Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Post #3 Hire a Hall / Nothing (but don't get me staaarted!)

Yes, like Seinfeld. A show about nothing made into something. Okay, what about:

1.Indian crickets: They arrived in Perth, WA, in the late nineteen-seventies and their first wave was a real plague of Egypt. A cartoonist drew a caricature of one standing on its hind legs, holding a cricket bat; the cricket had a waxed moustache and a turban. In real life they were no joke; they were a real vexation. A mate of mine told me this yarn: One night he was in his bed when he heard a strange scraping/munching sound. He hit the light switch next to his bed. The noise stopped when the light came on. This performance repeated several times. Then he got cunning and worked out where the noise was coming from before he hit the light and then, walked towards the source of the sound. Looking carefully about, he saw a styrofoam tray with cellophane wrapping on his desk. He'd eaten a cream pastry that evening and left the wrapping on the desk. On the tray was an Indian cricket. As he watched the cricket it decided to kick on with its meal without the cover of darkness. The cause of the noise was revealed: The cricket's jaws and whiskers scraping the cellophane as it licked the remains of the cream off. The cricket eyeballed him defiantly as it munched on. He reached about stealthily for a weapon; found a magazine, twisted it to a coil and leaped forward, smashing the cricket to pulp with it. One down, infinity to go. They were insolent, energetic, completely unlike the familiar sedentary Australian crickets. They were voracious carnivores and cannibals. If you squashed one and left the body for a few minutes on the floor, you'd find its mates eating it when you came back. They were faster, the younger and smaller they were. Little ones the size of pin-heads would seem to dematerialise as you looked at them - they really moved faster than the eye could see. Mortein, an Australian standby as revered as Vegemite, barely bothered them. Improvised flypaper was the order of the day, and plastic ice cream tubs filled with water. The little ones were fast but if they fell in water they were gone. All sizes of them stuck to the adhesive traps. But, all victories were Pyrrhic: they had endless reinforcements. If you paid for heavy-duty fumigation it did the trick, until the next wave arrived. Today the indigenous cricket is a rare sight - its niche has been taken by the imported competitors. And yet, after those first few exasperating summer seasons the Indian cricket tapered off to a tolerable level of infestation. Their irritating song is still heard every summer but their numbers have stabilised. Something out there developed a taste for them, I think. An insect? Lizards? I know not, but I offer great thanks to them and all accolades of the polity. May the gods prosper them and may they feast rapaciously.

2.How about the date? After 7 years it's still "Two thousand and ..." Maybe Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick did decide for everyone when they said, "Two thousand and one - a space odyssey". I say: "Two thousand? Sure. But 'Twenty' thereafter." One good reason: count the syllables. After the first one you're always saying an extra syllable that "Twenty" dispenses with. And what about the decade? The "noughties"? Oh, spare me. It's because of the innumerates who want to believe that there should be a Year Zero and so forth. Once you understand all that, it's simple. Here's my offering: "The to-tens": the first year of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century/Third Millennium is 2001. The last is 2010. Thus, 1 to 10. (As in tootins.) And 2011 to 2020?The"teens".

3.Now let's do weights and measures: Metrics came to Australia in 1975. Thirty three years later we still hear "foot" and "inch". Two reasons for that. The great United parochial States of America is the first. Without their obstinacy and cultural influence upon us, things would move along. The second is the fact that we never really made them our own. After thirty three years we still stumble over "kilometres" and "centimetres". Something changed in Australian culture about the time metrication happened. We stopped with the nicknames. None of the decimal coins introduced in 1966 ever acquired an affectionate name like "Two-bob", "zack" or "deener". Any real Australian knows that Strine is now a subject for linguistic palaeontology. We say "guy" almost without exception, to the exclusion of "bloke". "Cobber" is long gone from normal discourse. "Sheila" the same. And so on. Strine is like those tourist-trap folk-dances and handicrafts found in other countries. We use it self-consciously, if at all. It's even becoming pejorative, perhaps in the way that "knave" (boy) and "harlot" (youth) became insults, centuries ago. Haven't you heard something called "blokey"? What about someone "looking after his cobbers"?

Strine is dead, but we could put some local flavour on the names of metric units to suit the stress-patterns of our vernacular and we'd be more comfortable with them. What about "kims" and "sems" for those two I mentioned? And why not just call 2.5 "sems" a "metric inch"? Who gives a damn what it is precisely in British or American obsolete standards? Let's call 30 "sems" a "metric foot"! That's for the textbook. We'll just call them feet and inches and we'll know what we mean. Have you seen those weird road signs (not at intersections) saying that the next town is 153.4 kilometres away? Sure. The roads managers put signs where the old ones were and dutifully converted to metric. Why not just move the sign 3.4 kilometres closer to the town? The old signs were put there to conform to the neat round numbers people prefer to think and speak in. What went on in their heads back in '75? And the great bugbear of them all.... did they really expect us to say that someone is "one hundred and eighty three centimetres in height"? What witness ever told a cop that the fleeing offender was "seventy-two inches tall"? We didn't say "six feet and six inches" either: we said, "six foot six". So here's my fix: "He was a metre eighty, officer." Who needs the three "sems"? If you think it's more, say, "a metre eighty five". No bastard ever got out the tape measure and checked did they? It's only a guess - so guess! We could even use our newly metricated feet and inches to say: "He was about six foot...I think." (Albert Facey tells, in A Fortunate Life, how an army doctor was amazed to find that Facey was, to the least part of an inch, exactly six feet in height. The doctor had measured many thousands of men and Facey was unique in that regard.)

Most people don't know how to guess weights/dimensions/distances worth a damn and nobody is likely to be exactly as the best-informed guess measures them. And, when the correct to the millimetre (mim) height is known, (say 1803 mm) we can say (if we must be precise), "a metre, eighty, and three". After all, we, the people, are the ones who have to say it. We should decide how. Why did we forget that and become so self-defeatingly particular and slavish where metrics are concerned?

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