I doubt if 2008 could have been worse than it was. But now the most important question I can think of is, can we be sure the new year will be better? I doubt if anyone knows. More significantly, I fear the portents suggest it might not be. So, whilst we apprehensively wait to find out, here’s a little insouciance to cheer you up.
My cousin Ranjit has put together a collection of witticisms that seem remarkably apt in the circumstances. “Smile, it makes people wonder what you are thinking”; “The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train”; “If you can’t convince them, confuse them” and “The road to success…is always under construction”. Here’s one, in particular, for smokers: “The cigarette does the smoking; you are just the sucker”. And another for those who are married: “Marriage is one of the chief causes of divorce.”
If you fancy yourself as someone who can turn a pretty phrase, Lakshman, another cousin, has sent me a few quotations you could easily twist for your own use. For instance, if someone’s cracked a poor joke try Mark Twain’s comment on Germans: “Their humour is no laughing matter.” And if you want to rile a Bihari or a Bengali you can always adapt Sydney Smith’s attack on Yorkshire: “Never ask a man if he comes from Yorkshire. If he does, he will tell you. If he does not, why humiliate him?” Finally, if your neighbour and his pooch have got to you there’s always Edward Abbey’s riposte: “When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.”
Of course, most of the time when someone pops an awkward question you’re left searching in vain for something clever to say. The silence that follows is hideously embarrassing. Well, here are a few retorts worth remembering. Asked how many husbands she had had, Peggy Guggenheim replied: “Mine or other people’s?” Questioned by a rude TV anchor if she realized that the class system had ended, Barbara Cartland hit back: “Of course I do, or I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you!” And then there’s the old chestnut. When you’re questioned about a disagreement with someone and need to explain it away, try this one-liner from the Cambridge Union: “The difference between X and I is a question of mind over matter. I don’t mind and X doesn’t matter.”
General Jacob, who’s a bachelor, has sent me a collection of wisecracks about marriage. I wonder how many of you, joined in wedlock, agree with them? “Two secrets to keep your marriage successful: first, whenever you’re wrong, admit it; second, whenever you’re right, shut up.” Here’s another: “The most effective way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once.” Yet one more: “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” And finally: “When a man steals your wife, there’s no better revenge than to let him keep her.”
Meanwhile Bamby Rao has forwarded a list of what he calls ‘gentle thoughts’. If the start of another year makes you feel conscious of how time is catching up, he’s offered a little consolation: “Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.” On the other hand if you want to depress yourself, Bamby has another recipe: “First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull up your zipper. It’s worse when you forget to pull it down.”
And, do you remember Mary and the little lamb? Here’s a version of the nursery rhyme created for that moment when Mummy is fed up of her little darlings: “Mary had a little lamb, her father shot it dead. Now it goes to school with her, between two hunks of bread.”
Finally, if you love journalists as much as I do be grateful to Humbert Wolfe: “You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank god, the British journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to!”
Happy New Year, or so I hope!