Some Of The Best Questions

Some of the best questions in life have a yes or no answer.

” Do you want a beer and a sandwich? ”

” Do you realise you just won a free tank of petrol? ”

” Can I have a real pony, Daddy? ”

All answerable in either the positive or negative and they put an end to speculation comfortably. Even the slightly less pleasant ” Is it true that you threw your sister-in-law under the tramcar? ” can be dealt with by telling the truth, and will bring no further harm to the poor woman.

However, as soon as you introduce a qualifier you make trouble. You may indeed want a beer and a sandwich, but you invite criticism straightaway by asking what sort of sandwiches are on offer. Even worse – if, after the list is recited, you ask if there are any other sort…your welcome is over.

Worse can become worst. If the question about the dear departed and the public transport vehicle is asked in open court by the public prosecutor, and you counter-question:

” But wasn’t that what you paid me to do? “…

All hell may break loose. Make sure you keep a copy of the receipt.

What Do You Want From A Prime Minister?

I want a statesman. Or a stateswoman. I want someone who the whole country can be proud.

I want one who has been elected fresh – not boosted from the cabinet ranks in the latest round of musical chairs. I want the apple I bought, not a sudden substitute from further down in the barrel..

I want one who is not radio-controlled from a union party room or some cabal of moneyed backers. I want one who cannot be cowed and refuses to be insulted by other nations throwing their weight about. I want one that can’t be bought or sold.

I want one that is there when the country needs them, and who stays through the crisis. I want a leader who – like King George VI – will never leave.

I want one who knows when to have a laugh and when to be sober. Above all I want a dignified person – not a Pierre Trudeau or Donald Trump – as our figurehead. I want the PM to communicate from Canberra or the Lodge and not on Twitter or Facebook. I’d prefer truth to lies but whichever we get, let us get it through official pronouncements rather than angry rants or press conferences.


The Mockingbird Dance

When someone wants to mock you, to offend you, and to try to pressure you into an angry response, they will very often make a number of foolish errors. How you respond to these can make all the difference.

a. Direct insult in a private place is best answered by either direct insult or genuine laughter. it’s not often that you are overcome with the second, but when it comes, let it flow. The look of horror on the face of the other person is priceless.

b. Direct insult in a public place is best answered with a dog whip across the face of the miscreant ( throw the contaminated thing away afterwards ) or again by genuine laughter. Or you can maintain a stony and complete silence and ignore the ranter – they will try harder and eventually exile themselves from any public approval.

c. Facebook insult is harmless, and can be treated with witticism and lighthearted banter. This may charm the insulter and convert them to a genuine friend. When you next meet you have a chance to dog-whip them.

e. Extraordinary efforts to mock or offend – performances that go beyond the mere side-comment – should be treated as theatre. Applaud them between movements. Encourage others to join you. Sing along with the chorus. Ask for a CD. Shout ” Encore “.

You do not need to make your detractor look foolish in the eyes of other people – all you need to do is make them look foolish in their own eyes. Then close the scene on that note and they will gnaw their own hearts out ever after.

f. Some mockery is deserved. If you perceive it to be, acknowledge it to be so, thank to perpetrator publicly, and offer to shake their hand. 95% of them will refuse, and then will appear to be ill-mannered brutes. This scenario actually raises you in the eyes of the spectators.

g. Some mockery is beneath contempt. Racialism, religious attack, sectarianism…all come into this category. Also any reference to physical distresses or financial circumstances. Just ignore it as you would the sound of someone flaying themselves with their own set of steak knives.

The Ill WInd

It is interesting during this year of the Wuhan Plague to contemplate people’s reaction to it. Not the panic hoarding business – that is the common reaction at the start of any war, and is usually stopped by rationing.

I mean the social media reaction. The reaction of people who you know – not faceless strangers in a supermarket. People with whom you have had some past contact – however tenuous. I’m not a big collector of contacts in the Facebook sense, but there’s about 230+ I can identify. They rather fall into a set of categories this year – and it’s they who have sorted themselves out. Here’s the groups:

a. The people who post incessantly.

Heretofore they have been associated with Facebook games and promotions for home-selling goods – or for their children. In some cases they have been doing this for profit, and in others just to have some outside contact. I expect this behaviour will increase. If it helps them cope with self-isolation, this is probably a good thing. I certainly cannot fault someone who is proud of their family – after all, I show off my family of toy airplanes a lot.

b. The people who post mysteriously.

I’m not good with mysteries. I’m afraid their posts are largely bypassed. There may be gems there, but they remain buried.

c. The people who post religious messages.

I do not begrudge them these messages, as I realise that they are doing something to buoy their own spirits, but the tackier ones are a little embarrassing. Perhaps they reveal more of the inner workings of their mind than I care to know about.

I would post excerpts from Ton Paine’s ” Age Of Reason ” if ‘twould do any good…but they evidently draw their comfort from other thoughts, so I refrain.

d. The people who post memes and repeat messages from other people…for some political gain.

Here I start to look more critically at the poster. One or two of this sort of thing occasionally is probably a valid expression of freedom of speech – a good thing in Australia and other western countries. A novelty elsewhere, I daresay.

When the posting becomes repeated and overbearing, the poster takes on the character of political tyrant – in some cases it can reveal bigotry, bias, sycophancy, malice, and other dire characteristics. It can tie people to right-wing, left-wing, or criminal groups and make them seem to be a part of far worse things.

It is amazing – I’ve got people in my 230+ who hate Asians, Africans, Muslims, Jews, Americans, Catholics, Liberals, Conservatives, communists, capitalists, men, women, gays, lesbians, trans-genders, and possibly the Mr. Whippy man. There is surprisingly wide basis of hatred, though no-one applies it to everybody. I suspect many of posters are undergoing their struggles, but few are going to produce a two-part book about it…

e. The people who do not do the above. They share pictures of pubs and meals, dogs and cats, cars and artwork, historical postcards, fashions and clothing. These people I treasure.

There are more sub-categories but I leave that to the Univac* to sort out with the paper cards. Some card slots will fill up and I’ll read them. Some I’ll avoid. And just a few –  a very few – I’ll  quietly empty into the bin.

*Look it up, child. Look it up.

” The Natives Consider This A Delicacy “

If ever you are presented with a dish by your host – whether that be a private person or a commercial restauranteur – and they use this phrase, remember one thing: the natives referred to are old and worn-out at 40. This may be due to the fact that they live in one of the most unhealthy parts of a disease-infested swamp…or it may be due to what they eat on festive occasions. You might be looking at Nature’s Little Population Control on a plate.

Don’t panic. If it smells yummy and you just have this craving for centipede eyeballs in white sauce…well dig in. Your slurps and smacks of delight will make you an honoured guest. Your hosts will think you the epitome of good manners and will search their cookbooks…and under their huts…for more recipes and ingredients to delight you. Bon appetit.

If, on the other hand, you are seized with the overpowering desire to run – and don’t wish to be doing it from both ends in the morning – you must be prepared with a plausible excuse to avoid the dish. Native societies do not respond to the idea of gluten or lactose intolerance. Your protest that it may contain traces of tree nuts will fall on deaf ears – 100% of their foods contain tree nuts, including the animal they cooked to present to you.

Allergies are unknown in the third world. They exist, of course, and sweep away the natives as readily as they might the visitors, but no-one knows why. Often the swelling, choking, and collapse are put down to evil spirits or malnutrition and they shovel more tree nuts in to counteract this.

But there is one thing that they all know – tabu. Whether things have been forbidden them by a prophet or a shaman – or just by long superstition – every population has some form of food law that prohibits something. They might be allowed to roast caterpillars but not hot dogs. They might be quite fond of hot dogs but have been banned from shellfish. The point is someone has said ” No ” from a pulpit or sacred rock and No it is. They understand this.

You must pull a ceremonial scarf, hat, or other non-controversial symbol from your coat pocket, put it on, and tell the host with great seriousness that it is tenet of your faith that the food may not be eaten. Be regretful but firm. They will understand completely, and it will vanish.

Be aware, however, that they may wish to placate your sensibilities by bringing out something worse. You can only trot out a tabu so many times before they begin to suspect.

When Someone Does Something Right

When someone does something wrong, you have the right to point it out. You can do this in a neutral way or with a great deal of angst and  contempt. This is a free country and you’re allowed a certain degree of malice…as long as you do not overstep yourself into threat or defamation. Generally firearms are not allowed, though you can try to get away with an thrown egg if you think you are young enough and entitled enough. Be careful – magistrates have bad days too, and are empowered to hand them on in thirty-day parcels…

That you make yourself noticeable while doing this is a matter of course, but hardly anyone really will take note. That’s the nature of humans.

But also consider that while you have a right to ridicule, you also have a right to praise…and if you withhold a good word when someone deserves it, you are also guilty of a breach of manners. It may not suit your disposition to be fair to those you hate, but others are watching and can indeed see if you are acting with bias or bigotry.

Being forced to be fair is an awkward thing…better to do it voluntarily.

Do Not Fear Me

For I am not fearful. The smile is real, and conceals nothing but the back of the teeth and a fair few fillings.

Do not praise me, because I am not praiseworthy…or at least not for the things that you think. If I need praise I can do it myself.

Do not be my enemy – because we are judged on the quality of our enemies, and you may not measure up.

Do not try to seduce me with offers of commercial sales. I have all the goods I need. If you offer to buy some of them off me we can talk, provided you are willing to load them on the back of your truck yourself. I don’t do heavy lifts.

Please do not sell me a plan or a program. I’ve had many plans in the past and have learned to be wary – some are futile con games that take my money and leave me disappointed…and some come to glorious fruition. Of the two results, the first is a lot easier to bear.

I can always be purchased with coffee, tea, and cakes. I am not greedy and I do not slurp or drop crumbs. The quality of my interest in your problems is directly proportional to the quality of the coffee and cake. Barista special and rich fruit cake will enlist my deepest sympathy – a plastic cup of Pablo and Nice biscuit will get you what you deserve…

And never be afraid to ask me for money – make the sum as grand as you wish. I shall be equally brave in my refusal, and the higher the demand, the greater the saving. You may be treated to a hollow laugh and a hearty handshake or vice versa.