I had dinner with my friend G and his wife. Earlier that evening I’d called to tell them I’d be 15 minutes late. G’s wife answered the phone.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“In Stress City,” I replied.
Lately, I’ve been under so much pressure that I’ve felt my life steadily unraveling. I should make a list, I’ve thought to myself on several occasions, of all the situations I’m likely to encounter between now and the end of the year so I can tick them off, one-by-one, as each turns into either a disaster or a catastrophe.
When I said this over dinner, G’s wife smiled at me sympathetically. G—one of my closest friends—said: “Remember Keith Miller?”
“The cricketer?” I asked. I’m not a cricket fan but my father loved cricket and he held Miller in the highest esteem.
Keith Miller died last month, on October 11, at the age of 84. His Cricket Online obituary notes that:
Miller was part of Australia’s 1948 tour of England, who later returned hailed as “the Invincibles”, and are recognised by many as the best side ever assembled.
My father, were he still alive, would be 85 this year. I was born in 1948, the year of the Invincibles tour. Miller had been a fighter pilot during World War II and Bill Brown, one of his team mates, recalled:
“He was the finest all-rounder I came into contact with—he could bat, bowl, field and he could fly an aeroplane.”
“You could bat him anywhere you want to, he was a strong hitter of the ball, he had a very good pair of hands—especially in close—and you could always give him the new ball with confidence. I don’t know a lot about his flying days but I know he flew Mosquitoes and they were in the thick of the action, and I admire him for that very much.”
G took a sip of beer and said, “Someone asked Keith Miller whether he ever felt under pressure while playing test cricket. You know what Miller told him?”
“What?” I asked. I had no idea.
“Pressure, I’ll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not.”
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One consequence of being a good listener is that people occasionally tell you things you’d rather not hear.
Last week I spent a couple of days in Rockhampton, a city of 60,000 inhabitants on Australia’s northeast coast, just above the Tropic of Capricorn.
In mid-November it was already hot and humid. Not the overwhelming heat and humidity of Tokyo in summer—mushiatsusa （蒸し暑さ） in Japanese—that doesn’t arrive in Rockhampton until February. But, for me, unpleasant nonetheless. The cab driver who took me back to my motel after dinner didn’t agree.
“Best climate in the world,” he told me. “No winter and nine months of summer.”
By the time we’d pulled in under the awning outside reception it was raining lightly and he was telling me about the enormous house he’d built on an acre and a half of land for a bit over a hundred thousand dollars. Including a swimming pool.
Then he looked me in the eye and said: “But do you want to know the best thing about Rocky?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Good listeners can embrace another person’s world view as easily as they put on a hat or an overcoat but the cab driver must have detected a flicker of disquiet, for he added hastily:
“Not that there’s anything wrong with them… it’s just that in the big cities they all want to live in the same area.”
He was referring to the tendency of new immigrants to form ethnic enclaves, by clustering together in a particular neighborhood or suburb. In Sydney in the fifties, during the first wave of immigration from southern Europe, Italians moved to Leichhardt while Greeks chose Marrickville. Thirty years later, immigrants from Southeast Asia settled in Fairfield, Ashfield, and Cabramatta.
The Rockhampton Tourist and Business Information website notes that:
On census night in Rockhampton, 7 August 2001, persons of indigenous origin totaled 3,006. The remaining 95% of Rockhampton’s population were found to have Australian (48%), English (37%) or Irish (12%) ancestry. English topped the list as the most prevalent language spoken at home with a total of 94%. The three most common languages after English were Chinese, Tagalog (Filipino) and Japanese.
Thinking about the conversation later, I was struck by a paradox: what the cab driver valued most highly about Rockhampton—the homogeneity of its population—was also the source of his resentment towards immigrants. Whilst relishing life in his 95% Anglo-Celtic enclave, he was hostile to the idea of “ethnic enclaves”.
And yet, in their paper Multiculturalism and the spatial assimilation of migrant groups: The Melbourne and Sydney experience, James Forrest and Michael Poulsen point out:
Based on port-of-entry considerations, spatial concentration is likely to be highest in the first generation (immigrants born overseas), which Jones (1996) argues is largely the case. For their children—the second generation—hybridization is expected to occur, as members of a previously different culture become a mix between their migrant and host society cultures. Grandchildren of the original migrants (the third generation) are expected to have become fully assimilated with the host society in terms of occupations, education and membership of host society culture and institutions. Clearly, this process takes time; for some it takes a shorter time, perhaps just two generations; for others it takes longer.
I was vaguely aware that such enclaves “are a transitory phenomenon on the way to spatial and social assimilation”. But I didn’t raise this with the cab driver. Nor did I tell him that, since the Anglo-Celtic enclave in which I grew up was a spiritual, cultural, and intellectual wasteland, I’d rather put a bullet in my head than live in a place without “ethnics”. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to be a good listener and a good arguer. And I long ago lost interest in changing anyone’s mind.
To each his own.
Yet I’m continually amazed at how individuals can perceive and experience the same people or events or situations in such radically different ways. It’s a miracle we manage to find any common ground.
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