Half a Brain Thinking

 I idly noted the Queen’s appearance as she spoke. I saw how she had aged. 

Why, she looked small and strained in her very becoming olive green outfit. Just like any little old lady one might see shopping down at Woollies, I thought. Well, any little old lady with half a dozen castles, a billion dollars and who wore on television a dress that cost as much as most little old ladies’ yearly pension.

Then she said the words. I was surprised and shocked.

“Anis Hornbills,” she said. I didn’t believe my ears for a minute. I still felt a vestige of the respect and awe towards Royalty instilled in me as a schoolboy. I couldn’t accept what I heard.

See, when she said, Anis Hornbills, I thought she was saying someone had an ugly bum. I didn’t know she meant Anis as in per annum and hornbills as in pretty crook.

I didn’t know enough to understand what she meant.

You might not easily accept this confession, but I’m not all that well educated. I appreciate your incredulity. On the surface I present as the very model of a worldly and knowledgeable chap. Not so. This is only a veneer I wear.

That I was ready to think Her Majesty uttered a vulgar remark revealed more than adequately that my education was sadly lacking and whatever accoutrements embellished the mantle of elegance I have fashioned for myself, couth was not one of them.

At times I do feel regretful at not having broadened my education and progressed further along the road to wisdom and enlightenment but generally I’m satisfied with my belief that thinking too much is injurious to one’s health.

The very idea that by means of the thinking process we can logically progress from a starting place and move to a definitive conclusion is a bit shaky, I reckon. Rather than helping one to put events into some sort of order where understanding is possible, thinking often leaves me more confused than ever.

You think about Somalia and Yugoslavia. In Somalia armed forces have been sent in to try and stop that country committing suicide. Picture, if you will, a soldier with an M16 pointed at a starving man’s head saying, “You eat this and stay alive or I’ll shoot you!” While, in what was Yugoslavia, various factions murder each other while UN troops watch. So I conclude it is wrong for the Somalis to commit suicide and they must be forced to stop but we have no responsibility to protect innocents from the slaughter as Serbs and Croats divide up real estate in Europe.

Therefore to try and make sense or find solutions regarding some of the world’s problems like Cambodia or Southern Africa is not possible by thinking about them. The actions and attitudes of world leaders prompt me to suggest they have reached a similar conclusion.

There are times, as with the Queen’s speech, when my ignorance does make me feel inadequate but only privately. I have developed techniques and strategies when dealing with others to compensate for my deficiencies. At the risk of blowing my cover completely I’ll share some of my secrets with you. If any of you are intellectually upwardly mobile, and want to fast track your arrival, you only have to follow my advice.

Everywhere I go people think I am intelligent and accomplished. It is mainly because of the facade I present. Now this face might be false but it is not dishonest. I am always sincere and I don’t engage in trickery. My facade is genuine even if there is only a hollow shell behind it.

First of all I always try to mix with intelligent and educated people. If that seems obvious and self evident, how can I be seen as worthy or knowledgeable if I only mix with people like myself? I call this social positioning. And I dress neatly and am well groomed. I really think it is better to over dress whatever the occasion. And I cannot overemphasise the importance of having well polished shoes. It is possible to be scruffy and individualistic but good quality, shiny leather footwear is a positive and significant indicator of one’s intellectual status.

When I attend a recital by a chamber music orchestra I am often asked at interval by new acquaintances do I play an instrument or where do I teach. This instant assessment of my abilities is due solely to their appraisal of my physical appearance. My bow tie and kid leather boots scream out that I belong to the higher echelons of the music scene. Honest as always, I reply, “No, I just listen.” This reply is greeted with approving smiles. It is odd how a simple truth can be thought witty.

There can be an initial awkwardness when fitting in with smaller social groups of educated people. But please remember that these people are generally nice and very polite and they won’t look down on you because you are inferior.

You may notice in some groups people tend to sprinkle their conversation with lots of quotations. Which is understandable because they have done a lot of reading and they don’t want to waste it all. And the others in the group have read the same books and know the quotations and it saves them from being original. It is like a special jargon or the intelligentsia’s version of FORTRAN or COBOL. Like computer language it can be a little confusing to the uninitiated. I was once witness to a conversation that went for twenty minutes before an original word was spoken.

If you are lucky you might recognise some of the mentioned authors but generally speaking you won’t because really clever people use obscure quotations from people like Virgule and Samuel Johnson. You don’t try and join in because you only know things like, “a stitch in time saves nine” and there are not too many opportunities for you to use these.

The successful integration into your chosen circle depends entirely on your not joining in. All you offer is attitude and body language. Very rarely, however, you may make a contribution. At an appropriate lull in conversation you raise your eyes to the ceiling, turn the palms of your hands upwards and murmur in an abstract tone, “Pourquois?” Now, you don’t say it as, “For what?”, you offer it as a statement. Even if the intrusion was not relevant to the discussion, most will think it a refined and subtle comment and your position will be enhanced. Unless someone says, “Pourquois? Ah, la question eternal!” That is very off putting because you haven’t got a clue what the smart annis hornbills said.
Not to worry. Immediately retreat to the fail safe reserve expression. This takes some practise to acquire. The face looks blank while one’s eyes are focussed. As if you hear the Zen one hand clapping or, for our purpose, the intensity of half a brain thinking. It is an internal, ethereal look of concentration as if one is trying to break wind out of one’s ears.

I must warn against trying too hard for, in fact, if you do succeed in farting through your ears it could have devastating social consequences. Cocktail parties will never be the same again. There are good reasons we have our head up here and the bottom bit separated down there. If by some supreme effort of will you do re-route the circuitry, you are not only being anti social, you’re going against the very laws of nature.

Once perfected, however, it is a look that is foolproof. Profound and at the same time empty. Challenging and vacuous, a look that invites neither question nor response.

But I was shaken by the Queen’s message incident. I am usually very comfortable with television’s vocabulary. The words used are much the same from Romper Room in the morning to the News at night. Only the people saying them get older.

I was shaken enough to break the habit of a lifetime and read something informative. Nothing too serious but enough to give me something to talk about.

It had to be a topic in which I could keep interested. Salacious or prurient or, hopefully, a combination of both. I looked at the Playboy Annual Edition but then decided on books about Classical Greek Mythology. I decided they offered in their contents more authentic eroticism.

In the first book I read, by Robert Graves, I discovered Zees. Now, he fascinated me. What a character. What a man. What a God! Even though he was chief God and Mother Earth’s grandson he did not let his exalted position interfere with pursuit of his personal satisfaction. He couldn’t keep his hands of anyone he fancied. And he fancied often. It did not matter to Zees if she was a Goddess or a mortal being. Come to think of Ganymedes they didn’t even have to be she.

His seduction techniques were quite varied and flexible. He changed into another form of mortal man or animal if he thought it would get him what he wanted. In fact he wasn’t averse to assuming the likeness of an absent warrior husband and frolicking with an unsuspecting wife delighted by the surprise homecoming of her partner.

But that is the way it is with Greek Gods, they are laws unto themselves.

The one part of the book that caught my attention and fired my imagination above all others was the story of Zees and Leda.

As you know Leda was the wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta. She was in the habit of bathing in the waters of the River Eurotas. She was beautiful. All the ancient Greeks were. You just have a look at the pictures in the books. Zees watched her as she bathed and, as she splashed about, he felt his creative urge stirring.

As I read this account a mental image of Zees as a character in a Steele Rudd show came into my mind. A bearded authority figure of Dad in a Dad and Dave movie. I heard what the conversation might have sounded like:

Zees says: Hey, Leda. I like you.
Leda: Do you, Zees?
Zees says: Yeah. I’d like to know you better.
Leda: I’m a married woman, Zees.
Zees says: You’re a real good sort, I reckon. I want you Leda.
Leda: I’m not that kinda girl. I’m a good woman, Zees.
Zees: Leda.
Leda: Yes, Zees?
Zees: I want a lend of you, Leda.
Leda: No, Zees. No!

Well, you can appreciate a God of Gods would not be used to getting too many knock backs. The God of the Sky who hurled thunderbolts around would find it a novelty to have his advances spurned.
But Zees was as resourceful as ever and changed himself into a magnificent white swan and started cruising on the river where Leda swam.

I think this is where all my interest was snared. For years as a young person I kept an aviary and bred Budgerigars. I got to know them very well. I learned how engaging they could be and how beguiling are the ways of birds.

It came as no surprise to me then, as I continued reading, to find that the Swan had seduced Leda and got her into trouble. I did not blame Leda a bit. I could see her reclining, tired, on a grassy bank after a swim with the soft glow of twilight illuminating Zees, the lecherous Swan, as he glided elegantly to and fro casting a mesmerising spell on her as he passed. The situation was fraught with peril. Absolutely fraught because Zees had done it all before as a bull or an eagle or whatever he needed to be to get his point across.

You know girls are warned that necking sessions can get out of hand, imagine then just how dangerous necking with a swan can be with all that extra neck to contend with.

Sure enough, in time, Leda found she was pregnant and the Swan was the father. You see, Zees was not interested in superficial affairs, as a member of the deity he was heavily into procreation. Because the father was in the swan manifestation at the time of conception Leda gave birth by laying an egg. Now, she had two children by Zees. A pigeon pair. She called the girl Helen and the boy Polydeuces.

And I have a slight problem with this. If a girl makes a mistake she deserves understanding and support. If she makes two, especially with a bird, she runs the risk of being considered plain careless. Unless, of course, the egg she laid was a double yolker and she had the two children at the same time.

I also was quite curious what a woman heavy with egg looked like. There was no picture in the book.
Apparently King Tyndareus, her husband, was an easy going man because when she laid the egg he was not fazed in the slightest.

He probably woke up one morning, saw it in the bed and, thinking it fell out of the groceries bought the day before, picked it up and took it out into the kitchen where it belonged. But I bet he got a surprise a couple of days later when he opened the fridge door and found baby Helen of Troy and her brother sitting up in the egg rack eating peanut butter from the jar with her fingers.

Zees did not believe in paying child support but, instead, handed out immortality to his off spring and let them visit with him in the sky.

This might have caused some degree of friction in the home at times when Polydeuces, like any boy, wanted to visit his natural, or unnatural, father.

“That’s right,” said Leda. “It’s always your father. Your perfect father. You think he’s a little God or something!”
“He is, Mum.”
“That’s right, hurt me! Don’t worry about me. This place is only a hole in the ground. You think any place your precious father lives is heaven.”
“It is, Mum.”

Well, I’ve been reading for awhile now and there have been two lessons I have learned in my belated attempt to get cultivated. One is to suspend credibility and not think too much about what I read. That suits me fine. The other was the usefulness of the information I gathered to my own life’s circumstances.

Now, I envied Zees his success rate in putting himself about and while I have neither the energy nor inclination to emulate him, the idea of materialising in another form as an aid to social satisfaction is very appealing.

So, one day, if you happen to find a budgerigar wearing a bow tie alights on your shoulder, nibbles your ear and whispers in a soft voice, “Who’s a pretty boy, then?”

Don’t be too hasty brushing him away, will you? You never know the opportunities in store for you. Because while that strange bird might not be much good at taking the garbage out, he would very cheap to feed.

It is worth a thought, I think.

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