Everyone knows that one of the cardinal sins of writing is the use of clichés, proverbs, trite sayings and similar hackneyed truisms, all guaranteed to send your beloved manuscript
straight to the shredder accompanied by rude noises and unprintable expletives. But once you get past the age where credibility depends on youth, nonconformity, scorn and derision, there’s a certain sneaky satisfaction in savouring them in private, like particularly sweet and forbidden fruit.
One of my current favourites is There are more ways of killing the cat than choking it with cream. Do you have any idea how useful this is? I rediscovered it first while playing Spider (another forbidden fruit) having spent considerable ingenuity trying to access one particular card without success, only to have its twin pop up on the next deal. Since then, I
have applied it to numerous other of life’s frustrations with great success: when one door closes, you might say, another door opens. Or alternatively, all things come to those who wait.
I’m also working quite hard on Never apologise, never explain. This is not popular in the current climate of political correctness, when causing the least offence, however inadvertently, is deadlier than the Seven Deadlies. But it’s an extremely effective gobstopper when you find your mouth watering with apologies for the state of your house, your technological ignorance or your tendency to foot-in-mouth syndrome.
Another favourite along the same lines is Don’t be a sheep, Margot. People eat sheep. I’ve no idea who Margot is (or was) and any name can be freely substituted, but it’s so delightfully graphic that even the feeblest of backbones twangs to attention at the very thought. Who dares wins pales to insignificance beside it, and as for None but the brave deserves the fair – anyone with half a brain knows that what we deserve and what we get are usually ships that pass in the night.
The same graphic ebullience has drawn me back to the Australian vernacular. Australians don’t go in for home-grown proverbs much, but the language is bristling with phrases that call a spade a bloody shovel, and there’s something wonderfully liberating about embracing them. Euphemisms are such a waste of time when you know that time, like an ever rolling stream, is bringing you inevitably closer to carking it, croaking, popping your clogs, shuffling off this mortal coil, cashing in your chips, blinking for an excessively long time and ultimately, popping up daisies. There was a time when I’d have washed my mouth out with soap if it said that something stuck out like a dog’s balls, but what else has quite the same ring to it? And when you’re flat out like a lizard drinking and some bogan in budgie smugglers tries having a lend, what else can you do but bellow ‘Rack off, hairy legs!’?
On the subject of money, though, both proverbs and the vernacular have let me down. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves is not only boring but patently untrue. I’ve been doing it for years, and if the pounds are looking after themselves, they’re doing it other people’s pockets. Money begets money is more attractive if it means spending money to make money, but if the initial pounds insist on remaining elusive… And while money may well be root of all evil, I can’t help thinking a bit of evil might be quite fun from time to time.
All in all, though – taking the rough with the smooth, counting your blessings and remembering that time and the hour runs through the roughest day – the most comforting thought of all is Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Or to put it another way, The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow. It’s also wise as you get older to peel away the mealy-mouthed hypocrisy surrounding death, remembering there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. Or to put it in a nutshell, make hay while the sun shines.