A tentative blog to test the temperature.
Ten years ago I was writing several blogs on various subjects - F1 motor racing, Music, Classic Cars, Great Romances and, most crushingly, a personal journal that included my thoughts on America, memories of England and Africa, opinion, humour, writing and anything else that occurred. It all became too much (I was attempting to update the journal every day) and I collapsed, exhausted and thoroughly disillusioned in the end.|
So this blog is indeed a Toe in the Water, a place to document my thoughts in and on WdC but with a determination not to get sucked into the blog whirlpool ever again. Here's hoping.
|Failing to Win
Feeling lousy today but wanted desperately to update the blog. Had a look through the archives and found this. Who knows? It might even encourage someone.
Why is the insult "loser" so common today? I seem to hear it everywhere - "Oh don't worry about him, he's just a loser" or "You're such a loser". What is it about losing that is so terrible? Think about it with me for a few moments.
The first analogy that comes to mind is a race. Someone wins and the rest become losers. But, just a minute - in any race there are lots of runners, thousands in the case of marathons. So that must mean that there are very few winners and the vast majority of us are losers. Are we to be scorned because we are not amongst the tiny fraternity of winners?
You tell me that I've got it wrong; the term, as used, is much more about life than any competition. A loser is someone who just isn't making a decent job of his life. He's losing in the game of life. But who's winning then? Am I supposed to assume that the winners are the millionaires and the magnates, the stars of the entertainment industry, the grossly overpaid sportsmen, the rich and famous indeed? And are you one of them? If you are, then welcome to my page, have a look around and make me an offer of publication (don't forget the film rights). If you're not, it seems that I must welcome you to the club for the masses - the losers.
Oh wait, maybe I've got it wrong. Perhaps the term is supposed to mean "one who fails consistently". But fails at what? It can't be money and success, we've already looked at that one. So does it mean achieving a certain happiness or contentment? And I'm expected to condemn that person because he hasn't achieved that state of nirvana as yet? Pardon me for thinking it, but on that score we're all losers. Although I do admit to being pretty happy and I'm fairly content with my life.
Whichever way we look at it, it seems that almost all of us are losers. But there's nothing wrong with that. Losing is an important part of life. What was that famous quote - the man who never failed at something never achieved anything? You see, it's all about trying and if you try, sometimes you're going to fail. We all experience failure sometimes, even the mythical winners. And it's not something to be ashamed of; it's what makes us human.
So don't call others losers. It's meaningless - you're just saying that they're human. We are, in fact, all failing to win. The double meaning is quite intentional, I assure you.
Word count: 460
I was pondering on my complete insignificance today, and it suddenly occurred to me that Shakespeare never knew how great he was. Dickens scraped a living writing serials for newspapers, and Salinger caught a glimpse of himself one day, then went off to Vermont to live as a recluse. Old Mark Twain was too busy thinking up aphorisms to have any idea of how celebrated he was going to be, and Dylan Thomas drank himself to death, so unhappy with his lot was he.
Just think of it, the Bard scribbling away backstage in a frantic quest to save his acting company, with no understanding of how his words would one day be regarded as the greatest ever written. And the others living their lives quietly as though they were nothing but ordinary men (I’m sure the women were just the same). Amongst writers, greatness never knows itself.
Oh sure, there are plenty who are convinced that they have sliced bread beaten and disgraced. But these are the little ones, the celebrities whose light will fade and their works be forgotten within a century. Only time awards the title “Great.”
So be of good cheer, brothers and sisters. For all we know, future ages might marvel at our work and wonder how such magnificent minds managed to live in so ordinary a world.
Word count: 223
Being a Brit but living in the States has its difficulties. Which language should I write in, for instance, English or American? The main difference between them is spelling and a choice has to be made or the result will be a terrible mixture with both sides yelling at me that I can’t spell.
I solved this initially by writing in American as a gesture of gratitude to my new country. But, when I joined WdC, I decided to return to the spelling of my homeland. I figured (in itself an American expression) that I’d paid my dues and really needed the ease and relaxation that the spelling hammered into me in my youth offered. Surely, I thought, being now amongst my fellow educated and sophisticated writers, they would understand my foreign spelling and smile knowingly at me. And so it has proved.
There are, however, certain words that have two forms, one being common on one side of the Atlantic, the other being preferred in its counterpart. The matter of “toward” and “towards,” for instance. I’m told that “toward” has become the standard in the States, whereas we Brits use both but have a slight preference for “towards.” Should I stick to my decision and use “towards,” or should I avoid being constantly told that it wasn’t used in America anymore by accepting “toward” as my accepted expression?
I opted for the latter solution as the Brits won’t even notice my choice. And I will probably go for the American opinion on other optional forms in future. Anything for a quiet life.
Word count: 263
|A Long Lost Tale
In Small Talk today, Solace asks us to complete the statement, "Something I lost and never found was..." That stirred old memories and I had completed a long and detailed answer before remembering that we're supposed to answer in no more than three sentences. Well, I wasn't going to let all that typing go to waste, so I decided to use it as a blog post, and give a much-truncated version to the original question. So here's the full version:
Something I lost and never found was my old reversible jacket. In my mid-teens, I had craved the standard indication of youthful rebellion of the time - a black leather jacket. I had concentrated my strategy for attaining this on my mother. She was a pretty soft touch and was easily the most likely to cave in to my endless blandishments. Even so, it was over a year before she finally gave in.
My parents always gave me the impression that we were poor. Birthday and Christmas presents were always disappointingly frugal and sensible and allowances were embarrassingly tiny, even for the era. The truth was, however, that my father had a good job and earned a salary that easily put us in the middle class. What I saw as their stinginess was not caused by poverty but by the fact that my parents had grown up during the depression years. That entire generation learned lifetime lessons of extreme caution when spending money, galvanised by the fear of ever again having too little to live on.
So my mother's caution in the matter of my jacket was entirely understandable. And her solution to the problem was also inevitable. I got my black jacket but it was not made of leather. It was, instead, a sort of imitation done in a standard material, not even faux leather, and had the odd property of being reversible. Well, it was all I had and so I wore it. Every day and everywhere that black jacket was my constant apparel and I came to love it dearly.
For years it was my uniform, even as the rocker era gave way to the hippy. That jacket and I became so inseparable that, when it became worn and tattered, I did not give up on it but tried it in the reversible style. This optional outer veneer, for so long regarded as a lining only, was a sort of dull tartan in colour and, to my amazement, was just cool enough to be worn with pride. The reversed coat became my habitual wear.
And so it went for many years. I went away to university, returned and found myself a crappy job, then married and fathered a child, and my jacket remained my constant wear. Time was having its way with the old companion, however, and it developed tears and springing of seams until it became little more than a handful of pockets held together by a few ragged strips of material. But it was still beautiful to me and I resisted all protests of my mother and wife to get rid of it. There may even have been a subconscious element of revenge on my mother for not making it leather in the first place. I would not desert my wonderful jacket.
And then, one day, it went missing. I searched everywhere for it, in every place I had visited over the previous months but no trace did I find. No one claimed to have any idea where it could be either. It took a while but, in the end, I had to give up on the thing and buy another jacket. So unloved was the replacement that I can remember nothing of it now. It certainly wasn't leather, however. Who could afford such luxuries when a young hippy with a family to support?
Now I must confess that, in one aspect, this long story has been a bit of a cheat when used to answer your question. You see, it is no longer true that I never did find out what happened to that beloved old jacket. It was many years later that my wife cracked and told me the truth. The fact was that we had been visiting the parents on a certain occasion and I had left my jacket there by mistake. My mother had phoned my wife with news of this error on my part and they had cooked up their solution to the problem between them.
My mother burned the thing in the backyard and swore everyone to secrecy. The hatred my friends and family bore that wonderful jacket can be ascertained by consideration of how secret and for how long that conspiracy remained. Never mind the trauma for me of learning how fickle are the loyalties of those that profess to love you.
I think I am just about over it now.
Word count: 731
|I Blame Flo
For several days, I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about insurance company commercials. At first glance, it may seem a subject so lacking in interest that it would be blog suicide to write of it. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.
I know this because I’ve written about the subject before. A few years ago I wrote a piece about the Geico gecko and it proved one of the most popular things I’ve ever done. It would be foolish to think that the more general overview I’m currently considering would be as successful, but it may be that there’s enough interest around to make the thing worthwhile.
My point is that there has been a quiet, slow-motion, cold war going on in insurance advertising for many years. I blame this partly on the Geico gecko but, more importantly, on Flo. Geico’s gecko quickly became an advertising icon after his introduction in the year 2000 and we can blame Liberty Mutual’s Limu Emu on him. Not that the emu is serious competition to the gecko - lacking a voice is too great a handicap.
But it’s Flo that has spawned a population explosion in the field of would-be lovable characters trying to sell us insurance. Her services as Progressive Insurance’s mascot has forced other companies to search for similar characters. Insurance advertising has become the battlefield where quirky and cute characters fight for attention. Even Progressive has made attempts to find other characters who could replace Flo if she ever decides to quit.
Thus far, Flo still reigns supreme. But the others are getting closer. The unlikely Jake from State Farm Insurance has grown steadily in appeal and is now a serious contender. His attempts at humour get better while Flo seems to be running out of ideas and has to rely more on her sidekicks these days.
Then there’s Aflac’s duck, an entrant from the animal persuasion side of things, but it’s never going to give the gecko sleepless nights. And Doug from Liberty Mutual is too limited by his dependence on an emu for a colleague.
Allstate’s Mayhem is an interesting entrant but he may be a bit too sinister to achieve the required popularity.
And then there’s Farmers Insurance. I’ll be honest and admit that this one is my favourite. Their icon, an excellent character actor by the name of J.K. Simmons, is part of the reason. He exudes calm, confidence and authority in the face of disaster - which makes him the perfect insurance adviser, of course. But the real clincher that makes the advert enjoyable and fun is the jingle that always ends the ad. I defy anyone who has seen these ads not to follow the words, “We are Farmers,” with the inevitable pompa dom dom, pom pom pom! It’s old school, amusing and irresistible. Any commercial that draws the audience into repeating its ditty is bound to be effective. Best of all, the ads are short. Most of the others ruin their chances by being too long.
I don’t have access to any statistics on the success or otherwise of these various ads, so I’m only giving a personal opinion on them. It would surprise me greatly if Farmers’ were to appear as front runner because its commercials are so much more low key and non-intrusive than the others. But that’s actually what I like about them.
Word count: 568