Sir P Speaks: The Problem of First-World Problems

Dear Sir P

I’m worried that all my travails are essentially First-World problems. I no longer feel entitled to complain, or even feel aggrieved. This has left a gnawing, hollow sensation inside of me. Which is itself, I suppose, a First-World problem. And so I find myself wandering around in ever-decreasing circles of self-loathing. How do I continue to complain without feeling like a bit of a dickhead?

Adoringly,

Terrance V

 

Well, dear Terrance, we can’t have you loathing yourself. However, it is a tiresome thing when people witter about the built-in redundancy of their iFads or how their favourite charcuterie has just been closed down. While it’s true that people in the Third World suffer from bunions at least as much as people in the West do, it would be fair to say that bunions are the least of their problems.

graveyard_of_indiscretions

If First World Problems Could Kill

Meanwhile, the issue for us Westerners is, when does a particular problem become legitimately whinge-worthy? If say, your beloved girlfriend dispenses with you, it is a bad thing and you are entitled to moan about it. But let’s call that a Second-World problem (and, dear readers, please don’t email me explaining the proper definition of the Second World; even baronets go to school).

But what about when your hitherto excellent wife leaves you for a lion-tamer or similar and takes the kids with her, plus half the house and Augustus, your Labrador-kelpie cross on whom you’ve doted since he was a puppy? Now, that’s a legitimate, bare-knuckled disaster wherever in the world you happen to live. Particularly when said wife then updates her Facebook status to: ‘Free at last from that fat, inbred nutter’.

Though I’m not very insightful generally I have noticed that most people get around the problem you’ve raised, dear Terrance, by not even bothering to do so. If you’ve not spent your childhood grubbing about on a Manila garbage dump then premature hair loss or unusually bulbous earlobes will seem very problematic indeed. You will say to yourself, ‘I can only address the problems that are before me, not the ones I might have experienced had I been incarnated as a Mumbai leper’. It highlights in a way how animal we remain. A gerbil struggling for survival in the desert is hardwired, like all animals, to utterly preoccupy itself with the fact that it is hours away from starvation. It is not interested in the plight of other gerbils. Such matters are not its business, even if it had the smarts to comprehend such things. We do have the smarts but we also have the hardwiring, so coveting my neighbour’s 65-inch 100hz flat-screen 3D TV fills my magnificent human brain to bursting.

However, there may be some value in putting our own issues into perspective. You can start by doing the following quiz. Which of these problems are First, Second or Third World?

  1. The difficulty of finding a band-aid large enough to cover a graze large enough to justify a band-aid.
  2. Reconciling yourself to sharing the world with cyclists and horses.
  3. You want to call your son Tarquin because you’re pretentious, but you know the name will humiliate him.
  4. The presence on the road of silver or grey cars that hover in your blind spot on rainy days (it’s possible I’ve raised this vital issue before).
  5. A man-eating tiger lives near your house. Be careful, or one day it will eat you too.
  6. You’re so exhausted packing for your family holiday to Hawaii it’s almost not worth going.
  7. The excruciatingly awkward nightmare that is Skype.
  8. You would like to wear your tiger onesie out in the street but you are a fully grown man and you would be mocked.
  9. Should you have your child’s 4th birthday at home and endure the appalling mess 15 children inevitably make, or hold it at a soft-play centre and endure the deafening cacophony of a billion screeching children smacked up on pink sugar?
  10. The Patent Office refuses to patent your exciting new invention called ‘Comfort-Go’ – for when you get caught short in heavy traffic.

What are the correct answers, you ask? Who cares? The reassuring thing is that no matter how First-World, inane, self-indulgent or deranged your questions are, good bloggoids, I will always give them the attention they richly deserve.

Devotedly

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir P Speaks: A few of my least favourite things

regular_3110350_0001Hello bloggards,

Since my debut last month, the Cringe’s cyber mailroom has been overwhelmed by pleas for guidance. The following is but one:

Sir Partridge

I can’t decide who to hate. I want cyclists banned from dual walking/cycling tracks because of the sarcastic comments they make as they zip past me. I also want drivers of grey or silver cars sent to re-education camps on the excellent basis that their vehicles are invisible in bad weather. Nor do I like iPhones for reasons I’m a bit unclear about; it’s more an instinctual thing, I think. These are just three examples of the kind of people who would be first against the wall in an ideal world. Oh, and people who get into social media too much, which is everyone, basically.

Also, I would like to see more human-animal hybrids about.

Oh, and why haven’t I been awarded the Order of Australia when I am so inherently decent?

You might like to know that I have invented Birthday Bellows, which children can use to blow out their candles without contaminating the birthday cake with their virulent spittle. Why is the Patent Office so indifferent? I have also invented the human nosebag for people who are too busy to use their hands while eating lunch and so on.

Yours in rage and adoration

Finbarr S

Frankly, Finbarr, I am worried about your brain. And yet the epistolary dead mouse you have laid on my doorstep isn’t entirely devoid of life. In fact, your veritable slew of pet hates perfectly mirrors my own.

What I call hate management is a delicate art. There are so many hateful things in the world that one has to choose carefully where to direct one’s ire. One mustn’t overdo these things …

Humans’ dislike for cyclists, iPhoners and social media nutters is well-worn territory but I think you’re onto something when you ramble on about grey cars on overcast days. They do seem to wilfully lurk in your blindspot, headlights off, blending in perfectly with leaden sky and asphalt like some foul wraith or secret government stealth vehicle. I’m sure I’ve seen a study somewhere showing that they’re slightly more likely to be involved in an accident. I for one drive a canary yellow MG for just that reason and I can safely say that of all the many, many accidents I’ve been involved in, not one of them was because I couldn’t be seen.

I can well sympathise with your views on the Order of Australia. Were it not for Australia’s harsh libel laws I would only too willingly list an easy 100 undeserving recipients. I’m sure you are decent, Figmarr, but that is not enough. It is about being seen to ‘contribute’ to society, however you choose to interpret that word. Most people think I have a knighthood but I don’t. I am but a baronet, a title passed down the Gormley line for generations after it was bestowed on my ancestor by James IV as a sop for sleeping with his wife.

Animal-human hybrids are rare, Figment, because we don’t live on the Island of Dr Moreau. If we did, then it might be fun to have antlers, like those of a moose. You might want to lacquer them, or better still employ someone to lacquer them for you. You might also festoon them with ribbons and so forth.

As for your inventions, they are ludicrous. Except the Birthday Bellows (pure genius). And the human nosebag – in fact, I’m wearing a prototype right now! It is remarkably convenient and dignified. Why the Patent Office hates you and singles you out for special treatment is beyond me. Perhaps they ought to get their hate management procedures in order too.

Sir P

 

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

 

Sir Partridge Gormley Speaks

Hello blots,

When The Cringe begged me to become an agony uncle for them, I sent the word out to my enormous fan base. Naturally, I was subjected to a veritable blizzard of need, most of it drivel. Only this missive struck a chord:

Dear Uncle

Firstly, let me say that I worship you like a god.

Now, listen to this. When I got married seven years ago, a distant relative was charged with videoing the event. He has since returned to his native Fremantle and not a peep has been heard from him since. I’ve emailed him frequently asking for a copy of the video but to no avail. I even sent him a crisp $50 note to cover the cost of postage but the bastard simply trousered it.

I’m going to Perth soon for a mutual relative’s wedding where I will surely bump into him. Rather than endure a ‘scene’, is it reasonable for me to simply lift the money from his wallet, should the opportunity present itself?

Yours in righteous indignation

Egbert T

Well, Egbert, you have been betrayed. I can visualise this strange relative of yours. Perhaps he is in advanced middle age, corpulent, fancies more than the odd tipple and is not averse to leering at the young and winsome. He is a cad, and as such the usual rules of human conduct do not apply.

Of course there may be an entirely reasonable explanation for his failure to provide you with what is rightfully yours. Perhaps he has died. Perhaps he never received your funding, or has been forced to hand it over to a bookie. Who knows or cares?

Therefore the simple answer to your question is yes, by all means slip the bugger a mickey, rummage in his hip pocket, restore the cash to its rightful owner, and why not lift an additional crafty fiver for your trouble? After all, you shelled out 50 of the hard-earned and whether he received it or not the bastard owes you a wedding video, which he has presumably either lost or taped over with something unsavoury.

Huzzar!

Sir P

A man who has long needed an introduction, Sir Partridge Gormley is a baronet, raconteur, bon vivant and genteel nutter. With plenty of time on his hands he welcomes queries from anyone who’s confused and dilemma-ed. Sir Partridge’s verbal emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke 

Conan Elphicke

Have a question for Sir Partridge? Email your query to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

the end

He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”

You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”

“I’ll move.”

He meets your eyes, exposed conviction in his gaze, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?

montreal

Surely he knew this was the end.

You hear the others through the open door, laughing over their share-house dinner. They know you’re both out here, they know why. Your time is up and you have to decide.

The door is open but this grip of his feels like the most intimate you’ve ever been. The weight of the simple gesture makes it real, terrifying. He waits and you can’t speak.

What did you think would happen? Maybe you hoped that when the moment finally came you’d both laugh and agree it could never work.

Or maybe you wished through the descending seasons that your heart would shed a layer and this would suddenly be right.

The question was there from the moment you met, knowing you were his type and he was yours. He took you to the old hall on campus and you stared up at the tiny stained glass windows, portraits of legendary writers. You were breathless, in awe, like he knew you would be.

His careful approach to life was a relic from his childhood, from his infamous neighbourhood and absent father perhaps. A determination to make the right decisions, avoid hurting others. This was the first commandment of his life, despite the subtle, contained wildness in him: an irresistible conflict of impulse and hesitation.

Were you completely honest with each other? Not really, not with the deeper stuff, the hidden places. You showed him most of who you were: not everything, but more than usual. The rest you dropped in hints, hoping he would catch them, hoping he would show some sign of awareness, acceptance.

But if you lost your security or your strength or your resolve or your temper it would surprise him. He would try to re-strategise, to deal with this new antagonist in you, full of tense dissatisfaction.

You didn’t want to be dealt with (even thought he didn’t mean it that way). You needed someone who would push back, who would put you in your place or be moved by your conviction or slam the door in your face or thrust you against a wall. He would be slow and considerate and that would make you push further, irrationally scratching for that true impulse, the indication that you were both alive to the same humanity.

Perhaps you’ve known all along that he couldn’t be that person. But still you wanted to be with him, to see what would emerge, hoping he would prove you wrong. All the passing seasons have faded into this inevitable parting and all you’ve thought about is this moment, forming your heart around the possibility of a future.

Perhaps it’s your fault for letting your heart go because now the memories are too real and they won’t go away, wedged in your mind, forever shadowing the years of your life.

Time is up and you have to decide, and here he is on the step with his earnest eyes telling you he’ll move, he’ll follow you, he’ll make it work, and you know he believes it.

So, you see? No one wins. Both of you cautiously following the path of possibility, neither willing to make the first mistake, and this where it ends. Surely he knew that?

But no, he never did, and for that you blame him. Now you have to be the one to admit reality, to open his eyes to the truth. You must be the one who does this awful thing and it’s not fair. You gave him your heart, you tried, and yet he still doesn’t know you, not really.

The laughter grows louder in your ears and your hand trembles in his grip, under his waiting gaze. He has broken your heart, and now you must break his.

Elise Janes

Prologue

She balances on a knife-edge. Between tragedy and cliché.

He accuses her of vandalism as he picks chocolate from the fabric of his chair. They were the chocolates he’d given her on Valentine’s Day, the day before he confessed that his Valentine is elsewhere. She couldn’t stomach the thought of eating them and they looked close enough to dog turds when smeared into his chair.

He does not leave the house. It is Dante’s definition of hell. Proximity without intimacy.

The dog can smell her distress and cowers.

He has stopped talking to her. But the rest of the world is.
ABBA: Breaking up is hard to do.
Elton John: Turn on those sad songs, those sad songs, they say so much.
The calendar: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
She wishes it was tomorrow not today. She wants to believe in time travel so herself-in-three-years can come back and tell her-today: it’s all okay. If it is.

The Real Estate Agent’s eyes light up the moment he’s through the door. They are the fat parasites of marriage failure. They feast on the corpse. It’s the only way they get hold of such gems: the beautiful family home.

Sympathy is a killer.

She wonders about forgiveness. Forgiving him. Forgiving herself.
Maybe there is no such thing as forgiveness. Mark Twain said it was the scent the violet gives off as it is crushed beneath the boot.

Advice comes unsolicited: Let go. Move on. Make decisions. Get on with it. What is past is gone. What is past is prologue.

She reads Chekhov: it is sometimes the most insignificant people who realize happiness is found in ordinary things. She looks on her desk at ordinary things. The paper. The pen.
The prelude to her life is over. If only she could turn the page, and under the heading, Chapter One, begin to write.
About anything but him. So why does it keep coming back to him?

Jane Downing

The Hemingway

I glimpsed her before she noticed me. Proud affect but generous smile, turquoise wrap, blonde shoulder-cut: not too long (not too young). I could hear her admission in my head, spoken with a wink: There are certain things one must accept with age. From the blurred corner of my eye I could make out the bright red of her lips, the dark contour of well-made eyes. She paused at the table over my left shoulder, thanking the waiter like an old friend, the kind of woman who owned a dog, a small dog, a city dog as they call them here.

I felt her eyes on me as I turned back to my journal, felt the burn of her curious stare: A young woman, alone, on a Saturday afternoon? Hers was a life of faded curiosities, memories of gilded grandeur and headline parties, now a sepia echo in her mind, kept alive, artificially, in photos, individually framed, of course, that frosted every surface of her Manhattan apartment. She must live nearby, I decided. She had the bearing of a regular, but not too regular. Just the right amount, just enough to keep them guessing.

Light cut down through the glassed courtyard, cold but bright. There’d been snow the day before, but not today. Today was a day you could believe spring was coming. A strange day for a young woman to be alone, here. I guessed she hadn’t come for the exhibits, had probably stepped through the red-velvet rooms countless times. No, she was here for the place, the atmosphere; her favourite drink, perhaps: The Riesling, thank you darling, it is lunchtime after all.

I’d ordered the devilled eggs, an entrée, of course. The only thing on the menu without bread attached to it. Protein was all one needed these days, apparently, especially if one were slightly militant about those things. And I was. I hadn’t eaten all day, but still the entrée was only an adornment for my drink, to make sure not too many eyebrows were raised. I knew that when my drink came she would stare harder: Who is this sassy girl, on her own, here on a Saturday afternoon?

I decided to ignore her, ignore my sense of her, and attend to the journal. I had promised myself I would write, every day, but of course I hadn’t. How do you put these things into words? All these moments, all these instants of awe. The illuminated Dante. That had been the one, my breath-taken moment. Hadn’t it? What about the scribbled entry from Thoreau, in its pre-Walden, anecdotal rawness? Or the barely legible Beethoven, a piano trio, I think. My hands tingled at the memory, a moment already glistening like a fantasy in my mind, as if it happened years ago, to someone else.

Hemingway-picMy food came, four lonely half-eggs on a plate. And then the main course, the one I couldn’t resist: The Hemingway. The menu had mis-referenced, of course, it had been Ford who’d championed the three-martini lunch, an American rite of passage. Hemingway, though, was more romantic. I loved martinis, I loved Hemingway (who cares about Ford, really?), and I loved doing ridiculous things on Saturday afternoons, on my own. So here they were, three one-ounce perfections, a twist, an onion, and an olive.

I was sipping my second when she made her move. “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit?” Her voice hoarse, a smoker from decades past. I smiled, nodded, gestured, gritting my internal teeth, actually, no, I’m writing in my journal, can’t you see? But who was I kidding? I had time for her. “I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet a woman who can take on gin before three pm.” I looked up, actually tilted my face, now, seeing her eyes for the first time. Deep brown, chocolaty almost, ironic, incisive, and sparkling, yes I know, a cliché, but I had never, before now, seen someone’s eyes truly sparkle.

I was thrown. “Say, where’s your husband, darling?” She didn’t even shift her gaze from mine, didn’t look at the ridiculously large diamond on my finger. Her voice, underneath the deep husk, was smooth, direct. A singer’s voice. I smiled again (yes, I smile a lot; it’s disarming and I like the upper hand). “He’s in Midtown,” I hear myself saying. “Waiting for me, actually. I’m late.” She snorted a conspiratorial laugh. I hadn’t meant to say it, she knew that. It was the twist talking. “You stood up your husband for a drink? My, my, I thought we’d have a lot in common…”

She asked about my accent, asked about my husband, asked about my life, my tastes, my desires. And I told her everything. Me. Usually the grand deflector, the one who holds the brief on everyone else, cards firmly to my breast. The afternoon seemed unreal, suddenly, like a dream, like a story, a narrative beyond my control, and I thought to myself, who is this woman, this woman who has disarmed me?

Out on the street I wrapped my scarf tight beneath my chin, felt the trailing end float behind me as I turned my head to cross the street. I ran through the cold, bright, ringing streets, ran west to my husband in Midtown, heels tapping clear on the grimed pavement. People stopped to watch me pass, cheeks flushed, and I was filled with a wondrous, ethereal awe of the world. Call me, she’d said, and she made me write her number down. A landline, I smiled, she was too proud for anything less. I thought of her smile, that direct, no bullshit smile, and the sparkling eyes and I thought,

I will.

Elise Janes   

Wish I Was There — Imagined Postcard from the Edge

Postcard

Heavy cloud coverage today.

I spit at it, staining the barred window, watching the white foam dribble and streak down the glass.

A few days ago there was the most beautiful of azure skies.

I punched the pale yellow cell wall until my knuckles bled and bone showed through torn skin.

Pain is relative.

I scream, shredding my vocal cords, and marvel at how dull the sound sounds.

The walls eat it up and soon paint cracks and peels.

Fissures in the firmament.

Air steels in, a slivering draft.

There’s whispers of disease.

The contagion is spreading.

But not in here.

Out there.

In here I’m contained, kept safe by my enforced quarantine.

Their disease is not my disease. Out there, they share and spread and plaster themselves all over each other in one huge globule mess.

In here I’m contained, kept solitary because of my proclivity for harming others.

Now I only harm the walls, in turn harming myself.

No-one sees me and no-one cares.

I listen with an ear pressed to a crack in the wall at mumblings, distant snatches of conversation.

‘Vomiting.’

‘Blistering.’

‘Haemorrhaging.’

The ailments of a world closed to me.

The rapture of a slow and painful death.

But death is too much to wish for.

I wish for wind, for rain, for heat.

I wish for external elements to impact upon me and test the bonds of my being.

If I stand after the onslaught, so be it.

I am attached to no outcome in relation to my survival.

I only desire to feel something.

Oh, to be free and to be infected.

To wallow in the throes of such wonderful toxicity.

I wait and I wait, with an ear pressed to the crack in the wall.

What a thing it is to be incarcerated and safe from it all.

Ken Ward