Where does one start to define or explain the idea of character? The picture above is of a coin embossed with the character of Alexander the Great and what a character he was too, albeit flawed but  a character none the less. In old Grecian times a ‘character’ was a mark embossed on a coin. A permanent mark mind you which is the basis of character. Leopards don’t change their spots and characters don’t change their character if you know what I mean.

Characters are known collectively as a ‘cast’.

In my early days growing up in the suburbs of Dublin characters roamed the streets in their droves. You could barely buy a pint of milk or a newspaper without interacting with somebody who’s behaviour was somewhat eccentric or just plain out there.

‘Old Joe’ was a sometime handyman and dish washer in a restaurant I slaved away in in my teens. His catch cry was ‘who loves ya baby’ followed by a quick rendition of a James Last tune and a hearty guffaw. He walked with a stumble, had slick backed hair, a hewn face not unlike the Great Grand Canyon  and that sparkle in his blue eyes that truly ‘alive’ people tend to possess.

My favourite character of all time would have to be Dave ‘The Rave’ Hernandez, RIP. He was a sometime chef and full time eccentric in every way. Nothing he did was according to the rules. He only knew other characters in the great cast of life, he came from good stock for his Venezuelan father was sold to the circus while still a bub and his mother was a former Irish beauty queen. Couple his ancestry with his own Al Pacino looks, penchant for wearing designer suits, an unquenchable thirst for narcotics and an outrageously invasive laugh(he had a few) while shouting the house down and you have one seriously unforgettable entity. One of my favourite lines of his was ‘Jeez, she’s not bad looking for a white girl’.

Kitchens are always filled with characters, for they are the great dumping ground for those that don’t fit into a regular sanitised life. If it wasn’t for the larger than life people I’ve met in kitchens I surely would have left many years before I did for sometimes they’re the only thing that makes it all worth while.

Did you know that you can be kicked out of Australia if your character is found wanting? Character references play a large part in the legal world, I recently had to write a reference for a friend who thankfully abounds in the stuff so It was an easy assignment but I would hate to write one for a slightly crumpled but still unstained personality.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘character building stuff’ or ‘it’ll give you character’ but the truth is that OH & S is rapidly exterminating any opportunities for such self improvement. The western world is sterilised beyond comprehension and anything that might be powerful or inspiring to the worker is probably a work hazard and needs to be regulated out of existence.

One of the best put downs to fly across my desk lately went something like this….’I’d say you were of bad character, if you had any.’ So, what’s worse; to be overflowing with character, bad or otherwise, or to possess none at all?

A canvas devoid of life’s pain and extremes is not a canvas I’d want to look at for too long. I’ve known and worked with some people for years but as soon as they are out of sight all memory of them seems to disappear, like water down a plug hole never to be remembered again. Surely this is a worse fate than death? Even Oscar Wilde was known to say that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all.

Our society is now risk averse because risk involves insurance and lawyers which are the great expungers of variety and variance from the norm. Most of the characters I see in my area are from the nearby schizophrenic half way house. Not a day goes passed without being yelled at by the mad screaming(seriously painful and haunting) cigarette bludging woman of Lygon st., or the jaunty fellah with the beacon like crop of red hair atop his bonce who spends his days jiving the Brunswick strip picking up previously loved fag ends and joyously sucking down their remaining life. There is another lady who rides the tram all of 3 stops wearing golden medallions over her camel hair coat and sporting a fine head of regularly dyed white short hair while sucking on numerous durries.  It would appear that a prerequisite for entrance into the hallowed hall of characters is an addiction of some sort, perhaps even a slight unhinged nature.

Characters generally aren’t afraid to be themselves in public which goes against the current fad of being a ‘sheeple’. Politicians used to be characters now they’re just crooks sucking on the strained teats of the public purse.

Those endowed with fathoms of character can sometimes be a tad offensive to those shrinking violets amongst us, sometimes they are best enjoyed in small doses, sometimes we gladly suffer and support them for their life giving abilities other times they’re best foistered on the unsuspecting in a confined social situation.

Either way you look at it we are poorer without them and enriched by their presence when they so choose to stray into our personal space.

I was recently called a ‘character’ by a friend while enjoying a delicious venison and bacon pie with mash and crushed peas (I suspect they received a bad review from a previous diner) on my birthday. I suggested that the bestower of the compliment needed to get out more. We laughed nervously then out came the guffaws like so many doves from a magicians top hat.

I could go on but…