Monday, September 18, 2006

The 'good oil' on adolescent survival

There comes a time as you approach adolescence when the dialogue from your parents, teachers and other authority figures changes, almost overnight. For years, all you’re ever heard from them is to sit still, be quiet, not to run in the house, do your homework, turn that TV off, don’t hit your brother, get your tongue out of the cat’s ear and eat your greens. But at some point, almost overnight, the dialogue changes substantially, and you’re all of a sudden bombarded with a new train of conversation in which they relentlessly remind you of the dangers of peer pressure.

This conversation wavers between telling you to stay away from one bad-egg crowd or other, to saying no to cigarettes and drugs because, “before you know what’s happening, your lungs’ll be full of tar, and you’ll be shooting-up on the street with all the other degenerates!” They will constantly reinforce the need for you to stand firm when encouraged to do something that might be harmful to you, and they put a great deal of emphasis on encouraging you to be comfortable and confident in yourself, so that when you do make a decision, you’ll not be swayed by the taunts and jeers of your peers.

I guess this is all well and good – at some point in our development, while we might be ready to make decisions about our actions, our guardians believe that we haven’t yet developed the ability to look ahead and consider the harm it could do us. I guess it’s probably true, and you could argue that I’m not a junkie, cancer sufferer or murderer of innocents today because of it. But I’m not perfect, either … I still succumb on occasions to pressure from my peers, causing me to do or not do things which I do or don’t want, and I blame the narrow list of topics covered by my so-called "betters" during my formative education on how to respond to peer-pressure.

With a great many tides of water under the bridge since those days when I was going from baritone-falsetto in 0.2 seconds, I must admit that I can’t today see anything too harmful about a lazy doobie while curled up on the beanbag in front of the tele on a Saturday night, and apart from those pretty disgusting smoking rooms at Bangkok airport, the idea of sharing the occasional ciggie with friends seems more social and communal than evil or life-threatening. So do you think maybe this peer-pressure education might have been a bit paranoid and limited? I’m pretty happy to see that it at least includes sex in the mix nowadays; perhaps a lot of young lives might have been saved, or at least improved with a bit more education on safe sex and the negotiation thereof, so steps have certainly been made there to widen the scope of peer pressure education. But what about some other skills which we all need, but which are clearly lacking in these messages?

I personally breezed through the introduction of cigarettes by my peers, and I easily declined Nick Dipetriantonio’s father’s stolen homebrew, and I only shook slightly when “saying no to drugs”, and when it came to safe sex … well, this is me we’re talking about, so that never really came up! Each of these adolescent, peer pressure challenges I mastered with ease, but there have been, and continues to be other peer pressures for which I was given no preparation during all those years of peer pressure education, and as a result I continue to succumb to the suggestive looks, judging glances and knowing nods … and I hate myself for it.

Mrs Donkey and I have become quite partial over the years to eating out for breakfast, and because we often find ourselves living in parts of the world where breakfast constitutes a loaf of bread and a tin of stinking mackerel or fatty cornbeef, we don’t often take the opportunity to indulge our hobby. Here in Delhi, however, we have been introduced to an exciting and extremely welcome phenomenon known as The Imperial Hotel Breakfast Buffet … and let me just tell you, that despite being incredibly and ridiculously expensive by India standards, as a special treat once a month, it is oh-so-fine!

We relish falling out of bed at some un-Godly hour and heading out into the stinking, tumultuous Delhi streets as we make our way to the oasis that is The Imperial Hotel. We even enjoy suffering the raging thirsts and throbbing temples from the previous night’s booze-up because we know it will soon be relieved by all the wonderful foods which we would otherwise never get to see, smell, taste and feel, including ham, cheese, fresh bread, fruits, pastries, eggs, BACON (Mmm … bacon) and just about everything else your heart could desire in a ninety-minute gorge-a-thon on a Sunday morning with a hangover.

And it’s not just the food – The Imperial is seriously swanky, and houses the largest collection of British Colonial art in the sub-continent. It’s breezy, interesting, welcoming and comfortable … and did I mention how good the breakfast buffet is?

Righto, so when something is this good, and it’s something you love doing so much, and you’re the kind of Donkey who loves to share life’s finer things with ones fellow farmyard friends, then it’s not surprising that the Donkeys have occasionally organised the odd group hook-up at The Imperial on a Sunday morning. But there are problems with this …

Y’see, approaching a breakfast buffet for the first time is like taking on an unknown enemy on a new battlefield. You don’t know what surprises they’ve got in store. The last thing you want to do is to attack their centre, and find you’ve got nothing left with which to take on their flank. Like a military action, a breakfast buffet, if done properly, requires strategy; it requires scouting missions; it requires analysis. You have limited time, a finite (although admittedly still large) appetite which is not going to be able to fit everything in (so you have to be able to make informed decisions), and these breakfast buffets are tricky things, often hiding goodies around corners or in other parts of the room, so you need to carefully and thoroughly scope the place out before making your initial and subsequent assaults.

Also, just like on the battlefield, you need your fellow soldiers – loyal friends with the same goals as you, who will help you cut down on valuable breakfast buffet minutes by dividing up what needs to be investigated, and reporting back, or by helpfully bringing to the table two custard doughnuts to share, and thereby saving you a trip. These elements of taking-on the breakfast buffet are very important, and in this I could have no better ally-at-arms than Mrs Donkey. Together we attack the ‘enemy’ like a well-oiled military machine, and together we are able to take full advantage of the buffet, every time.

A masterpiece like this doesn't just happen, it takes careful surveillance, planning and precision in the placement of ingredients. Photo: Hagas

But when you have accompanying friends, blundering around, taking their time and bringing to the table plates of salad, or a single piece of fruit, or only ONE chocolate croissant, suddenly your own plate, piled high and looking like a work of art with well planned, strategically placed bacon, eggs, toast, grilled tomato, sausages (Mmm … sausages!), mushrooms, asparagus, hash browns and baked beans starts to look a bit conspicuous, and by the second helping, your “friends” are starting to exchange judging glances, and asking “jovial” questions like, “Going for some more, Donkey?”, at which you mumble, “Um, no, just stretching my cramped leg here” and you sit straight back down, defeated.

What the hell’s that all about? No 1; I’m paying for MY breakfast, and if I want twenty-eight different varieties of fried eggs, I should be allowed to have ‘em! And No. 2; I discovered this place, and I invited YOU, so that technically makes you my (admittedly self-paying) guest, so let’s have a little less lip and a little more offering to grab me an extra apple danish, Hmm? And while I’m at it, No.3; if you’re going to come here and only eat fruit salad, then how ‘bout shutting up about the price when the bill comes?!

Yeah! That’s what a Donkey should say … ‘cause he’s well within his rights to do so, and because he has spent a lifetime dealing admirably with peer pressure and feeling confident with his own being; he should just get on with the business at hand. BUT, because all that peer education was about drugs and ciggies, and not about breakfast buffets, I don’t have a clue what to do or say, so instead of gorging myself as is my wont, I EAT BLOODY SALAD FOR BREAKFAST! And I don’t need to tell you what giving into that kind of peer pressure can do for your confidence.

This is the breakfast of a weak-willed Donkey with limited self-confidence. Doesn't quite stack-up, does it? Photo: Hagas

And it’s all because our “betters” made some arbitrary decisions about what sorts of peer pressure they thought we would and wouldn’t need to be prepared for. So while my smoking parents and swilling teachers ironically banged-on about the dangers of tobacco and the demon drink, never once did breakfast buffets receive even cursory consideration. And when those funky young actors came to school, all dressed as suspiciously squeaky-clean home-boys, never once did they say, “No thank you, Tony. I don’t need smack to have a good time, and I’ll eat as many croissants as I like, after all, I paid for this and it’s all you can eat!”

There is a gap in our children’s social education, and it needs addressing immediately, before salad for breakfast takes hold and begins destroying the self confidence of an entire generation!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A creative kick in the Ass

It’s been a pretty slow week in Blogland! Many’s the site of normally voracious Bloggers which haven’t seemed to have moved past week-old posts entitled, ”Blimey!”, or “Crikey!” or “Struth!”.

So is it the very tragic and sad demise of the Hunter o’ Great Reptiles that’s got everyone finger-tied, or is there some other explanation for this lack of the usual spontaneity that you’re all so famous for?

As I sat there snivelling in front of this weekend’s Marathon Tribute on Animal Planet, I got to wondering … why does he have that part in the middle of his mullet? … but also, I wondered, does creativity breed creativity?

Last week, because Saving the World HQ was keeping me way too busy during the day, and Kahlua was ungraciously demanding my attention in the evenings, I was a bit limited in my ability to log onto the Blogs of all my faves (that’s you guys), but when I did, I thought that Blogger must have again gone down like the three dollar whore it is! It was the same everyday - no one was writing anything! Here I am, I have recently been introduced to a world which is full of inspiration and creativity; one in which people from all different backgrounds and experiences, from all over the shop, feed off each other’s ideas and experiences and spit them back out at each other bigger, shinier and better than ever (apart from some sites, of course), but during this last week, everyone … really everyone, seems to have gone underground.

Is that the answer, then? Are we all so competitive that we can only produce when there’s the chance of one-upping the other? Were our lives so dull last week that we think we’ve got nothing to say, and because we’re so narcissistic, we don’t wanna show that our lives aren’t as exciting as we like to have everyone think? Well I’m here to tell you, people - You’re lives are WAY more exciting than mine, and I need to live mine through yours. So stop snivelling, pull the Thesaurus out from under the short table leg and get to it! I want drunken escapades, one night stands (or is that one nights stand?), burying the mother-in-law under the stairs, sleeping with the boss, train trips, drug busts, new dogs, baked muffins, Aljazeera, split jeans, burps at work, toothaches, underpants vending machines, dreams about bathroom mould, Chlamydia (actually, I don’t want Chlamydia but you know what I mean), Boris Pasternak, armed hold ups, ultra marathons, dodgy hotel rooms, outrageous breaches of political correctness, nose hair explosions, saucy nurses, lonely pot plants, landslides, lollipops, burst sewerage pipes and fluffy pink bunnies! AND I WANT ‘EM NOW!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The sharp end of Donkey's moral high ground

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I generally change people’s names in my stories so as not to incriminate anyone, but you’ll notice in the following piece that I have deliberately used one real name – that’s ‘cause he deserves to be exposed for what he is!

They reckon that the pen is far mightier than the sword, but that sounds like the kind of eloquent crap that’s been written by some pansy who’s never picked up a sword in his life! Anyway, Donkey reckons he knows a weapon that’d kick a sword in the ass any day (sorry, haven’t used the “ass” joke for a while, so I thought I’d brush it off and give it a bit of a run. I especially apologise to my North American readers who are wondering what’s even funny about that)! I reckon the absolute, most dangerous secret in anyone’s armoury is not a sword, dagger, gun or even a cannon. I reckon the handiest thing to have at your disposal during any sort of conflict is none other than a bit of moral high ground. Please observe Exhibit A…

Exhibit A

It’s all a bit clich├ęd (hey, that’s my life!), but when I was in high school, there was one guy who was the World Champion of class bullies, who liked nothing better than to terrorize everyone, even the teachers! Of course, everyone was pretty scared of him, and very few people ever stood up to him - why would you when your reward for sticking up for the rest of the human race was a pretty solid smack in the mouth? Anyway, Brad McMahon (are you listening, Brad? You f’n dick-wad!) always liked to have a bit of a go at poor ol’ Donkey, who, like the farmyard beast of burden that he is, would generally hang his head and shuffle past without a word.

Well one day, and I don’t quite know what could have gotten into me on this occasion, while we were settling for English class, Brad McMahon went just that little bit too far, and pointed out one of Donkey’s more obvious physical flaws, causing a nervous, but collaborative snigger amongst some of the less savoury of Melbourne’s rich kids. “Better nip this in the bud”, thinks I, “otherwise it’s gonna be a pretty shit three years”, so we exchanged the usual verbal retorts, with me “politely” asking him to use any other insult but that one, and he replying by asking why he would do that when this one works and me proceeding to more or less flatten the hairy gorilla with a pretty awkward rightie to the cheek! Right –on, Way to go, Donkey!

Unfortunately for Donkey, this all took place right in the lemon-puckered face of Ms Janet Sparks, the most unwavering, sour-faced bitch of an English teacher you ever did see, and I knew immediately that goodie-two-shoes Donkey, who’d never even been punished with so much as having to write out lines, was facing the penalty for “unruly and violent conduct towards a fellow student”, which was very clearly spelled-out in the front of the school diary as 30 minutes in an office with creepy Brother Thomas, and four days suspension. But do you know what happened?

Well, Ms Janet Sparks hadn’t exactly been excluded from Brad’s year-long terror campaign, so what was she going to do when she’d just seen her prised English student (and perhaps current infatuation, but that’s a story for another Blog post) deck the school bully right in front of her face? “Bradly McMahon, get to the office immediately!” Ms Janet “Rule Book” Sparks knew, deep down in that cold, bitter, lonely, little heart of hers, that Brad McMahon was an arsehole who had just got what was coming, and so she assumed the moral high ground which she felt was due her and, just for a moment, she deliberately abused her authority because she knew that no senior teacher or school board in the world would ever convict her. Brad McMahon had nothing to fall back on; he might have been a brute with immense physical strength and it may even be argued that he was the wronged party on this one, but circumstances were such that he had no option for appeal whatsoever. After all, who was going to stand up for him when every one of his victims … which was more or less everyone, wanted to see him hang? And not only was your favourite talking Donkey spared suspension, but guess who remained taunt-free for a few months after that? What a weapon! Moral High Ground, I love it!

So y’see, unlike the sword, or even the so-called, mighty pen, moral high ground can’t be countered by someone with a better sword or an … I dunno, inkier pen! Moral high ground is an absolute weapon that destroys all opposition … a bit like nuclear weapons (and one has to thank the Maker that the US have so many skeletons rattling around in the White House closets that they’ll never in a million years have their finger on any moral high ground, ‘cause then we’d really be in trouble!). But unlike nuclear weapons, which only seem to be owned by the rich and powerful nations of the world, moral high ground can be wielded by anyone, even the weakest and most poorly resourced bods. And with that moral high ground, they can become all powerful; with moral high ground, the mouse can become a lion!

And it’s often a pretty fast turn around from a point of supplication to the heady moral peaks! It works kinda something like this. Cast your mind back to the 80s. You remember when you were playing PacMan, and you were doing really well, and the Ghost-monsters, Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, were starting to get very angry, and very fast. All four of ‘em are out of the pen and chasing you around the maze, and they’re right on your tail as they chase you down a dead-end corridor. But at the end of the corridor, if you’re fast enough, PacMan munches one of those power pellets and immediately, the hunted does a complete 180 and he’s munching away at the hunters! Moral high ground can be exactly like that. Don’t get it yet? James, Exhibit B please, if you will…

Exhibit B

I think it’s true of the entire human race, and perhaps the animal kingdom as well, that we always kick downwards. The rich and powerful treat their servants abominably, who in turn round-upon the lesser servants inside the house, who then give the outside servants a hard time, who themselves kick the delivery boy in the arse if he’s late, who in turn gives his chimney sweeps a thrashing… You get the picture, right? Well as true as this is the world over, I have never seen it followed with such regimental brutality as I see everyday here in India, where the gap between rich and poor is astronomical, with literally hundreds of degrees between the two. And waaaaaaaaay down the bottom of that heap are the poor buggers who everyday clean the streets and sort through the garbage, picking out bits of food and selling off shards of broken glass for next to nothing, just so that they can feed their sick and starving families.

For many amongst the lower-middle to upper classes in this country, the people I have just described are virtually invisible. Every morning when we awake, the dirty street from the night before has received a visit from the Clean-up Fairy, and if you leave your garbage somewhere near your house, it just disappears at some unknown time. It’s not really that these people only move around at night, it’s just that they are treated as, and therefore are taught to be non-people. They literally melt into nothing before your eyes … unless you’re really looking, which Donkey often does.

And what Donkey saw the other day was the most heartening thing I have seen all year. The street sweeper had been hard at it in the hot morning sun, probably for hours! I’d only been watching her and her crotchety broom for about fifteen minutes, and I was fascinated by her upright, dignified posture as she swept the crud from the gutters along the length of the New Delhi Ring Road. In the short time that I watched her, she had been pushed aside by a business man running by, told to get out of the way by a honking rickshaw and had had red paan (beetle nut) juice spat at her feet by a passing motorist. This graceful lady, dressed as she was in a miraculously spotless, elegant pink saree was certainly in no position to fight back against this world which, if not actually despising her, certainly was indifferent to her existence.

Yet there is a weapon available to the deserving, no matter how wretched their situation might appear; there’s always moral high ground! In this case, although a pretty awful job it might be, street sweeping is seen as a necessity in the Government’s push to convince the world of the existence of “Clean Delhi”, so after decades, or years, or certainly hours of getting kicked about here and there by all and sundry, it’s not surprising that she was getting a bit tired of the ungrateful hoards. On this morning, our unlikely heroin’s sweeping progress was blocked by a lazy cad, fag hanging from his mouth, lounging atop his cycle rickshaw. She said something in hindi, which I assume was a polite request that he move, and he replied with what I assume was a less than conciliatory “Get stuffed, you old bag!”, and then I watched in jaw-dropping fascination as this frail old mare took to the rickshaw wallah with her broom, raining curses upon him as she hit and walloped him until he got out of the way pretty quick smart.

It was incredible! This young tyke was about two foot taller than the sweeping woman, and certainly looked able to defend himself physically from her comical tirade, except she had one thing at her disposal which he could not match with height or brawn. She had a job to do … and her mission to keep the streets of Delhi spotless gave her all the moral authority she needed to kick his pompous arse all the way to Kolkata if she wanted to. And because he knew it, he was powerless to defend himself.

See? Moral high ground can make you strong, and can shield you with an impenetrable defence against the evil and unrighteous. Oh, and anyone who’s never been fortunate enough to stand up there and look down on the selfish and cruel, take it from Donkey, it’s a very powerful and exciting buzz!

Even the poorest and most down-trodden can become invincible with the right weapon. Photo: Hagas