Diddle

“I used to diddle myself,” he said, slurping a spoonful of soup.

“Uncle Fred!” I hissed, trying to shush him, afraid diners at other tables would overhear.  “You can’t say stuff like that out loud.”

“Why not?” he said.  “I did it all the time, sometimes in front of people.  They all knew right away it was me.”

“You didn’t!” I said, horrifying visions of men’s-room madness running rampant through my brain.

“Used a scribbler,” he said.  “And a pencil.  No mo-beel phones back then, no selfers.  People used to say I should’ve been a cartoonist.”

“A scribbler?” I said.  “And a pencil?  You mean you used to doodle yourself?”

That’s what I said,” he said, sipping more soup.  “Characterchers.”

“Uncle Fred, you mean caricatures,” I said, relief washing over me.

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He spoke like that all the time, so I should have been prepared.  Ask him what he had for breakfast, for instance, and he might reply, “Broached eggs, toast, and piecemeal bacon.”

When my siblings and I visited him on a Saturday, he would cook drilled cheese sandwiches for us at lunchtime.  For dinner we might have macaretti and meatballs.

He was a master, unknowingly, of the malapropism, the substitution of an incorrect word for one sounding similar—its origin from the French mal a propos, meaning not appropriate.  The English playwright, Richard Sheridan, named one of his characters Mrs. Malaprop, and imbued her speech with countless examples.

I’m not sure my uncle ever read Sheridan, but he would probably not have recognized the errors—illegible for eligible, reprehend for comprehend, malevolence for benevolence, and so many others.

Not that he was unintelligent.  It was always a pleasure to hear him hold forth on topics of interest, never ranting or railing, simply expressing well-reasoned opinions.  He loved classical music, as do I, especially the nine tympanies of Beethoven.  He was a great baseball lover, a fan initially of the New York Yankers, and then latterly of the Toronto Blue Jades.  And he was a political junkie, always eager to discuss the follies of our elected reprehensibles.

A lifelong Tory, my uncle fondly referred to two of his favourite prime ministers as Chiefenbaker and Moroney, and praised their performance in the federal parlourment.  He called the bicameral bodies the Synod and House of Commoners (although that last one might have been intentional).

Talking with and listening to him was ever an enjoyable experience, and unintentionally hilarious.  “Those are two beautiful, wee girls,” he told me one time, referring to my daughters.  “I hope they’ll grow up depreciating the simple things in life.  Like their mother.”  Even my wife laughed at that attempt at a compliment.

“Invest your money wisely,” he would admonish me on occasion.  “Plan for your future, which is all ahead of you.  Frugality and persimmony are virtues.”

He had a host of other gems, too, all of which made sense once the chuckling stopped.

“Fresh fruit and veggies will keep you regular.  You’ll never be dissipated.”

“Be respectful and polite with people you meet.  Most of ‘em are well-indentured.

“Don’t be boastful.  Self-defecation is a good thing.”

“Get some exercise every day.  Don’t let yourself become sedimentary.”

Aunt Helen was used to it, of course, rarely raising an eyebrow.  I suspect she was never quite sure if he was naturally inclined to err, or slyly having everyone on.  But either way, she wasn’t above giving it right back to him every now and then.

“What’s for dinner?” he asked one night.

“Steak and kiddley pie,” she said, deadpan.

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“You mean kidney pie, Helen,” he corrected.

And without so much as a pause, she replied, “I said kiddley, diddle I?”

I miss them both.

 

The Iron(y) Lady

Many will remember the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1975 – November 1990.  Her sobriquet, originally bestowed by a Russian journalist, alluded to her obdurate political views and leadership style.

Perhaps the best encapsulation of this approach was delivered in a speech in 1980, when many in her conservative party were calling for a policy U-turn because of a looming recession.  “You turn if you want to,” she declared.  “The lady’s not for turning!”

Nor did she.  Seven years later, when the general economic conditions in the country had turned for the better, she was re-elected.  Uncompromising to the end, she narrowly lost a leadership vote in her party in 1990 and resigned the premiership.

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Now, twenty-six years on, there enters from stage right the second female Prime Minister in the long history of the UK, Theresa May, succeeding David Cameron as party leader after his hapless (mis)management of the Brexit crisis.  She has publicly agreed with a commentator’s description of herself as a bloody difficult woman, yet at the same time, has claimed to be a real Goody Two Shoes in her approach.

On first glance, those two self-appraisals would appear to be at odds.  And much of her political performance also demonstrates this same antithetical nature.  For example, she campaigned for the ‘remain’ side in the recent Brexit referendum, although somewhat tepidly, yet has already signalled that she will get on with the job of exiting the EU posthaste.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has said, “and we’re going to make a success of it.  There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, there will be no attempts to rejoin it by the back door.  As Prime Minister, I will make sure we leave the European Union.

This, despite presumably voting to remain.

Although a long-time conservative party member, and Home Secretary for the past six years, her approach has been defined as more liberal than many in her party, almost non-ideological in its pragmatic approach to dealing with issues of governance.  In her recent leadership campaign (unexpectedly ended when her last rival dropped out), she clearly enunciated policy directions that one mainstay of the media described as going further than the Labour Party’s own positions.

Might that be a strategic move to stage left?

At the same time, another media pillar declared the new PM to be staunchly more conservative, more anti-immigration, and more isolationist than Boris Johnson (he being, admittedly, a moderate liberal conservative), a once-presumed rival for the party leadership, who campaigned aggressively for the ‘leave’ side.

Perhaps this dichotomy in the perceptions of the new leader demonstrates nothing more than the long-standing shibboleth that successful politicians, whether campaigning from the right or left, govern from the middle once elected.

We shall see with Theresa May whether that will be so.  But wouldn’t it be the epitome of British irony if, instead, we see a leader who picks and chooses her own path, regardless of that prevailing belief.  If such proves the case, given her shifting positions and statements on key issues and policies to this point, Prime Minister May may, mayhap, earn her own sobriquet, echoing Thatcher’s own—

The Iron(y) Lady.

 

 

Dilemmas and Decisions

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that your father’s dotty old Aunt Hilda—whom you haven’t seen in forty years, and who recently died at 103—left you, as her only heir, the sum of twenty-five million dollars, all in cash, and twenty-five cats who shared her last abode.

And let us further suppose that, after placing the cats out for adoption and depositing one million of those dollars in your personal chequing account to cover immediate lifestyle changes, you now needed to decide how to properly invest and grow the remaining twenty-four million.

To whom would you turn for advice?

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Would you enlist the help of reliable, established bankers, investment counsellors, financial gurus, and market analysts, perhaps?  Learned and experienced people whose profession it is to help other people make money, even while being reimbursed for their efforts?  Let us call this the elite option.

Or would you call on twenty-five of your closest friends who, in return for the chance to party with you and celebrate your great, good fortune, would come up with a plan as to how you should invest the rest?  That plan could be approved by a majority vote of 13–12, swayed perhaps by the most persuasive of the group, rather than by the most knowledgable.  Let us call this the populist option.

Another example: suppose you have been recently diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, out of the blue, and that you have very little time to decide on the best course of action from a number of medical options that might, possibly, save your life, although there are no guarantees.

To whom would you turn for advice?

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Would you, in addition to talking with your loved ones, consult with your physician, specialists to whom (s)he refers you, and other experts in the field?  Would you seek second, third, even fourth opinions from people who have studied their entire lives to deal with critical situations such as yours?  Let us call this, again, the elite option.

Or would you gather together concerned family members and friends, all of whom love you and wish the best for you, to ask, by majority vote, what treatment plan you should follow—the established medical option, a naturopathic or homeopathic approach, or maybe the experimental route (which would require travel to a foreign country for procedures not recognized in your home and native land)?  Let us call this, again, the populist option.

In these examples (deliberately simplistic, I know), there are dilemmas confronting you and decisions you would have to make.  To whom would you turn in such critical situations, the elites or the populists?

Two major countries are currently dealing with such dilemmas.  The United Kingdom recently voted, in a simple-majority referendum, to leave the European Union, of which it has been a member for the past forty-three years.  The long-term ramifications of this decision have not yet been clearly enunciated, much less experienced by the people who voted.  But ramifications there will be, socially, politically, and economically.  For generations to come.

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To whom did the UK turn to make such a momentous decision?  To their elected members of Parliament, who might know a thing or two about the issues, presumably their ‘best and brightest’?  Or, as they have been described, sometimes disparagingly, the elites.

Or did they opt to leave it to the people at large, the ‘great unwashed’, to use a phrase coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton?  Or, as they are often referred to, usually reverently, the populists.

As we know, the populist approach was chosen, the people spoke (even though many of those who voted had no clear notion of what the EU is, how it has affected their country since 1973, and what its future benefits might have been), and a decision was irrevocably determined.  And it is left now to the elites, the people’s duly-elected representatives, to deal with the aftermath.

The second major power, the United States of America, is currently in the throes of a presidential election, a grotesque carnival showcasing democracy as it has come to be practiced in the twenty-first century.  Two candidates have been, or are about to be, nominated for the final run-off a few months from now.

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One is disparaged by her opponents as being from among the elite—kow-towing to wealthy, influential financiers, interested only in lining her own pockets, favouring big-government policies and programs, and inherently untrustworthy.

The other is mocked and ridiculed by his opponents as self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, and catering to the populists—seeking to capitalize on the worst instincts and fears of those who consider themselves to be, perhaps with some justification, downtrodden, ignored, and oppressed by the wealthy and powerful.

It is, indeed, a dilemma that faces the American republic.  Should the right to decide be restricted to citizens who are intelligent enough, sufficiently informed, and suitably engaged in the process to be trusted with such a critical matter?  The elites?

Or should everyone have the inalienable right to vote, regardless that a sizable number may be ill-informed to the point of ignorance of the issues, isolationist to the point of xenophobia, and armed (many of them) to the point of absurdity?  The populists?

In a faraway time when the world was comprised of isolated nation-states, interacting only minimally and infrequently with each other, a form of democracy that enfranchised every citizen might have seemed a good idea.  Government of the people, by the people, for the people, to quote Abraham Lincoln.  Few decisions made by such nations would have impacted severely on any others.

Today, however—when no nation is an island, when every nation is inextricably bound up with every other nation, when every hiccup and sneeze on the international stage has consequences—can the world afford to leave major decisions in the hands of those who know nothing of the potential aftermaths of their actions?  To those who take no steps to learn, to become informed citizens, to engage with the issues facing their country?

I confess, I do not know.

To preserve and enhance your multi-million-dollar windfall, to whom would you turn, the elites or the populists?

To perhaps cure your illness and save your life, to whom would you turn?

To preserve a peaceful, live-and-let-live world for all of us, to whom would you turn?

Dilemmas.  Decisions.

And consequences.