Stroppy 2021

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It’s been a tough choosing a winner of this year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle.

Mondelēz’s brands!

We thought it would probably go to ex-President Trump, but a careful examination of his speeches and tweets persuaded us that we’d have to look elsewhere. The Donald makes liberal use of untruths, half-truths, lavish insults, unfinished sentences and non-sequiturs, but he doesn’t deal in meaningless twaddle. He’d be less dangerous if he did.

Instead, the much-discussed and coveted award goes to a major global food conglomerate: Mondelēz. They own… well, look at the logos – even Toblerone! Even Cadbury, for heaven’s sake!! So it’s no surprise that they turn over US$26 billion per year and have a market capitalization of US$79 billion.

Therefore they must know what they’re doing, right? And when they adopt a radical new approach to marketing, we should also take notice, right? Especially if it’s called “humaning” and disdains caution and anything so mundane as data. So how about this…

“Humaning is a unique, consumer-centric approach to marketing that creates real, human connections with purpose, moving Mondelēz International beyond cautious, data-driven tactics, and uncovering what unites us all.”

I don’t know much about marketing (my book sales bear witness to this) but I do know that these 28 words are the collective winners of this year’s Stroppy. Congratulations, Mondelēz!

PS  It’s 1 February. When I was a boy in London and then the north of England there was a superstitious belief that if the first thing you said on the first day of every month throughout the year was “white rabbits” you would have good luck.  But I never remembered to say it every month. Did you grow up with the same belief?

Fruit

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We welcome birds to our garden,
But one thing we won’t pardon:
      Subjecting a nec–
      Tarine to a peck;
At that our kind hearts harden.

We put a net over our small-ish nectarine tree again this year, and with the help of safety pins did a better job of bird-proofing it.  A couple did find their way in and needed help to escape.  I think they spread the word, because we had no further avian trouble and we harvested a bumper crop.  Unfortunately our electronic scale’s batteries died at just the wrong moment, but we filled four-and-a-bit buckets and only had to cut out about 5% of the juicy, golden god-blessed flesh.

With such a surfeit of fruit to deploy, the next apple crumble that Mrs SG made was a nectarine crumble – and pretty good it is too – and the freezer is two-thirds stuffed with bags of sliced nectarines.  A reminder of summer sun when winter comes.

Fruit is in the news in Australia, and in the UK too.  As we have become wealthy (Australia’s per capita GDP is five times the global average) we have become lazy. It’s a socio-economic sickness that infects all rich nations sooner or later: it happened in Rome too, a long time ago.

A symptom of this infection has been highlighted by another: Covid-19. It seems that we no longer pick our own fruit and vegetables. Before the borders closed that arduous, low-paid work was done for us by European backpackers and Pacific Islanders on special work visas. Unemployment has peaked as businesses have been forced to close – many never to re-open – yet farmers cannot find people willing to pick their fruit.  The Government has just announced a shipment of ni-Vanuatu workers to save the day, riding the foam as the US cavalry used to ride the prairie on similar missions.

Does this mean that we’ve lost our oomph, our get-up-and-go, our will to work and strive and build a nation? I fear it does. Let us hope that China’s burgeoning wealth brings it to the same torpid state before Xi Jinping becomes master of our world.

PS Watch out for the announcement of the winner of this year’s Stroppy (the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle). The excitement is mounting and assessment is under way!

The Trak Closes

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Adam and The Trak

Yesterday was a sad day: 2 January 2021. Our local cinema closed.  We moved into the area in 1985, when The Trak and its associated video store (remember those?) had been open for 10 years. I won’t say we moved here because of The Trak, but it was one of the factors.

Its three screens occupied the upper floor of a modest commercial building. Nothing fancy, no art deco styling, no sweeping staircase. It’s close to the mighty Burnside Village shopping centre, which is about to be expanded – with a cinema complex to be added.  Although The Trak specialised in non-mainstream films it could probably not have survived competition from across the road. But it was Covid-19 that delivered the killing blow.

A misleading poster

We went to the last show of all, of course, and bought chocolate coated ice-cream cones at the candy bar.  We’d become used to being the only two people, perhaps with one or two others scattered around the auditorium, but last night most of the seats were filled.  The show was a 1957 film called ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ whose cast list is a Who’s Who of British comedy in the 1950s.  Appropriately it was about a young couple who inherit a small, dilapidated cinema and try to make a go of it.

There was not a dry eye in the house when the final credits played, even though it was a comedy.  Adam (pictured above), the owner, gave a final speech and explained why he had not closed the curtain that covers the screen.  This is a cinema tradition, signifying that resurrection is not impossible.

And indeed The Trak will live on, in name at least.  Adam and his partner are looking for a new venue to lease; and if that fails they will try to run it on a ‘pop-up’ basis.  Wherever, whenever, Mrs SG and I will there for the next show.

Cinema 1, the biggest, equipped with cup-holders

Christmas Past

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Like everyone, I suppose, I have very happy memories of Christmas as it was when I was a child.  There are things I miss.  Let me list a few…

  • Unpacking the Christmas tree lights, plugging them in, and finding by trial and error which one had gone lame since last Christmas – because if one bulb went, none would come on.
  • Receiving dozens and dozens of Christmas cards, delivered twice a day by children hired in their school holidays to cope with the tidal wave of greetings.
  • Hanging those cards over strings suspended between lintels and light fittings, not putting two with the same dominant colour side-by-side, mixing up the big and the small, the sacred and the profane.
  • Opening up the big cardboard box (that one of my father’s tailored suits had come in) and choosing which of the familiar sheets of wrapping paper I would use for this year’s gifts to my family. Parcels were secured with string in those days, so wrapping paper could be recycled forever.
  • Emancipating nuts with heavy steel nutcrackers. Hazel nuts were easy; walnuts needed precise application of pressure; brazil nuts needed brute strength, but only up to the moment of fracture or you’d be left with a handful of mash.

Merry Christmas to you and yours – and a reminder to make your nomination for next year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (known in the popular press as “The Stroppy”).  Closing date: 15 January (midday GMT).

After Trump . . . Peace?

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There have been many celebrations about the overthrow of tyrants. We always expect that when the tyrant has gone there will be a flowering of righteousness; that good people will step into the light, take the vacant helm and steer the ship of state onto the right course.

The right course always means our own – of course. In the Western World the right course is towards democracy, capitalism and individual rights. We felt cheated when China adopted our technology and business models, moved into our markets and grew rich, but failed to adopt our politics and morals. That wasn’t the deal! And what about Russia? Iraq? Libya? Myanmar?

Now we rejoice in Joe Biden’s victory. Another tyrant has been overthrown. Will we be disappointed again? Will the unhealthy miasma that produced the phenomenon of Trumpery be blown out to sea by the Bidon/Harris breeze? Or will it linger? Will the honest efforts of good people be brought to nothing by an infection that they barely understand and lack the tools to fight?

Let me change the subject, but only slightly. I have tried to think of an instance where bitter fighting has been brought to an end without a clear victory and decisive defeat. I cannot. Can you?

It was not the US presidential election that prompted me to think along these lines, but the outbreak of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is not a new fight. Wikipedia has a good account of its dismal history. Can generations of genuinely-felt grievance be ended at a conference table? Can some outsider mediate a lasting peace? Will a signed piece of paper stop the bloodshed?

I think not. I think one side must win and the other side must lose. Clearly and decisively. Like Donald Trump, the loser will have to surrender before the fighting can stop. Usually this means fighting until one side is too exhausted, broken and broke to carry on. Then a kind of healing can begin. Some of the closest allies were once the bitterest of foes.

And this brings me to a conclusion that surprises me. For all the things that Trump did wrong, history may judge him well for siding uncritically with the Rogue State of Israel, climaxing in a deal with the UAE. Much as one weeps for the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people, perhaps they have to accept and acknowledge defeat at their oppressors’ hands before they can heal and rebuild – helped by generous gazillions from Israel’s friends.

Bobby Shafter has a Sequel

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I don’t want this blog to become just a billboard advertising my wares but… well, that was why I started it in the first place. So please forgive me for using it now to draw your attention to MY LATEST BOOK!!!

My last post advertised the e-book edition of Bobby Shafter, which is now available from Amazon/Kindle as well as from Smashwords and the other major platforms.

Now the little-awaited sequel Farley’s Bend is up and e-running too, on Amazon/Kindle and Smashwords etc.

Bobby Shafter

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At last! My smash-hit fifth opus – Bobby Shafter – is now available as an e-book.  It costs a derisory US$2.99, which works out to 0.003 cent per word.  You can buy it on almost any e-book sales platform except Amazon (but I am working on that).

I suggest getting it from Smashwords by clicking here.

20/20 and the MG Effect

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Four days ago I had my second cataract operation, and have 20/20 vision for the first time in my life. The operation took about 15 minutes for each eye, there was no pain, and between them Medicare and BUPA paid for everything except the eye-drops.

I now realise that I’ve been seeing the world through a yellow-brown filter for years, maybe decades. Every day I walk round the house gazing at the pictures on the walls, marvelling at their true colours. I amuse myself by staring out of the window and counting the leaves on distant trees. I can sit at the back of a cinema and see every pixel.

But I know the euphoria won’t last. Already perfect vision is already becoming my new normal. I call it the MG Effect.

When I was a boy I wanted to own an MG, a real MG, preferably a TC or a TD (left). But my first car was a Bond Minicar (below: a 3-wheeler powered by a 250cc 2-stroke engine mounted on the front wheel), My second was a Fiat 500.

Then I got married, took out a mortgage and had a baby. Sports cars were off the agenda. Fast-forward 25 years: the children grew up, the mortgage was paid off, and an MG became a possibility. But in my heart I knew that the novelty would wear off and I’d be left with an uncomfortable, under-powered, environmentally unfriendly machine that would need constant repairs and long hours globally Googling for spare parts.

PS  I’ve just come from the Trak Cinema (Adelaide) where Mrs SG and I sat at the back and watched a French animated film called ‘The Swallows of Kabul’.  We recommend it, especially if you are in any doubt about the Taliban’s true colours.

Slavery

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There is an upsurge of guilty feelings about slavery, especially in the UK. Statues of people who made fortunes from that evil trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been wrenched from their plinths. There is agitation to re-name city streets – even Liverpool’s Penny Lane, because it may have been named for the slave-trader James Penny.

And I have just read a review in the Guardian Weekly of Nicholas Rogers’ book ‘Murder on the Middle Passage’, which deals with horrific crimes committed against African slaves for the sake of profit. It made me think…

Slavery has existed for millennia, considered a perfectly normal aspect of human society and economy. It is often said that all nations have practised slavery but only the British abolished it. This is probably true, if one considers the laws that were passed by the British Parliament that were then enforced by the British Navy.

Slavery that is legally sanctioned, where one human and his/her offspring are the property of another, no longer exists anywhere so far as I know. But the ILO estimates that 40 million people suffer some form of virtual slavery. One hears of sex workers whose passports are withheld by their ‘owners’, debt bondage in the brickfields of India and kidnapped migrants on Thai fishing boats.

But there are conditions of employment that have become normal, but in some respects are worse than slavery. If one has paid for and owns a slave, one has an interest in keeping him or her fed, clothed, housed and healthy. I think of the ‘labour lines’ on a Sylhet tea plantation I visited in 1967. The living conditions were basic and the wages almost non-existent, but the benign Scottish manager ensured rations and medical care were available, and even schooling for the children. How different it is for employers who engage ‘contractors’ who are obliged to be available for paid work but have no guarantee that it will be offered.

Should there perhaps be a legal option to sell oneself into a form of slavery, rather like the bonded labourers on whose sweaty backs the Fijian sugar industry was built? Or the Pacific islanders who used to cut cane in Queensland?

More provocatively, will future generations vandalize the statues of contemporary heroes because of our appalling acceptance of the enslavement of other species?

Cats and Tribes

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We have a cat staying with us at the moment, so I was thinking about posting about that species. Then last week we saw a documentary about life in a black suburb in the USA, and I thought I should write something about that. Then I realised that what I would write about one is pretty much what I would write about the other.

The fact is that my relationship with Bella (the cat) is characterised by mutual bemusement. She rubs around my leg in the morning and is pleased to have me stroke the top of her head – once. Then she stalks off shaking her head as if to rid herself of parasites. Later in the day she alternates between rolling voluptuously on the carpet in my path, bolting in apparent panic at my approach, and ignoring me.

I’d like to have a conversation with Bella, to find out how she sees the world, human beings, and me in particular. Is she conscious of her own mortality? Does she distinguish between the humans she knows, or is it just a matter of who last topped up her food bowl? Above all, is she curious about the things she sees humans doing? Curiosity killed the cat, as my prep school teachers would say to any wayward child who exhibited curiosity about anything that wasn’t on the immediate syllabus; but are cats curious about things other than the next meal and the warmest place to sprawl?

And it was exactly the same with the American documentary. I found myself at a loss to understand the ways, manners, habits, choices and even the speech of the people on the TV screen – fortunately the programme was subtitled. It wasn’t just that they were black; it was that they seemed to live in a parallel universe in which drugs, gangs, guns, unemployment, promiscuity and incarceration are normal.

Of course, it’s not unusual for a certain neighbourhood to contain a preponderance of one ethnic group or another, but it seems to me that in the USA (much more than in Australia or the UK) the black population has seceded from the Union and developed their own culture, language, values, forms of religious expression, even their own de facto laws.

My mind went back to 1966, when I used my university vacation to travel around North America. It was the year after the infamous Watts riots in Los Angeles, and I was curious about the term “motherf***er” – new to me at that time. Did negroes (an acceptable word at that time) really believe that white mothers were in the habit of having sex with their sons? I sought out the neighbourhoods I’d read about – as well as those I’d heard about through songs (Kalamazoo, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Buffalo, Laramie…). I hoped to come home with insight but gained little.

I was brought up when the British considered their empire to be a great civilising force, replacing the ball-and-chain of tribalism with the institutions, laws and infrastructure of a modern nation state, illuminated by the glory of The Enlightenment. It looks to me as though that high-minded project has ground to a halt and shifted into reverse.