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


There is a fascinating figure of speech called 'The Container For The Thing Contained'. For example, when someone says 'the City of Rome welcomed Caesar', or 'Toytown was in uproar', or 'the White House denied it all'. What they are doing is using the word that describes The Container (Rome, Toytown or the White House) when they actually mean The Thing Contained (the people of Rome, Pinocchio and other wooden puppets, or the President of the United States and even more wooden puppets).

            Now, ages ago, I once wrote a piece about my school teacher who was utterly obsessed with The Container For The Thing Contained (TCFTTC). As a result of which, I must have spent much of my school life looking for examples of the opposite - the use of The Thing Contained For The Container. Eventually I came up with a scenario in which a husband and wife were having a massive argument over breakfast, and the wife grabbed a full bottle from the table and said, 'I'll hit you with the milk'. Naturally, I was justifiably very proud with this discovery and mentioned it to my teacher in class. Since there was nothing in her text book about The Thing Contained For The Container, she became highly ventilated about the whole sordid affair and punished me by stopping my food parcels or parole, or something similar.

            After re-reading that essay, I developed a somewhat mild obsession with TCFTTC on my own account, and, as a result of patient research, I have come to a conclusion of earth shaking importance. The Container For The Thing Contained is not merely a figure of speech; it is actually a basic trait of human behaviour widespread throughout the whole of mankind. I reached this conclusion after I had spent a total of nearly five years in dentist's waiting rooms and in the lavatories of the upper middle class. There I was compelled to read some of the glossiest of all magazines, together with the colour supplements of the Sunday newspapers (see: PRESSING SUNDAYS). Gradually I began to see a pattern in what I read: every third page was an advertisement and every second advertisement was for a part work or collection. Thus the partakers of this glossy middlebrow intellectual pabulum are constantly being exhorted to buy a 47 volume encyclopaedia, or to subscribe to a 92 CD set of Elvis Presley or Mario Lanza, or a 112 disc set called 'The History of Jazz', or 'Four Hundred Great Overtures', or 'Your 93 Favourite Symphonies'. or 'A Hundred And Twenty Melodies That Haven't Appeared On Any Other CD Set’, and so on. There are recipe cards available in weekly instalments that enable you to produce no less than seven thousand different combinations of soup, flan, fondue and canapĂ©, all tidily printed on easy-to-wipe, easy-to-read, easy-to-follow, and hard-to-cancel cards. There are whole sets of books produced in mock cowhide called 'The Pirates' or 'The Cowboys', with new sets on the way such as 'The Astronauts', 'The Plumbers' and 'The Greengrocers'. By means of a simple coupon you can enter into a contract of such cast-iron constitution that it makes Faustus' little agreement with Mephistopheles look like a nod and a wink. and within twenty eight days you will start receiving the complete works of Dickens (Charles, Monica, Frank or Veronica), Conrad (Joseph or Jess), Hardy (Thomas, Oliver or even Kiss Me) or Lawrence (D.H, T.E, Gertrude or Durrell).

            One firm went even further and offered two matching bookcases (offer applies UK only), one containing the 47 volume encyclopaedia and the other containing a selection of The World's Greatest Books bound for you in luscious gold-tooled fibretex or some similarly sumptuous polyester vinyl derivative. This pair of bookcases (which will grace any home and enhance any decor) is marketed under the title 'The World's Literature' (I am over eighteen).

            Now none of this meant anything to me at all, until I ventured out of the lavatories of the upper middle class (leaving them as tidy as I found them) and went into their living rooms. There I found myself confronted with the results of these advertisements - two rows of white melamine shelves jammed to the brackets with the uniform spines of ‘The World's Literature’ and ‘The World's Music’. The owners would glance over their shoulders at the serried ranks of luscious fibretex and refer casually to 'the Dickens' or 'the Shaw'. And yet a brief examination of the books concerned would usually reveal that they had never been opened; some had spines so brittle that they cracked on opening, others had their pages fused together at the top edge by a melted layer of luscious fibretex, and still others were apparently written in Chinese. So what were these people talking about when they referred to their unopened and unread books? They were of course using The Container to imply The Thing Contained. They had made a mental leap from handling The Container (as they took the books out of their boxes) to thinking that they had the Thing Contained at their fingertips.

            I am not pleading total innocence of this vice myself. Many times I have glanced at a series of articles printed in full colour on eight successive pages 'For Me To Cut Out And Keep', sent off a cheque for £3.95 for the plastic ring binder and then 'Forgotten All About Them Permanently'. What I do not know about 'Warfare Through History', 'The Phoenicians - Fathers Of Trade', and 'The Byzantine Influence' would almost fill three plastic ring binders.

            So what drives us to this curious activity? What causes us to accumulate Containers and fool ourselves that we are the masters of The Things Contained? Well the answer comes from experiments done on what scientists call 'the decerebate frog'. To put it simply, in its natural state, the frog is green and cold blooded, has slimy skin and produces children that resemble animated bogies. From that point of view they do not greatly resemble human beings, apart from those you meet in show-biz. However, if you surgically remove the top two thirds of a frog's brain it is still capable of most of the normal frog like activities (swimming, jumping, a-wooing going and turning into a handsome prince), but for some reason most biologists think that it then becomes a better model for human behaviour. I may have misunderstood them, but I think that's the gist of it. Anyway, if you present a two thirds de-brained frog with a source of low-grade non-selective information (say a mail-order catalogue), then it will respond to that information under the influence of three primitive urges: (a) greed, (b) the urge to impress the neighbours, and (c) the urge to collect things in sets. Even more recent research has shown that the primitive drive to pay out £7.95 per month is only just behind hunger and sex in the ‘Primeval Urge Top Ten’, and is fifteen places ahead of the urge to help old ladies across the road, and even more so, eighty places ahead of the urge to talk to one's wife at breakfast.

            It comes as no surprise then, that from the decerebate frog upwards, animals will continually try to amass ‘Containers’. I was talking about this very point in front of the fireplace, at a rather smart works do only last week, when I inadvertently tripped over ‘The Literature’ and banged my head on ‘The Music’. Just like in my earlier schooldays, I found that The Things Contained can often cause precocious little boys a lot of trouble. I might just add that if you have just read ‘The Things Contained’ rather than the ‘Container’ and have enjoyed reading this piece or any other piece in this blog, then thank you and please feel free to 'Tear Out And Keep' them: a plastic binder is available from the publishers at a nominal charge. (I am over eighteen).

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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