Pride

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No-one is greater than Greta;
Humanity should fête her.
Tho’ belittled and trolled
She’s outspoken and bold –
If I were younger I’d date her.

Even without the photo you’d know which Greta I was talking about, wouldn’t you? Greta Thunberg has joined the small group of people for whom a single name is sufficient: Donald, Gandhi, Madonna, Mao, Meghan and the rest.

The reason I’m featured Miss Thunberg is that I heard her father interviewed on ABC radio the other day. The interviewer’s final question was “Are you proud of your daughter?” He answered “No,” having already explained that he and his wife had tried hard to dissuade Greta from becoming an activist for a cause they initially had little interest in.

It made me think about the word ‘proud’ and its derivatives. I remember as a child being told that I should be proud of my school uniform, and wondering why, since I’d had no hand in its design or manufacture. Moreover, I knew that pride came before a fall and in Religious Instruction I’d been taught that pride was altogether a Bad Thing. Even without knowing what ‘contumely’ meant, I got that Hamlet was not keen on proud men.

Of course it’s natural to feel pride in one’s own achievements – coming top of the class, winning a prize, scoring a goal – even though prophets, psalmists, apostles and Shakespeare are united in disapproval. But how can one possibly be proud of something that one has made no contribution to? How can I be proud that a person or persons unknown have won a match, or confronted a terrorist, or put out a fire?

I suppose a parent can feel pride in having brought up a child who does something good, and perhaps that’s what the ABC’s interviewer had in mind. But evidently Mr Thunberg believes that Greta did it all by herself; indeed, she did it despite her parents’ efforts to stop her. Good for him for giving an honest answer.

Or perhaps ‘proud’ and ‘pride’ are ambiguous words that mean different things to different people. ‘Respect’ is certainly such a word, and I’ve made a mental note to post something about that too.

While we’re on the subject of language, don’t forget that the announcement of this year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (aka ‘the Stroppy’) will be made on 17 January. Get your nomination in now! Deadline: 2359 hours GMT, Thursday 16 January.

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!

Oh, for a Fat Controller!

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Rev Wilbert Awdry

Have you have read any of the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his rail-bound colleagues you will understand the allusion to the Fat Controller. It has nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with our need for an overlord (or indeed an overlady).

In these stories the units of anthropomorphic rolling stock, with their personalities, their strengths and their weaknesses, often make a mess of things. But the Fat Controller (aka Sir Topham Hatt) always appears on the final page to praise the good, admonish the naughty and put things right. It’s the perfect way to end the day before snuggling beneath the bedclothes.

“Oh no!” I hear you say. “Not another post about Brexit!”

Sorry, but yes. The UK Government, Opposition and Parliament are in turmoil. The long-suffering people are dismayed. Many long to be dis-Mayed. They want a Fat Controller to step into the story and mend their fractured universe.

HM The Queen

The only candidates with sufficient moral authority are Joanna Lumley and the Queen. My preference would be the Queen. With an unwritten constitution, her power is limited only by what her people believe it to be and want it to be. I would love it if she turned up at Parliament one day, unannounced, and said something along the lines of “For God’s sake, you people, grow up! Isn’t it blindingly obvious that this whole Brexit thing isn’t working? What’s more it’s tearing my kingdom apart and it just won’t do. Stop it. Now. Tell those people in Brussels that you’re going to have another think about it and we’ll email them when we’re good and ready. OK? Good. Carry on.”

 

ISIS Brides and Babies

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There are thousands of them: foreign women who married Daesh (aka IS, ISIL or ISIS) men and who are now sitting in refugee camps, in many cases with their children.  Some are alleged to have attacked other refugees whose behaviour does not conform to Daesh norms, and even to have set firs to those people’s tents.

Mother and Child in a Kurdish-run Camp

Their home countries are reluctant to take them back, for understandable reasons. It’s hard to believe the claims that they were too young to know what they were getting into, or were taken in by the propaganda about the creation of a perfect Islamic state and somehow missed the bits about murder, torture, rape and slavery.

The case of Shamima Begum has hit the headlines in the UK, whence she fled at the age of 15 to join Daesh. Her Dutch husband survived the fighting and has renounced Daesh. Shamima wants to go home with her baby. The UK doesn’t want either of them. It’s a similar story with Australia Zehra Duman. An estimated 9,000 are nationals of the Russian Federation (mainly Chechnya) and other former Soviet Republics.

My view is pretty simple. These people, however wicked, deluded or gullible they may have been, are citizens of countries which have laws, institutions and financial resources far beyond those of the Kurds and others who are holding them. It’s our responsibility to receive them back, subject the adults to due legal process, and care for the children in such a way that they will grow up sane, productive and law-abiding. This will not be cheap, but it will surely be cheaper than letting stateless extremists and their hapless offspring roam the world working mischief.

I just checked, and Australia still has a law dealing with treason. It is contained in Chapter 5 of the Criminal Code. The penalty for intentionally assisting, by any means whatever, another country or organisation [my emphasis] that is engaged in hostilities against the Australian Defence Force is life imprisonment.

The law is specifically framed to include terrorist organisations. One would hope that the phrase “by any means whatever” is broad enough to encompass making one’s way into a war zone to marry an enemy combatant and bear his children, who will be educated in extremism and brought up to be Daesh’s foot soldiers – and martyrs if they’re lucky.