Finding security in insecurity
By Michael McGirr
You can’t call yourself a Catholic until you know the difference between Tai Chi and Chai Tea.
One is a gentle form of exercise and the other is a non-alcoholic drink.
But in the small town of Inner Springs, both are suspect activities. They were both introduced into these parts by our new school teacher, Leanne Itherway.
As the primary school year winds to a close, tongues are starting to wag about the unfortunate Leanne. It seems she doesn’t measure up under the new security by-laws introduced in Inner Springs by our mayor, Howard Winston. Winston would like all school teachers incarcerated for the Christmas holidays, just as soon as they have cleaned up after yet another gruelling end of year concert. He thinks they pose a threat to security.
The truth is that they actually pose a threat to insecurity. This is what worries Winston. He hates terrorism but doesn’t mind fear. He has done well, over the years, reaping and sowing anxiety. Nevertheless, the council refused to pass his amendments because the one cell at the Inner Springs police station is used by the constable to store confiscated sporting equipment. It would be inconvenient to have the four teachers, all women, in there as well. One councillor commented that there was no knowing what they might get up to. He didn’t even want to think about what the girls, as he called them, could do with skateboards and snorkels over the Christmas period in a four by four cell.
The teachers themselves were horrified. Winston is known not so much as a womaniser as a sexual optimist. His optimism is expressed in unwelcome groping of the opposite sex. The thought of being held by him for fourteen days did not warrant discussion. Memories were stirred of photos which once appeared in the Dry Reach Morning Post of Winston clutching at an ‘aide’ who was better known as the town’s token sex worker. Cash had changed hands so at least she was not being held without charge. The ‘aide’ in question loved Christmas carols, her favourite being “get dressed ye married gentlemen”. Winston described her as a ‘supporter’ which was nothing but the truth as he was leaving a Christmas drinks function and experiencing instability, the very condition from which he was supposed to deliver us. Drinks functions are oddly named as they tend to create dysfunction.
Not long ago, Winston introduced an edict saying that there had to be a flagpole in front of every school in the town. There is only one school, but Winston likes to think big. Once there was a flagpole, there had to be a flag. And once there was a flag, health services were under threat as Winston liked nothing more than the drama of a flag at half mast. His love of civic theatre required a regular supply of funerals. There was no point in allowing the elderly to live too long when children needed to experience love. Only one thing touched the heart strings more than the flag. And that was the flag at half mast. The fly of Mr Winston’s trousers was often in the same condition.
Leanne Itherway didn’t say anything about saluting the flag or playing the national anthem. But she was less comfortable with the new security requirement that the flag had to be surrounded by razor wire to protect it. And she wondered if it was absolutely necessary for the playground to be dug up and converted in trenches. Students on their way to class were now expected to walk through muddy trenches, over duckboards, so they could be reminded every day that they were the heirs of the great ANZACS. Families were asked to donate dead cats and dogs to the school so there would be enough bones in the trenches to inspire young minds and lift their thoughts to higher matters.
Leanne was also not sure that it was such a good idea for children to be taught to read using only the headlines from tabloid newspapers. Any child who put more than three words on a page was to be punished. As was any child who went for five or six words without using an emotive term of clichéd abuse. Mr Winston did not want the young of Inner Springs to be denied the right to hold the same opinion as himself for the sake of such a dubious exercise as building a vocabulary. He believed that giving a child too many words was worse than giving them too much money. They quickly became difficult to control.
Under the new security laws, the school had to be constructed as a model of the world the children were going to live in when they grew up. Children who wandered out of bounds used to have to stay behind and pick up papers. Now they were put in a purpose built detention centre.
Leanne started to murmur around the town that things were not to her liking at the school. She might have got away with it except that she trod on a few toes over the tuck shop. Leanne began to put it around that a healthy range of foods should be available.
Inner Springs has always believed strongly in childhood obesity. It is a way of life. In times when the town was struggling, we were always able to make the school look full with a couple of dozen kids. Large children will always be able to wear their parents’ clothes. If you force children to lose weight, you are effectively destroying this beautiful bond between father and son, mother and daughter. A boy in Inner Springs should be able to fill his father’s underpants by the time he is twelve. Communist countries keep their children skinny so they can work in the mines. In Victorian England, they were starved so they could sweep chimneys. Any attempt by the likes of Leanne Itherway to deny a child the right to a Chiko roll at morning tea has been seen as tantamount to child abuse. When she suggested that a salad roll should be available at the tuck shop, she was reminded that sheep eat grass.
“Besides, Santa is fat,” they said.
The parents were grumpy that this new fangled teacher was going to denude the school of the proper meaning of Christmas. Christmas in Inner Springs is a celebration of obesity and the availability of credit.
There is only one wise man in Inner Springs. Cardinal Shallots works as a crossing attendant outside the local school. He sees Leanne on her way to work every day and the two of them exchange a few words.
“She’s got herself into a bit of bother,” the good Cardinal explained to me. “All these people want to have laws to create security. Whereas Leanne wants to end insecurity. There’s a big difference. No amount of razor wire will ever reassure the insecure. But people who have a bit of strength of their own will find that a little baby in a stable is as much reassurance as they need.”