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Argus is now closed.
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.
25 August 2017
In the 1950s Sir John Betjeman wrote some verses called “How to get on in society”. They were intended as a contribution to the then current debate over “U” versus “non-U” speech (“U” being upper-class and “non-U” non-upper-class) and were published in Noblesse Oblige, a collection of essays edited by Nancy Mitford (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1956). One object of the poem was to challenge readers to pick out the “non-U” genteelisms and circumlocutions satirised in Betjeman’s lines.
We no longer have (if we ever had) that kind of class-based linguistic demarcation in this country but we do have wide variations in vocabulary and usage related to age, education and other factors. Here, with a title borrowed from Anthony Trollope, are some verses I have tried to compose in the Betjeman spirit for our own time and place.
I’m sorry your partner has passed, Dad,
Though I guess it’ll come to us all.
Her farewell send-off at the yacht club
Was great and we all had a ball.
We shouldn’t have laughed when the ashes
Blew back in the celebrant’s face
And Jarrod had too much Jack Daniels
And wanted to trash the whole place.
You were both a fantastic fun couple
How long is it now since you met?
Was it when you took Melanie’s schnauzer
To have his teeth cleaned at the vet?
It was sad on the day that you left, Dad.
But you fell out of love, as you say
And Mum got the condo in Brighton
So maybe it’s better that way.
I related to Val as a person
Though she was ages older than I
(When she said we could pass as twin sisters
“In your dreams,” I just thought in reply.)
She enjoyed a nice chilled Tassie chardy
Though it made her too loud, you once said,
Like the time she got wasted at Chrissie
And had to lay down on my bed.
And she said, “F*ck the stupid Kris Kringle”
And gave you a slap in the street.
And with next door and everyone watching
She got doggy poo on her feet.
Your speech made me come over weepy,
But how come the slide show fell flat?
Who was it that scanned the wrong photos?
You should ask for a discount for that.
I tweeted the date to the guys, natch,
And texted an invite to Mum,
But she said she’d be packing for Bali
So wouldn’t be able to come.
Fair enough, since she’s still really hurting
And needs some more time to move on.
Her counsellor’s great, he said closure
Would come once her anger had gone.
He’s going to Bali as well, ‘cos
He said she just needs TLC.
Mum’s paid megabucks for a penthouse
With a plunge pool and views out to sea.
Maybe you and her should consider
Becoming an item again.
I read sex can be great in your sixties,
(If there aren’t any problems by then).
You wouldn’t believe what has happened
I’ve had my share of tragedy too.
Some stupid Chinese in the car park
At Safeways, who hadn’t a clue
About driving this great black Range Rover
(don’t they say that their eyesight is poor?)
Backed into the Golf with her tow-bar
And left a great dent in the door.
I don’t want to sound like a racist,
Oh my God, you must know how I feel.
How could someone like her get a licence?
She could hardly see over the wheel!
I needed a coffee to calm me
And somewhere to sit down and chill.
Do you think I could locate my smartcard
When the waitperson gave me the bill?
There were power cuts at home when I got there
And I couldn’t turn on MKR.
And the prawns in the fridge I was thawing
Had leaked on the Chobani jar.
And then there are issues with Gary,
I love him of course, he’s a doll.
But since he moved in last December
His mood swings are out of control.
The chemist down near the train station
Said Ativan’s well worth a trial
But Gary won’t see the GP, his
Default mode is total denial.
My Master's is on the back burner
Potentially I'd get Haitch 2B
But how can I spend time at uni
When Gary won't get up till three?
I tell you, I just do not need this,
I know how Mum feels, you too Dad
It’s like Someone up there doesn’t like me,
But I’ve never done anything bad.
Still, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
The life coach I’ve started to see
Says I worry too much about others
When I need to prioritise me.
So I won’t be in touch for a while, Dad
I know being alone must be hell
But the negative vibes of your grieving
Could impact my headspace as well.
Published in Quadrant May 2017
With Big Government getting bigger, more revenue is needed.
Anyone who’s ever stepped out on to a crossing with the green light and come within a hair’s breadth of being mown down by a Lycra-clad iridescent blur rocketing through against the red will surely welcome a Victorian suggestion, in the wake of a fatal accident, that cyclists should be obliged to have a licence the way car drivers are. Lovers of Big Government will like the idea too.
Maniac cyclists can be as terrifying as maniac drivers, in fact more so, because cars generally stick to the road whereas the fanatical cyclist rides anywhere – pavements, parks and any public space (except for designated bike lanes, which many find too restrictive). Otherwise it’s a moot point which is the more fearsome: the psycho tailgating you at 100 in the souped-up ute, or a phalanx of cyclists, heads down grimly over the handlebars, uncallipygous bottoms in the air, swarming along unrestrained by road rules, traffic or pedestrians. That the cyclists smugly suppose themselves to be respecting the environment compounds the offence.
But why should a licence make a cyclist act any more responsibly than a motorist, whose licence all too evidently does not guarantee careful driving? The answer is it won’t; and yet that doesn’t invalidate the idea. Bike licences mightn’t make us safer but they do have something which enthusiasts for Big Government can seize on: a potential for raising revenue.
Greens won’t be keen on that idea. They idolise the bicycle – it is the Golden Calf they don multi-hued priestly raiment to worship – and any impost on its use would be anathema to them, though there could be a bit of a tussle here with the Green instinct for regulating everything. But in more pragmatic circles, where ideology is trumped by expansionist cupidity – specifically among collectors of revenue at any of the three levels of our over-governed existence – the potential of bike licences as money-spinners will not be sneezed at. According to census figures, there are more than 3.6 million cyclists in Australia who can be made to pay up.
Governments and the bureaucracies of public “servants” that run our lives love finding new ways to raise revenue, not so much for any material improvements that will benefit the citizens whose cash they are appropriating but because they can use the money to employ more bureaucrats. This is particularly important at a time like this, with the prospect of China “slowing down” and the consequent spectre of lessened prosperity and increased unemployment. No government wants to see unemployment figures rising. But when jobs that involve real work become scarcer, the figures can be kept looking good by additional employment in the public sector. This has already happened over the last two decades with the disappearance of local manufacturing. People who would formerly have found work on assembly lines were accommodated in specially expanded universities where they were given degrees in climate change and gender studies before being absorbed into the ranks of the bureaucracy.
Since even bureaucrats have to have something to do, some nominal duties that they’re ostensibly carrying out, bike licences would be doubly helpful. Not only would the licence fees fund the new bureaucratic jobs, they would provide them with a raison d’être. How many new staff will be required to supervise licence tests? How many desk staff to check applications? How many extra police to issue fines to unlicensed riders? And, as a bonus, how many promotions and salary increments for “additional responsibilities” for the departmental heads in charge?
Of course cyclists’ licences are far from being the only source of potential tax revenue still untapped. Bureaucratic imagination has been a little slack in this regard so let me suggest a few more things that could be licensed to help the organs of Big Government expand their budgets and their empires.
Walking in the street. Restaurant, cafés, two-dollar shops etc. already pay for licences to occupy pavement space, so why shouldn’t pedestrians who further clutter the streets with their useless strolling (and jeopardise the safety of tray-bearing waiters) pay something too?
Kitchen conversations. “Sadly,” laments G. Triggs, “you can say what you like around the kitchen table at home.” Licensing should put a stop to that. Licensing kitchen talk will first require monitoring it, not the easiest thing when you have more than nine million dwelling places to snoop on. But where there’s a will there’s a way and no doubt something can be devised using the domestic TV screen and some kind of NBN-like connection to the Blofeldesque control room at the Human Rights Commission where Gillian, resplendent in her Mrs Slocombe-inspired coiffure, can listen in on family chat, with little Tim and a vastly augmented staff of inquisitors taking notes. Licence fees would be graded according to the degree of “racism”, “Islamophobia” etc. emitted (non-ethnic families living in residential areas favoured by well-off Asian immigrants would pay heavily) and, after a certain number of demerit points, persistent offenders would be delicensed, fined (more revenue) and sentenced to undergo “sensitivity training” in an HRC high-security re-education camp outsourced to Safe Communities, a new subsidiary of Safe Schools.
Church services. It is a scandal that these are allowed to continue unlicensed and unsupervised in buildings already exempt from rates. Revenue from licensing would pay for inspectors to monitor all Sunday sermons (especially those of “Bible-based” preachers) for “homophobia” and “hate speech” in regard to gay marriage. “Approved” (= Leftist) clerics, such as Father Frank Brennan and just about everyone from the Uniting Church, would be excluded from supervision, as would “culturally protected worship providers” (mosques).
Teachers’ T-shirts. Leftist teachers periodically wear these, emblazoned with modish political slogans. Revenue would be raised not by licensing the wearer but what’s written on him. Currently this is something about welcoming refugees – an admirable thought to proclaim to impressionable young minds, but one that contributes nothing to the public purse. Why not, then, in the manner that our esteemed Special Broadcasting Service runs commercials, subsidise the cost of schools by licensing the space across the teacher’s chest for paid advertising? Instead of “No to Cis-Heteronormativity” the T-shirt could extol the putative merits of things of interest to “kids” and their parents, such as SUVs, glitzy mobiles, overseas holidays, financial consultants and even fast bicycles.
Air consumption. Stand by for breathing to be licensed once the eco-fascists of the Left get the power to reduce the population to a “sustainable” level by means of “mandatory voluntary euthanasia” for “superfluous respirers”, and thus fulfil the old saying that there’s nothing certain in life but death and taxes.
Published on The Spectator Australia "Flat White" site 29 April 2017