How Would Sir Like His Communication This Morning?

Please place the letters on the silver tray in the hall, Jenkins. Printed pamphlets, flyers, advertising catalogues, and real estate notices may be dropped unread into the recycling bin on the way into the house.

Please route the electronic letters to one of my two accounts. The commercial ones may be sent through to the studio address – the personal ones into the private address. The writers will know which to use from the email communications I have sent them originally. Unfortunately there will be a modicum of unwanted commercial material mixed in as well, but I shall institute means by which it can be held at bay.

I do not think I shall be taking the Facebook this morning. Perhaps later in the week, if there is no other pressing matter. Or later in the month.

Likewise, you need not switch on the television apparatus in the sitting room today. I have several books open on my side table in the library and I do not wish to be distracted by the sight of murders or gasoline explosions.

Do dust the wireless, however, as I shall be using it today as I write. I find the old-time radio station and the ABC classical music a soothing way to screen out other background sounds. And I do feel it a good idea to listen to the ABC news at least once a day. Not that the news is all that good, all that often, and the ABC has a decided political bias, but it is as well to know what the weather will be for the coming few days.

Should there be a call on the telephone, please listen carefully to the first few seconds of it. If there is silence, then a hiss, then a confused gabble of sounds in the background, you might be connected to a steam room in Bengal, Manila, or Mysore. The person who tells you their name – invariably a staunchly Anglo-Saxon one given in a strong subcontinental or islands accent – will be from a technical department of Microsoft. They wish you to give them code numbers for bank accounts and credit cards. Please feel free to replace the receiver on the cradle at any time.

The mobile telephone will be another matter. It will ring for only a very short period of time and then go silent. The call will be recorded as missed or the caller will try to leave a message, which will be next to impossible to retrieve. This is normal and desirable.

As far as personal callers, please ask them to state their business before admitting them to the house. Those canvassing for solar power panels may be referred to the roof, which they will then observe is covered in the things already. Those who press for my attention upon spiritual matters may be referred to my religious adviser,  Mr. Thomas Paine. Anyone selling raffle tickets, clothespegs, or books of discount vouchers should be addressed though first the locked screen door and then through the firmly closed main door. ” Goodbye ” is a useful word.

Telegrams? I have not seen one for three decades. I doubt they still exist, though I would welcome one just out of nostalgia. Not a sad one – perhaps one announcing a win in the Irish Sweepstakes. I miss those.

Now, I must to my desk. I have an essay to write: ” Have We Lost Touch With Ourselves? “.  A catchy title, I think, what…?

 

 

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Holding Facebook’s Beer

I was mildly amused when a Facebook game came by asking me to score points for admitting to foolish/sad/criminal behaviour in my past. And making it public to the entire planet. I mean, how could one resist the temptation to fill in the little chinks in the information brick wall. I’m just a little surprised they didn’t include a section that asked for sexual fantasies and credit card numbers…

Well, here at the Backstabbers Guild Of Australia we feel that this sort of blatant attempt at coercion is all very well, but should not be done on an amateur basis. If you are going to ask people to condemn themselves publicly, you need to give them more tempting chances. If they’re going down the sewer, make it a big one.

To this end, we have devised the following quiz for social media. There are no points scored, unless you count the knowing looks that people will give you at your next party.

Have you ever…

a. Shot a police cruiser in the grill work with a 17 pounder anti-tank gun from a camouflaged position?

b. Flayed an Albigensian heretic?

c. Written a song about your feelings and then played it to people at a party, accompanying yourself on guitar? All 15 verses?

d. Served week-old warm runny egg salad sandwiches from a service station cabinet to people at a church social?

e. Counterfeited a draft card to allow your underage classmates to buy beer at the local liquor store? Then phoned ahead to alert the local police?

f. Removed a ladder from an attic access hatch while someone was up there and then gone quietly home and had a good dinner?

g. Switched tops on the spray-paint cans in the local Bunnings store cabinet?

h. Put salt in the plaster mix of someone who is trying to invest a casting?

i. Invited a religious caller in to tell you their entire story by using an accent rich in unidentifiably foreign sounds, mixed with blatant grammatical error –  and then insisted that they sit down and drink toasts to your country? Used water tumblers full of hard liquor and cooking oil?

j. If they lasted the course, showed them the Albigensian skin…?

 

The Curse Of the Graphic Memory And The Art Library

People often use the cliché that what has been seen cannot be unseen. Like all clichés this it true, trite, and trash at the same time. Lots of things once seen are never seen again…and the effort to find them uses up whole afternoons.

Some people search for lost keys, sunglasses, and such. They go through all the conventional search patterns, from methodical to frantic, and most times the offending object eventually does turn up.

I search for images that have been seen in art books, catalogues, monographs, etc. The field of endeavour is constrained – my own library – and the books in it very rarely go anywhere. But I suspect the wretched things of passing the images to and fro between themselves to subvert me. I go looking for a perfectly remembered picture in the most logical book there may be – a catalogue or biography of the artist – and it is not there.

In the past I have then gone to the next most logical place and then the next, but I’ve finally come to realise that this is fruitless – the pictures have flitted and I might as well just start at the A section and look at every page. No sense trying to second-guess it. The sensuous nude is as likely to be on page 567 of a book on compound steam engines as it is in the pin-up magazine.

I’m sure there is a digital solution to this all…some type of sorting and cross-referencing  program that lets on talk into a tiny microphone and get the exact thing desired instantly. This must be possible – it works when you want a hamburger sandwich and some french-fried potatoes.

Perhaps I need to hire a minimum-wage librarian. Or buy a better-quality brain.

 

Old Coot On The Road

Old Coot here. How ya going?

I’m the maddening character in the little car at the front of the traffic queue going very slightly less than the sign-posted speed limit. The one in the hat with both hands on the wheel. If you’re polite to me I’ll be in the left-hand lane for most of the journey.

Note: I write from Perth, in Western Australia, where the left-hand lane is the curb-side slow lane. The middle and right-hand lanes are for the people who wish to go faster and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with them as they do.

My little car is bright hi-vis green so that you can see it and dodge round it when you are racing toward your next amphetamine delivery. Don’t worry about me racing you for it…I hate to wear rubber off the tyres needlessly. And there is no need to flip fingers or scream obscenities out of the windows. I am perfectly willing to regard you as obscene under any circumstances.

No good looming up behind me to terrify me. I’ve worked retail for years – I can stand a looming that would crush a battlecruiser. I won’t speed up at all for tyrants, whether they are at a counter or a steering wheel. Being retired, I rarely need to get anywhere on my own time, let alone anyone else’s. And I like to use the exercise of driving to give me time to think. Time to think of my Super-Power…Old Coot Super Power.

Old Coots have been here before – sometimes here was better before, and sometimes it was worse – we have a comparison to go by. If it is worse now we are prepared to do something to make it better, and if it is better now we are prepared to take the time to be grateful.

We have seen better people than you do worse things, and as we are still here driving, we know how to cope with it. As conceited as you may want to be, you are not our worst nightmare. In fact a lot of us have taken up the nightmare business ourselves and we know how to do a lot with very small resources. And we are always looking for something to fill the day in between the morning radio serial and the cocktail hour.

Old Coots know that one day it is all going to end. And we’ve generally racked up enough time already to free us from regret if the one day turns out to be next Tuesday. Threatening us may seem all gangsta until you find out that we don’t care – and the man who doesn’t care is a floating sea mine with one bent horn. Steer clear.

Old Coots also can be very kind. We will change tyres for the helpless, guide the lost, and provide lunch for anyone. There is a price – we will talk while we do it. And the topic may not be apposite to the problem at hand. Don’t feel that you can ignore us – there will be a quiz later, and half your year’s marks will depend upon it.

Old Coots will rarely cuss you out, and if they do the terms they use will most likely sound quaint. They’re not. If an Old Coot calls you cowardly son of a bitch, he means it, and you are. Old Coots operate on simpler vocabularies.

If an Old Coot thanks you or praises you they also mean that sincerely.

 

Free the Political Prismers

Don’t I mean political prisoners? No, though it might be a nice gesture for them, too.  And in some cases it would give them a welcome opportunity to take their turn as the local tyrant and imprison others. A game of musical cells…

What I really want is freedom from the complimentary rainbow that WordPress stuck on my blog page some weeks ago. As pleasant as it might look, and as charming as the cause for which it advocates may be, it is a banner that has little to do with the rest of the writing. It is also a little cloying.

I hope that when the results of the same-sex-Simon-Says plebiscite are announced and the business goes off to the parliament for resolution that the WordPress operators will take it off again. They can bombard their members of parliament with as many rainbows as they like, but I’d appreciate a return to normal* round here. If people want bands of colour, I can make them in Photoshop and string them all over the place.

Here’s one advocating triple-expansion cylinders for French steam locomotives. I think it deserves your support.

 

*  Normal is not a good thing to define as it tends to make the neighbors nervous.

The Sniper Team

Recent events have made this a parlous sort of title for my weblog column but read on and you’ll see why I wrote it.

On my Facebook today a post prompted a series of exchanges – between people with whom I am familiar and people who are complete strangers. I hasten to add that I did not intrude into the exchange. The root cause of the fight, as it will be of many others, was the reports we received of the events of the recent hotel shootings in Las Vegas.

There was a great deal of anguish shown by the various people involved in the discussion and eventually it started to spill over into sexual politics, cross-accusation, and nastiness. The person who originated the thing then called an end to the discussion. One of the participants claimed a sort of victory. It’s an occurance that happens frequently on Facebook.

I could not help being drawn to compare it to some of the practices outlined in a book written by a Captain C. Shore about British army sniping in the world wars. Not the Las Vegas thing…that is yet to be seen for what it may well prove to be…but the use of the spotter, shooter, and decoy system in scoring victories on social media.

Why this should be seen as desirable, in what is supposed to be an on-line community, is sometimes not clear, but the thing that is evident is that there are frequent occasions where a person sets up a tempting post to invite comments and one of their friends sits waiting until a target reacts. Then there is a brief flurry of outraged and biased virtue-scoring posted to dominate the unwary target.

If the person caught in this barrage responds with a counterattack that seems to answer the question or puts the sniper in a bad light, the spotter – acting as originator of the whole sequence – shuts it down by declaring an end. In some cases they can weave back and edit out the target’s posts. The sniper team is left to publicly do the little dance of victory of whichever social army they fight for.

Happened on the computer today to someone else – happened to me some time ago with a different sniping team. The only remedy I could see at the time was to defriend the spotter – the sniper was not on my list.

I’m warier these days about what I say to whom. I rarely defriend anyone, but I do sometimes switch them to the unseen track. And when I meet them in person I am careful to restrict my speech to ” Yay Yay” and ” Nay Nay ” as per biblical instructions. Because all the rest is bound to be sin and sorrow.

The Question Of Dinner

The only questions I intend to countenance about dinner are ” When is it? ” and ” What’re we having? “. Any other attempt at advice or consent will be repelled.

This may seem a little sharp and dictatorial – well, cooks are like that. There is a little Gordon Ramsay in all of us. And it is no new thing in the family – I was raised in a household where there were two options upon the menu; take it or leave it. If I was loud or truculent at mealtime the first option was withdrawn. I am not stupid – I learned quickly – and I am eager to teach others.

Another dinner question sometimes arises: ” Now who can that be? “. The telephone, the iPad, or the doorbell is who it can be… The answer in all three cases during a meal should be : ” It does not matter “. I despair of ever curing the subcontinental scam artists from ringing at tea-time, but I am going to try to let relatives know that we keep regular meal times and hope to do so undisturbed. I think the trick will be to find out when they eat and regularly phone them in return. A few dinners congealed on their plates should get the message across. Either that or a cutout on the line between 6:00 and 7:00.

I know people who have especial diets – occasioned by religious faith, ethical choice, or medical reasons. I would never ask them to feed contrary to their own best interests – were I to entertain them I would attend assiduously to their needs. Likewise, if they were the hosts I should essay anything they put on my plate – presuming it to be intended for my own good.

Outside, of this, however, I brook no interference with the food choices. I adhere to Mark Twain’s dictum: ” Part of the secret to success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside. ” He also advised people not to follow his advice, saying that his diet would assassinate them. I have no ambitions to murder people with a saucepan, but equally I have no desire to subsist on gruel. While I have hands, I will wield my own fork, thank you.

I am fortunate in that I passed my early life being hungry and having that hunger dealt with by both good cooks and terrible cooks. I was given clear examples of poor choice, bad flavour, and miserable preparation…and then of good food, good cooking, and comfortable surroundings. I am no culinary expert, but I know which experiences I liked.

If you will excuse me, the potatoes have caught alight and it may be time to serve them.