The Old Guard is going down. The paradigm is finally shifting. I remember a time when harassment was put down to “having a joke.” I recall a time when domestic abuse was laughed off. It was not that long ago. I recall a friend’s uncle making lurid suggestions to me at a sleepover at her home when I was eleven. I recall the grown men thinking that certain commentary was okay.
Years ago, I had a neighbour who was in his sixties. He didn’t give me a good feeling upon meeting him. By meeting him, I mean he peered over the fence at me, and always seemed to be loitering. He studied my visitors, and a conversation outside was never private. He had a weather-beaten face, loved a drink, and chain-smoked. I invited he and his wife in for a meal to break the ice. He drank beer and mumbled. When he went outside to smoke, his wife confided that their marriage hadn’t been a barrel of laughs. She talked of his violence, of his erratic behaviour with money, his unpredictability. He was what one could call a larrikin in the Australian vernacular. He never called his wife by her name, rather she was “the missus.” She was a bundle of frayed nerves.
The thing I have noted about these men are that they take up space. They want more than their share. He introduced a dog to their small yard. This breed of dog is designed to work on farms. It grew insane prowling their small yard and barked day and night. We tried talking to him, suggesting he may walk the dog, get him some exercise. He couldn’t have cared less. He used his power tools day and night, taking up every inch of space he was entitled to. He tinkered right on the fence line. Other men in the neighbourhood visited him, smoking and drinking out the front. “A good bloke.” A good bloke alright.
John Singleton has been in the news this week. He threatened a friend over lunch with the stem of a wine glass. He then joked about domestic violence. The next day, he said they were just mucking around. Yes, it is hysterically funny. It is wondrous to witness the woman next door with her anxious voice continually wringing her hands due to anxiety. It is wondrous to hear him bellowing at her, and prowling around like he is a grand old General. The old guard is leaving the building, and fellows who respect women and children are coming in. “Flirting” with children is out, as is mocking domestic violence. Sexual innuendos and commentary aren’t laughed off. To my mind larrikins are good men with a cheerful spirit and sense of adventure. They are not the above. Not any more. Thank God.