The Ballad Of the Etruscan Snot Pencil

They often say that practice makes perfect. I think rather that it makes for inchoate fury – if you are not careful. I propose to calm the situation and make it worse.

The term “practiced upon ” is one from the 19th century – used to describe someone who was being imposed upon – or worse – who was being mocked by a group of people for their amusement. It appears in the literature of O Henry, Mark Twain, and countless others. The stories feature some tenderfoot to the west or unfortunate country fellow brought into the salons of the East  who sis et upon as a figure of fun and told any number of tales. Initiation rites are imposed and the basic humour is always the native savaging the newcomer.

In some tales revenge is extracted and the tables turned. In others the whole thing is just a sneer in print. It can also include the humiliation of foreigners in Britain or France on a cultural basis. Most of the impositions of Italy or Middle Europe are financial fleecings. Hence the title of this piece – the business of selling antiquities to a New World rube on the basis of history and unfamiliarity therewith.

Consider: how many times have you been imposed on with drop bears and yowies and sniggering references to Australian things? And how many times have you done it to overseas visitors? And who has gotten all the amusement out of it? Is there any less pleasant feeling than realising that you have stumbled into a nest of native wits and are being practiced upon?

What do you do?

Good manners suggest that you do nothing except excuse yourself at the earliest opportunity and leave. Kindly religious feelings abjure you to forget and forgive. But you always feel that you have been got at. The Guild has a far better suggestion when you detect a sell going on; participate fully.

Most native wits do not know when to stop. If you give them the slightest encouragement they will enlarge upon their jokes until they go from puerile to puffy. They cannot stop themselves from extravagance and bluff – eventually they will arrive at the point where even they feel that it has gone too far.

You must compel them to go further – getting wilder and more obvious until someone in their own group is compelled to prick the bubble. Even then, rise to defend the prime jokester and keep asking pointed and intelligent questions – compelling them to eventually start to sweat and look for an escape.

Then, grasp them firmly in the iron embrace of friendship and steer them round to everyone in the room in turn, telling them to repeat the joke for the benefit of the newcomers. You will be hated as you have never been before, but will never, ever be preyed upon again.

It’s a small price to pay.

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Aluminium Pan Alley

I listen to the old time radio station here in Perth – oddly enough broadcast from a nearby suburb. Apart from the melodrama serial and the advertisements for used cars and dental implants, most of the rest of it is devoted to music from the 40’s to the 80’s.

Many of the singers are definitely dead, singing to listeners who are nearly so. The announcers hover halfway between the two. They are lovely people; volunteers all. They make enough basic broadcasting mistakes to give hope to all the rest of us.

When I’m listening to the pop song lyrics of the period, however, I can’t help but think that they have missed the boat somewhat. Of course most of the presentations are some form of love song – that was the style. Many are in Southern Fried accents – even if the singers have never been there in their lives. Again – the style. The thing becomes thickest in the afternoon cruising program that belts out rock and roll.

But the lyrics. They mostly rhyme, and if you hear enough of them you can predict what is coming by the word association. If there is a June, there will be a moon, and someone is likely to swoon. Love and doves are a given.

But what if the love doesn’t go to plan. Why not add in ” shove it ” if you are not going to love it? Or why not be frank about it if you have already sung about a heart that must part and just mention flatulence and be done with it.

Hit and bit are going to get me into trouble, but only if you have a mind like mine. Likewise Bird, word, and the successor to the British Crown after George II.

I say we take advantage of the ability to overdub and deep-fake things and put words into the mouths of all those rock and roll and country and western singers who died in drug crashes or plane overdoses. They can’t come back to complain and if we’re fast the Broadcasting Commission will miss it as it goes by.

 

Aspiring Or Perspiring?

My contemplation of the Facebook Follies a couple of months ago was somewhat of a chore – but it had  some good effects.

Oh. I was not less annoyed at some of the postings, but I reined in any comment, and gained some degree of self-satisfaction at that. And there were valuable insights:

a. Those with most to post, had least to say. They dipped out of a dry well, but that didn’t stop them rattling the bucket.

b. There are, indeed, Fellow Travellers still out there.

One might have expected them to vanish with the 1990’s but I think they just went into a grumbling hibernation. With the rise of a moneyed and bellicose Russia they reappeared, blinking in the sunlight. They are probably a little dismayed that the old red flag days were not revived, but they can still travel to Cuba, Vietnam, and presumably North Korea to get some of the thrill of the past. I’ve watched a couple do two-thirds of the trifecta and expect that they’ll be booking for Pyongyang eventually.

c. There are would-be Fellow Travellers who lack the fire, fare, and foresight to ever succeed.

At least they could take some comfort in the thought that they serve as Useful Idiots…if they understand what that means.

d. You can, indeed, be a ne’er do well these days and gain an audience on the internet. Where once you would have been spurned or clapped up in a workhouse or gaol, you can now draw sympathy and a pension on the strength of it all. It is ever the fault of others… and they must be made to pay.

e. And on the bright side, there are genuinely cheerful and amusing people on the social media. They leaven otherwise lumpen fare.

Racialism

Please read carefully. You don’t want to stumble over the rest of this post. I wrote it carefully because I didn’t want to stumble either…

We often hear people being accused of racism. Or things being referred to as racist. Both are deemed wrong and unacceptable. A great deal of writing and speaking, as well as legislating and litigating, is done to eradicate this. Time will tell whether it will be successful, though I have my doubts when this might be achieved entirely.

But how about eradicating – or at least reducing  – racialism. That’s what I call the all-pervasive concentration upon race and upon ethnic matters so that it becomes the pivotal point of all thought and behaviour. Not just seeing black and white things as black and white, but deliberately turning down the saturation on the rest of the world so that there is nothing to see but black and white.

Don’t believe it can come to that? I have heard people make a racial fuss about sandwiches, numbers, and hair styles. I have heard people make a racial matter out of the choice of a colour scheme for a new car. God knows what they would do if someone asked them to buy a non-racist, non-sectarian, gender-neutral water pump.

I can even do it. I can look at certain teeth in certain jaws and even if I cannot see the rest of the person, I can tell you whether it’s likely they come from Beijing, Leeds, or Dresden. ( Though I was fooled by Cyril von Shanghai once…)

The main effect of racialism upon me is boredom, and a feeling of dread. It is an indication that the conversation will be directed to take a decided turn for the worse at every possible opportunity. That every pathway will be a political one and none of them will be worth treading. It will as if the old bolsheviks and their fellow travellers had risen and gained traction again. The brave black – and white – banners will be flying and it will only be a matter of time before they break out the bayonets and the marching songs.

Bah!

( Not baa, or baa baa, because that would suggest black sheep and we would get nasty notes from the NAACP, the Farmer’s Federation, and VMF 214… I could stand the first two but the thought of Boyington’s ghost terrifies me)

” I Don’t Think You’re Funny! “

” Sorry to hear about your problem. But keep at it – if you try to have a thought every day – even a little one – eventually thinking comes easier.

But thank you for the complement in the latter part of your speech. You might leave a little pause between the first sentence and the second, so people understand that there is a full stop there… ”

Well, there you go. A ready-made Uncle Dick squelch for the person at a party who wants to be offended and take over your conversation upon that basis. You could cede it to them by apologising for whatever it was you said – but you would have a difficult time getting it back. This way you leave them wondering what the holes are on both sides of their mental cockpit and what that whizzing noise was. It was a 40mm Bofors squelch.

There are lots of what the Readers Digest used to call Perfect Squelches to be had – and  lots of times when they are needed – but unfortunately we often miss the cue and fail to fire. Or we are a little slow in the fusing, and the target flies away. A squelch delivered too late bounces off the ground and can detonate in your face.

The best thing to do is practise – and nowadays we are given this opportunity nearly every day when the Indian call centre scammers ring up to try to take control of our computers. There is a brief pause after you lift the telephone receiver and then often a hiss or the sound of a background camel market as the scammer reels out their spiel – you can have up to ten seconds to collect your wits, fuse a squelch, slam it into the breech, and reach for the trigger.

Use these scammers as practise targets. Do not be rude or profane – don’t even be vulgar. Be nice. Be logical. Be honest. Draw a bead on them and tell them that you are Billy The Old Kid and that you rob railway trains as a pension. Tell them that are looking for a Russian bride but all the agencies will offer is Vladimir Putin in a dress. Tell them that you are the ghost of John Diefenbaker looking for butter tarts. Do it in a serious voice.

Note: When an Indian scammer blows up the results can be spectacular. They are only human, after all, and it must be hot and sticky there in the market. They are often only one call away from running amok.

Facing The Book – The Experimental Results

The no-Facebook-feed experiment has been completed. One month of not scrolling down the newsfeed – the only contact being Messenger all through August. Now we’re on the 1st of September and here is what I’ve discovered:

  1. I did not collapse weeping or shivering at any point of the month. The hold that Facebook had on me was not such as to constitute a classical physical addiction. There was no cold turkey – not even a lukewarm chicken.
  2. I was as informed about the general local, state, and federal matters as I would have been had I been reading the feed. Radio and magazines filled the void in the month as far as immediate news is concerned. I did not need to read about the Edict Of Nantes on any medium, so I did not need it on the net.
  3.  I did miss out on news of a more personal nature – people nowadays take to the feed to alert their immediate social group and I very nearly missed out on a very important occasion. Luckily I was alerted and the occasion met…but complete divorce from social sites might be awkward. At the very least one would have to take an old-fashioned newspaper and read it carefully for the hatches, matches, and dispatches.
  4. The amount of time that no-feed freed up for other activities was amazing. This is as much a condemnation of myself before as it was of the internet mechanism. After all, I was the one sitting there wasting time – not the makers of Facebook. They were cramming every minute of every hour with what they hoped would prove productive advertising.
  5. Other activities saw a great deal accomplished – models built, tools cleaned, fences mended, essays written, photos taken. The house looked tidier and was so earlier and earlier in the day.
  6. Visits were made to friends physically, rather than electronically. This cost money, petrol, and time, and was overwhelmingly rewarded with personal happiness.
  7. Visitations from people who annoy me were reduced to a bare minimum. I still got Indian scam calls, of course, as these were inevitable. I got a few pamphlets and shill sheets in the post. And there was always the radio advertisement for a car yard and a dental implant surgery that clog up the old-time radio. But I was not bombarded by politics, propaganda, folly, or fecundity all month. A most refreshing time.
  8. I got to sleep at a decent hour. Or as decent an hour as the bastard cat would permit. I want a cat-proof fence down the middle of the bed.

So…what to do? Now I am free to re-commence my Facebook activity – or curtail it – or close it down entirely. I know the benefits and perils of each course. I think the best decision for me is:

  • Keep the line open. I use the Messenger function and several activities I quite enjoy are carried by Facebook in ancillary groups. No sense cutting my nose off to spite someone else’s face…
  • Open the feed for a limited period of time. And that is an exact use of the language – I shall dedicate a 45-minute period to Facebook during each day. I’ll use that FB-Time to read messages, send out replies, post column links, and read the general feed. But the last-named activity will be kept for the last, after all the others are done. If the earth-shattering news of your lunch is not within the 45 minute limit, I shall never know of it. This last month has shown me that I will never grieve for it.
  • I shall place a number of individuals upon a private notice list. If they break forth into Facebook annoyance again, I shall simply take no further notice of them. They’ll not suffer indignity through this, and neither shall I.

Really, it was so simple – yet it took a month for me to see myself and how foolish I had become with the social media site. Now I can go back to it with pleasure and reserve my folly for other fields.

” Aren’t You Afraid That Someone Will be Offended…? “

On the contrary, my dear.

I am afraid that no-one will be offended. Because if that is the case I have failed to read the social currents and have cast my bait onto a lee shore. All my effort is in danger of being disregarded. I have done my best work and it is languishing…

This is 2019. We’re in the Offended Zone. Everything we say can be taken amiss. Oops, sorry…that should be taken aMs…no, aperson…

We may be the least controversial, kindest, and blandest of creatures but we are still bound to be guilty in someone’s eyes. And with the internet it will not only be their eyes that condemn us – they’ll be able to post no end of condemnatory essays about us. We’ll be memed to death, if we’re lucky. The best outcome for most of the witch hunting will be a quick stake and bundle of blazing sticks.

Now I’m a hunted man. Oops, I’ve just admitted that I’m a man and written the word ” hunt “. I can hear the convoy of activists starting their engines and heading for me.

Is there no end to the torture? Can I never please everyone?

Well, no. No, I can’t. I’ll offend someone by being a Jew and someone else by writing Jew instead of jewish. I’ll anger someone by being male and someone else by doing it since 1948. I will make one section of the country angry by being healthy and another section by writing. Lord God, don’t let us consider what I’m about to cook for dinner…the criticism would be all too much.

So.

So what do I do? Do I jink and dodge like a Halifax bomber whenever someone attacks my tail or do I just sail along and shoot at them with the quad .30’s? Do I try to buy the admiration and approval of people who are determined to neither admire or approve? Or do I eat my dinner, drink my toddy, and brush my teeth before bedtime as I have for 71 years – bidding defiance to politics, trends, and rituals of others?

Ask me tomorrow, it’s just about dinner time.