Write and wrong

I guess it must be a great relief to many in the self-promoting business that death is no longer a barrier to building your fame and fortune.

“Colonel” Tom Parker, the long-term manager of Elvis Presley, famously said on his star property’s demise that it “didn’t change anything”. Indeed, Elvis still regularly tops the list of the richest dead celebs. Thankfully, Col Parker has also passed into the next world and is no longer benefitting from that fact.

My attitude that money ain’t worth having if you’re not around to enjoy it is, apparently, not widely shared. There are still plenty of people who want to cash in on the work of people who no longer have a say in how their intellectual property is handled.

In the past few days, it’s been announced that there will be a new installment in the Millennium trilogy of books by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. This is despite the fact that there are already three books in the series — generally the limit for a trilogy, unless the author’s name is Douglas Adams — and Mr Larsson has been dead for many years, and will remain in that state for the foreseeable future.

Not so long ago, we saw a “new” novel by the very elderly and unwell Harper Lee, who never saw fit to publish the work during her 50 or 60 lucid years since writing it.

For goodness’ sake, can’t we just let sleeping authors be?



Stieg Larsson


You say tomato

When is tomato ketchup not tomato ketchup? Or should the question be: where is tomato ketchup not tomato ketchup?

The answer to the second question is: in Israel, where the health ministry has ruled that Heinz Tomato Ketchup must now be referred to as “Tomato Seasoning”.

This comes as a result of a complaint by Osem, manufacturers of a rival product. Apparently the Heinz product, which is known and used worldwide, has only 21 per cent tomato concentrate, while Israel’s law requires ketchup to have 41 per cent. Exactly what’s in the other 59 to 79 per cent, I do not know (or care to ask).

This storm in a sauce bottle is not unique. In Queensland, Australia, where I grew up, peanut butter was long known as peanut paste because the dairy lobby convinced the government of the time that the use of the word “butter” was misleading since the product did not contain butter. (This notwithstanding, peanut butter with butter is a taste sensation.)

For some reason Oil of Olay used to known in Australia as Oil of Ulan; and chocolate lovers in Britain long resisted the renaming of the Marathon bar to Snickers, even though it was an identical product.

The Brits also objected to having to refer to the cleaning product they knew as Jif (which made sense in English) as Cif (which didn’t), because that was the name used across Europe.

Does a name make a difference? I’d like to think it does — especially when it evokes a memory or other sensory experience.

But maybe I’m just old fashioned in that way.






Lucky to be alive

If I’d been born 200 years ago, I’d be dead by now. Before you say, or think, “Well, der, obviously …”, by “by now” I don’t mean the year 2015, I mean the age I am now, which is 54.

In fact, it was only 100 years ago, in 1915, that 54 was about the average life expectancy at birth for a human male. If we account for the fact that most deaths occur in the first few years of life, if I’d already made it to 20 in 1915 (and I didn’t subsequently get killed in the Great War), I’d probably still have only made it to 60. (Of course, your life expectancy increases the older you get, because it’s only an average. This interactive map for the US will provide you with some more fun facts.)

In my case, however, my undoing might have been as simple as the broken ankle I sustained in my mid-twenties. If I had been born before modern medical health care was available, nearby and affordable — and I’d sustained the same injury I did that night I was dancing with Sid Vicious* — I’d at least have spent the rest of my life walking with a pronounced limp. Depending on the time and place of my birth, and the prevailing cultur, that is If, say, I’d been a member of a hunter-gatherer tribe, I’d probably have been left to die.

What I’m getting around to is the fact that I’m feeling lucky to be alive, and especially so because that’s purely due to an accident of birth. (There, two cliches in one sentence, beat that Will Shakespeare.) Being born at the time I was and into a family with reasonably robust DNA — I had a great grandmother who lived past 100 (although her daughter died in her 50s) — has served me well. As have the facts that I had the proper childhood vaccinations, I’ve not been being killed in an accident and I haven’t had to serve in the military at a time of war.

Not only are we living longer, we are also, in general, much healthier — physically and psychologically. My mother, who is very active in her 80s,  noted that her grandparents “behaved old” when they were in their 50s. Attitude — your own and the way others see you — counts for a lot, too.

As far as work goes, I have plenty more in me. The Australian government expects me to keep going until I’m 67 — although there’s every reason to be believe that by the time I get there, the official retirement age will be even older. I will certainly be up for it, if it’s the kind of work I’m doing now.  From my point of view, I am as good as,  or better than,  I have ever bee; certainly have more skills than I did when I was 20 — because I need, and like, to keep up with new technology –and I have greater experience and knowledge, while retaining the same mental dexterity and passion for what I do. Physically, I won’t be running a four-minute mile, but then I never did.

In many ways, I’m living in the best of times. I have no idea what’s around the corner, but as long as it’s not a speeding bus with my name on it, I don’t really care. Or even if it is, I’ll at least know that things were pretty good, most of the time. As a friend, who just had two unanticipated career changes in a matter of months, has become fond of saying, onwards and upwards!


*Not the actual Sid Vicious, but the very talented writer, director and actor David Brown, who was playing Sid in a show of his own creation.

Should I cool it or should I blow?


I posted the following on Facebook the other day:

Does anybody else recognise that stage where you fall out of love — not with a person, but with a place or a situation? That thing when things you’ve accepted for years suddenly make you very annoyed? Example: I’m at the supermarket and before I’ve stowed all my groceries in bags and moved away, the cashier starts sending down the next person’s stuff.

Of course, this is not about shopping, as frustrating as that experience may be. It’s about making a Big Life Decision.

I’ve made quite a few of those in my time. Some of them have been beautifully executed, and have reaped wonderful rewards. Some weren’t so good. All of them involved leaving behind something that was familiar, but less than perfect (or even downright aggravating and/or depressing), and plunging into the unknown.

I’m not one for jumping out of planes or walking tightropes, but I do think it’s sometimes a good idea to frighten yourself to see what’s possible.

More on this later.

BTW: The headline is a reference to a song by The Clash.