Monday, November 17, 2003

Well, hello and a happy Monday morning to one and all.

Being temporarily bereft of any inspiration whatsoever, I think it's time again to make use of that journalistic device known as reader feedback.

Now until such time as I upgrade this blog and avail myself of the rather nifty features such as the ability to include pictures, graphics and e-mail links, I have to rely on those readers who for one reason or another, are already in possession of the means to contact me. Rest assured that, should these prove insufficient, I shall rely solely on my powers of invention.

I must admit that it was rather a blow to my pride that so many of you saw fit to begin your critiques with the phrase, "If I could just work out what the fuck you're on about..." I will concede that my penchant for circumlocution can lead, on occasion, to sentences which are deucedly hard to follow, but it is simply a linguistician's delight in seeing just how far he can stretch the use of embedded structures and relative clauses in an utterance and have it remain essentially, albeit after careful study, decipherable. To apply the standards of the Campaign for Simple English to this blog would, for me, take all the fun out of it so...tough titty on that one, I'm afraid.

The green ink brigade has also been out in force and to the list of voiceless bi-labial plosives, I can now add the word 'preposterous' and what a little gem of a word it is too! Very old school and high Tory, wouldn't you say? My only reply to this is that if I have caused such characters to spray their monitors with an indignant shower of spittle, then I must be doing something right.

Most of the feedback concerned my attempt at allegory, Wed Nov 12 re. Bombing McDonald's.
More than a few of you were desirous of knowing just what it is I have against McDonald's. Well, apart from the obvious, very little in fact. The whole thing was an attempt to highlight the fact that, were I to follow the example of my elders and betters, in this case a certain Tony Blair and his forays into international relations, I could make an equally valid case for reducing the Nagykanizsa branch of McDonald's into its constituent parts. A lesson here, maybe. Attempts at allegory should be more thinly veiled. And perhaps I should mark any attempts at irony with an *. Relying so heavily as it does on intonation, irony in print can easily be taken at face value and lead to blogs such as this one showing up on a CIA watchlist.

Which reminds me of that wonderful story of the Scottish distillery receiving a phone call from a CIA operative informing it that one of its factory webcams was malfunctioning. After thanking the caller for the information, a gentle enquiry led to said operative completely blowing her cover in a splendid demonstration of that American spirit of openness and disclosing that she was, in fact, monitoring the distillery for the CIA as part of the War on Terrorism. It appeared that a simple tweak in the distillation process could result in the production of weapons of mass destruction. Well, I don't know about mass but Scottish distilleries have been responsible for my own near destruction on occasions too numerous to mention. And haven't fast food outlets allegedly been responsible for mass outbreaks of E-Coli from time to time? Oh well, onwards and upwards.

Several of you, very correctly in my view, scolded me for publishing a list of pet hates. You reminded me that it is all too easy to carp, cavil, complain and otherwise find fault and that my energy would be better served by listing those things which introduce a feeling of joy and contentment into an otherwise dreary day, in other words a list of pet likes.

Notwithstanding my initial reaction which was, I'm afraid to say, something along the lines of, "Bog off and go and listen to the Sound of Music if that's what you want", it did set me to meditating on the idea, and the more I reflected upon it, the more it became apparent that, as an exercise, it is remarkably more difficult than it would at first appear. I don't mean simply listing those objects towards which we have a particular fondness, my record collection for example, or those which our appetites and individual taste bud configuration lead us to crave such as, in my case, Islay malts and sausage, bacon and tomato sandwiches, but a list of those things which one encounters in everyday life and which oil the social machinery as it were. Damned difficult.

Not being one to shirk a challenge, well...not one which doesn't involve fisticuffs anyway, in which case my policy has always been one of amelioration and as a final resort, should braggadocio and trying to face down my opponent fail, of removing myself from the situation as expediently as possible, in other words, running away, I feel I should at least make a token effort to compile such a list. So, to that end, here goes.


A rather devalued word, I will concur, and one that has become unfashionable of late even to the extent that, as a quality, it seems to have dropped out of public life altogether. To witness the behaviour of our politicians, our interviewers, most of our journalists and, I am reliably informed, participants in reality TV shows, is to witness conduct totally devoid of this once prized attribute. Politeness, respect and tolerance in our dealings with others no matter what the occasion can only lead to society's wheels and gears running in a smooth and congenial fashion and induce a mood opposite to that engendered by the sneering, cynical, opinionated, insulting and, quite frankly, downright ignorant.

Having written that, and reflected upon it, it has become clear that almost everything I find uplifting about life in general can somehow fit into this category. Anything from polite and cheerful shop assistants, through a cheery "Good morning!" in a bus stop queue, to drivers acknowledging my actions on the road with a wave of the hand are all demonstrations of the fact that small acts of niceness can have a disproportionate effect on my general mood. They cheer me up, make me feel all warm inside and much better prepared to face the day. They put a smile on my face and renew my faith that most people are, at heart, thoroughly good eggs.

So, where does that leave me in regard to the list? Well, having to fall back on that which I promised to avoid to be honest. I will, however, make an attempt to avoid the concrete - Laphroaig, mature Cheddar etc. - and concentrate on the abstract.

Verbal sparring.

Should I, or anyone else come to that, toss a verbal high ball into the air, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see it smashed back with glee, joyful abandon and total lack of malicious intent. I once admitted to a certain confusion in electronic conversation with my favourite Uncle and was asked whether the source of my confusion was Unicum or Stella. Not the most devastating of jibes maybe, but one that demonstrates that no opportunity should be missed to try and provoke a chuckle, in this case, successfully. The only condition I would impose on this activity is that those dishing it out should welcome, indeed invite, its being returned as indeed is the case with Uncy and Jessica both of whose steel it has often been my delight to taste.

The inventive insult.

Rather goes against the general thrust of my argument for niceness I know, but my love of language and verbal sparring makes it inevitable that I should have a soft spot for any creativity in the insult department. If imbued with enough humour and creativity, a well crafted insult should leave even its recipient with a trace of a grin on their face. My all time favourite in this category is an exchange which took place between Lady Astor and Sir Winston Churchill which went something along these lines.

Lady A: Winston, if you were my husband, I should flavour your coffee with poison.

Sir W: Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it.

George Bernard Shaw once sent Churchill two tickets for the opening of his new play and asked him to "bring a friend...if you have one."

Churchill replied saying that he was otherwise engaged but requested tickets for the second performance..."if there is one."

And a classic from John Wilkes.

The Earl of Sandwich: Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox.
John Wilkes: That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.

And one from a genius of the one liner.

Clare Boothe Luce (meeting Parker in a doorway): Age before beauty!
Dorothy Parker (gliding through the door): Pearls before swine!


And my favourite curse.

"May you be cursed with a chronic anxiety about the weather."

John Burroughs (1837-1921)

Well, that's all I can think of for now. It will have to remain, like the pet hates, an occasional series to be added to whenever inspiration strikes. Until then, if you have been, don't blame me.

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