“The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.” Terry Pratchett
Why a dog on a bridge and why clichés? Well today we have moved into a stage 4 lockdown and I felt that I ought not to just continue writing about how to cook sauerkraut and sausages - which most of you may never do, (absolutely delicious by the way) and pause for a moment to consider our current 'unprecedented' (first cliché) situation.
And to momentarily address that cliché of a word 'unprecedented' - the current crisis is not uprecedented at all. This has happened before - the Black Death, Spanish Flu ... It's not even unprecedented for everyone alive now. I remember the Asian flu back in the fifties when you would go to school every day and find that out of your class of around 30 girls, only about half a dozen had turned up. Indeed I even caught it myself, and looking back, was probably very ill. I know I had a very high temperature which caused me to hallucinate at some point. I believe around a million people died in that particular pandemic. I'm guessing this one will be a bit more. And there will be others. Hopefully we shall learn something from all of them.
Back to the dog though. I was going to write about silver linings - a massive cliché of course - and I still am, but whilst searching for a suitable picture to headline the post I found this on a blog called Medium, heading an article about one guy's bad moment and how he is dealing with it. It was called There's always a silver lining - which is sort of what I was going to go for originally too. Then I saw the dog and I thought, why the dog? So I stared at it and sort of came to see why - because it's, mysteriously, so hopeful. Dogs are beautiful are they not? We really all should have one. Babies and dogs give meaning to life somehow. We miss our last dog Choccy - who was sort of a very dark version of this particular dog. So much so that every now and then I think of getting another one, but there are all sorts of reasons why not. Anyway a sort of out of left-field silver lining picture and it's not just the overall colouring of the picture.
As I have said many times before, somebody has always said what I am writing about before, and almost universally so much more expressively than I. Which is why Terry Pratchett's words spoke to me. I'm just using words like hammers and screwdrivers, not like an artist's brush. But I will try to say something about silver linings and the current crisis. Pretty baldly I think.
"All things will pass" - another cliché. Well I just looked it up and it's actually "All things must pass" and it's from the Bible and does not at all mean what I wanted to say, because it's actually a foretelling of ultimate doom:
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows."
No silver lining there.
There's also another version - "this too will pass". But enough of origins - you get the picture. And it will pass - the Corona virus I mean. A vaccine will be discovered, or at least a cure will be found. I have great faith in medical science. Alas the people of the Black Death had no such faith - their only faith was in God and he wasn't helping at that time. But even from that disaster, when I think a third or at least a quarter of the population of the known world at that time was wiped out, good things emerged. There are learned articles that will tell you all of them, but ultimately, and possibly a bit indirectly the Renaissance was one of them, although more pertinently to the common man there was a labour shortage and so the lot of the common man became a bit better - at least for a while. Supply and demand and all that.
And I keep telling myself that my ancestors must have survived the Black Death and so perhaps I have stronger genes than some.
So silver linings.
There have been many, many other disasters in world history from which good things have sprung. The class system ended - well the extremes of the class system anyway - after WW1. Bad things happened too of course - Hitler, the Depression, WW2, but yes, social mobility improved enormously, and again there must have been a supply and demand situation with respect to labour.
Which brings me to myself and my very fortunate life. WW2 was, of course, a disaster - particularly for England I think because they did not get the massive amounts of aid that the defeated did. I was born in the middle of that war - which, hopefully, was a silver lining for my parents. And yet the post war years were years of prosperity, free education, free health care, real social mobility which enabled me, at least, to rise from humble origins to a situation where I sit in my million dollar home and gaze out at trees - nothing but trees. I have led a life of luxury and leisure although I and my husband have worked hard for this. We were both fortunate in our genes and our parents who cared for us and pushed us - not too hard - to make the most of the opportunities that presented themselves. We live in Australia - the lucky country - and even now with stage four restrictions nothing much has changed in my life. A bit of restricted movement and the loss of face to face meetings with family. We are fortunate in our beautiful family too. But now we have Zoom and FaceTime and so on, and so we can at least speak to them and see them too.
For the less fortunate it is of course a disaster from which it will take years to recover and I feel for them, but I do think, well perhaps hope is a more accurate word, the crisis has made governments - well our government anyway - more aware of their plight. Hopefully they will not forget and will do something about it.
For the world at large - massive economic disruption. The world will change. The clever, the opportunists and the innovators are already making the most of the situation - witness, on a very minor scale, the huge number of ads on the internet for face masks. The tech companies are flourishing as are the supermarkets. Let us hope that there will be a new awareness of what needs to change - because the deep flaws in our modern way of life, have also been highlighted by all of this.
At the individual level it is said we are learning new things at home - how to cook, how to grow your own vegetables, how to renovate and redecorate, how to draw - how to do anything really. You can learn all of these skills online these days. Many people are jumping in and helping anyway they can, and, sadly, of course, many are descending into paranoia, despair and even violence.
The clichés keep coming and will continue to keep coming because we are trying to describe something new to us with, for most of us, just the hammers and screwdrivers of ordinary speech. And we mock them, when we shouldn't really. We can't all be Shakespeare and come up with something original - well even he didn't - he plagiarised a lot. But like the best cooks he took what was there and twisted it just a bit to make it something sensationally new.
“One of the more ignominious features of love was that you could only express it with clichés...it made you sound like a fraud at a time when you were blazing with sincerity.” - Lisa Kleypas
“Cliche is Truth's most loyal friend...” - Rafael Reyes
Mistakes will be made on the road to recovery. Poor Daniel Andrews is reaping the cost of that at the moment, as are all the new COVID sufferers, but we all make mistakes, indeed we should make mistakes. For - another cliché - we learn from our mistakes, because:
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein
I paused when I read that thinking that it was a bit élitist, implying that he meant really new things like E=mc2 - almost a cliché in itself these days. After all if you are tired or distracted you can make a mistake any time, but I guess even then you learn something. For the other cliché is that the only real mistake is not to learn from your mistakes. So we should be hopeful. Good things have come from mistakes after all - penicillin, Tarte Tatin ...
I suppose Einstein's words also beg the question, should we try something new? Yes we should. Which is why I try to cook at least one new dish each week. Otherwise life would be boring. Which is also why in this time of lockdown I think we should all try and learn something new - I'm trying coding, not with any expectation of being able to program at the end of it but at least I am exercising my brain in new ways - I think. Otherwise boredom would win - and boredom is a real downer.
So "Hope springs eternal" - to use yet another cliché.
"It is a cliche that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue." Stephen Fry
Now what does that mean?
And all of those clichés can be applied to food too. Try them for your next meal. 'Unprecedented'; 'there's always a silver lining'; 'learn from your mistakes'; 'hope springs eternal' ...