Obituary for a Joker

A brief note but I have to do this.

Five days ago Alan Irwin Abel passed away.  Really.

Now I’m guessing if you live in America most of you know, but in case it slipped past you, or if you live elsewhere in the world where his death does not seem to have received coverage, here are some quick insights to a man who was multi-talented, and who sense of humour will be missed.

In 1959 Abel founded SINA – the Society for Indecent Naked Animals, whose object was to clothe all animals from toy dogs upwards.  He published a magazine as its organ of support and gained the attention of Walter Cronkite, who gave it a ten-minute slot on his news programme.

He ‘died’ in 1980 of a heart attack while skiing in Colorado, posted his own obituary in the New York Times, then held a press conference the following day to prove his death was a hoax.

Yetta Bronstein, housewife, was another of his creations.  Yetta (a mythical figure, his wife providing her voice) sought election for Presidential office; her platform included national bingo, self-fluoridisation, a suggestion box on the White House fence and Jane Fonda naked on postage stamps, to boost the ailing income of the postal service.  Yetta herself never appeared (couldn’t, of course) at rallies, so Abel appeared instead as her campaign manager.

In 1985 he organised a protest at the quality of daytime television by arranging for a ‘mass fainting’ by members of the audience for the Donahue Show.

Among his enterprises could be counted a ‘School for Beggars’ in New York (which claimed to teach down-and-outs ways to improve their ‘income’), and ‘Euthanasia Cruises’ – which sort of speaks for itself.   I believe, although I haven’t been successful in tracking back to this one, he also suggested the famine of human body parts for transplant could be resolved by a system in which the recipient paid a rental for a donated organ on a 99-year lease.

I guess Abel’s time has passed, in that anyone can be a hoaxer now.  But he didn’t have, for most of his life, access to mass media, so the orchestration of these, and many other pranks must have taken an elaborate sense for detail and considerable organisational skills.

So this was my brief obituary.  The world is the worse for the loss of Alan Irwin Abel.

https://theinfluencers.org/en/alan-abel/video/2

The Dream of the Fat Controller

It is the sort of figure that is whispered in awed, reverential tones.  This is money beyond the powers of imagination, a theatre of surreal dreams.

20 billion – no, not dollars, or even euros, but pounds sterling.  And bear in mind a UK billion is 1 million times a million.  Enough to overheat every slot machine in Las Vegas, or keep a zoofull of Pandas for ten years.

What could we do with £20 billion?

Well, we could pay off the National Health Service deficit for the next eight years, perhaps?  Or we might take everybody whose life is going to be made unbearable by the Heathrow third runway project and settle them on nice country estates with a 5 million pound fortune each to help them get by?

Maybe we could finance a nice set of aeroplanes for those aircraft carriers we are building so they don’t have to hang around looking useless for 10 years.  Or, philanthropically, we might build really affordable housing for every young couple struggling to get onto the property ladder; or…

The possibilities are endless.  And rest assured, those who rule us are going to spend that 20 billion.   Breathlessly, I hear you cry – is it me?  Are they really going to give me twe…

Sadly, no.

Yet there is an upside – a glorious, innovative project to stir patriotic pride within us all; the new rail link we call Phase One of HS2!    In 2026 – only 10 years time – 15000 fat businessmen every hour will be able to ride by train from London to Birmingham in just 49 minutes.   That’s a saving of 20 whole minutes on the current 9:01 from Euston, which takes 1 hour and 10 minutes  (get a taxi now and you’ll be just in time to catch it).

And 15000 will, presumably, come back. But will they want to?

That’s a lot of canned people, stuffed into 18 trains doing Japanese Bullet speeds in each direction every hour.  The strength of the argument for this project relies on overcrowding in the present service; but come on, people!  15000 an hour?   For what, eight hours every day?  Do the math, please!   This is Birmingham we’re talking about!

I’ve only been to Birmingham three times in my life, and only under duress.   I can think of no occasion when I actually wanted to go there.  I mean no disrespect to Birmingham, which I’m sure is a fine city, although I cannot see it as the new hub of Great Britain Ltd..  No, Manchester would be a more likely candidate for that crown.

Never fear!   By the middle of the century HS2 will have cut further swathes of rail to Manchester and Leeds, too, and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a stop at Gretna Passport Control, if the Scots will still have us.  No-one seems to have got their head around the costs for that, yet, but rest assured, the measure in human misery will exceed any official figures.

In achieving these targets the lives of thousands will be irreparably changed.  Homes and heritage ripped down, noise and hazard brought to the thresholds of those for whom tranquility and peace have no price.   The aim of this flagship project would seem to be political, and intended to turn the UK into one enormous City State, lucrative, doubtless, but unsustainable.

We British, it seems, have no capability to assemble a structured plan for these precious islands.  Instead we flounder beneath the constant bitching of one pressure group or another, one political agenda or another with no single entity to coordinate anything.  Every five years the government sets off upon a new track, postponing or promoting according to the words it thinks the public want to hear; every county sets a conflicting agenda, and nothing ever really gets done.

All that results is chaos – a long string of white elephants trailing back to the far horizons of history, each with its own tale of inhumanity and sorrow.

Oh, and as a footnote:  this is British Rail we are talking about, so I assume we are going to be asked to finance another ultra-fast bus service to cover the route on Sundays?

 

See the Tree, How Big it’s Grown…

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Honey (Labrador; blonde, too fat) exhibits all the cool intelligence of her breed.   Wide brown eyes, folds of extra flesh that cushion her head as she sleeps, a judgmental poise that speaks of wisdom as old as time.  She surveys her territory from her French windows with an imperious air, where her growl of warning causes the boldest heart to flutter.  She does not merely understand the word ‘cat’, she can spell it; just as she knows three words for ‘walk’.   She is 34 kilos of muscular objectivity.  Any intruder would be entirely justified in vacating her space with all possible expedition – or, if you prefer, running like hell.

“Is the dog all right?”  Our postman asks nervously, as Honey shows him a mouthful of teeth.  He has read the sign at the gate:  ‘Intruders may be gnawed.’

Never have appearances been so deceptive.

Confronted by a stranger male of our species Honey reacts like a garrulous gander; head borne low, eyes wary, throat vibrating with guttural sounds of danger – but just like the gander she utters her threats whilst walking backwards, and if her immediate pack members are present she will hide behind their legs.  In such situations I have sometimes wondered if she were moved to carry out those muttered menaces she would bit my leg rather than that of the intruder – a sort of assault by proxy:  fortunately, however, although she has no love of men she has never been moved to bite.   Ever.

Females evoke suspicion, though hostility is rare.  Children provide amusement, for the most part, as long as they do not tease her.  She is selective in those she likes and those she does not, whether of our species or hers.  She will not tolerate the ritual bottom-sniffing that is expected by other dogs she meets.  She detests small-talk.

She likes:

Investigative walking,

Chasing (birds, cats, anything that will run away)

Tummy rubs

Back scratches

Moisturizing Creams (which she licks, BTW.   Honey doesn’t moisturize, personally).

 

She dislikes:

Wearing a lead that is unfashionable

Wearing a lead at all

Confronting anything (birds, cats) that will NOT run away

Floor tiles (She skids on them and they terrify her).

Postmen.

It is five years since Honey interviewed us in some depth and decided she would agree to be part of our family.  She was a rescue dog;  by which I mean we rescued her former owners from her.  There was no written contract – Honey mapped out the terms of our agreement by her actions, and obedience is not a word that applies to Honey.  She is not entirely disobedient; she will respond if lacking better things to do, generally subject to negotiation.  She will not, for example, abandon a really interesting scent in the cause of ‘coming to heel’, or return indoors on rainy days, at least until she has swum in a minimum of two polluted ditches to load up her claws with mud.   Nor will she consent to visit anywhere resembling a veterinary surgery, allow clandestine attempts to cut claws, or agree to have reeking flanks washed after rolling in a particularly interesting odor.

The areas where response is possible, and therefore our House Rules, have developed and modified over the years of her stay.  There are many, so I will limit myself to a few examples:

‘Bed’ – she will go to bed if commanded.  (‘Bed’ consists of the most comfortable chair or settee in any given room, whether or not it is already occupied).

‘Game’ – this consists of ‘rough-housing’ and allows Honey the opportunity to practice on her Pack Leader the moves (and wounds) she would like to apply to the Postman, if she had the courage.   The throwing of balls or Frisbees as a ‘game’ is not recognised.     She is happy to chase or catch a ball, with the object only of acquiring the ball.  Apart from a certain squeaky rubber item which has become her lifelong companion, all toys are for trade.   If Honey presents either of her pack members with a toy she makes it plain she wants something in return.

‘Treats’.   She can hear the opening of the appropriate cupboard door for one of these (usually a chew) from approximately half a mile away in a gale. ‘ Treats’ are an entitlement, not a bargaining chip.  They are awardable upon set occasions, like the end of a walk, or returning from garden ablutions before bed.

‘Walks’.  Walk times are prompted by the closing music of certain television programs, or when anyone passes within ten feet of her lead, which hangs in the hall.  The route for a walk is determined by Honey, who will pick her desired program for the day.  Attempts to vie with this are subject to refusal.   The whole exercise ceremony is complex, and takes account of such things as clothing worn, weather, and the possibility of a ride in the car.

‘Daily Schedules’.  These must be rigorously observed:  Honey rises at 7:00am, acknowledging the right of the male Pack Leader to have his first coffee of the day in peace.   Bedtime is midnight at the latest, when the dominant female retires.  (Female Pack Leader’s status is constantly questioned, and this issue often results in argument.  If FPL fails to keep to designated bedtime, Honey will tend to retire by herself).

‘Meals’.  Meal times are 7:00am and 5:15pm, with a special exception for Tuesdays when cooked fish is on the menu, which she is happy to eat as soon as possible, often straight from the pan if the cook turns her back.  At the moment food approval ratings are high, but it is incumbent upon the Pack Leader to vary her diet from time to time.   Honey has a special look of disappointment she reserves for a choice that has been badly made, together with the final sanction she may return the dish with interest ten minutes later on the best rug.

In return for our consent to honor these basic conditions she has formed a deep attachment to us; a devotion a little like stalking.   In practical terms this means we must survive the rest of her lifetime without stepping backwards, knowing that to do so will mean falling over Honey.  It also means she feels free to follow her Natural Retrieval Instinct Part One, which consists of bringing back any box or packaging we throw away.  She seems never to have achieved a Pass Grade in Natural Retrieval Instinct Part Two; delivery of the retrieved object in good condition to her owner.  Instead she tears the object, symbolically, a few times, before losing interest.

The fierceness issue; that deep bass voice which could give such an able rendition of ‘Old Man River’ (if she knew the words) has never withstood any logical test.  An early morning outburst occurs as she erupts from the door into the front garden, although there is rarely any threat at that hour.   Thereafter she will sit on guard at the gate, ready to bark a warning at – well, not everybody, as it happens.  Uniforms generally evoke a savage-sounding response, otherwise we can only conclude that her vocal warnings imply a judgement of character.

So here we are, Honey’s pack, five years on.  I won’t pretend they have been easy years:  the words ‘Dog Pound’ have been uttered more than once, and by her reception of him, I judge she has never quite forgiven our son for bringing her to us.  But she has condescended to share some of her time with us, to deliver her verdict upon other dogs she meets and for that, I suppose, we must be grateful.    Otherwise please do not stint in your sympathy:  we are truly worthy of pity.