Last week I was fascinated by Stan Parker’s inability to communicate with his peers in the local pub. Having spent a massively disproportionate part of my time in pubs I understand this problem very well.
“In spite of moments of true knowledge that came to him, animating his mind and limbs with conviction, telling him of the presence of God, lighting his wife’s face when he had forgotten its features, bringing closer and closer a trembling leaf till its veins and vastness were related to all things, from burning sun to his own burned hand – in spite of this, Stan Parker had remained slow with men. It was a kind of unrealized ambition to communicate with them. But so far he had not done this.” (Patrick White “Tree of Man”)
This passage makes me laugh and sigh at the same time. I sigh because I know the yearning to discuss these deeper ideas with my fellow patrons; I laugh because I know how ridiculously out of place said conversation is in a working class pub. I have been on both sides of the table.
When I was a piss head I had very little interest in deep and meaningful discourse with my drinking partners; keep it light and easy thank you very much. I’m here to get drunk, not to be enlightened. The very purpose of my presence here is to think less! If I do think, it is merely to come up with a witty response to someone else’s comment or to recall a funny or interesting story. Other than that all interactions should be limited to a few general stock responses: “She’ll be right”, “fuck that”, “well there you go”, “bullshit”, “you get that on the big jobs “or “none of my business”.
Conversation topics also need to be confined to a few simple themes: Work (usually how shit it is and how useless everyone you work with is), Sex (Smut only, and no sentimentality will be tolerated around here buddy). Sport (there will be one main sport of choice depending on the area you are in; it may be rugby league or AFL. Extensive knowledge in the primary sport should be accentuated with general knowledge of the secondary one along with a selection of others if one wants to appear well rounded; other options may include rugby union, cricket, boxing, golf or tennis). Failing this, one may demonstrates one’s intellectual prowess by discussing horse racing and punting in great detail.
Local gossip usually revolves around who is rooting who and who recently bashed whom. Any news or current affairs must be dealt with using the simplified solutions and responses agreed upon by the majority; no logical debate or searching discussion will be entered into under any circumstances what so ever. Keep yourself well within these boundaries and you will have yourself a nice evening of automatic responses and non – intellectual chatter; all aboard the sweet train to wondrous oblivion.
As Stan Parker walks into a similar pub with a head full of spiritual and existential questions, he knows damn well he best keep them to himself. I’m not sure he really has a problem communicating as much as he understands the audience he would be speaking to. He knows his uncertainty and inquisitiveness will at the very least cause awkwardness amongst his beer swilling companions. Being that this scene takes place after the announcement of the war and the general consensus is that a true Aussie bloke would join up without any qualms, it would be most unwise to question the logic of signing up to go and kill other men on the other side of the world. Ostracisation or a severe beating could very well be the result of such sacrilege.
The funny twist to all this is that once everyone in the pub has a nice bellyful of beer, all bets are off. At this time of proceedings it is almost expected to speak of things ridiculous and profound. At the exact moment it is almost impossible to collect one’s thoughts properly or speak a sentence correctly, this is the window for patrons to express their inner most epiphanies and meditations. Emotions also have a habit of spilling out at this time of the evening. Tears, assertions of love, anger and unfortunately violence are very likely to spring forth from even the most reserved sober person after they have imbued enough of the amber liquid.
Like myself, I think Stan Parker would find himself more than able to join in a lively discussion of philosophy and things spiritual if he were to find a group that actually wanted to do this. Who knows, there are probably a few other patrons of this pub secretly wishing they could delve a little deeper than the mundane surface chatter that maintains the status quo of mind numbing and unthinking.