a long time to get to The Wall. Pete was ahead ducking and bending under the branches. In the distance a faint sound of a diesel horn. "Good timing." Said Pete. "Its just leaving Scotsdale."
Maybe the distance between them now was a blessing. Everyone could stand back coolly, avoiding the need to deal with any indiscrete sentiments that might have slipped out. And the rain helped, making it more difficult to converse.
They reached the platform and scurried along to the small tin shelter, although the rain was easing.
Mike took the opportunity he knew he had to find. "Look, I want to say I really do appreciate your efforts. Its been very interesting, and informative. Ive learnt a hell of a lot. Thatll be obvious Im sure. So thanks a lot for all your time and energy."
"Thats fine. Been nice having you here." It wasnt entirely satisfactory from either side, but theyd fulfilled requirements. The lights of the train could now be seen approaching.
"If your notebook turns up, well post it."
"Thanks. I dont really think it will, somehow."
"Well thanks again," Mike said, and held out his hand to Pete, his case in the other. Pete shook it energetically "Thanks for coming." Mike turned to Jan, still uncharacteristically quiet since leaving the house. He couldnt judge what she was thinking. After a split second delay he decided to risk it, reached over with his free arm and placed it around her shoulder, giving a light, side-on semi-hug. She smiled and as he stepped back, she slowly jabbed a fist into his chest and said "Aw, Shucks." Then, "Remember me to Eleanor."
The train came past them noisily and hissed to a stop. Pete reached for a door, and slid one case in. Mike remembered to step up, dropped his case and turned. It had started to drizzle again, the drops dazzling with the station light behind them. Pete and Jans faces were hardly visible under their capes.
Suddenly Mike realised that two small figures were running along the platform, holding a large piece of plastic over themselves, and calling out. Jan and Mike turned towards them. The train horn blasted and the carriage jerked into motion. Mike couldnt pick up the exchange over the noise of the train. They bustled past Pete and Jan. One let go of the plastic and as it swirled high then low, almost tripping the other one. A face emerged into the light.
It was Penny.
Then the other figures face became visible. It was Amy, smiling, wet streaks of blond hair down her forehead, holding the plastic sheet in one hand, and in the other waving a bright blue mask.