Chiaroscuro and the need to “HARDEN THE FUCK UP!”

There are sometimes that I feel so disassociated from the rest of the society that I live in.  Like one of the androids in Blade Runner once said, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” and I feel some of those things that I have seen, separate me from most other people in the way how I cope with stuff that doesn’t go my way.

I am constantly amazed at the whingeing that I hear in this prosperous and fat first world country that I live in.  It seems to me that some people are living in some sort of antiseptic bubble that insulates them from the rest of the world.  It blows me away to think that some people (here in Australia) think that it’s acceptable to complain about water restrictions, and the fact they can’t wash their cars in the time of a drought. Or that it’s okay to harp on about not getting financial assistance from the government in the form of the baby bonus when you’re earning over $150,000 a year.


I’ve also noticed that a lot of Bloggs, that I’ve been reading lately have been discussing idiosyncratic eating habits.  It just goes to show what prosperous lives many of us lead in that we can be so choosy about what we eat.  There was a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald about people who falsely claim to have allergies to foods.  Apparently real food allergies are very rare and can be life-threatening, but it would seem that some people like to claim they have allergies as it is an attention seeking ploy that sets them apart from the mainstream.


I’m hardly without sin in this area myself as I hate and won’t eat pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon, or any offal. I’ve been thinking that on an evolutionary level it’s not a very smart strategy to be a picky eater.  We’ve spent millions of years developing a taste for eating just about anything that ever lived. 


My stepfather (Manfred), who was in Germany during the Second World War as a teenager, and in the Hitler youth, always likes to say “you can shit on my plate and I’ll eat around it”. Manfred has told me stories about the deprivations that he and his family went through at the end of the Second World War, when they were forced by the occupying Russians to leave what was once the German part of Prussia known as Upper Silesia (now a part of Poland) and walk to Berlin with no supplies.  When I was a teenager and I used to peevishly complain what was for dinner, Manfred used to remind me about how he and his family had to live on grass soup for two weeks and that I should be just grateful for what I have in front of me. 


My mother who grew up in post-war England during the time of rationing had very little patience for any sign of picky eating.  My mother’s standard response to any question about what was in a meal was “Shit with sugar on it!” “What do you think this is a restaurant?” “Shut up and eat it!”


Some people really have it tough

The woman in the picture above is a beggar that I saw in 1974 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the war. There were so many pathetic beggars in Phnom Penh at that time.  It was a regular freak show of maimed soldiers; orphaned children; refugees, lepers and war widows, not attractive enough to become prostitutes. In short, people with REAL problems.

I saw the woman in the photograph nearly every day, and one day I saw her on her hands and knees vomiting onto the sidewalk.  Her whole body just convulsed with spasms as she retched up what little food she had in her stomach.  When she had stopped being sick she scooped up the vomit and re-ate it. She obviously was too poor to be able to waste food by leaving her vomit on the footpath.

This brings me to the whole concept of contrast.  Chiaroscuro is an Italian word describing light and shade. It’s a term that one will see quite often in books about art and in particular, the Renaissance era.  By varying the tone of a drawing by simulating highlight and shadow, an artist can create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. A bit of contrast makes things in general, more…….. “real”.

As I go through life and get older, I’ve come to realise that the old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, has a lot of of truth to it.  I think that the bad things that have happened to me in my life have helped me appreciate to a greater degree, the good things that happen to me.  I also think that because I’ve had such an extreme range of highs and lows that I am better able to deal with life’s little disappointments. A little chiaroscuro serves me well.

When ever I have some difficulties, I just reflect on some of the really negative benchmarks that I have, in my stupidity, accumulated. I was nearly killed when I came under mortar fire by the Khmer Rouge. I’ve been beaten up by the police and a mob in Morocco, nearly had my foot torn off on a train, smashed my car in the desert nearly killing my wife and I, and last but not least, lost 10 kg (22lbs) in two months when I had malaria and was starving in Phnom Penh.

To lighten the mood of this rant, I’ve put in this little video, titled “Harden the fuck up” by Ronnie Johns (an Australian comedian), impersonating a famous Australian criminal and murderer called Chopper Reid (the subject of the excellent movie “Chopper” starring Eric Banna).

[youtube unkIVvjZc9Y]




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