A Guilty Plea From A Habitual Criminal

I have been advised by my solicitor to plead guilty to making jokes and to throw myself on the mercy of the court. He said this as he dumped all the papers into his briefcase and left the court. He could have had the decency to laugh as he went through the doors…

Making jokes is not normally a criminal offence – with the possible exception of Melbourne Comedy Weeks – and most jokesters do not need fear jail time. Of course if they crack the wrong jest in Iran, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia they can expect to be jugged and tortured…but then that could happen for eating cornflakes with the wrong spoon there. They are tough rooms to work.

Poking fun at people here in Australia is fairly safe, if you aim lower than the Magistrate’s Court when you do it – anything there and above is surrounded by enough statutory dignity to make funny business dangerous.  I would be interested to see a magistrate laugh, and to see what sort of entertainment would provoke it. I cannot imagine that they laugh at the foibles of the human condition – for so often they are the very people tasked with sorting out peccadillos and punishing people for having them. Perhaps their humour is of a transcendent kind, incomprehensible to the lower orders.

But sometimes you fire off good ones and nothing at all happens. No laughs, no smiles, – not even the alternate satisfaction of an outraged response. Zip. Nada. Pure silence. And after a period of time the horrible truth starts to dawn – the person sitting there in the audience like a lump of suet really has no clue as to what the joke is about.

This can be the result of stupidity – as with the frankly stupid – or of ignorance, when someone has no points of mutual reference for a topic. Sometimes that’s age, though I must say youth more frequently deprives people of understanding than does middle age. Old folks may not know the pop tunes or latest cultural reference, but they know a helluva lot more about the world than ever the young are taught. And they can take as much fun in simple and mannerly jokes as they young do with swearing and shock tactics. The old people reserve their shock tactics for worse situations…you don’t wanna be there when they cut loose.

Whatever the reason for the blank stare and the deadly silence after the punchline, the comedian should never panic and start to explain the joke. It might seem that it will right the situation – that it will result in a peal of laughter – but it never does. Frequently the dullard cannot grasp the joke even after it is dissected and laid out on a pin board – and every minute that they stand there goggling and gulping, the joke teller loses traction.

The best answer is to abandon the thing immediately. Move on to another joke or another topic. Or just move on – but as you go, turn to someone else in the audience and ask them to explain the failure. With a bit of luck they will.


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.


I Did Not Have Sex With That…

I was shocked.

Shocked, I tell you. It was all I could do to catch my breath. I felt faint – had it not been for three stiff brandys I don’t know what would have become of me.

I remember the day well when I heard the news. It seared itself into my memory. The headline ” French Leader Had A Mistress ” blared out at me from page 23 of the local grazier’s and stockbreeder’s gazette. It was as if the fabric of the world had crumbled beneath my feet.

I felt my gorge rise – to think that a trusted leader of a Catholic country could abandon morality so blatantly – and for such a long period of time. How could any citizen of France emerge from their house and walk along the street after this news? What new horror lurked in the dark streets of Paris? Next thing you knew there could be women dancing bare-chested in cabarets and after that the earth would open up and swallow us all…

Well, we recovered. Eventually. Enough anguish was pressed into enough ink and printed in enough papers to eventually lay the whole sad thing to rest. France has recovered. Morality has been re-asserted. Curfew is tolled each night at 18:00 hours and everyone sleeps with their hands outside the bedsheets. And I think it has done the world good – even the world of the United States.

They seem to have been able to take possible revelations of their President’s liason with a strange woman in their stride. The thought that he may have paid her hush money when he realised that he would actually make it to the presidency and that she may have wanted more after she realised it too – the thought that she may have decided to take her story to other political entities who might also have access to money – and that now the money is nearly irrelevant – has occurred to many. It has occurred to me.

There may be some outraged by it all – for outrage is a powerful and useful emotion. There may be some  genuinely concerned for the morality of it all – again, morality is a real thing.

And there may be some who, like myself, have exhausted all our tears on His Majesty King Louis XVI, and have none to spare for Mr. Harding. And as we have not been paid any money to care, we don’t.

Headin’ South

I rarely ask people to pay attention to my underwear. They are rather private garments and normally there is room in them for one person only – me. Today is different. I think I could fit about four of you in here. The reason is I have tried to go a day too long – a waistband too far…and the elastic has given up the ghost. I have had a day of especial discomfort.

Those of you who have felt the elastic go at some stage of the game know exactly what I’m writing about. All of a sudden any movement whatsoever sends your nether garments heading for the nether regions and it doesn’t make any difference if you are on parade or lounging in your boudoir – nothing feels right. If you had obeyed your cautious instinct and discarded the pair of shorts or knickers this morning – and put on the fresh pair that was sitting there in the drawer – you could stride out with confidence and pride. As it is, most of your day will be split between grimacing and excusing yourself to go to the loo in an attempt to produce a workable wedgie.

As the day progresses the vicious garment gets worse and worse. You look at your ankles to see if it has reached there and is showing under the trousers. You are convinced that it is going to entangle your knees and throw you sideways into the path of oncoming traffic. And you are also convinced that everyone sees your plight and knows what is happening. The day gets longer and the hours drag more.

The only answer is retreat. Go home at the end of the day, if you can walk while clutching your knees together. Remove the offending article. Throw it in the bin. Put on your pyjamas and make a cup of tea and a soft-boiled egg. There is no more dignity in the world for you today, and you might as well retreat into the comforts of childhood.

Wait a minute. Could it be?

Is the elastic on the pyjama bottoms going too…?


I Am Not A Monster

While I admit to being a senior citizen, model maker, and studio photographer – serious charges in themselves – I must deny the assertion that I am a monster of cruelty. I do not mock the afflicted nor harass the indigent. I am kind to animals, with the exception of mosquitos and cockroaches. I obey traffic signs and harsh words from the wife.

Thus, when I receive evidence that a friend has fallen for some sad internet hoax, I do not point the finger of scorn. I take pity upon them and remain silent. This is not the silence of collusion – it is commiseration. I, too, know what it is to be fooled by plausible tricksters…and I’ve lost money to them. The last thing I should want when I finally detect  fraud is to have to bear scorn as well as loss.

Friends – there are any number of trolling, fyshing, scamming productions that can come through your social media or through general searching on the net. Whenever you see something that is either too good or too bad to be true, it is just that. You do not need to fear, nor to react, to any of it. But if it helps to relieve a little of the tension, by all means open up the Snopes website and see if the thing that is troubling you has been debunked there. In most cases you will find that this is so.

Even with the most innocent of enquiries, answers can be harvested that will do you or someone else harm. The best thing to do is not give any answers on the net. Anything that you need to ask or answer can be dealt with between you and your physician, dentist, lawyer, religious adviser, or 6th grade home room school teacher. If it is really heavy-duty stuff you can call in a policeman or a magistrate. These are the individuals who have real power for good in your world. Depend upon them.

The internet has been a blessing for a lot of us – I mean, who wants to go out into the street looking for a cat on a rainy night when you can get a picture of one on Facebook? But it is a cursèd blessing, and the curse is the easy way it makes nonsense sound like truth.

Remember that if you forward this to ten of your friends, nine of them will wind the toilet paper the wrong way on the roll and the tenth will use bunched up newspaper…

” It Was Just A Prank, Officer…”

‘ Prank ‘ seems to be defined as a practical joke or mischievous act – both suggesting some form of lightheartedness. ‘ jape ‘, ‘ trick ‘, ‘ antic ‘, ‘stunt ‘, ‘ caper ‘, all are mentioned  – merry times, eh?

Gets a little darker when you get to the next line; ‘ fraud ‘, ‘ hoax ‘, ‘ escapade ‘…Go just that little further and you can get into ‘ assault ‘ and ‘ attack ‘ , and the magistrate starts to become involved…

With the rise of the smart-aleck radio and television teams who make program copy out of embarrassing and harassing people and the easy anonymity of the internet social forums, active meanness like this becomes all too possible. The commercial networks may be a little less inclined to indulge their sophomore announcers and actors as they are answerable to sponsors with lawyers. Governmental stations can do it more – they pretend such a respect for free speech ( as long as it supports their politics ) that they get away with sadder and meaner productions.

The saddest and meanest thing about it is the fact that they please an audience – who are always ready to excuse them. The actors have to fire extremely low – the viewers are not only riding Shetlands, they are riding them in trenches…

I don’t mind a good practical joke if it is actually funny. No-one must be hurt, and embarrassment caused should be private. Above all, the joke must be gentle enough that the victim can see the fun of it as well – otherwise it is just a bullying assault.

None of the above applies to that thing we did with the vat of glue and the lawnmower. The guy had it coming.

Every Day In Every Way…

I’m getting bitter and bitter.

You gotta be careful when you get past certain ages. The danger points are 14, 19, 35, and 65. They all expose you and others to the possibility that you will become a menace.

14: Hello, puberty – goodbye manners. You’ll find that you can eat more, scratch more, belch more, crave more, and obey less when you hit 14. Everyone around you who is older will recognise the signs. They will put up with it for a surprisingly long period of time, but beware when they come to end of their patience.

Your mother will take the longest to crack – she’ll make all the internal excuses for you that she possibly can to save her sanity and save you from Juvenile Court. She will feed you, clean you, and tolerate you in a way that would not seem possible. She’s had training – you were once 2 years old and she knows the sort of thing to expect. But beware when she has finally had enough of your bullshit and turns on you. There will be nowhere to hide from the Wrath Of The Mum.

Your father will not put up with the BS anywhere near as long. He’ll grasp you lovingly by the neck, hold you against the stove, and use his fist to explain how you need to behave in future.

19. Well, ain’t we just the biggest thing since the TITANIC?

We’re all grown up. We have opinions. We have a little bit of money. We have a girlfriend or several. We have a car. What more could we possibly want?

Sense and manners for a start. Kewl thuggery is a great temptation. We think that nothing is going to resist us and nothing will be ever sheeted home to us.

The luckiest 19-year-olds are drafted into the military and discover the horrifying truth within two days. Then they can be stripped down, carefully reset, and turned into proper men by their sergeants and petty officers.

Failing that, the ones who enter workplaces or universities where instructors and charge hands do the same thing stand a chance of being successful.

35. I can get away with it. I’ve been getting away with it for years now. I’ll never get caught.

Whether the ‘ it ‘ is adultery, tax evasion, professional incompetence, complacency, plagiarism, arrogance, pride, sloth, gluttony, anger, or any of the other sins, you always think that no-one knows and no-one cares.

You’re always wrong.

65. Well – now that you are 65 you are put out onto society’s windowsill to cool like a pie. But no-one comes along to steal you…

You are in danger of finding this out and becoming angry about it. You’ll cool, harden, develop an impenetrable crust, and a bitter filling. If you are the sort of pie that has that criss-cross pastry top, no-one even wants to look at you.

The secret to overcoming this is to be come self-sufficient. I’m not suggesting that you get a garden allotment and grow your own sparkplugs – though you can if you like. What you really need to do is find out what pleases you, and make arrangements to do it. It may be a case of not buying or owning pleasure, but of finding or developing it.

A caution: if your greatest pleasure is sitting at the bus stop with a catapult and firing ball bearings at cyclists passing by, you will have trouble. Substitute hard round chocolates instead. You’ll still knock them off their bikes, but it’ll be easier to make it sound like a sweet and lovable eccentricity in court.