Is it just me or are houses getting uglier? Today we got promotional material for an estate agent, with this picture of a house that’s for sale in our neighbourhood. Presumably it was designed by an architect. Presumably that architect’s course had touched on the perfect proportions of the Parthenon, the distinctive grace of the Duomo di Firenze, the simple elegance of the Eiffel Tower, the soaring splendour of Barcelona’s unfinished Sagrada Familia (pictured). Was he/she away sick for all those lectures?
I blame Grand Designs, that TV series that glorifies rusty iron sheeting, half-burnt timber, floor-to-ceiling windows, concrete floors and exposed girders. At the start of the Industrial Revolution factory-owners were proud to build cotton mills that looked like houses, with well proportioned windows and decorative flourishes. Now people are building houses that look like carelessly stacked shipping containers and architects point proudly to “industrial” interiors.
Am I alone in thinking that this period of residential architecture will be looked back on with bemused revulsion? I’m sure Prince Charles agrees with me – but what about you?
In Australia there are loud calls for schools to add Sexual Consent to the lengthening list of subjects that they are supposed to teach. When I first heard of this I thought it was a joke that had been rejected as too silly for an episode of Monty Python. But it is a sincere response to a growing number of accusations of sexual assault and harassment perpetrated by young males against young females.
Some people blame the ready accessibility of online pornography, which gives boys unhealthy ideas about both the physical and the emotional aspects of sex. Some blame a cultural shift towards disrespect and a sense of male entitlement. Such a shift may be fed by exposure to pornography, of course. It may also be an unwanted side-effect of growing gender equality and the consequent erosion of men’s role as protectors.
I reflect on my own adolescence and the social environment at the time. Women were unashamedly classified as “the weaker sex” and few of the mothers I knew were in the workforce. I was brought up to regard women as slightly inferior versions of men, albeit highly desirable to have and to hold. I was taught to raise my hat to women, offer my seat to them, and generally behave in a way that seemed deferential but was in fact a show of paternalism. Later I realised that this behaviour had its roots in a social imperative that affects every tribe: the protection of its capacity to reproduce.
There is another imperative too: to manage sexual relationships in such a way that a) paternity is not in doubt, b) rights and responsibilities are unambiguously assigned, and c) lust and jealousy do not tear apart the social fabric. In the western democracies we’ve pretty much given up on this one.
At school we had no lessons that were overtly about sex – unless you count the antics of amoebae. However, we were deeply immersed in history and literature. Together with American films, sitcoms and the lyrics of pop songs, these told us all we needed to know. Thus did we learn, for example:
You shouldn’t behead your wives without a very good reason.
Having sex at 14 is fine, provided that both families disapprove.
Beating your wife is unmanly, but spanking her may be necessary from time to time and she will love you all the more afterwards.
If a woman despises you in the first reel you will end up married to her.
Only when a woman slaps your face can you be sure that you’ve overstepped an invisible line.
However, if it’s a token slap she means “It wouldn’t be ladylike to let that go unpunished, but I quite liked it.”
The first time a woman says “No” she means “Try harder.” The second time she means “Maybe.”
Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.
I would like to end with a neat conclusion, an explanation of how we can allow unrestrained individual freedom and at the same time protect people from their own and other’s weaknesses. But I can’t. Sorry.
Postscript: Only after writing this did I learn that schools in my home state of South Australia have been obliged to teach sexual consent for years!
It’s been a tough choosing a winner of this year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.