The Little World – You Never Know What You Never Knew

Earlier in the year I joined a Facebook group that deals with my favourite hobby – die-cast toy cars and photography. The fact that finding it was completely by accident ( and a Facebook algorithm ) shows me just how much we miss in life. Even if we are alert, we are rarely alert enough.

Of course this would all have been par for the course in the pre-internet days. We functioned with hobby magazines from the newsagent or drug store, the occasional book  found buried in the public library, and the personal contact of the hobby club or the hobby shop.

If you lived in an out-of-the-way portion of the world ( we’re so isolated that the Black Plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century is just now starting here. You’ll need a note from your doctor…) you got to see the latest hobby supplies about four years after everyone else and if it was a short-lived craze you probably only saw reports of it in overseas magazines. The magazines had a greater impact than the internet now as they were frequently the only source of information. You’d be surprised how many people built marvellous models from the flimsiest plans.

And also what primitive materials were utilised. Wood, metal, early plastics, paper…they were all good stuff and they still are, but back in the 60’s people didn’t realise that they were crude and just went ahead and built masterpieces with leftovers. And they fastened them together with a wide variety of glues and adhesives that worked only fitfully. Epoxies were here, but they were very slow curing. Acetate cements were the go, and no sign of cyanoacrylates. Lots of model boats were made with powder and resin glues in an effort to make them waterproof. And lots of them came apart in the water.

Were we less happy with our early scratchbuilds? No – and we were perfectly delighted with plastic kits that would seem laughable now. The eye of the Little World builder is an adjustable one and can see past surface flaws to find the inner beauty of a model.

It would be nice to think that we can still muster up this sort of vision now.


The Curse Of the Graphic Memory And The Art Library

People often use the cliché that what has been seen cannot be unseen. Like all clichés this it true, trite, and trash at the same time. Lots of things once seen are never seen again…and the effort to find them uses up whole afternoons.

Some people search for lost keys, sunglasses, and such. They go through all the conventional search patterns, from methodical to frantic, and most times the offending object eventually does turn up.

I search for images that have been seen in art books, catalogues, monographs, etc. The field of endeavour is constrained – my own library – and the books in it very rarely go anywhere. But I suspect the wretched things of passing the images to and fro between themselves to subvert me. I go looking for a perfectly remembered picture in the most logical book there may be – a catalogue or biography of the artist – and it is not there.

In the past I have then gone to the next most logical place and then the next, but I’ve finally come to realise that this is fruitless – the pictures have flitted and I might as well just start at the A section and look at every page. No sense trying to second-guess it. The sensuous nude is as likely to be on page 567 of a book on compound steam engines as it is in the pin-up magazine.

I’m sure there is a digital solution to this all…some type of sorting and cross-referencing  program that lets on talk into a tiny microphone and get the exact thing desired instantly. This must be possible – it works when you want a hamburger sandwich and some french-fried potatoes.

Perhaps I need to hire a minimum-wage librarian. Or buy a better-quality brain.


Fantasy For The Prosaic

Can it be that the makers of the fluoxetine medication known as Prozac were thinking of the English word ” prosaic ” when they named it? Given that the word means commonplace, dull, unimaginative, etc. and the drug is used to try to lift people from depression, it seems the wrong choice. I have no experience with depression, but I would have thought a more spirited name would be better…

Well, coming away from that speculation, today I would like to invite HAW readers to imagine what fiction they would read if they do not read fiction. What novel would rivet a person whose normal reading is a price list. If dry-goods clerks were fulfilled and satisfied with life behind the counter…what would they turn to in an idle hour?

It’s almost like the quandary that confidence tricksters are in when they have to figure out how to con an honest man. How do you inveigle away the mind of someone who has a mind that doesn’t want, or need, to go?

Well, back to our dry-goods clerk, or seed store employee – what you need to do as an author or bookseller is to capitalise on the mindset of the prosaic person to provide that stimulus. No good starting your novel out with ” It was a dark and stormy night…” if  the reader is normally home in bed on them, and perfectly happy. Worse – you might get a weather maniac who knows all the air-movement patterns over the eastern half of the continent and who will start up in indignation and throw it back on the remainder table when you try to describe something that is meteorologically impossible.

No – start your story out with lists of sensible things that a normal person would like to know. How to drive moths out of a pantry, or what the drying rate of acrylic paint is in June. Make sure you have correct technical information and do remember your punctuation. Then, after a chapter or two of ways to seal asphalt, you can introduce a girl with a heaving bosom – presumably after a day spent tarring a road. By that time the reader is fully into the swing of things and can accept a little romance – even if it is somewhat sweaty and tar-spotted.

Don’t try to stray too far from lists. Throw in a basic recipe every now and then. Describe the operation of a useful machine and its maintenance. You may wish to include the odd murder or seduction in case the book gets into the hands of children, but keep them simple and homely affairs.

The best thing about writing for the prosaic reader is the fact that most of the text can be drawn from cook books, mining manuals, and the Amanach de Gotha.

The Conspiracy Magazine On The Shelf

will do it to myself – every blessed time. When I go to the Lucky Poo-Bah Newsagency and look for model car magazines I always turn round to the rack that has the New-Age and Conspiracy magazines, and – try as I might – I can never stop myself from picking up the latest and having a flip-through.

Aliens, Illuminati, Muslims, chem-trails, assassinations, rogue Popes, secret bunkers…it’s all there, and it’s all there, all the time. The menu changes very slightly from one issue to the next but the diet is always the same.

The one I see in our local Poo-Bah seems to be produced in New Zealand but draws writing from all over the globe. It may be a branch of some other publishing organisation or it may be native to NZ. I should not like to give you the impression that New Zealanders cannot produce world-class idiocy when they want to. They are a resourceful and dedicated people, and they can.

I am in a bit of a bind with this magazine – I want to snort over the nonsense but I don’t want to spend money on it to take it home. And I don’t want people who I know to see me browsing through it at the newsagency – so I have devised a ruse.

I fold it inside a copy of ” Hot Naked Babes With Butt Tattoos Quarterly ” and stand in the aisle ostensibly reading that. I mean – I’ve got my reputation to think of, don’t I?


No More Mr. Nice Guy


There’s no point beating about the bushy bits – Facebook censors pictures anyway. And two wrongs don’t make a right, but three can actually do it. Or to put it another way…

The rise of social media parallels the rise of social disease, but without the initial squelchy fun bit. It just leaps straight to the bit with the swelling and discharge. And I should not be surprised if it drops off in the end…the interest in social media, I mean. What did you think I meant? I put it down to an unhealthy diet made up chiefly of quizzes designed to see if I am gullible enough to buy time-share apartments in Caiguna or porcelain copies of Lassie. It is a waste of time on the part of the Facebook to ask – of course I will.

The strongest shock one gets from social media, apart from a leakage in the electrical power supply, is the crass folly that is presented on it and the ready acceptance with which one’s companions of the screen embrace it. We have been presented with virtual versions of cesspools, and asked to swim backstroke. Better, asked to swim for Australia. One can only wonder what the medals will be made of…

Had we been presented with this stuff in 1960 we would have laughed and thrown it away. The 70’s would have had no place for it. But now – 50 years onwards – we eagerly send sums of money to unknown destinations for the chance to move phosphor dots around a screen. The sums are not large. but they are not virtual – someone is getting real money for the privilege of playing with cartoons on a telephone screen. To a person who paid 10¢ max for comic books in 1957 and traded them for years for nothing, the idea of paying today’s prices is absurd.

We are told that this is the information age and there is an information economy in which games and social media form a large part of the earning power. The only information that seems to be new is that the pressure of population has increased the number of suckers born every minute and also the number born to take them. Mr. Barnum would enjoy the sight, but I fear the pace might leave him frantic.

Still, there is no wind so ill that it does not blow comfort somewhere. My own chosen medium is printed words and illustrations. As this has fallen by the wayside in favour of phosphor dots there is less competition for reading matter. I can sometimes find and afford books that would have been beyond me – when they were desired by more people, they commanded a higher price. I do not think I can ever read out the library, let alone the world, and so I can leave hoi polloi to the screen and the app. Do not be offended if I speak of hoi polloi – no-one can be commoner than I when I choose.

Heading Image: The cultural spirit of the New York Banner made manifest upon a Facebook page. Ellsworth Toohey would have been proud.

Attack Magazine


It’s not true that there are no new things under the sun – I think I have just seen one such object on our local newsagent’s racks: an attack magazine.

Don’t get me wrong – I realise that publications from the dawn of the written word have come out attacking things – we see it in all the best and worst authors, for equally good and bad reasons. But this is the first time that I have seen a periodical define itself in those precise words. Attack magazine.

Of course, it is connected with the arts. That was a given…oh, wait…ahh, I might have made a mistake in that. It could also have been connected to the left wing of the Labour Party. They rather favour attacks, particularly when in opposition. Not exclusively then, you understand…they do like to do it in the party caucus rooms was well when in government.

But I am side-tracked. The 1cm-thick magazine is printed on very good quality paper – heavyweight and luxurious. It has a logo and screed to say it is in some wise sponsored by the Australian government through a department of the arts. Most of it would appear to be connected to RMIT in Melbourne, and I would be willing to bet a great many of the attacks contributed to it are from arts students in Melbourne.

This is as it should be. Arts students form a valuable resource for the nation and must be supported during their formative years – first by especial programs in secondary schools and then through arts grants in tertiary institutions. Thereafter they should receive large sums of money from state and federal governments and from private corporations for the manufacture and supply of…attack.

Well, that’s what they wrote that their magazine was all about. They know what they do better than we.

Of course their attacks must be directed properly. Target lists for all the most popular attacks are readily available at most universities. The standard categories of target; whites, males, middle class individuals, Liberal Party voters, Christians, Jews, Americans, etc., need no comment, but once the attack artist has settled on the broad plan, there are always details to be investigated.

Will they be able to get funding from one religious body to attack another? Will they be given the latest list of things to be offended about – these change weekly, you know, and it is no good trying to be outraged with material from last month. What about their position on the points table ? Can they get their picture in the paper by camping somewhere and waving a banner? The list can be frighteningly long.

But never fear. Attack artists…RMIT attack artists…are never daunted. They have the firm support of the rest of the RMIT students with the possible exception of the Engineers who think they are wankers, and they can move bravely forward into broad upland plains of protest, angst, and righteousness.

At least as long as the supply of really good printing paper holds out.

PS: $ 14 at your local newsagent. Or read it free if you are willing to stand there for just hours.

PPS: That’s ZOWIE magazine there on the top. ZOWIE is not printed on good quality paper, but who cares?

Chairmaking For Tax Avoidance – The Academic Journal Review


Have you ever picked up a publication in someone’s waiting room – the optometrist’s or the lobby of the State Grain Board for instance – and wondered at it? Viewed it with an increasing perplexity as you turned the pages and watched the normal usage of the  English language dissolve before your eyes? Clutched at your temple as you reeled from the horror of it all?

I do this all the time. Oh, I don’t have all that much call for the Grain Board, but I have waited on a good share of dentists, opticians, DMV’s, and lawyers in my time and been confronted with the same sorts of thing; wildly, fantastically, corruscatingly inappropriate literature.

I have read a pig breeder’s monthly at the opticians, two decade-old Women’s Weekly magazines at the dentist, and a political pamphlet from the New Era book store at the DMV. My barber has Men’s Health magazines stacked up high enough to hurt you if they fell over. No-one seems to care.

My own surgery all those years ago had fresh woman’s magazines each week for the fresh women, mens magazines for the men, and Dell and Disney comic books for the kids. We prided ourselves on it and we read them all first.

It was good sense as well as good business. People waiting for a dentist are never feeling very chipper anyway and having to look at old National Geographics with all the tit pictures removed would just make it worse. People might have had to wait extra time while the nurse washed the floors before they clotted and that just makes them crankier. Far better to spend $ 25 a week on fresh distraction. We never regretted the fresh magazines, and the following week they could be used to wipe the walls.