The River of Humanity

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Commuters cry, “Beware! Beware!
“The human mass at Station Square!
“The shuffling feet
“Where two lines meet
“And sullen souls despair!”

If you’ve spent time in Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi (formerly known as Tiflis) you’ll probably recognise the reference. Tbilisi has two metro lines that meet at Station Square station. Here at rush hour there can be a traffic jam of human flesh as streams of passengers squeeze past and through one another to change lines or escape into the open air. The photo alongside does scant justice to the crush that I was in a few days ago.

I confess to getting a kick out of commuting by metro or subway or underground. I feel part of something: The River of Humanity. A participant, not a spectator. My body is a tiny, tiny fragment, but the river is nevertheless changed by my being there.

There’s probably something Freudian about it too. One plunges into a dark hole, trusting that the millions of tons of rock and soil above one’s head will stay in place; then, in a re-enactment of nativity, one bursts forth into a sunlit world where oxygen and coffee shops abound and all is easeful.

Here in Tbilisi’s metro I am struck by the tolerance and mutual respect I feel around me. Several people (myself included) missed a train the other day by waiting for a lady to manoeuvre her pushchair into a crowded carriage. No-one pushed ahead, no-one complained.

And when another lady forced her way along the wall of a hugely crowded tunnel, against the flow, shouting what sounded like “Why! Why! Why!” people smiled good-naturedly. She had her reasons. Beggars position themselves along the same wall, obstructing the flow, and they are accepted as just a few more water molecules in the river, albeit static ones.

I’d like to say that by being part of The Human River twice a day I’m gaining a better understanding of my fellow-humans. But – and now we get to the stroppy bit – I do not understand why some people are attracted to substances and activities that they know are designed to enslave them by way of addiction. Why, why, why?!

The ads reproduced here are all from today’s online edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

AddictGame3

Travel and Terrorism

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First, I offer a big apology to my fans, for not having posted for such a long time. In inadequate recompense I give you this link to a brilliant article by Waleed Aly in the Sydney Morning Herald. Waleed is a writer and broadcaster, and one of the most thoughtful and articulate blokes in Australia today.

The article is about Brexit, which makes me stroppier than almost anything outside the Middle East. But I’ve written so much and so often about Brexit, and none of it seems to have touched the hearts and minds of the decision-makers who matter, so now I’m going to push other people’s views and analysis with which I agree. Certainly Waleed expresses what I think better than I can.

But all that has nothing to do with either travel or terrorism. I’m in the UK at the moment, having travelled from Adelaide via Dubai – not my favourite transit hub, I have to say. On the way I was moved to compose the following limerick, which I throw to you, my readers, much as a rock star might throw an item of clothing into the audience…

While waiting in airport queues,
Then taking off watch, belt and shoes,
I imagine Osama
Bin Laden (the charmer)
Laughing – he didn’t lose!

English Language in Peril?

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Regular readers know that I get stroppy over what I perceive to be degradation of the English language. I’ve ranted over the disappearance of ‘whom’; the substitutability of ‘I’ and ‘me’; and the use of ‘bacteria’, ‘data’ and ‘phenomena’ as though they are singular nouns. Mrs SG gets equally stroppy when she hears someone pronounce the letter ‘H’ as ‘haitch’.

But I’ve just read an article by David Shariatmadari in the admirable Guardian Weekly, pointing out that the language has always been a work-in-progress and many of today’s spellings and usages would have been considered quite wrong only a couple of hundred years ago. Mr Shariatmadari mentions that ‘an apron’ evolved from ‘a napron’ and ‘horse’ used to be ‘hros’. He considers people like me to be pedants.

To an extent I accept what he says. After all, I never use ‘thou’, ‘thee’ or ‘thy’ unless I’m on stage; or ‘hast’, ‘hath’ or ‘dost’ for that matter. Perhaps I am prejudiced against people who seem to misuse the language out of ignorance or laziness, or as a deliberate ploy to avoid precision, or in the act of hijacking a word (such as ‘gay’, ‘community’ or ‘like’) for their own ends. But dammit we must have some rules! If everyone thinks they can repurpose words and make up meanings at will, the result can only be miscommunication.

It may be cricket, but is it ‘cricket’?

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The friendship between Australia and Britain has never been so strained as when, in 1932-33, the English cricket team toured Australia.

In the third test match, played in Adelaide, they started using a style of bowling known as ‘bodyline’.This picture shows the difference between normal and bodyline bowling. A normal delivery is aimed at the stumps. A bodyline delivery is aimed at the batsman’s upper body, with the intention to scare him into swiping the ball to defend himself against injury. Fielders are placed close to the batsman on his legside, ready for a catch.

In the first over of bodyline bowling the ball narrowly missed Australian batsman Bill Woodfull’s head – unhelmeted in those days, of course. The next ball struck him over his heart. Later in the match Bert Oldfield’s skull was fractured.

Two members of the English team were particularly blamed and vilified as unsportsmanlike: Captain Douglas Jardine and bowler Harold Larwood.

Now England has a new champion: Jofra Archer (pictured here). He bowls fast and short, bouncing it up at the batsman’s head, with the clear aim to intimidate or injure him. He struck Steve Smith a near-fatal blow on the neck. But no-one’s calling it ‘bodyline’. Why not? What’s the difference? Why is the cricket fraternity not crying out against this obviously unsportsmanlike and potentially homicidal tactic?

Not being a cricket aficionado, I admit to being indebted to Wikipedia for the above details. I would really like someone to explain to me why aiming a hard, fast-moving projectile at an opponent’s head, which caused such a furore 86 years ago, is now OK.

Top up . . .

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I did find myself composing another song about Enid Blyton, but sought distraction before it could be perfected. Then, while cycling home from the gym, I passed a petrol station and started involuntarily singing to an old hymn tune:

Top up, top up for Jesus
With ninety-five octane –
It may not be a dollar
Twenty-eight again . . .

Thankfully (you may say) lyrical inspiration gave way to a serious thought. People raised in the Christian tradition are often shocked by the violence that seems to be condoned in the Old Testament and the Koran. “How good it is,” they think to themselves, “that Jesus replaced that jealous, vindictive, racist Yahweh with a loving god, arranged in three neatly-fitting pieces. And what a pity it is that Mohammed conjured up that narrow-minded Allah, obsessed with rigid rules and slaughter.”

In fact all three of the Abrahamic faiths are pretty nasty if looked at closely. A Jew or a Muslim might listen to “Stand up, stand up for Jesus …” or “Onward Christian soldiers…” and look around in alarm for an approaching horde “with the cross of Jesus going on before!”

And how should Muslims react when a representative of a heavily-armed predominantly Christian nation talks of embarking upon a ‘crusade’?

Creative Urge Again!

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I can’t stop these songs writing themselves in my head. Passing them on to the world is a kind of exorcism. Here’s another in the same genre and to the same tune as before…

Solzhenitsyn was another;
He was friendly with my mother.
I don’t know if he kissed her
But he looks just like my sister
And a little bit like my brother.

Disclaimer:
No Russian authors were harmed in the writing of this song or the last one. Nor is it intended to allege, imply, suggest or hint that any person, extant or extinct, has behaved in any way that could be characterised by a reasonable person as dishonest or immoral.

The Creative Urge

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I hope you’ve noticed that I haven’t been posting lately. Sloth and indiscipline have played a part, but mainly to blame is the creative urge – in particular my absorption in writing the sequel to ‘Bobby Shafter’. It is now complete! Subject to proof-reading of course.

Despite being absorbed in that authorly project, dim regions of my brain have been generating poetry. Those regions are like the ones that keep us breathing, pump our blood and move food through our digestive tracts; whatever we’re doing they just keep on going.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

So what to do with this unconscious outpouring of creative… stuff? I have no choice. I have to share it.

What follows is to be sung to the tune of “Free, free beer for all the workers … when the Red Revolution comes!” or “Solidarity forever … the Union makes us free!”. Apart from the metrical scheme it’s much the same as “Mine eyes have seen the glory …” and “John Brown’s body …”. Please, please sing it, sing it loud, so my dim regions’ labours will be not in vain!

Dostoevsky was a writer;
Once I let him use my lighter.
He blew smoke in my eyes
And next day I realised
He’d stolen it – the blighter!