A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

CATCH PHRASES



         Sitting on my throne in the undisturbed sanctuary of our bathroom the other night, a new train of thought railroaded its way through my ever over-active mind. How do you get to be memorable it pondered? Who were all the extraordinary people whose sayings and aphorisms cram the pages of dictionaries of quotations? Were they supermen? Were they geniuses from whose lips even the most idle of chatter fell in pure crystal form, gathering symmetry, brilliance and momentum on the way down? Were they hell! More likely, they spent most of their time being just plain and ordinary folks – just like you and me – trudging around worrying about their water rates and anniversary presents and constipation. But – unlike you and me – they luckily once said something really bright, realised its potential and went out and flogged it like mad. Compare and contrast the average conversationalist who fills an awkward gap at a party with, “I said something really memorable last Thursday at the Lowry – damned if I can remember what it was now.” 
     
            Of course memorability does depend, to a certain extent, on who you are and what you do. For instance, if its dark and I say “Let there be light!” at best somebody will turn on the light and forget that I ever asked them. If on the other hand, I had just created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and had looked upon my works and had seen that they were good, then people would take a lot more notice of what I said. Or if not, at least my writings would attract a lot more attention than they do at present.

As a case in point, take Archimedes. As I am sure you will recall, he was an Ancient Greek (yes another one) who invented O-level physics, and who also said, “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the earth.” Thus anticipating the wishes of the Ayatollah Khomeini by a good two and a half thousand years. I think that Archimedes’ greatest achievement was to make up a quote so rock solid that it could travel intact down the hundred and fifty generations from the sack of the city of Syracuse to the ink-stained hands of the typesetters of the cheap edition of ‘Physics Can Be Fun.’ I am sure that he had to work hard at it though. It’s not the sort of remark that would survive long if just dropped casually into the conversation over an after dinner mint and an amphora of coffee. You’ll realise what Archimedes was up against when you recall that during the Watergate affair, President Nixon was recorded as saying to a henchman, “Get on with the cover up”, and that this was reported for a limited posterity of two months as “I’ve got no plans for a cover up.” Likewise with Clinton’s “I didn’t have sexual relations” saga, “It was cock-a-leaky soup all over her dress.” Taking into account this kind of short term distortion, I estimate that the entire recorded history of mankind has all the reliability of a chain gang of myopic lip-readers muttering “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.”

There is no doubt then that Archimedes must have bust a gut in order to protect that sentence of his from similar degradation and distortion. He would not have been able to trust even the most reputable contemporary journalists such as Thycydides (author of ‘The Athenian Disaster In Sicily’) and Herodotus (of Reuter’s). Even they would probably report it as ‘Archimedes To Start New World Movement’ or possibly ‘Give Me A Long Leave Says Pacifist Archimedes’. In which case he would have gone down as the inventor of the conscientious objector, and the Archimedes Screw would have meant something completely different.

To be certain that history was going to get him right, he must have covered all the angles. He must have spent all his free afternoons hanging around the agora (market-place), making sure that all and sundry heard him say it. “Hi there! I’m Archimedes – hey, listen, give me a lever long enough...” He may even have given concerts. Much as today the young folk flock to Hyde Park to hear Punk groups like The Kitchen Units play songs like ‘Sod Everything’, so the Ancient Greeks must have pressed up against the earthworks of the winter quarters when the word got round that Archimedes was coming on to do the ‘lever’ number in the second half. He probably saturated Syracuse with it. (This is Syracuse in Sicily, by the way. At that time, Syracuse, New York, was occupied by wild, half-dressed savages. As indeed it is to this very day.) The whole town would have been buzzing with it after a few weeks. Children would be humming it in the streets. It would be scribbled on lavatory walls, carved on pencil boxes, etched on breast-plates, taught to parrots and tattooed onto slaves.

And so, when the Romans moved in on little Syracuse, bringing with them the benefits of paved roads, colonial governments and nouns ending in  –um, Archimedes’ little sentence survived the death of his city. It passed through the Dark Ages in Latin and via the East in Persian and then Arabic, through the Renaissance in what the Florentines flattered themselves was Italian, and finally through the cack-handed printers and boss-eyed proof readers of the Caxton Press Ltd., his saying sailed, still intact into the O-level syllabus, where it now nestles against other perpetual truths about the squaw on the Potomac, and E=MCC.

It all makes me wonder if any of my little off the cuff witticisms will ever make the grade. I came out with some real beauties last week, but unfortunately my official biographer was actually non-existent. So they remain to this day, unrecorded. In order to redress this lack of foresight on my part, I’m thinking of having a party when I’ll be saying all these remarks again. Come along if you are free. Any time until about 2018 will do. And don’t worry about bringing a bottle either, just bring some indestructible paper and indelible ink. And of course, let’s not forget, a lever long enough and a place to stand.



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