The Family History As A Method Of Torture

I spotted it in a trice – on the shelf of the council library. It was a self-published history of a local family. Paper-bound, A4 size, but about a centimetre thick. I’m a bit hazy about the exact family name but I remember it referred to a country town where they lived and styled them as ” Pioneer Nobility “.

That’s a concept you don’t see all that often in an egalitarian society – but it lurks in the heart of every amateur genealogist. If they can assert that their family is noble, and get you to believe it, they can control the universe.

I come from a mother and a father. They, in their turn, came from mothers and fathers. Funnily enough, so does everyone else riding the N0.507 bus to the train station. And so do you. It is the common experience of mankind to be born because of the combination of a mother and father.

The lucky ones get to know who they were. Even better – they might have gotten to see them for some portion of their lives and can treasure this. But there is a catch to the treasure – a curse, if you will…if you try to grasp too much of it, it turns to fire and burns away your happiness. And that fire can consume all the social oxygen and leave everyone around you asphyxiated.

I met today with a relative of my wife – a pleasant man who is the amateur genealogist for her family. He is good at it and has facts and figures of all the extended family at his fingertips. You have only to sit still long enough and you will find out when in 1887 one cousin shifted addresses in Adelaide, and how we know this, and what it means for the Scottish branch of the family in 1934…

It is not polite to sneer or yawn. Neither is it to run and hide in the toilet or fall lifeless to the carpet. One must look bright and attentive. And not scream.

But, just as with the accounting of dreams, so the history of someone else’s distant family connection to even more distant relations who have done no more than breed and move is the saddest and most banal of communications. No-one wants to know.

None of us are remotely interested in the thing, and unless you can prove in court that you are a direct descendant of a liaison between Benjamin Franklin and Cleopatra, we’re not likely to care. Publish all you like, prattle all you will, thrust forward parish records from the 19th century all you may – We. Don’t. Care.

But let me tell you about my uncle Agnes and the time she met the Kaiser in Woolies…

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My Hobby, Sir, Is Below…

No, not that far down. That’s a different hobby. Stop staring.

My hobby is what you are reading right now. I write now.  I write four weblog columns each weekday and three on the weekends. I get paid money to pen one of them and the other three pay in joy.

I did not realise this was going to be the case when my friend Joanne suggested over a café breakfast that I look up WordPress. She, like many young people, is somewhat of an expert on the social media and connection side of things. But she doesn’t make the technical side of things sound as hard and confusing. Nor was it, once I had picked up a couple of simplistic books on the WordPress blog experience.

My first efforts were crude – like my first engagement with Facebook – but gradually the business of telling a story ( and that is all I am doing when I write ) started to flow and it has gushed ever since. I’m a photographer with my own studio so I can make pictures to enliven the print and as much as the graphic designers amongst my readers may quail, I can dot them with words. Generally the words I choose try to be funny. Sometimes they succeed, but only sometimes…

So I finally have to admit I like engaging you in this one-sided conversation – I look upon it as a Catskill monologue. Hence the title of this first weblog column. I’m here all week – try the pasta surprise.

The chef was absolutely surprised. He was aiming for bacon smoothies.

 

Sentimental Journey

We all know the song ” Sentimental Journey “. It’s very good – music and lyrics are spot-on. But they raise a question for the listener; what do you do if there is no such thing as a sentimental journey that you can go on?

Migrants and refugees who moved from dreadful places or people know this feeling. They ran like buggery to get away from whatever it was back there and going back there is generally not an option – it’d be the poorhouse or the jail house at best. The only sentiments that they could reasonably expect to experience would be fear and regret.

People who have come from easier circumstances might be able to return to a former location and feel a bit better. If they came from a place that is conservative, well-off, and untroubled by war or invasion, they might be able to enjoy a vestige of their former culture. If time has erased this and substituted something else, the sentiment would be loss and sadness. It’s a risky business – the wise traveller makes a study of Google Earth to see what the old neighbourhood has become. Smoking holes or multiple McDonald’s are a warning sign.

The same caution that you exercise toward the place should also be extended to the people. You don’t need Google Earth to prepare. Go to a mirror and look at yourself. If what you see is grey and saggy or red and swollen, expect to find that the rest of your high school graduating class will look the same. You may have to see yourself, but decide whether you have to see them as well.

One sentiment that you can encourage in a journey is  longing for adventure and new experiences. To do this all you have to do is avoid the old haunts – the new ones may be awful, but they will be a novel pain. If you survive it you can file it under the ” Goode Olde Dayes ” and stay home next time.

Note: it is perfectly alright to not feel any sentiment toward any place at all. It is far better so to do than to generate a false attachment to some imagined location.

 

The Day Of Fools

April 1st.

My day. My birthday. April 1st, 1948. And laugh if you will, when I give the signal, but it has always been a pretty good day for me – fool or not.

As a small child the day was always a celebration that had no connection to anyone outside my family and friends. You’re centered in that as a kid. It was only in the latter part of grade school that the significance of the occasion as a national prank day came to my attention.

Of course, in the natural way that school children have, it was seized upon as an excuse to torment me. And I was a little ashamed of the connection – until one person said that they were jealous of me because I would be able to do anything I wanted to others on April 1st morning and get away with it. It was the dawning of, if not wisdom, at least a new career.

Most April Fool jokes are practical to some extent, but short of damage to property, there’s not much of a practical nature that one little kid can do. But if they are inventive, coats can be switched around in cloak rooms, water coolers can be blocked with wadded paper, and similar low-grade japes. If they talk fast and in a complex manner they can infuriate the slower minds without being actually culpable. But they must stop at noon so as not to overstep the immunity.

This year I simply told the staff members at work that their employment contracts were being rescinded in favour of the system of physical slavery. They were advised to practice the phrases ” Yowsah ” and ” Sho Nuff “. When, by accident, the Star Track man delivered three bales of cotton, I left them to it.

 

What Will The Neighbours Say?

What will the kids at school say?

What will my employer say?

What will the press say?

Who knows? Because when you get to certain stage of your life you are not overlooked by schoolmates, neighbours, employers or the media. You are just there by your own, and the only opinion you need to canvas is your own. It’s a sad, frightening, thrilling, and uplifting thing.

‘Twas not always thus. As a child I suffered under the lash of schoolmate’s disapproval – and it coloured my attitude to what I did outside of school. If you can imagine a constant feeling that you were being watched by the phantoms of the schoolyard, you can get some of the feeling. It lasted for years after my schooling ended and only yielded to the next stage of life – employment.

Well, I was self-employed for 40 years, and the feeling of being overlooked was transferred to the professional board that controlled our state’s dentists. The only run-in I ever had with them was on the subject of a signboard, so that was a fortunate 40 years.

Then another 8 years of paid work in a different trade – with an actual employer. And while the first year was spent in an agony of apprehension, most of the next seven saw an increasing indifference upon my part. Not to the work – I was conscientious and diligent – but eventually I stopped looking to the management for a pat on the head. I have two paws and I can pat myself…

Our neighbours are fine people – I suppose. They may be lizards dressed in human skins, for all I know. We keep out of each other’s way and the only thing that is shared is cooking odours. Garlic Week can be a trial.

As far as the press goes, I make my own press – you are reading it right now. If you keep reading there will be exposés and photographs of topless beach parties – so make sure you stay tuned.

 

 

I Rather Like Mr. Trump

And so should you. Here’s some good reasons why:

a. He is loud and brash and sometimes crass.

This may not seem a good thing to start with but consider how much better it is that way when you are in a group of Trump-haters. You can be harshly judgemental and in line with your crowd at the same time. You try doing that to one of your university classmates or drinking buddies and see how good-humoured they’d be about it.

b. He is male.

If you are not and are angry about that, he is the ideal embodiment of The Patriarchy. Or The Oligarchy. Or The Lever Archy. ( That’s an in joke for people who collect stationery…). In any case he is a convenient punching bag for you when you cannot find someone else to punch.

c. He is white.

Well, actually sort of tanned pink. But a lighter shade than his predecessor. If you are not, and resent the fact, you can batten upon his race as the cause of all your troubles. If you’re a little leery of playing the race card, in case it is used in turn against yourself, you can always complain that his ancestors were Dutch. That’ll get everyone on your side, including 96% of the Netherlands.

d. He is rich.

Well, that annoys me too, but I can point to every one of his possessions or activities and either sneer or cry. Everyone else who is in the same boat can join me. If we all bay at the moon the dogs will join in. Awwwooooo….

e. He has funny hair.

You might decry this but it’s been a godsend to the political cartoonists. They had a difficult time with Obama as any exaggeration of his face teetered on racial stereotype. They had to batten upon his ears. The funny Trump hair is funny and I suspect he keeps it so for a good theatrical reason.

f. He has bad ideas.

Yep, some of them are doozies. Of course all his predecessors had bad ones too, and so will all his successors, and every othe world leader… but you need not be scholarly or fair about it. When he has a bad one, you get to crow and dance about.

g. He has good ideas.

Awkward… This one is a problem, as you may secretly agree that one of his schemes is a darned good one. But what can you say? How can you agree with someone you have always pilloried? What if the good idea succeeds? Is it hot in here or are you sweating?

Give yourself an out. Do like the Russians used to do whenever anyone else invented something or did a good deed. Tell the world that it was already done by Ivan Svelkavich in 1845. In the case of Mr. Trump, invent someone who had that same good idea but from the Democrats or some socialist party. Then blame Trump for stealing it.

You know how to operate a blame-thrower, don’t you?

H. He is American.

All the way through, probably…though I doubt that you’d be allowed to saw him in half to count the rings.

The main thing is he is American and not British. That means if you are, then he is wrong. You get to deal him the same contempt you dealt to Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and every other President. You get to resent every success and sneer at every failure based upon the fact of his citizenship – not merely his leadership.

You can rely upon every small politician or large comic to assist you in this with the assurance that you’ll always get an audience to agree with you down the local pub. That audience may be sitting there under the sword of Brexitocles and sipping their £ 8.00 shandy while the lights flicker on and off, but they’ll all agree to hate Trump with you.

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that hating Trump will make them love you or themselves… and if you are on a trip to the USA do remember to pick the correct bar in which to open your big fat mouth.

 

The Jeans Shop – Retail Clothing Part Five

If ever there was a tale of good taste manipulated, good sense circumvented, and good business pursued, it is told in the blue jeans business. Also add hype, mindless conformity, and slave labour to that last sentence.

I’ve seen blue jeans become jeans and progress from farm worker wear to kid wear to teen wear to mainstream trendy wear in my lifetime. I regret that I will not live long enough to watch the garment travel back down to the start of the circle and largely disappear from sight.

I do not decry the basic thing – but I have become mightily sick of the sales gimmickry that has accompanied each stage of the progression. It was like watching fake-wood plastic veneers take over every surface of every product in the 1960’s and 70’s. I long to see the denim become as rare as the walnut*.

Mind you, I do appreciate a good joke and more so when I can get it and the persons upon whom it is perpetrated remain ignorant. The ripped jeans sold from a shop – in some cases ripped beyond garment to rag – are one facet of this. The dull colour is another. The excessive studding a third. The list goes on, and you can be sure that if some garment worker has made a drunken bet that they can make an uglier design and sell it to the vapid, they will collect their money.

Note the garment that was given to me – a denim photographer’s jacket. Actually a very good idea, but unwearable in any dimension save the Alt-70’s.

*  I actually owned an air-powered dental unit made in Oregon in the 1970’s that was faced with stick-on wood veneer and aluminium knobs. In my defence, it was all I could afford…