August 11th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Doctor-patient privilege dies with My Health Record

EDITORIAL By-elections reflect disenchantment with major parties

CANBERRA OBSERVED Longman result may force PM to rethink policies

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS No question about it: the Don is in charge

ENERGY Lower electricity price a fantasy

EUTHANASIA Vulnerable will be victims of Leyonhjelm's deadly bill

LITERARY STUFF Atlas Mugged

PHILOSOPHY On human nature

CULTURE AND SOCIETY The shadow of that hyddeous strength

FICTION A Scent of Musk

MUSIC Globalised Music

CINEMA The Equalizer 2

BOOK REVIEW ADF as modern peacekeepers

BOOK REVIEW The men who built up a great tradition

LETTERS

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LITERARY STUFF
Atlas Mugged


by Ray Nand

News Weekly, August 11, 2018

 

A proposed redraft and redaction for today of Ray Nand’s epoch-defining novel. Devised and pressed in to service by Tobias Eisteddfod, with editorial assistance from Peter Kelleher.

 

Dana Scally raised the glass of Verve Clicquot to her lips and sipped at the expensive wine with a certain distaste (she did nothing uncertain). Her eyes wandered over the faces of the other dinner guests with an equally certain distaste animated only by a lack of interest. She seldom accepted invitations to dine but on this occasion had from an obscure and uncharacteristic impulse that came from she knew not where but that had with an imperiousness that surprised her led her to break with her routine and leave her work to attend a dinner with perhaps the east coast’s most successful industrialist.

She was at the mansion of Brandon Riordon, which occupied a height on a curve of the Scuminnaggy River, about 14 miles from town, from which could just be descried on the horizon the towers of the city; in particular the 40-level tower that housed the offices of Riordon Steel & Rope; and, funnily enough, the 48-level super tower that her brother Shandon had built for Scally Heavy Industries. But the eminent steel man was as yet nowhere to be seen at the festive gathering Madeleine Riordon, his wife, had thrown to celebrate the pouring of the couple’s 20 millionth ton of Riordon alloy.

Scally began to wonder where he was, and to feel a little uncomfortable. She had penetrated the impulse that had drawn her so uncharacteristically away from her life’s work for the evening and discovered that she had come as she hoped to have a moment to talk with Brandon Riordon. After all, he was a man after her own kind, one of the very few people on the planet to whom she could relate as an equal, as to one she understood and who would, she knew intuitively, understand her. But Brandon Riordon continued not to appear.

 

Plod, plod, plod …
Over to Brandon

The pouring of the steel held the razor-sharp intellect of Brandon Riordon on a knife edge; the processes of pouring and rolling always held him thus in suspension, as if the realisation of the results of his unremitting intellectual activity in the world of concrete (and steel) reality, the spilling over of his mind’s contents into the material world that surrounded him, required his closest attention and even his very presence – rather as if he were in a sense immanent in the matter itself and he were required, and only he, to give it its form.

Riordon yawned. It had been a long day. Even so, the yawn caught him unawares; it was not characteristic of him to express tiredness, even to himself. But he caught himself on the cusp of the self-criticism and instead smiled. His iron will reasserted itself and he turned back to his desk, where there awaited him several more of the duties from which a great industrialist is never entirely free. He had five phone calls to answer, 25 emails to read and deal with, two contracts to read over and sign, and a stale bun from lunchtime to consume.

He allowed himself a half-second chuckle as he turned to his final tasks for the day. Work was never a burden for Brandon Riordon; it was rather the earnest of his freedom; as much a part of him as difficulty sitting without a cushion since he took his first job in the barrel on one of his father’s merchant ships as a three year old. There he had learnt the meaning of hard work and hard tack, hard forward and hard astern. Work was as much a part of him as his life’s blood, as his mother’s smile, as the tree in the upper meadow where he and his father’s cousin’s operating manager’s son Tom had fought boyish battles to establish which of them would own and develop the tyre that hung from the tree into the most lucrative home-engineered swing in the county. Work supported him much more than as the source of his sustenance; it supported him in a much more intimate manner; almost, he sometimes felt, as much as did his own backbone.

And Brandon Riordon was a man with a lot of backbone. Backbone was the backbone of his worldview. To support oneself was a beginning; to support and create was the epitome of duty. A man who did not create, and constantly, as he had, hardly deserved to be called a man at all.

He was not a reflective man – he would rather be caught shaving his ears than daydreaming – but if ever he did pull his attention away from the columns of figures, the drafts of contracts, the engineering blueprints and all the paraphernalia of the great industrialist’s life, and turned that razor-sharp attention inwards, his magnificent intellect found only a formidable will to contemplate and he knew, just as at age 10 he knew, whereon both those extraordinary faculties ought to be shining their light – and back to work he went.

 

Plod, plod, plod …
Let’s see what Dana’s up to

To Dana’s left was the matron of one of Connecticut’s richest families; a woman who bore in her very flesh and bone the history and promise of a dynasty of creative geniuses; although her particular genius was for spending money rather than creating it. From behind a lorgnette that might have been opera glasses for thickness, this impressive dilapidated matriarch fixed her eyes on Dana and exclaimed: “My dear, you are too, too much a flower to be hidden among we prickly old thorns! Did you hear Crumdinger’s new concerto on Sunday night at Riordon Hall? Amazing, just a–mazing. And he conducted the orchestra himself for Sir Walter Belttightner, that British guy, on the harmonium.”

“A new Crumdinger concerto?” burst out Dana before she could restrain herself. A shaking hand laid the wineglass on the linen mantle and an impromptu tear squeezed from her eye but was too meagre on her hot cheek to get any further before evaporating. Dana quickly came to herself – as was her wont – and, with composure regained, and every trace of emotion back under the control of her steely will, she asked: “Really?”

“Yes, my dear, really.” The crumbling hulk waved her fan, which seemed to raise dust from about her foundations (but it was only the foundation on her face) as she fiercely drew in for the kill: “Everyone who was anyone was there. But, never mind,” she pressed her large free hand down on Dana’s hand on the table. “I’m sure there’s life somewhere off Fifth Avenue.”

A mixture of titters, frowns, half-smiles and turned heads ensued.

Dana lifted the matron’s hand from her left hand with her right and with an affected delicacy (a rather haughty canapé) retorted, with her eyes fixed on her friend Mrs Boxsterfewer, who sat opposite: “Does this belong to anyone? Some one seems to have just flung it here.”

With that, Dana rose from the table with the big grin of satisfaction on Mrs Boxsterfewer’s face etched in her memory and quickly suppressed hoots of laughter echoing in her ears. She immediately felt ill as the sour regret overtook her at having taken the bait of the pompous and pathetic old woman and having expended her little social patience in a single explosive outburst.

She was better than that, she told herself, as she moved towards the back of the room, where played a string quartet, and feigned ease as to listen to the music. She could feel the shaking in her hands, at which she shook even more from sullen anger that emerged from the realisation that she had been defeated in the war even as she had won the battle.

Dana looked around the room; she knew she was on the lookout for Brandon Riordon’s appearance (a peculiar if not a surreal thing to do, given that his appearance was of a ramrod erect alpha-male whose cheek muscles were a little atrophied from lack of indulgence in smiling).

 

 

Plod, plod, plod …
Take a breath; dive back in

Dana Scallydid not belong among these people, as rich and smug and narrow as they were. These terms were not insults in Dana’s eyes – it was merely that they were wasted on these pimps and parasites and particularly puling paltry poltroons. For she was rich and smug and narrow herself – the difference being that she knew it and gloried in the deeper meaning of the words. She was rich in money, yes; but further to that, she was rich in discipline, rich in application, rich in creativity, rich in promise and intellectual integrity, and, above all, rich in accomplishment. She shook her head as if to clear her mind as this interior parade of passion and drive passed across her imagination. She was feeling better and encouraged herself in her brown study to continue with the next term in the descriptive phrase.

For some people, though certainly not those among whom Dana chose to associate, the word “smug” held distasteful connotations. For the life of her, she could not understand why, and severely dismissed such an attitude as proletarian and beneath contempt, an attitude befitting those whose fathers had not built up enormous steel enterprises or run out railways the length and breadth of this nation, making towns spring up where before there had been godforsaken deserts furnishing breeding grounds only for bears and bison and beavers and other useless marmosets (Was that the word? Botany, or geology or philately, or whatever it was, was not her strong suit). Yes, she was smug; oh my, was she smug! Who could fail to be who had her intellect, her get-up-and-go, her joie de vivre and her great appreciation of haute couture?

She thrust her firm frame forward with a subconscious movement of pride and smuggery. A button, as loosed from a firearm, shot from the top of her blouse and hit the cellist on the G string. His features contorted into something other than smugness but, being a professional, he played on.

Dana relaxed and let her eyes play furtively around the room. No one had noticed. Half the guests were still attempting to raise the Connecticut lady from her seat, where she still huffed and puffed, and the other half were gnawing away at the free lobster. Dana was about to return to her reflections, passing along to “narrow”, when the thoroughly masculine and commanding voice of Brandon Riordon right behind her called her back to the room.

“Why, Dana Scally, the sight of you makes me want to scoop you up in my arms and carry you up to my steel mill and enthrall you with my personality and my wonderful achievements. You know, tonight, my dear, we have achieved what they all said was unachievable! We have rolled more steel this day than those hindering rule-mongers in Washington have taken kickbacks.”

 

Plod, plod, plod …
The horror, the horror!

Arturo Hormigón was looking at Dana from the head of the table with a quiet, determined smile as if he understood precisely what was going through her mind in the brief period of the glance they shared. There was a time, Dana reflected, when she knew that he knew indeed the contents of her mind at just such a moment; however, she now knew that any such time was past forever – she had told herself so – and that there was no likelihood of Arturo’s any longer being in a position to have the universal knowledge of her mind, body and spirit, that he had had on so many occasions in the now seemingly distant past.

Arturo, however, did know. Although to the world a shadow had passed over the scion of the Casa de Hormigón, in an inexplicable fashion darkening the fire of that formidable intellect and in its passage besmirching the virtue of four generations of greatness, Arturo Hormigón held in the secretest recesses of his being a secret that, had the world but guessed correctly, was a secret that the world, being the world, would never guess.

 

Plod, plod, plod … and plod

Brook Hopper had known from the first that he was destined to become what he had indeed become; and, although what he had become was a man scarcely suitable for inclusion in a story of the master creators and their tragic battle to resist the parasites that only lusted to destroy what they had built up by dint of intense hard work and the application of a will to create from which even a quick shag would cause them to deviate only by the slightest degree for the shortest instant of time, if at all, his wooden actions and thoughts and flat personality, granted him by the author, ensured that as a foil to the creators about him he played a part – if not as a man with wishes, dreams, hopes, disappointments and joys, then as something like kapok filler or mulch or a spandrel. Indeed, of the spandrel type there are squillions.

And he was Dana Scally’s spandrel.

 

On his way home from the office, Hopper would customarily drop into the Bar Mechanic, where he had become known to the quiet but empathetic George.

“I don’t know what she’s up to, but, gee, she truly amazes me,” Hopper told George the night after he had been assigned his new role as deputy associate operating officer of Scally Heavy Industries Slag Works Subdivision.

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“Ms Scally, of course. I sit in that office of hers and I know I don’t truly belong there. Sitting in her very seat I feel like a murderer – like I had murdered her in cold blood and dismembered her still-warm body, packed the pieces into a suitcase and disposed of them bit by bit along a 25-mile stretch of the Scuminnaggy River, and come back to town and, calm as a cucumber, taken her place. And I feel that any moment they are going to come in on me and carry me away screaming, ‘yes, I’m guilty’, and take me and run a hundred thousand volts through me; which would not be a bad thing. Because I am guilty; of not being worthy of occupying the same continent let alone the same chair as Ms Scally.”

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“Not often, But she did come in a couple of weeks ago. And, boy, was she a vision. I tell you, she is of that rare breed that thrives on honest hard work. She looked great and she threw me a huge grin when she walked in and said, ‘Who’s in charge here? Mr Hopper, I want to order 20,000 tons of hot rolled toothing steel,’ and roared with laughter as if she’d made the funniest joke in the world – which she had – and sat on the desk, right there opposite me and I sat in her chair, and she chatted to me for five minutes as if I was one of her real social equals.”

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“Well, the thing is, she truly seems to listen when I make a suggestion or …”

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“Not yet, no. But that’s because it’s still really she who is in charge. It’s her business, she knows it in every detail, down to the ordering of glue and ink.”

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“I don’t know – I truly don’t know. I just know that by filling in for her, by being the public face of Scally Slag Works, I’m somehow helping her in a plan fully formed in her pristine mind but that, if she were to detail it to me, I might not see below the surface to the inner meaning and, having taken a wrong meaning, would no longer be able to be of service to her. So, I don’t ask. She is one of those wonderful and even delicate things – a creator, a true creator – a creator of wealth. And she just has to be trusted. And I know she is worthy of that trust.”

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“Thanks, George. I knew I could talk to you and you would understand. Put that on my tab, would you?”

“Womp womp womp womp.”

“I don’t have a tab?”

 

Plod, plod, plod …
just 1196 more pages
and the end is nigh.
Ah, there it is:

The End




























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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm