Monday, 23 January 2012


My great-aunt had a mantra that she liked to run out at pretty much every family gathering.  Sooner or later there would be a majority of people gathered in one room, usually the conservatory where we could lurk among the plants and quietly eavesdrop on each other's private conversations.  Then she would provoke someone into saying or doing something, and at the top of her voice she would wheel out her mantra.
"Take something with you!" she would bellow happily, like a bull in heat spotting a cudding cow standing out in the field.  "If you're going from the bedroom to the kitchen, pick up that laundry and put it in the machine.  If you're going from the bedroom to the kitchen, pick u–"
She was always silenced, drowned out, or on one occasion severely injured, by one of the other adults present, so I never got to find out what it was she wanted from the kitchen to use in the bedroom.  We children did spend a fair amount of time guessing though.  Kate thought it would be chocolate to eat in bed before you went to sleep (she's been on the Biggest Loser three times now and has a whale-doctor as her personal physician), Tim thought she wanted to take matches with her to set the bed on fire and dance around it (he's head of some Wiccan cult out in the back-woods.  Rumour has it that he's surprisingly rich and on several watch-lists), and Joe always giggled weirdly when he said he thought it was vegetables.  No-one will tell me what's happened to him.
Sadly she's not been at the last couple of gatherings, because it seems she took her mantra to heart.  She was arrested for shoplifting by the police because, as she was leaving a major department store she took her mantra too literally and tried to take something with her.  Without paying for it.  After she was arrested she broke down and confessed to have two storage garages full of shoplifted items, and they've put her away for a few years.
My best friend's mantra is "Bang the rocks together!"  He claimed that it was a variant mantra on "Smaller, smaller," and was about breaking large problems down into much smaller ones that are easier to solve, and that, when separated from the main morass can be brought back together with other sub-problems that they weren't joined to initially thus making new, easier-to-solve problems.  I've seen this technique applied very successfully in the mathematical arts, and I was coming round to the idea of it until he switched from theoretical physics to experimental.  Then the rocks he chose to bang gleefully together one frosty October morning turned out to be two sub-critical lumps of plutonium, and the resulting critical masses irradiated him like a microwave on over-power.
My half-sister constantly mutters "This, too, shall pass," and is thought of as a saint of patience by the people in the hospice she works at.  I happen to know she suffers a lot from constipation.
My cousin, Joachim, likes "Assimilate, don't complain."  I have trouble with that one myself, as it's hardly mellifluous and I couldn't really work out how assimilation would stop you wanting to complain.  So, a couple of years ago, when we supposed to be passing in an air-port in Toronto, we both caught a slightly later flight and sat down in a Tim Horton's to eat far too many doughnuts, wonder why everyone was drinking the coffee, and talk about it.
"Assimilation," he said, "is the process of taking new information on board and working out how you can make that part of your life.  So, when someone drops ice-cream on your polished shoe just before an important interview, what do you do?  Do you scream at the child until it bursts into tears?  Do you scream at the child's guardian until both they and the child burst into tears?  Both of these will increase your tension and stress going into an important interview, and that's not good.  But what if you wipe the shoe off, and then use the stain on the shoe as a turning point for a story you tell in the interview?  They ask you to describe a problem that you've overcome, and you bring this one out: it's a tiny problem in the grand scheme of things, but it's one that easily blown out of proportion, and you can demonstrate patience, resourcefulness, and courage all in one short, fresh-in-the-mind story."
I confess, I stopped listening after he mentioned the ice-cream because I was trying to decide if I should suggest moving the ice-cream shop across the aisle, but he looked very fervent when he finished, so I assumed he'd told me something worthwhile.
Cancer is currently assimilating him though, and I've heard through the grapevine that he never stops complaining about it, so perhaps it's not quite the mantra he thought it was.
As for me?  My mantra is simply that "With sufficient thrust, even pigs may fly."
Job?  Rocket scientist.

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