I’VE been thinking about values and patriotism and I think I know what our prime minister means. We’re a first world country; we’re out in front of the pack. And we should be proud of it, not doubt it.
Some of us are patriots instinctively. We have a feel for certainty and practise it across many walks of life. In all modesty I can say I made a good fist of it the night I saw a production called Charles Dickens Reads a Christmas Carol. While it wasn’t exactly an Australian story, it involved the defence of values which I hold dear, which is pretty much the same thing.
It was a Christmas play and it began in true Christmas spirit. A friend and I had met over coffee and exchanged festive gifts which, when we found our seats, we planted at our feet. Then we settled back to look about us.
The set was very simple: an archway centre stage and in front, a small table, a lamp and a book. When the stage lights came up, the audience hushed and Charles Dickens entered, picked up the book and began to read the opening lines of A Christmas Carol. Pure theatre, an educated audience. I was aglow with anticipation.
Then unbelievably, from a couple of seats along, a rustling! Someone was breaking into a box of scorched almonds. Cellophane! The one unforgivable sin. I leant forward in the dark, fixed my gaze towards the source of the sound and waited. The rustling faltered ... then ceased.
I had just settled back when the same sound came somewhere behind me, this time about three rows back and travelling. Someone was feeding a whole row. I elevated myself a little and turned to face the perpetrators.
Now over a lifetime I have mastered the ability to convey deep disapproval without the need for words, even in the dark. And I’m not ashamed to say I quite enjoy that sense of power when it’s employed for educative purposes. So it wasn’t long before, duty done, I was able to turn back and give my full attention to the performance.
It was fabulous theatre. The book was returned to the table and then, channelled through the one actor, came a cavalcade of all those familiar characters - Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim – brought to life by an actor with a prodigious memory and the ability to hold an audience suspended in time. So that by the time the performance drew to a close and he picked up the book ready to read the concluding lines, the entire audience was motionless with listening...
And then my mobile phone rang.
My first response, of course, was to deny it was happening or that the phone was mine. It rang on. I lunged down towards my bag, and was repulsed by a forest of Christmas paper and cellophane. I tried again and again.
And through it all, because the show must go on, came the voice of Charles Dickens reading the novel’s final lines: “Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits ... and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well.” I came up with the phone just as Tiny Tim said “God bless us, every one,” the audience broke into applause and a slightly aggrieved voice demanded: “Gill, where are you?”
A couple of days later I emailed the actor, Phil Zachariah and thanked him for a wonderful performance. Then I owned up and said it was me. Almost the next day I received his reply. He was sympathetic. He knew what it felt like to be sitting half way through a film or play and realise he hadn’t turned his phone off. And then he went on to say that for him what truly mattered was intention and he believed that my intention had been absolutely benign and thanked me for my good wishes.
Which is all very well, but now I’m confused. Can I still be a patriot?