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…




Not Covered In Event Of Nuclear War…

I was always puzzled by the clause in standard insurance policies that excluded me from collecting any money from the company if they, I, and everyone around us, had been vapourised by a Soviet hydrogen bomb. You don’t believe me – go look out your policy on anything from a house to a pushbike, and there it’ll be.

Good move on the part of vanished people who cannot pay something that has no value to people who cannot claim it. A triumph of some lawyer’s need to bill someone now… and by the second.

If nuclear war occurred, no-one would be sending bills to insurance companies. The ones who had not died instantly would be occupied with the business of dying slowly and would not have time to post in forms. Because there would be no post boxes. Or time to wait for a reply from other dead people…

I am not decrying general destruction of the species – Lord knows there are days when I long to take H.L. Mencken’s advice to raise the black flag and start slitting throats myself – but the business of making pettifogging monetary rules about it seems to be somewhat stupid.

And there is a clear opening for any insurance company going to make a good profit by promising what others would withhold – by all means promising that if a Russian nuclear weapon detonates down the end of your street, a team of dedicated professionals will come out and talk to you about it. The insurance people could charge handsomely for that promise, and then spend the money on liquor and paid women. NO-ONE would be left to chastise them. It’s money for (horribly radioactive) jam.

You Have To Give The Correct Answer

And you have to give it now. Right now.

There are many situations to which these two lines apply. When you are challenged in the night on a battlefield. When you are performing a surgical operation. When you are in front of a magistrate. And when you are buttonholed at a party by a drunk with a grudge.

With a bit of luck you can avoid the first three but no-one will ever escape the fourth. It might not be a party and it might not be a drunk, but there will be a grudge involved somewhere.

I got this 54 years ago when I came to Australia and was caught with the classic ” So tell us what you think of Australia …”. I’d been in the country a week when I was asked this but that was luxury – most overseas visitors got it at the foot of the steps as they got off the QANTAS or Pan Am jet. Nobody who hadn’t prepared a statement for the journalists was ever treated well – indeed the wise ones went around to the Australian Consulate in whatever country they came from beforehand and got a prepared script to memorize. It was the only way to ensure a good press for the duration of your stay.

It was particularly awkward around the patriotic days; Australia Day, Anzac Day, Melbourne Cup, and Grand Final day. One false move answering the national catechism questions and you were damned forever. Fortunately my Uncle Louie had been here before and schooled me in the proper sentimental expressions so I was able to pass most inspections.

The Australia Day questions have changed, and people can give different answers depending upon who asks the question. Anzac Day conversations have remained unchanged. Melbourne Cup and the football Grand Final generate savage controversy, but mostly amongst the savages of Victoria.

No nation likes to hear bad of itself – though it may be prepared to excoriate others. The best way of getting along in society is to praise wisely – you must be honest and quick about it, and you’ll be best to pick aspects of the place that are undeniable and uncontroversial. Praising the weather and/or the native wildlife is pretty safe. You can even get by with phrases like ” Such atmosphere! ” and ” I’m fascinated! ” and the hearers will think well of you. Then press on by and don’t look back.

If you wish to be thought well of, you will continue this litany during your stay…and long afterwards. Australia has cultural monitoring squads that watch your writings and speeches for several years after you have visited to try to detect anything but fulsome praise for your antipodean experiences. If you avoid giving a bad traveller’s review you’ll be welcome again.

But if you return, you’ll be asked the same damn questions – there is always going to be a sense of uncertainty here that needs reassurance.


The Fraud Guide – Brought To You By The BGA – Part Three

” Oh what a tangled web we weave – when first we practice to deceive… ”

Take heart. if you put in enough dedicated practice, you can straighten out that web and make it tough enough to act as a crash barrier. Lies need not be complex nor involved – they can be simple and straightforward. And people appreciate this – they will reward your efforts to make up things in a way that is easily understood. No-one likes confusion – if you can make falsehoods regular and simple you will be doing a public service.

Lies should not be big to start with – and the best ones need never grow to unmanageable proportions. Take the business of Father Christmas.  Stripped of all the commercial hype and cultural nonsense, Santa Claus becomes a simple cautionary tale that can be used to keep the children quiet for at least one month in the year. You needn’t embellish it with science and computer letters to the North Pole. Elf On The Shelf is seasonal totalitarian oppression, and is not needed. It is far easier to just threaten the tykes early in the piece and let imagination do the rest. If all goes well they will be cowed into obedience for 30 or so days – if it goes badly you can save on the cost of presents.

The really interesting thing is the business we alluded to in the first post – the bit about ” wrongful ” deception. It argues that there is also a  ” righteous ” variety. And the “criminal ” part can also be counterbalanced by the thought of ” legal ” deceit. If something has to be defined carefully as bad, there must be good as well. All we need to do is find it.

I should start looking at the local council level – at the bit on the rates notice you get each year that refers to ” Security “. Have you ever stopped to think about exactly what security your local council provides? These are the people who cannot collect a bin from the verge on time and without spilling the contents. People who are not sworn police officers. People who start at 9:00 and finish at 5:00. They are likely to be kind and decent people, while the criminals who steal and assault you are not. Guess who is more likely to turn up at your door at 2:00 AM…

Yet…we pay the levy for security and we pretend that it exists and that we are reassured by it. Deceit with a receipt.

There are any number of deceptive practices that are served to us as ” services ” by other institutions in our daily lives. We are told of ” products ” that have no more reality than a scheme of words of paper. In some cases they never actually make paper – they are just a series of dots on a phosphor screen. Nearly all of them are sanctioned.

The role of the BGA in these things is not to debunk nor to promote them. It is simply to make the Guild member aware that there is a world of possibility between the dawn and the dusk, and a wise explorer looks carefully before he steps.

The Users Guide To Self-Entitlement

Or ” What to do until Dr. Guillotine comes.”

Finding an aristocrat these days is easier than it used to be. We no longer have to consult De Bretts or the Almanach de Gotha to see whether the person we are looking at is expected to enter the reception hall of the Bishop of Salzburg before or after a Viscount prior to Maundy Thursday. The amount of research, memorization, and snap judgement required has been dramatically reduced. In fact, all we need to know is one number:

How much the subject of our enquiry is worth.

This can be a simple bank balance – a series of numbers with a Euro, Dollar, or Pound sign in front and a string of zeros behind. The longer the zero trail, the higher the position in society.

It is rarely that simple, however, as many of those who wish to be modern fiscal princes and princesses are at pains to conceal that number – to make it so diffuse throughout the Caribbean, Swiss Alps, and Pacific islands as to defy actual definition…let alone discovery. They do, however, wish to let you know that they are entitled to the social position, even if you cannot touch the cash.

They’ll let you see clues – hints of worthiness, if you will. There will be large and splendid motor cars, expensive watches, designer clothing that changes as often as the wind blows through the streets of Paris and Milano, and wonderful feasts held in palatial mansions. You’ll not be invited to these, mind, but you can read about them in supermarket magazines.

These possessions and processions are really not necessary to let us know how grand the new aristocrats are. We could judge and be awed by them as they go about their daily business of extraordinary life. Just watching and listening to them deal with lesser creatures would do it. They could probably get away with not actually owning a thing, as long as they were arrogant enough – and I suspect that a few of them are doing just that.

The wonderful thing about life is that it repeats itself over the centuries. Epicurus knew a thing or two about dealing with aristocracy and about the methods of leading a kindly and satisfying life. I suppose Diogenes did as well, though I doubt the tub was as comfortable as all that. We could all do well to investigate the way that the aristo-pluto-cratic society was dealt with in the past and consider whether it might be done again as well.

If you can find a tumbril, I can bring my knitting.

The Etiquette Of The Anonymous Note

Nearly everyone I know has, at one time or another, received an anonymous note or letter*. Frequently these have been disturbing or distressing and have led to serious social and family consequences. Divorces, dismissals, disgraces…the list is nearly endless. It has long seemed to be the bane of civilisation.

And it is not just the badly worded sheet of cheap paper in the letter box or under the door, either – these days the internet brings this sort of thing in through the screen all day. If it is not your email that receives it, it is your Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Some days all you can do is to open the thing and look at the cartoon strips.

We’ve been asked here at the Guild how this sort of thing can be dealt with – a good question, an innocent question, and a wrong question. We cannot advise you how it can be dealt with…we can advise you how to deal it out.

As with all Guild activities, there is an etiquette that must needs be followed. We are not savages..though we do employ them at fair union rates for certain jobs…and we insist that members follow the  rules of civil incivility.

a. Only use anonymity if you send a note that accuses without offering proof. If you can actually prove miscreancies or worse, attend the Blackmail Office and ask for a consultation with one of our operatives. Everything you say will be kept in strict confidence until it can be published widely.

b. Anonymity need not be wretched or small. The practice of using cheap note paper from Woolworths and a builder’s crayon to hint that a Duchess carries a loathsome disease is not only dated but ineffective. The terror of discovery is much worse if the stationery is of extremely good quality and the note seems to have been written with a Montblanc Meisterstück fountain pen in a precise copperplate hand.

If you can obtain letterhead paper from a doctor’s office for this purpose, so much the better. A nice touch is to get it from an ophthalmic specialist.

c. If you feel you must use a pseudonym, either make it extremely crude or extremely elegant. ” Your Friend ” is neither of these: ” yor frend ” serves and ” One who Loves you ” even better if you can get a delicate purple ink.

” The Black Hand ” is comic-book stuff and unless you are writing anonymously as a former President of the United States, will serve no purpose.

d. Sometimes anonymity can be used repeatedly. If you purport to be ” Anonymous ” as the writer, it can be paired with ” To Whom It May Concern ” ( remember to use those capitals…) to give even more of an air of mystery and menace. If you then go on to hint at What You Know, but never specify who knows what, it can get very diffuse…

e. ” We know what you did ” is an excellent start, but you have to be able to add at least one other fact to start the powder train alight. ” We know what you did when you went into the shed ” is good, and ” We know what you did when you went into the shed with Doreen ” better still. You needn’t know, of course, but then they needn’t know that you needn’t know. You know?

f. In some cases the addressee should be specified very accurately. In others the ” To Whom ” is quite sufficient. In especial cases this vagueness of aim should be combined with a very precise authorship – the note should be signed in the name of a real person with a real address. It need not be your real name, nor your address, of course. Suffice it to say some form of communication will ensue…

g. Some have advocated never threatening things that cannot be performed – but we say, where’s the fun in that? Where would Oriental dictators and Indian telephone callers be if that were the case? So use your imagination, and dig into your own psyche to see what would frighten or distress others.

Are you worried about crayfish? Horrified by water pumps? Depressed by the thought of Johnny Young going to the dentist? Incorporate these into the implied threat of the note. You never know when you’ll strike a chord, or, for that matter, when Young will…

h. Likewise use your own sins and peccadilloes as a stepping stone to imagine those of others. But make ’em worse. It  may be difficult, on this basis, for the Dalai Lama to send a nasty note accusing someone of anything – I mean, what is he going to write? ” You are slightly unsettling…”? It just wouldn’t have all that much impact.

Or maybe it would…if he signed his name in blood.

*  I’m absolutely certain of this, trust me…




” Do I Look Like An Idiot? “

This is one of those questions – like ” Do I look fat in this? ” – that is a test of many things.

Your sense of honesty…your timing ability…your commitment to a relationship… There are just so many things that you need to do, that you you need to consider and plan for, long before you hear it.

To start out…the answer that the person asking the question wants to hear is ” No ” – and then as many supporting statements as can be drawn from you. They want to hear that answer in very quick time, accompanied by the feeling that you are admiring, apologetic, appalled, and anxious  – all at the same time. They want to own your mind, for free, and have you provide a 2-year warranty with the transaction.

Do this if you wish. If you can see trouble looming on the horizon; dismissal from employment or withdrawal of conjugal conjuggling, and want to avoid it, say no and then squirm around in the mud as hard as you can. You might avert a fight, or only postpone it. You’ll find out eventually…

Or tell the truth. Say ” Yes “. And then be prepared to say either nothing, or a very great deal more. You will suffer for your honesty – make no mistake about that. And it may be more suffering than you really want to do at any given time, but you will at least have had the pleasure of speaking your mind.

Note: the consequences of saying your mind in a court of law may be more than you would wish to bear. If a legal tormentor succeeds in cowing you through threat of sanction, you can console yourself with the thought that even the highest of High Court judges is eventually removed.

Note: ” Heretofore, no. ” is not really going to work. It may be correct and literate, but still…no…