Teachers With Guns


It’s funny how little things bring to mind old memories. When President Trump floated the idea of arming teachers to protect children, I vividly remembered my first day at high school in the north of England. All the new boys were herded into a lecture theatre and briefed by the teacher whose duties also included running the Lost Property Office.

We were told that the teachers were Masters and we were to address them as ‘Sir’. We would be addressed by our surnames, followed by our initials where there were two of more boys with the same surname, and we were not to fasten any but the middle buttons of our blazers: top and bottom buttons were only for show. Oh, and while in uniform outside the school grounds we were always to wear our caps.

There was to be no walking on the grass, and the path that offered a short-cut on the way to the cricket pavilion was out of bounds to all boys except sixth-formers. On reaching that pinnacle we would also be allowed to wear brown shoes instead of black and, in the summer months anyway, exchange our regulation caps for boaters.

At frequent intervals we were reminded how lucky we were to be admitted to such a good school.

All in all it sounded like a declaration of war. I can’t help thinking that, if our Masters had been armed, the boundary between corporal punishment and capital punishment would have got blurred pretty quickly.


Sevangi of Bangalore


It is not often that I am moved to poetry by a session with a call centre, but it happened today . . .

My heart has an open door
For Sevangi of Bangalore;
When my mouse wouldn’t work
She discovered a lurk*
That made my spirits soar!

On Friday my USB optical mouse stopped working. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s quite old, I’ll buy a new one for A$4 at Officeworks.” I did, and that didn’t work either. So I did the things that any mildly tech-savvy layman does in such circumstance – turning my laptop on and off, shouting “#&$@” at the screen, smashing my forefinger down on random keys – to no avail.

I complained to the manufacturer’s website of course. Then, when I discovered that the old and new mice both worked perfectly when plugged into my old computer, I turned my wrath on Hewlett Packard.

My first live-chat session with HP Tech Support ended in my PIN being invalidated, leaving me unable to access my own computer until a secret code had been emailed to my wife. My second and third ended when the people at the other end found out I was in Australia. “We only support customers in USA and Canada,” they said as they flicked me lint-like off their sleeves.

Today I ’phoned a local HP retailer in hope of help, only to find that the call went through to an office in another state and, anyway, they just sell stuff. So in desperation I gave HP Tech Support another go. I groaned as I went through the same rigmarole with the same robot and waited to hear a human voice.

To cut a long, long story short, after two false starts which ended with line drop-outs I found Sevangi. She instructed me, encouraged me and tried all sorts of tricks that I would not have thought of. After two hours she concluded that the problem lay in the operating system, and the only remedy would be to download it afresh. That would mean wiping all my programs and files off the hard-drive, so I’d better start backing them up. She promised to ’phone tomorrow to see if I’m ready for the operation.

It felt like being told I had cancer. That sounds silly, but it did. On my way to the gym I thought about all the programs I’d have to recover somehow: MS Office, Outlook, Norton, PDF995… how many more?!

Soon after I got home the ’phone rang. It was Sevangi. “I spoke to my superior,” she said, “and there may be another option that won’t mean losing all your files and apps.” She then guided me through a process using the DOS command prompt (ah, nostalgia!) and a long string of code… and it worked!

“I’ll ’phone you tomorrow anyway,” said Sevangi, confirming her place at the top of my list of favourite people, “to make sure everything is still working.”

So you’ll understand why I was moved to honour Sevangi in verse; and why, whenever I hear a negative comment about Indian call centres, I shall recount this story. I’ll probably buy another HP one day too.

* In Australian/NZ idiom a ‘lurk’ is clever scheme or dodge.

Sex, Politics and Ethics


No, I’m not slipping in a sly plug for The Eeks Trilogy – although if you find the title intriguing you’ll probably enjoy The Eeks Trilogy, now available in a single volume titled Goldiloxians.

But right now I’m having my say about the story that’s been hogging the front pages of Australian newspapers for a week or so (it seems longer) and shows no sign of abating. It’s about Barnaby Joyce, who is

  • Leader of the right-of-centre National Party, which represents the interests of the rural sector and is in government in coalition with the Liberal Party;
  • Deputy Prime Minister (a requirement of the coalition agreement);
  • Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources (to the dismay of environmentalists who see this as a conflict of interest);
  • Minister of Infrastructure and Transport (since December);
  • The centre of a storm surrounding an affair with a member of his staff who is now pregnant with his unborn child;
  • Consequently separated from his wife; and
  • In open verbal warfare with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The story is a gift that keeps on giving to the newsmongers because it irritates so many people for so many reasons.

First, there is a sexual morality issue. Barnaby has been an advocate of family values, invoking them in the recent debate about redefining ‘marriage’ to include same-sex couples. Barnaby was on the losing ‘No’ side of that debate.

Then there is the MeToo aspect. As Deputy PM, Barnaby was in a position of power over Vikki Campion, the humble Media Advisor who became his mistress. To some people this looks uncomfortably like a Harvey Weinstein situation.

Third, in a vain attempt to keep the affair quiet the mistress was transferred to the office of another National Party minister, in a high-paying job that was allegedly created especially for her.

There is Ministerial Code of Conduct that prohibits having one’s partner on the payroll. Barnaby is claiming that at the time of Vikki’s employment in his department she was not his ‘partner’. She was having sex with him, but was not actually and legally his partner as such. The PM has now made clear that the Code of Conduct will henceforth forbid sexual relations between ministers and their staff. This was immediately labelled the Bonk Ban.

To cap it all, it has emerged that Barnaby was staying rent-free in premises provided by a prominent National Party donor and commercial supplier of services to the Party.

In Australia we have a thing called ‘the pub test’. This sweeps away legal niceties that allow obvious rogues to hold up their hands in a gesture of supplication and say, “But I did nothing wrong!” Needless to say, Barnaby Joyce has failed the pub test on a Biblical scale in the eyes of all but his most one-eyed supporters.

One final comment from me… The story runs and runs because it gives sub-editors such wonderful opportunities for punny headlines. A photo of an obviously pregnant Vikki Campion was headlined ‘Bundle of Joyce’. Another headline over the Bonk Ban story referenced a campaign to ban poker (gambling) machines: ‘No Pokies’.

And this year’s Stroppy goes to . . .


C M Lewis! What’s that? You’ve never heard of him? Well, neither had I until my old friend Ron Allan nominated him for the 2018 Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle, based on the following piece of writing that was published in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History in 1987:

Transnationalization further fragmented the industrial sector. If the dominant position of immigrant enterprises is held to have reduced the political impact of an expanding industrial entrepreneurate, the arrival of multinational corporations possibly neutralized the consolidation of sectoral homogeneity anticipated in the demise of the artisanate.

Some credit for this nomination must also go to Thomas Sowell, who cited it in his essay ‘Some Thoughts About Writing’ and thereby brought it to Ron’s attention

I looked for a picture of C M Lewis at Google Images, but I was offered only C S Lewis and C Day Lewis. So here’s a picture of Thomas Sowell instead, together with a quotation that will appeal to many readers.

Nominations for next year’s award can be submitted at an time.



The Cambridge Dictionary has chosen ‘populism’ as its Word of the Year. The word doesn’t even appear in my Australian Modern Oxford Dictionary – only a definition of a populist as “a person who claims to support the interests of ordinary people.”

That sounds pretty admirable to me. So why are the words ‘populism’ and ‘populist’ always used pejoratively? Nobody ever says, “That Trump fellow is a real populist. Good for him!” Could it be that the political élite, the pointy-headed intellectuals, the upper middle class people who work in universities, newsrooms and government departments, really do look down on the unwashed masses as Trump and many others claim? Do those people really think they know better what’s good for the common people than the common people themselves?

I have just read an article by Cas Mudde (pictured) in the Guardian Weekly (wishing that I’d thought of that name to give one of my characters in The Eeks Trilogy) in which he argues that what is often called ‘populism’ is really nativism. He goes on to define nativism as “an ideology that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (‘the nation’) and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state;” and characterise it as “nasty.”

This got me thinking about the concept of the nation-state and why it was regarded as such a good thing in the 19th and early 20th centuries; why political heavy­weights in the richest countries of the West now consider it anathema; and why the epithet ‘racist’ is routinely hurled at anyone who expresses a preference for living among people with similar cultural practices, beliefs, values, history and language.

I flipped through a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly and found stories about conflict arising from this preference in six countries: Cameroon, Cyprus, Hungary, Myanmar, Poland and Tibet. And there was a story about German politics, which was dominated for over 40 years by a desire to restore nation-statehood.

Perhaps it’s time for us to be more tolerant of this preference, which seems to be deeply embedded in human nature whether we like it or not.

Life Imitates Monty Python


We’re used to life imitating art, but sometimes this goes right off any reasonable scale. In the past week I’ve seen four glorious examples, all reported in the good old Adelaide Advertiser.

First, there is the story about a sit-in by Saudi princes to protest against having to pay their own utility bills. The princesses were showing more decorum, it seems. Or perhaps they were otherwise occupied at the motor show for women, soon to be allowed to drive.

The second story to catch my eye was that Oprah Winfrey is being touted as a potential presidential candidate, on the basis of a speech she made about sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry. Germaine Greer was asked what she thought about it on ABC Radio National, and said that if Ronald Reagan could be President, why not?

Next comes the appalling news that “Struggling families are being deterred from travelling overseas because of the high cost of leaving the country. … Australian passports are the second most expensive in the world, behind those of Turkey.” Has overseas travel really become a necessity of life, in the same category as a flat-screen TV or a smart ‘phone?

Finally, I read about a 50-year-old Australian man called Craig Whitall. He is/was a drug addict with a history of 10 driving disqualifications, 50+ other traffic offences, 9 convictions for unlicensed driving and a 9-year driving ban. While driving home from a methadone clinic he caused an accident that killed 3 people – all members of the Falkholt family. “At what point,” I wondered, “does a sane law enforcement system give up on somebody, lock them up and throw away the key in order to protect everyone else?”

Award Time Again


Yes, it’s time to submit your nomination for the annual Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle – known in the popular press as ‘The Stroppy’. Last year’s Stroppy went to a firm called Palladium for this superb piece of twaddle, devoid of any meaning and garnished with a split infinitive to make the judges wince:


The same firm has already received a nomination, but let’s make it a fair fight. Come on now – there must be equally meaningless bits of twaddle out there somewhere! Deadline for nominations: Sunday 21 January (midnight GMT).