The Childhood Friend

Are you a child? Do you have friends? Are you aware that one of them will become a famous scientist, one a renowned entertainer, and one a serial killer? That’ll dispose of three, and all the rest will be insurance salesmen, cocktail waitresses, and dry-goods clerks. In your case you’ll be lucky to get out of the neighbourhood ahead of the mob armed with the torches and pitchforks.

Childhood friends are a little like childhood cousins. You get to interact with them and have a sort of a family connection for awhile without being required to save them when they fall down the old well. That’s Lassie’s job. You can watch with interest their future progress and you never have to claim any debit for it – only credit. If they make good, you knew ’em when…if not, you didn’t. And you need not worry about what they think of you because chances are they don’t.

Childhood enemies are similar – but you are not required to be pleased for them when they make good nor grieve for them when they finally end up just like you said they would. Being from the long past, anything they do wrong cannot be sheeted home to you – unlike present work colleagues or acquaintances. There is a bigger circle of blast around people you have interacted with as an adult compared to the ones of childhood.

If you meet an old childhood friend on the road take the Buddha advice. If they claim friendship, run away from them. Remember that when you were young it was no great honour to know you and it hasn’t gotten any better.

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Has You Been?

No, I’m not talking about today and the All Bran. Your digestive tract is none of my concern. I’m talking about your career and your past successes. Things that you may legitimately cherish.

But a hint: Cherish them to yourself, in private. You’ll do far better in the social scene if you keep up to date with what is going on and don’t hearken to or harp upon the past. Others may know of your history and celebrate it, but as soon as you join in the praise of you there is a danger that they will fall silent. And eventually so will you, in shame.

It will go even worse for you if you come and cry your decline. It may be real, and if so people will perceive it. You need not tell it like a tragic opera.

I was reminded of this at a trade fair where I met several former practitioners of professional photography who have settled into a pattern of retailing their past business history and bewailing their current retirement and/or failures. I feel for them, but if they continue to tell of the woes of getting old I am tempted to feel for a sharp knife to cure that problem.

It was exactly the same for me after my retirement from dentistry – now when I meet an old colleague I try to celebrate our hard-won escape from the profession and I do not go on as if I pine for it. In truth, I do not, and am pleasantly surprised to find that most of my old classmates are of a similar mind.

I find I can bore people wonderfully with new topics and do not need to use the old ammunition. Most of it was duds anyway.

The Commercial Ghost

Upon commencing retirement I read a book of essays by Michel de Montaigne that proved quite inspiring. It was one of the forces that impelled my to increase my daily weblog column output – his essays were the same thing to him – a way of propounding philosophy in easily digested portions.

One of the things he said about retirement was that it should really be retirement – from whatever occupation had formerly used up one’s life. If one were a public figure, one should become a private one. If a commercial entity, this should be foregone for a life away from the marketplace. I would suppose he might have added that if one were a conqueror or warrior it might be nice to beat the sword into a plowshare…or at least into a drinking cup …for the last portion of life.

I am drawn back to this reflection each week as I revisit the camera shop where I was employed. I do have a purpose for going there – to gather material for weekly reviews and columns. But to return to semi-familiar premises while having little to do with day-to-day operations is a little odd.

Drifting through with no responsibility is all very well – and it suits the semi-independent nature of my columns – but  it is hard to know which is more disturbing; the changes made to the premises, operations, and staff…or the sameness of it all. I can  see things that were genuinely foolish in 2008 that are still foolish.

My lack of responsibility also means a lack of any power – save that of sending in a bill once a month for the writing. And while I cannot be ordered about in daily affairs by the bosses, I can be by the employees – who have far more stake in the place than I.

This may be what a ghost feels like – nearly able to communicate and almost able to touch the living. But with a diminishing degree of care as time goes on.

The Look-Alike Contest

We have all seen them – the people who look like someone else. Not the twins or triplets – they are similar because they are split eggs. I mean the people who have been condemned by fate to look like some notable person…without being extraordinary themselves. They are chained to either the balloon of fame or anchor of infamy.

This is no bad thing if you look like Lincoln, or Shirley Temple, or Adam West…or some other loved person. Then you can bask in it – indeed you can make money out of doing stand-in and event appearances. If you’re Lincoln, avoid Ford’s theatre but otherwise you’re good to go. Practice a signature and you can charge for it.

On the other hand, if you look like Hitler, Dr. Crippen, or Justin Trudeau, you have a burden to bear. It’s not your fault, of course, that you resemble them, but it is rather tiresome to have to always be explaining that you are not a mass murderer or from Quebec. You tell yourself that eventually it will stop, but until you have extensive plastic surgery you are a target. It is all you can do to stop yourself from going berserk and fulfilling other people’s fantasies.

On a lower level, there is the unknown person who looks like another unknown person. You’d think that was safe, but no-one is truly unknown. If someone can be seen they can be remembered. Even nebbishes have creditors. And woe betide you if the look of your face means you have not only your own pursuing you, but those of some other unrelated individual. They might lead a fabulous life and you might get the bill.

To this end I suggest that you make yourself as unique and distinctive as possible – every additional factor you ring in to your appearance means that you are that much safer from being an unwitting clone. For men, this will mean growing a distinctive beard and moustache as well as extensive tattoos and possibly implants. Likewise with women, though they are well advised to check with their doctor before starting the third buttock or breast. Also think ahead and plan for foundation garments that will need to be especially bespoke.

If you find that your doppleganger is far away you need not do much – avoid holidaying in their home town. If they live in your locale check out whether or not they are having a better time than you and either stop that or join them.

Reliving The Lives Of Someone Else’s Ancestors…

I used to take a great delight in the re-enactment hobby. I discovered it in the 1980’s as an adjunct to the activities of our local muzzle-loading rifle shooting club.

We’re in Australia, but a section of the country that has little colonial history of note – few battles and none of them famous. Re-enacting colonial times would mainly involve hard work, dirt, and discomfort. It is an unattractive prospect compared to the pageantry and bloodshed of  the United States, Britain, or the European continent. There is little in the way of glamour to it all.

So I reached out – gathering materials to pretend to live in 1860’s America, 1800’s England, and various areas during the Middle ages. There were a lot more things to wear and do when one concentrated on these cultures. At various times you could have seen me as an ACW soldier of either side, a British soldier of 1815 or 1860, a medieval dentist or crossbowman…it was a varied picture. But none of it was a picture of my own life …or of the lives of my ancestors.

Ultimately, this is where the activity failed. It introduced me to like-minded individuals here and now, and I value their friendships….but it had no valid connection to my life.

So what has taken the place of this once all-consuming passion? What fire burns in the grate now? And why is it producing a better heat for me? Read the next post and see.

How Much Is Your Name Worth?

If it is Elon Musk or Richard Branson, apparently quite a lot.

If it is Harvey Weinstein, somewhat less…

And for those of us in the middle? Well, it’s worth just what other people think it is. And therein lies the danger. If you have been a good person forever and are a good person now, your name and reputation will still be available for people to throw darts at as long as you are within range. You are not in control of the darts nor of their throwing arms – you can only control the range.

This is a sad thought if you are a people person. If your life needs human contact and constant approval, you are always going to be within range of the very human trait of animosity. You need not provoke it – it is there all the time ready for use. Sort of the frozen pizza of emotions. Just stand still for long enough, close enough, and there you go.

How to protect yourself from it? Either stay far enough away from others so that you never fall under their notice, or please everyone in every way all the time, or put safeguards in place. Never see anyone alone. Never say anything remotely objectionable to anyone. Never borrow anything , nor lend it. Never win a contest. Never write a book, blog, or laundry ticket. Never ask and never tell. Never know.

For those of you out there contemplating sex, forget it. Cold showers and prayer are your only recourse. Shun dating, marriage, adultery, celibacy, and strip joints. Avoid the movies, particularly if you are producing them. Do not send pictures of any portion of your body to anyone at all, ever. Avoid stimulating foods like lukewarm gruel and dry toast.

As far as finances go, remember about not being a borrower or lender. Also do not spend any money and take particular care that you are not seen to be saving it – you would be a miser.

Of course politics are a minefield of offence. Minefields are also a minefield. In fact just plain fields will get the more committed ecologist quite livid with anger. You may be wise to curl up under your desk and make no sound whatsoever.

But cheer up – do all this and you will have a good name. King Tutankhamen has been quiet for centuries and no-one has a bad word for him.

Going Thump In The Night

I often wonder about the societies that still believe in ghosts, spirits, demons, angels, and local council politicians. Do they sit in fear in the dark whenever the trees rustle or the roof timbers contract? Are they scattering talismans around their beds to keep the monsters at bay? If that’s the case, what sort of talismans would sell best, and can we get them wholesale from China?

For that matter, are the Chinese sitting up in bed clutching the covers, and staring into the darkness?

I have my moments, but most of them are related to where the darned cat is at any one time – ready to jump on my middle parts or already on the bed with its bum an inch from my face? I have taken to keeping a small torch by the bedside. If I see the bum one more time I am going poke it with the torch…

For the most part the house is quiet after midnight, except on late soccer nights. Then I trust in the football fans to keep the demons away from the door. If they could do it at a lower volume I would appreciate it, but one of them is Italian and there is no lower volume  on an Italian football fan. I have come to accept this and will hope for increased deafness in old age.

There are few external disturbances in the neighbourhood – we’re a middle-class suburb and have learned not to leave loose change visible in the consoles of our cars. I leave overdue bills there, hoping that if someone breaks in they’ll rush away with them and pay them for me.

T’was not always thus, as we had several years of mad motorcar chases in our suburb when we first moved here in the 1980’s. These seem to have died down – the miscreants growing up to be about 50 now and younger ones not replacing them. It may have been the hoon laws that stopped this – laws that confiscate and crush cars used by dangerous drivers. Or maybe it has moved out to wilder outer suburbs. We still get overflights to our local light plane airport at all hours, but these are mercy flights by the Royal Flying Doctor aircraft and are really a matter of civic pride.

We’re in the middle of time as far as our houses go – too early to have holes in the eaves that would let possums or rats in and too late to have much native fauna about. The cat doesn’t count as native or fauna.

At least we don’t have the same lives as Mr Lucien – the Moldavian cray fisherman I met some 30 years ago. He was working in Australia to get money for his family back home and before he returned he got me to make up dentistry kits so that they could get their teeth repaired. He also took back drums of Arlec electrical cable, weatherproof work lights, and motion-detecting sensors that turned them on at night.

When I asked about them he said it was to protect the family’s fish farm ponds. When thieves were trying to break in, the lights would illuminate them. I asked what happened then…

” We shoot them with Kalashnikov. Is good and work every time…”

He was completely serious…