Old Coot On The Road

Old Coot here. How ya going?

I’m the maddening character in the little car at the front of the traffic queue going very slightly less than the sign-posted speed limit. The one in the hat with both hands on the wheel. If you’re polite to me I’ll be in the left-hand lane for most of the journey.

Note: I write from Perth, in Western Australia, where the left-hand lane is the curb-side slow lane. The middle and right-hand lanes are for the people who wish to go faster and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with them as they do.

My little car is bright hi-vis green so that you can see it and dodge round it when you are racing toward your next amphetamine delivery. Don’t worry about me racing you for it…I hate to wear rubber off the tyres needlessly. And there is no need to flip fingers or scream obscenities out of the windows. I am perfectly willing to regard you as obscene under any circumstances.

No good looming up behind me to terrify me. I’ve worked retail for years – I can stand a looming that would crush a battlecruiser. I won’t speed up at all for tyrants, whether they are at a counter or a steering wheel. Being retired, I rarely need to get anywhere on my own time, let alone anyone else’s. And I like to use the exercise of driving to give me time to think. Time to think of my Super-Power…Old Coot Super Power.

Old Coots have been here before – sometimes here was better before, and sometimes it was worse – we have a comparison to go by. If it is worse now we are prepared to do something to make it better, and if it is better now we are prepared to take the time to be grateful.

We have seen better people than you do worse things, and as we are still here driving, we know how to cope with it. As conceited as you may want to be, you are not our worst nightmare. In fact a lot of us have taken up the nightmare business ourselves and we know how to do a lot with very small resources. And we are always looking for something to fill the day in between the morning radio serial and the cocktail hour.

Old Coots know that one day it is all going to end. And we’ve generally racked up enough time already to free us from regret if the one day turns out to be next Tuesday. Threatening us may seem all gangsta until you find out that we don’t care – and the man who doesn’t care is a floating sea mine with one bent horn. Steer clear.

Old Coots also can be very kind. We will change tyres for the helpless, guide the lost, and provide lunch for anyone. There is a price – we will talk while we do it. And the topic may not be apposite to the problem at hand. Don’t feel that you can ignore us – there will be a quiz later, and half your year’s marks will depend upon it.

Old Coots will rarely cuss you out, and if they do the terms they use will most likely sound quaint. They’re not. If an Old Coot calls you cowardly son of a bitch, he means it, and you are. Old Coots operate on simpler vocabularies.

If an Old Coot thanks you or praises you they also mean that sincerely.

 

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The Sniper Team

Recent events have made this a parlous sort of title for my weblog column but read on and you’ll see why I wrote it.

On my Facebook today a post prompted a series of exchanges – between people with whom I am familiar and people who are complete strangers. I hasten to add that I did not intrude into the exchange. The root cause of the fight, as it will be of many others, was the reports we received of the events of the recent hotel shootings in Las Vegas.

There was a great deal of anguish shown by the various people involved in the discussion and eventually it started to spill over into sexual politics, cross-accusation, and nastiness. The person who originated the thing then called an end to the discussion. One of the participants claimed a sort of victory. It’s an occurance that happens frequently on Facebook.

I could not help being drawn to compare it to some of the practices outlined in a book written by a Captain C. Shore about British army sniping in the world wars. Not the Las Vegas thing…that is yet to be seen for what it may well prove to be…but the use of the spotter, shooter, and decoy system in scoring victories on social media.

Why this should be seen as desirable, in what is supposed to be an on-line community, is sometimes not clear, but the thing that is evident is that there are frequent occasions where a person sets up a tempting post to invite comments and one of their friends sits waiting until a target reacts. Then there is a brief flurry of outraged and biased virtue-scoring posted to dominate the unwary target.

If the person caught in this barrage responds with a counterattack that seems to answer the question or puts the sniper in a bad light, the spotter – acting as originator of the whole sequence – shuts it down by declaring an end. In some cases they can weave back and edit out the target’s posts. The sniper team is left to publicly do the little dance of victory of whichever social army they fight for.

Happened on the computer today to someone else – happened to me some time ago with a different sniping team. The only remedy I could see at the time was to defriend the spotter – the sniper was not on my list.

I’m warier these days about what I say to whom. I rarely defriend anyone, but I do sometimes switch them to the unseen track. And when I meet them in person I am careful to restrict my speech to ” Yay Yay” and ” Nay Nay ” as per biblical instructions. Because all the rest is bound to be sin and sorrow.

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.

Hold My Beer

Please excuse me for using what is rapidly becoming a cliché meme, but I wanted to get this one in before the Thought Police arrive and load me into the van.

It is entirely possible to live your life without offending anyone. Just ask a mollusc. Hardly any bivalves sitting on the floor of the sea receive nasty messages on Facebook. Few of them are called racist or phobic. They live their lives in harmony with…gravel and weeds. The rest of us aren’t so lucky.

Let’s be honest here ( And in saying that, I realise that I must apologise to all the liars out there. Sorry Mr Nixon…) we are all going to offend someone, somewhere, at some time. We cannot pass our lives without engendering bad feelings in others. In my own case, I have started in on the near relatives and am working outwards…

As we are bound to do it, we might as well do it early, do it thoroughly, and then be done with it. In this we are fortunate – there are groups of people in general society who wish to take umbrage at everything. If we can connect with them, supply a known quantity of offense and receive a measured amount of outrage, we can then all take Friday afternoon off and go to the pub. ( Minus the WCTU contingent, of course…)

To this end the BGA is going to start a register that will connect potential unwitting oppressors with people who would like to claim to be victims. Abuse/outrage ratios can be agreed to beforehand and arrangements made for confrontation at times that will be mutually convenient. With proper planning we can hire coffee vans and porta-loos as well as crowds.

Currently we are reviewing the public statuary of Australia to see if there are any examples that can be torn down and carted away to satisfy some portion of the populace. As yet, the only complaints have been about abstract works of art put up outside council premises and it would appear that the demands for their removal ( on grounds of the price tag ) have come from the ratepayers. I think there will need to be a Royal Commission on this and that means I get a white Toyota and a fact-finding mission to Biarritz.

Beauty!

 

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?

 

Talk To The Eyebrow

We’ve been through the ” talk to the hand” thing…it’s old and stale. And it is not really the sort of meme that encourages more discussion. It stops debate in its tracks.

I want ” talk to the eyebrow ” now. It will allow the challenged to continue the conversation – albeit under a withering machine-gun fire of skepticism. After all, the person with the eyebrow may be wrong and the target of the eyebrow may be right. If they can justify their position, the tables in the debate may turn. At least that’s the theory.

The eyebrow is potentially as rude as the index finger, but you can’t really fix upon it as a vile gesture. It silently scorns and demands proof of whatever is being asserted. It’s one of the most economical muscle movements that you can do.

And all the person has to do is raise the other brow at the same time to create and entirely new context. Amazement is taken by some as endorsement, while not really being so. You can play on others’ feeling and fears just by hoisting the hairline a smidgeon. And then there are the muscularly talented who can bounce them up and down at will, like the tappets on a V-8 engine…

You don’t believe me?

Oh? Really?   óò

” Do Tell Me You Loathe it “

The cartoon is pinched off the internet…in turn pinched from a copy of Punch magazine of the 1930’s. The fun it pokes at Moderne architecture and the pretensions of the owners is dated, but priceless. However, it would appear that with the advent of the social media campaign, satire might now be spread into our era.

We’re currently seeing several campaigns in our social media to do with changes to marriage law in Australia. A questionnaire has been sent to us all asking if we would like to see same-sex marriage introduced. We get to answer yes or no, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics will be making the result known to the parliament. What they do with the opinion count is anyone’s guess.

The form is simple – yes or no – but from the way people are behaving on the social media section of the internet, I think it should have included a number of additional questions and options:

a. Yes, and I want the ABS to tell everyone on my Facebook list. And I want to get a signed receipt from each one of them to show that they know what I voted for.

b. Yes, but not when I’m looking.

c. Yes, But can we have something in it about the participants not writing their own vows and reading them out to the assembled guests before the bar opens? Please?

d. Yes, but not for certain people on the list I’ve enclosed with this form. Especially not No. 4 and No. 17 on the list. Not after what they said.

e. No, but not because I am a bad person. Because you asked…

f. No, but you can change the inheritance laws if you like.

g. Yes and No. Well, you asked. If you wanted a definite answer you should have made it a lot more vague. Hint first, then qualify that hint. Like a legislative game of ” Clue “.

h. No, but then yes, and then no again. And then yes. That should use up a couple of parliaments, if I know Canberra.

I’ve been watching the informed debate, the uninformed debate, the emotional outbursts, and the cynical jockeying for validation that is Facebook. I know that if I entered into any form of discussion I would be instantly shunned by half the people I know. If I espoused the opposite view I would suffer the same fate from the other half. I would become a social pariah…wandering the cold halls of the internet knocking vainly upon closed doors.

It is the one cheerful image that keeps me going…