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Happy Birthday Cassandra

Last night, Mary and I, together with friends, old and new, celebrated our daughter Cassandra’s twenty-first birthday.

Had the organisation been left to me, I would have chosen the Bug-A-Lugs play centre in Kyneton. We could have sat around listening to the Wiggles and Hi-5, sipped milkshakes, eaten lots of iced donuts and reminisced about those glory days when we were heroes to our kids and not just some bunch of old farts sitting in a corner with our ear trumpets and blankets over our knees.

 

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But it was not to be. For reasons that will become apparent if you take the trouble to read on, the organisation of the event was left entirely in Cassandra’s hands.

She chose a little place on Sydney Road, Brunswick, whose internal architecture and floor plan was a blend of Shanghai Opium Den and Fire Trap Chic. Horror movie posters adorned the wall: King Kong (the original of course), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (in French) and a movie called ZAAT, whose snappy tagline read: ‘It would take an Atom Bomb to wipe out the walking catfish’ – this latter, no doubt inspired by the European Carp infestation, that has proven so popular in the Murray-Darling Basin.

 

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Everyone had a great time. Even me. And that’s remarkable because I have the attention span of a two-year-old and I’m usually pretty keen to get home. It probably helped that the place was full of nice people and I discovered that calamari is not, as I had always supposed, surplus WWII automotive accessories dipped in batter, but is in fact the invention of a culinary genius. It also helped that I was there to celebrate the birthday of the young woman who was, remarkably, born on my very first Father’s Day – a day when my emotional range expanded by an order of magnitude, and a day that would remain unequalled until exactly two years, two months, two weeks and four days later, when her brother first made his appearance.

 

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It was expected that Cassandra’s friend and housemate, Evangeline, and I would make speeches at the party but circumstances didn’t permit. I hope to get a copy of Evangeline’s speech and either add it here or else provide a link. In the meantime, here is what I had intended to say. Some of it may not be true, but the last half of the last paragraph is incontestable:

 

Cassandra

Some of you may not know this, but Cassandra was adopted. She was the firstborn daughter of minor European royalty, but was kidnapped at birth by a band of gypsies, spirited away from the land of her birth and smuggled out to the great south land. And it is here that her story takes a turn that is almost hard to believe, for she was abandoned on our doorstep, along with a used coffee cup and a half-eaten packet of Tim-Tams.

It was a cruel fate that befell the young princess, but she has shrugged off the injustice and borne herself with a dignity and grace worthy of her royal heritage. Her adoptive family: Mary, Tom and I, have thrived under her wise and benevolent rule. True, she dispenses tough love and, when angered, her wrath is swift and terrible to behold. But when we please her, a smile, a kind word, a loving glance, bring tears of joy to our little faces.

From an early age, Cassandra, who, unlike many of her fellow royals, possesses both a brain and a work ethic, decided that an endless round of garden parties, of opening fetes, bestowing knighthoods and entertaining foreign dignitaries, was not for her. She needed a real job. Over the years, she thought about real estate (very briefly), considered opening a night club, and flirted with the idea of a legal career. It would seem that, whatever her final choice, it will involve some form of communication. She is a great communicator. She uttered her first complete sentence at the age of 19 months and apart from occasionally pausing to draw breath, she’s been at it pretty much ever since. None of us are ever in any doubt as to what she thinks. Because she’ll tell us.

An early example of this forthrightness occurred when she was around three years of age. I had taken her to the nearby town of Kyneton and as we walked along the street we encountered a couple of young urchins, playing in the gutter. Cassandra glanced across, saw them, did a double take and stared in disbelief. She was scandalised. She pointed at them and wagged her finger. “You…you naughty people. You cheeky people.” The young urchins stared open-mouthed. Clearly they had never been spoken to like that before and certainly not by some irate imperial midget. But Cassandra, satisfied that she had exercised her royal prerogative, turned and continued on her way.

And she’s been continuing on her own way ever since, with hardly a mis-step, though one rare example does spring to mind. Once, when she was around four years old, she had her friend Stephanie over for a visit and they were playing together with Cassandra’s brother, Tom. The three of them were playing dress ups and all seemed to be going well when suddenly Cassandra came to me, sobbing as though her heart would break. I put my arm around her. “What’s the matter sweetheart?” “Oh Daddy, Stephanie won’t let me marry Tom.” And it was at this point that I began to think that perhaps Cassandra was a member of the royal family after all.

It’s natural for a parent to worry about their children. We worry about them being struck by lightning or a stray meteorite or succumbing to bubonic plague, but other than these very real existential threats, I don’t worry about Cassandra at all. She has the capacity to thrive in any environment.

She once observed that my parenting style has been minimalist, but I would argue that she has flourished under my masterful neglect. And in one area I have exceeded my parental brief, and that has been in my determination to embarrass her in public, whenever the opportunity presents itself. I regard it as a sacred duty – in fact, it’s not even a duty; it’s more of a pleasure. And it’s one I intend to avail myself of as long as I have the strength and the wit to do so.

There have been times, I confess, when I have wondered whether Cassandra is not in fact the royal changeling she once thought herself to be. Like any parent, I see in my child things that seem to transcend the separate entities that made her.  Perhaps she is channelling some long forgotten ancestor. Or perhaps the gypsies worked some weird sleight of hand, when they left her on our doorstep. More likely it is a magic that is entirely her own. She is smarter, more talented, more generous, more beautiful and far wiser than we had any right to hope for. And though I may no longer be the king of her heart, she will always be the princess of mine. Happy Birthday Cassandra. Lots of love, from Dad.

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Butchers are people too.

Jeff Rapley, a butcher in Narooma on the south coast of New South Wales recently put a sign in his window: “eating two strips of Rapley’s award winning bacon for breakfast reduces your chance of being a suicide bomber by 100%”.

 

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Photo: UK Telegraph

Mr Rapley removed the sign when a customer complained, but not before a passer-by had taken a photo and posted it on social media, where it gained widespread attention. Many denounced Mr Rapley as an ignorant racist.

The controversy prompted by Mr Rapley’s action has raised the vexed issue of social stereotyping and I would like to add my voice to the debate. I would like to say once and for all in clear and stentorian tones: not all butchers are stupid!

Butchers get a bad rap. Many are seen as jovial, if not very bright fellows; good only for making inane, suggestive banter and laying a surreptitious hand on the scales. The very word ‘butcher’ carries with it unfortunate connotations. The Butcherbird was named for its habit of impaling prey, the better to eat or mount for display to potential mates.

Then there was the infamous “Butcher of Lyon”, Klaus Barbie, whose trial, in 1987, for crimes against humanity, offended honest tradesmen and confused little girls the world over. As for any little girl whose daddy was a butcher… one can only shake one’s head in despair.

A group can never be judged by an individual. Butchers are people, just like anyone else and each has a right to his or her own multi-faceted individuality. My own uncle Ted, was a butcher, but he eschewed the stereotype. True, he was a banterer par excellence, but he never laid a heavy hand upon the scales, and apart from the odd, inadvertent self-wound, the blood on his hands was never human. And he was smart too; smart enough in his pre-butchering days to perceive a demand for condoms in the conservative Republic of Ireland. On his many trips across the North Atlantic, he was able to meet this demand. Admittedly, he added a small percentage for his troubles, but as those troubles included strafing by the Luftwaffe and stalking by U-boats, few of his loyal clients objected.

And then of course, there is Mr Rapley, another defier of stereotype, a supremely intelligent man who has identified an important association between dietary habits and social pathology. Mr Rapley suggests that anyone with a proclivity for eating bacon is not the sort of person who will self-detonate in order to cause the deaths of his fellows. This is a point well-made. It has long been apparent to sensible people that vegetarians and vegans are a menace to society. They threaten to undermine the values that have made this country great. The agenda of these malcontents is nothing short of world domination and they will seize any means to promote their dark agenda. Before we know it, we, the citizens of a barbecue and beer-swilling free and tolerant society will, by home-grown, self-immolating vegans and vegetarians, be terrorised into choking down carrot juice, great slabs of tofu and forests of alfalfa.

I believe we owe Mr Rapley a debt of gratitude, for not only has he reminded us, albeit unintentionally, of the folly of judging the group by the individual, he has alerted us to the interface between diet and anti-social behaviour. His veiled warning against vegan/vegetarian terrorism is one that cannot be taken too seriously. It must never be forgotten that Hitler was a vegetarian. It is incumbent upon us, as a society, to deal with these subversives.

My suggestion is that, relying on informers, the government identify vegans and vegetarians, and require them to wear some sort of symbol, affixed to their clothing, to denote their affiliation: a head of broccoli perhaps, or a square of tofu. The next step would be to concentrate them in camps where they can gorge themselves on their revolting kohl rabi and Brussel sprouts and blow themselves up to their heart’s content.

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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow – a letter to Keranique

Dear Mr & Ms Keranique,

You have requested an explanation for my decision to return your hair care products. It is an explanation that I am happy to provide, but in order to do so, I must take you back in time several weeks to an early morning in late April.

It is Autumn in south-eastern Australia – a magical time of year. The heat of summer has passed, the currawongs have come down from the mountain and their melodic chorus fills the air. The curtain rises on the lounge room-cum-study of a modest home in a small country town. A personal computer sits on a small table. Presently a rumpled man, coincidentally in the Autumn of his years, takes his seat opposite the screen. That would be me, your hapless correspondent. I open my emails and see something that appears to be from Telstra. They are Australia’s major provider of telephone and internet service. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them reputable, because they are, after all, a telco, but on the other hand, I know where they live. I am reassured. I open the email. I can’t remember if I open an attachment. Surely I can’t have been that stupid! But I have been known to do stupid things, so the possibility cannot be ruled out. Almost immediately I am confronted by what I’m told is referred to as a pop-up. It has popped up to request that I complete a brief questionnaire and offers the reward of a free gift. I am not so easily bought and request that it pop off. It demurs. I ask again, emphasising with a click of my mouse and still it remains on my screen, insistent in its, I think it’s fair to say now, demand. I reason that if I submit to this demand it will go away. So I do. Submit, that is. But it does not go away. It insists on giving me my reward. I am offered a choice of free gifts. In a pathetic attempt to ingratiate myself with my wife, I choose the hair care products. And now I am offered an add-on. For only around $3.50. So my free gift bestowed in exchange for my free time is no longer free. All right, why not? Looks like good value…

…Imagine now really creepy background music, for it is here, that an audience, witnessing this scene, would gasp and shout a warning. But alas, there is no audience. I am alone, with no one to counsel caution. So, like the gormless idiot in the B-Grade horror movie, stepping into the darkened room where the serial killer awaits, I provide my credit card details…and…I am lost. The fine print of your terms and conditions flash across my screen at warp speed. I fancy, in that brief nanosecond, I see an offer on your part, to relieve my credit account of, not to put too fine a point on it, money, on a regular and ongoing basis. This is a very attractive offer and I consider it, also in that brief nanosecond, before deciding that your generosity is more than I can accept.

I consult my son. He stares at me in disbelief and shakes his head, more in sorrow than in anger. He has long suspected that he has been raised by an idiot and his worst fears are now confirmed. DON’T DO THAT! DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN, he says. Somehow, while I wasn’t paying attention, our roles have been reversed. Only yesterday, it seems, I was warning him to beware of strangers and now it’s him cautioning me against skimmers and cyber thieves. On the one hand I’m thrilled and relieved to learn that he’s already smarter than I am. On the other hand I’m depressed to learn that he’s already smarter than I am.

At this point, I am unsure exactly where I stand. Had I managed to decline your generous offer or not? I check my credit card on line and note a debit of $5.25 together with a 16c fee for an international transaction. Sadder, though none the wiser, I accept $5.41 as the cost of naiveté and adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy. Several days later I receive a phone call from a very nice young Filipino man. He is offering me his congratulations and compliments me on my intelligence, so naturally I become alarmed. I attempt several times to elicit an intelligible response to my question “is this going to cost me any more money?” only to find myself swept along in a torrent of words falling faster than I can catch them. Finally I interrupt him to explain to him that I have no intention of allowing any further deductions to my credit card. At this point, I sense a change in his tone. Up until then I had felt that, given time and the right circumstances, we might become friends. But now, with my reluctance to enter into any pecuniary relationship, his attitude spins, as you Americans might say, on a dime. He becomes snippy, even surly and informs me that I will need to telephone you – in the US. Disillusioned, for it has become apparent to me that he only wants me for my money, I hang up and seek the advice of my local bank. They are kind enough to cancel my credit card and re-issue me with another. There are no valid automatic deduction arrangements on this card. I put the matter out of my mind until several days later, when a parcel arrives on my front door step. Excitedly, I open the parcel, thinking it might be a couple of books I ordered from Canada about six weeks ago and that haven’t turned up yet. Incidentally, my research has revealed that Canada is quite handy to the US, so perhaps you could pop over and look into that for me. Anyway, the books I hoped for have not arrived and I find instead your handsomely packaged hair care products. And so begins our email correspondence, during the course of which, you seek the feedback that I now provide:

I have pondered the situation and it occurs to me that there may be a business opportunity for you here in Australia. I have after all just paid out $A5.41 and received precisely nothing in return. You on the other hand have received $US3.50. I know it’s not a lot, but consider the possibilities for expansion. Australia has a population of around 24 million. I’ve noticed that not all of us have hair, and it’s fair to say baldness does not have the stigma it once had. The comb-over is in decline as the hirsutely-challenged own their baldness and proudly reclaim their heads. Although, as an aside, I note, in this one area, your own Mr Trump remains a traditionalist. But I digress and returning to my point, would suggest that, despite the alarming rise of Bald-Chic, your potential market exceeds 20 million, if we include children, and why wouldn’t you?

In conclusion, I would urge you to expand this business model. It’s true that some punters will object to being stiffed for five bucks, but most will just say, what the hell, it’s only a cup of coffee. Nobody’s going to be bothered taking legal action. One or two smartarses (that’s smartasses, to you) might write a sarcastic email, but’s that’s probably about the extent of the pushback. I’d give it a go if I were you. Oh and by the way, if you have any luck tracking down those two books, give me a bell.

All the best,

Andrew Grimes

 

 

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Pop Goes the Weasel!

I’ve never been a big fan of weasels. I went to school with a couple and I’ve worked with a few as well. Not my favourite animal. Imagine my delight to learn that one of them had flambéed itself within the inner workings of the Hadron Collider. Yes you remember the Hadron Collider – it was that big gizmo in Angels and Demons, the forerunner and sequel to The Da Vinci Code, novel and movie. You know those movies: Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, where Tom Hanks wanders around channelling Basil Exposition from Goldmember, telling his companion (and us) all those fascinating bits of information and weaving them into the story with all the dexterity of a three-toed sloth. And we’re supposed to suspend disbelief and accept that anyone as good-looking as her is going to hang out with a bloke as boring as that! Anyway the Hadron Collider is out in pursuit of “The God Particle”, as you would know, had you managed to stay awake during the movie. Also there’s a nasty guy in the Vatican (what?!) who’s a bit of a weasel himself, but I won’t spoil it for you, just in case you manage to stay awake during the movie.

Now The God Particle is more correctly known as the Higgs boson, named after the doughty Bosun Higgs, late of the good ship Venus, or possibly Jimmy Higgs who used to bowl leg spin for Victoria. Either that or Peter Higgs, Nobel Prize-winning physicist – I can never remember which.

The Hadron Collider is huge; it’s chock full of really important stuff like wires and knobs and levers – it’s all very technical and I’d love to explain it to you, but we don’t have time here. Anyway this multi-squantillion investment that went off searching for God, was taken out by an inquisitive weasel. So it would seem that the weasel has had more success in finding God than the Hadron Collider has to date and just goes to show that even the lowest weasel can find God if it persists and has the right attitude. It also demonstrates that God does have a sense of humour. It might be a bit droll at times, sometimes a little dark even, but it’s definitely there. How else do you explain the Kardashians? Or Donald Trump?