At the End of the Day

You know, a wise man once said, “the future is no guide to the past”. Well actually, he didn’t – I just made it up. It’s obviously a completely daft aphorism once you give it a few seconds thought, but that’s what appeals to me about it. Because the world is full of accepted aphorisms that are clearly total and utter tosh.

“A watched kettle never boils”. I’m as big a fan of Schrodinger’s cat as anyone, but trust me, a watched kettle will boil in the same amount of time it takes a kettle to boil in complete privacy. Some people take a long time to pee if someone is watching them (in fact, this applies to me) but the rule simply doesn’t apply to kettles because, being inanimate, they do not suffer from shyness.

“Make a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” is another one that has always irritated me. If you don’t tell them where your door is – and you’re not on Satnav – they will not beat a path to your door. This is obvious to even the thickest Sun-reading UKip candidate.

The dictionary tells us that an aphorism is ‘a pithy observation which contains a general truth’, so clearly none of the three above qualify for entry into the Aphoristic Hall of Fame. But you will nevertheless find them in all aphorism compendiums.

Others also ring scientifically untrue, but yet reflect one’s own experience to as near as damnit 100%. For example, the editor John Bangsund quipped, “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.” I have actually done this – the embarrassment still follows me like a moon shadow thirty years on – but so have many others. So appalled was one Guardian reader many years ago with the paper’s profoundly hopeless proofreading, he meant to intro his key point with the words ‘it is worth noting that’. What appeared was ‘it is worth nothing that’.

But I regard that more as the kind of observational humour at which Mark Twain excelled. The fact is that, when you interrogate them, a disturbing proportion of aphorisms would be better described as contraphorisms. They are fake, counterfeit, spin, lies, not true and altogether reprehensible.

Jarod Kintz penned ‘Whether you live to be 50 or 100 makes no difference, if you made no difference in the world’. Kintz (who is only 33 years old, so how would he know?) was possibly one of the very first globalist twerps, although one senses from his influences (they include Monty Python, Gary Larson, and Steve Martin – but not Ted Levitt) that he is both ironic and mildly muddled. Or maybe he just doesn’t dig existentialism – I don’t know. But I’m sorry, I want to live to be 100 and I see no natural law anywhere that proves those who made a difference did any good with it. And if I do nothing of macro importance at all, it sure as shit makes a difference to me what age I croak at

‘In vino veritas’ is thought by some to be descended from a much earlier comment by Plato, who remarked “There is truth in wine and children”. This is one of the silliest things the otherwise smart Greek ever said. For starters, I have always said “Whoever invented in vino veritas was obviously pissed at the time”. And to follow that one, anyone who’s ever been a parent knows that what kids say ranges from the great big fat fib to the surreal – but rarely contains a great deal of truth. Especially when it concerns whether teeth have been cleaned.

Napoleon no less was the author of ‘If you want something done well, do it yourself”. But then, he forgot the Russian winter and underestimated Wellington, so what did he know? Well clearly, not much: if you imagine an obese arts critic taking this advice on board in relation to a performance of Swan Lake, then you might see what I mean.

Some of this probably helps explain why, when pitching for new business in the now largely disappeared advertising profession, many of us engaged in the somewhat childish but hugely amusing practice of daring each other to slip illogically potty aphorisms into the presentation.

One of my favourites was “It’s always darkest under the lighthouse” (it rarely failed to get clients nodding appreciatively) but many were the nonsenses that slipped onto the pitch radar without question.

They included ‘Never say always twice’, ‘History is written by the literate’, ‘A teardrop is merely the rain in your brain’, and ‘Nothing is only something when it’s something and nothing’.

Keep an eye out and an ear open for a few examples at the next PMQs in the Commons, or during debates in the Senate. And don’t be surprised if somebody somewhere stands up to declare – quoting Tao Te Ching – that “The smell we see is merely a taste of noise”.

Yesterday at The Slog: When Manchester was Motown mod not Northern Soul