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Monday, 31 March 2008

The biggest racket in the world

As with many of these ramblings, there is absolutely no point to what follows; these are just the musings of an idle mind.

In Tottenham Court Road, not far from my office, there is a little Scientology office, where people are lured in by being asked to take a stress test.

You’ve probably seen the sort of thing, and I think we can safely say that all those who take it are informed that: a) they are indeed afflicted by stress; and b) the good Scientology folk will be able to help.

Since nobody who does not feel under stress would ever take the test, I take my hat off to the scamps who thought up this excellent wheeze - and doff it very deferentially indeed to the late L. Ron Hubbard who founded the cult.

Ron was a science fiction writer, and as you may know he started Scientology after a conversation at a science fiction convention, where he said that the easiest way to make a few million is to start a new religion – then proceeded to make his point, big time.

It occurs to me that some of the biggest rogues in the world have done well out of the religion racket. This will hardly come as a revelation to you, but did you realise how easy it is to get started?

For the most part there is absolutely nothing in law to stop you either starting your own religion or becoming affiliated to an existing one.

For example the Reverend Ian Paisley got his title simply by buying a US mail order degree in theology, and he did pretty well out of it, ending up encouraging a lot of people to kill a lot of other people before becoming joint Chief Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson at least had a go at studying theology, but failed and had to wait till somebody gave him an honorary degree. That hasn’t stopped him from making an astonishingly good living out of aspects of God, often through shaking down large corporations – (shaking down is a colloquialism for blackmail.)

I spend a lot of time in the US, as you may know, and often watch TV evangelists, all of whom do pretty well out of the gullible; you might say that from a marketer’s perspective Jesse is business to business, whereas the TV rogues are in business to consumer.

The Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr who has been twisting the tail of the US troops in Iraq was, so to speak, born into the business, as his father and grandfather were Ayatollas.

Interestingly, you don’t have to pass any exams to become a Muslim cleric; you just study and then preach and eventually become generally recognised as a cleric and if you keep going long enough eventually you become an Ayatollah. Moqtada hasn’t reached that level yet, but I guess when he has been responsible for enough dead people, they’ll give him the title.

Governments, being inherently stupid, are particularly gullible when religion comes into it.

In this country the government has paid enormous attention to various organisations with the word "Muslim" in their names, which are almost entirely self appointed. They are madce up of "activists" - ie, troublemakers - who come up with a fancy title and then announce to the world "We are the Muslim Council" - or Parliament, or whatever will impress idiots like the Bliar - and everyone takes them seriously, when they represent nothing but their own self importance and desire to make trouble.

I imagine ordinary honest Muslims must find this deeply galling, especially when some of the creeps involved do so well they get Knighted FOR "services to the community" which tend to consist of helpful statements like "all Jews are pigs". Maybe London's mayor, Ken Livingstone is a closet Muslim, by the way.

“Religion,” said Marx, “Is the opium of the people” – then founded his own.

The older I get, the more I tend to feel the main curses in this world are people with strong beliefs – and people who exploit those people’s beliefs.

Often those people are called politicians. Look at G W Bush. He is a triple threat; a born-again Christian with too much money who is also politician.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Should a writer be paid more than a car mechanic?

Actually, I was going to call this piece "Drayton-Bird-Wanker" because somebody who obviously knows and hates me (no small congregation) put that up on the web so that I often see it when setting out to write one of these pieces.

Turning aside, though, from that subject, and rejecting its implications as firmly as I can, I am drawing your attention to a good ole country and western lyric.

It was sent to me by my friend Peter Hobday, who runs Subscription Strategy - the best publication of its kind, full of sage. simple advice. If you go onto his site, maybe you can listen to it.

Anyhow it is dedicated to "all you car-owning copywriters who have ever had to pay a garage mechanic more than you charge for copy".

The song, by Alan Jackson, is a big hit in the USA, apparently, though as I can't even drive it was all double dutch to me.

The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues

The mechanic raised up from under my hood
He shook his head and said, “This ain’t good
Your timin’ belt’s done shrunk one size too small
Those spark plug wires are a little too long
And your main prodsponder’s nearly gone
Your injector ports are stripped and that ain’t all”
“The torque converter’s runnin’ low on torque
And that water pump’s nearly down a quart
But we caught it all in time so you’re in luck”
He said, “I’ve got the time and I’ve got the parts
Just give me the word and I’m ready to start
I think we can bring her in for eight hundred bucks”
But don’t be downhearted, I can fix it for you, sonny
It won’t take too long, it’ll just take money
Then he said, “Ain’t you that songwriter guy?”
I said, “Yes, I am,” he said, “So am I”
And he sat down and played me a song by the grease rack
When he finished singin’ he gave me a smile
And I closed my eyes and pondered awhile
And he said, “What do you think?
Now don’t hold nothin’ back”
Well, I gave him my most sorrowful look
And I said, “This song’s got a broken hook
I can order you a new one from Nashville but it won’t be cheap
And I know you’ve been using a cut-rate thesaurus
‘Cause your adverbs have backed up into your chorus
Now your verse is runnin’ on verbs that are way too weak”
But don’t be downhearted, I can fix it for you, sonny
It won’t take too long, it’ll just take money
And I said, “Hold on friend now I’m not through
I hate to be the one to give you the news
But your whole melodic structure’s worked itself loose
It’s got so many dotted eighth notes in it
I’d keep her under fifty beats per minute
I mean, that’s just me talkin’, it’s really up to you”
And you’ve got a bad safety problem with
That dominant chord with the augmented fifth
Just see how dangerously high it raises you up
So just go on over there and work on my car
I’ll sit here by the fan and chances are
I can straighten this thing out for eig…nine hundred bucks”
But don’t be downhearted, I can fix it for you, sonny
It won’t take too long, it’ll just take money
but don’t be downhearted, I can fix it for u, sonny
it won’t take too looooooonnnnnng,
You guessed it
It may be a hit
I like it

Written by Dennis Linde

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Do these phrases drive you mad, too?

There are a couple of expressions that drive me to fury. Actually, that’s a lie: there are dozens.

They include “activist” which means a busybody, often bogus, who gets someone else – usually us taxpayers - to subsidise various witless, useless and often deleterious activities, and “iconic” – often meaning slightly better than average.

Because activists have big mouths they often end up running things, usually into the ground. Robert Mugabe was a typical activist, by the way, before he graduated to mass murder. One sure sign was that he wore a uniform, though he never fought.

Hitler and Stalin were archetypal activists. Che Guevara was an iconic activist, but I haven’t got time to go into him now.

Another phrase that gets my goat is “opinion-former” meaning someone who talks or writes shit fluently and has thereby found a way to get paid for doing so. Opinion formers on both left and right in politics, you may recall, spent years telling us Gordon Brown was a financial genius when idiots like me kept saying the numbers showed he was a mendacious bully who couldn’t run a sweetshop.

Yet another phrase that infuriates me is “management consultant”. They are used by people who can’t manage. Simple as that. Do you think Rupert Murdoch, Richard Branson or Warren Buffet use them? Of course not.

And who do you suppose are the worst managers of all? Politicians. 15 months ago the National Audit Office (NAO) spent a fortune of our money finding out that these smooth-talking reptiles are 100% bloody useless although the Bliar and now Gordon and his pals squander £3 billion of public (that means our) money on them –and rising.

The report didn’t suggest management consultants were sometimes useful. It said they are a total waste of space. The best example was when the Inland Revenue “outsourced” – another stupid word which usually means abdicate responsibility for - the need to save £105 million in labour costs. They gave the job to consultants who charged them £106 million.

I found those snippets in Rod Liddle’s Spectator column, which rarely fails to make me laugh.

Now that we no longer put our faith in God, there’s no end of substitutes coming up. Also in The Spectator I read a commercial masquerading as an interview (conducted by a fledgling opinion-former, I fear) with a couple of “leadership coaches”.

I was irresistibly reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s remark that “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches. He actually adapted this smart-arse remark from a wiser one by Aristotle: “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

What most of these people know is how to sell, which is best achieved by two means: flattery and large promises. “Don’t know how to lead, pal? No problem: give us lots of money and we’ll teach you. And how very wise and brave of you to admit to your shortcomings.”

As Mike Cook, an organisational psychologist who has, it seems, coached scores of executives at Whitehead Mann, the "leadership consultancy" put it: “So many businessmen or women fail because they lack the humility to admit they got things wrong."

Another smoothie, Philippe Truffert, who runs the Carpe Diem coaching business, echoed him. It seems people come to him because they want to learn to be better - a pretty profound observation. "The fact they are here shows they have humility, which is a great starting point …All the people I talk to are aware of their flaws. They are eager to learn to work and think in more constructive ways.”

Actually I think leaders work things out for themselves. These people’s clients are humble because they realise they haven’t got a clue, but too idle to work things out for themselves, and they can usually get the business to pay the bill.

A bit like the government, really, except the business in question is us – but thank God they don’t ask “activists”.

Friday, 21 March 2008

An Australian talking dog story

Having been brought up in a pub I acquired a taste for silly jokes that has never left me, so I liked this one, sent to me by the publisher of Meininger's Wine Guide, for whom I am scratching my head to write an article.

Anyhow, here it is:

A guy was driving around the outback and saw a sign in front
of a broken down house: "Talking Dog For Sale".

He went up to the the front door & knocked.

The owner appeared and told him the dog was in the backyard.

The guy went into the backyard and saw a nice looking
blue heeler cattle dog sitting there.

"Do you talk?" he asked.

"Yep," the dog replied.

After the guy recovered from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he said:
"So, what's your story?"

The bluey looked up and said,

"Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young.

I wanted to help the government, so I told the Federal Police.

In no time at all, they had me jetting from country to country,
sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog
would be eavesdropping.

I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running.

But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any
younger so I decided to settle down.

Signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security,
wandering near suspicious characters and listening in.

I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch
of medals.

I got married, had a bunch of puppies, and now I'm just retired."

The guy was amazed. He went back inside and asked the owner
what he wanted for the dog.

"Ten dollars," the man said.

"Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you
selling him so cheap?"

"Because he's a liar. He never did any of that shit."

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Richly deserved comic masterpiece

You know how every now and then you read something and say "I wish I'd written that"?

For one reason or another I'm not really equipped to have written what follows, but how marvellous! It was sent to me by a lady in Australia - thanks, Chrissina!

It is a letter sent from an Austin woman to Procter and Gamble about their feminine products. She really gets rolling after the first paragraph. It's PC Magazine's 2007 editors' choice for best webmail-award-winning letter.

Dear Mr. Thatcher,

I have been a loyal user of your 'Always' maxi pads for over 20
years and I appreciate many of their features. Why, without the LeakGuard
Core or Dri-Weave absorbency, I'd probably never go horseback riding or
salsa dancing, and I'd certainly steer clear of running up and down the
beach in tight, white shorts. But my favorite feature has to be your
revolutionary Flexi-Wings. Kudos on being the only company smart enough to
realize how crucial it is that maxi pads be aerodynamic. I can't tell you how
safe and secure I feel each month knowing there's a little F-16 in my pants.

Have you ever had a menstrual period, Mr. Thatcher? I'm guessing
you haven't. Well, my time of the month is starting right now. As I
type, I can already feel hormonal forces violently surging through my body.
Just a few minutes from now, my body will adjust and I'll be transformed
into what my husband likes to call 'an inbred hillbilly with knife
skills.' Isn't the human body amazing?

As Brand Manager in the Feminine-Hygiene Division, you've no doubt
seen quite a bit of research on what exactly happens during your
customer's monthly visits from 'Aunt Flo'. Therefore, you must know about the
bloating, puffiness, and cramping we endure, and about our intense
mood swings, crying jags, and out-of-control behavior. You surely
realize it's a tough time for most women.

The point is, sir, you of all people must realize that America is
just crawling with homicidal maniacs in Capri pants... Which brings me
to the reason for my letter. Last month, while in the throes of cramping
so painful I wanted to reach inside my body and yank out my uterus, I
opened an Always maxi-pad, and there, printed on the adhesive backing,
were these words: 'Have a Happy Period.'

Are you f------ kidding me? What I mean is, does any part of your
tiny middle-manager brain really think happiness - actual smiling,
laughing happiness, is possible during a menstrual period? Did anything
mentioned above sound the least bit pleasurable? Well, did it, James? FYI,
unless you're some kind of sick S&M freak, there will never be anything
'happy' about a day in which you have to jack yourself up on Motrin and
Kahlua and lock yourself in your house just so you don't march down to the
local Walgreen's armed with a hunting rifle and a sketchy plan to end
your life in a blaze of glory.

For the love of God, pull your head out, man! If you have to slap a
moronic message on a maxi pad, wouldn't it make more sense to say
something that's actually pertinent, like 'Put down the Hammer' or
'Vehicular Manslaughter is Wrong',

Sir, please inform your Accounting Department that, effective
immediately, there will be an $8 drop in monthly profits, for I have chosen to
take my maxi-pad business elsewhere. And though I will certainly miss your
Flex-Wings, I will not for one minute miss your brand of condescending
bullshit. And that's a promise I will keep.

Always. . .

Wendi Aarons
Austin , TX

Monday, 17 March 2008

What is this noble lion doing?

Not a very clear picture, I'm afraid, but you must admit he is a magnificent beast.

He is lying at, or rather carved into the bottom of the staircase at the Hotel Plaza in Rome, an extraordinary place which epitomises early 20th century Italian manic-baroque.

Very few surfaces are left unornamented. There is much purple and gilt, there are fancy curlicues and plasterwork, plump maidens recline and laughing bacchante caper joyously across the painted ceilings. It is beyond overdone – the kind of decor which usually summons up words like “extravagant” and “riot”, but riot seems quite inadequate; perhaps “insurrection” is better.

Even the shower is an elaborate affair, with so many dials and levers it took me full five minutes to work out, more or less, how to operate it. I love the place. I hope some shrewd entrepreneur comes and takes it over, carefully restoring it, because it really is magnificent and wonderful – and the world will thank whoever does it.

A kind friend invited us to come over here to watch the Scotland-Italy rugby, and I thank him wholeheartedly. The game was magnificent and Italy won by a whisker. I was quite amazed when I read in an English paper that the Scots had "thrown it away". They never had control - any more than the Italians did.

As my partner is Italian I always feel it wise to support her team, and anyhow after ten years of being misruled by lying, corrupt, incompetent Scottish politicians, I feel increasingly inclined to hope they lose anyhow.

But I confess that the skirl of the pipes still stirs me; it’s a terrible shame we’re no longer one nation.

The meals, as usual in Italy, were magnificent. France just doesn’t compare any more.

Friday, 14 March 2008

It’s a mad world we live in, my masters

Here are three things that struck me when looking at the news tonight.

1. Why do the wrong people end up running things?

Or to put it another way, why does shit rise to the top? This occurred to me when reading the latest news about the interminable, dreary race to choose the next US president.

The chief requirement has nothing to do with statesmanship. It's just to raise enough money and come up with enough facile drivel to win the right to compete in the eventual vote.

It’s a sort of glorified beauty contest. In much the same way the people who end up running large firms are often just those who are good at politics.

2. Unfair! How come the richest man in the world is also such a superb writer?

The exceptions to my first thesis are the true entrepreneurs, which I guess applies to Warren Buffett.

Years ago David Ogilvy told me how beautifully written and funny Buffett’s annual reports are. In his latest he quotes the old country and western song, “I never went to bed with an ugly woman, but I sure woke up with a few” as an analogy to making a bad investment.

How can someone be so good at making money and such a good writer?

3. What would happen if we started killing Muslim clerics?

I see an Iraqi archbishop has been abducted and killed by some Muslim loonies. What would they say if we started doing the same to their clerics? It seems we’re expected to bend over backwards for them, but not vice-versa.

Mind you, I guess it’s wiser than bending over forwards ...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

An apology - and a comment

I usually write these things late at night, at insane hours in the early morning or in spare moments - and keep making silly mistakes as a result: yesterday I wrote "worst" instead of worse.

Apologies! I should be ashamed of myself.

But I thought you might be amused by a comment by my Aussie partner:

Further to your "lingerie is the new black", just saw some proprietary research for a charity that says "good is the new black". They gotta be kidding.

I might add that apart from being stupid they are wrong in implying that charity is all of a sudden in favour. Most charities are finding it harder than ever to raise money.

As usual researchers have it all wrong, because they a) actually believe what people say and b) actually believe that people know what they are going to do.

The best quote on this: "If I'd asked the customers they would have said they wanted a faster horse" - Henry Ford

My best recent example is an ad I wrote for the Prudential which research revealed the customers would never read. They much preferred another ad done by an agency called Tequila. My ad outpulled it by ten to one.

A footnote to this: you might think that after beating that agency in every one of series of tests we would have got the business. Of course not. Big businesses don't work that way. They prefer neat arrangements to more profit.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Why we’re in a worst state than we were

In an exchange last week I was talking about a man called Will Hutton who wrote a book essentially to promote the Bliar called “The State we’re in”.

(Incidentally, you can lay odds that anyone called Will is left wing. It's one of those phoney matey pseudo working class names. The last genuine one was Will Scarlett in Robin Hood).

Well if you want to know why we’re now in an even worse state, consider a few pieces of news over recent days.

1. 88% of British people want a referendum on whether we sign up to the latest version of the European Constitution. All three parties promised it. Two out of three reneged.

2. The powers that be feel that drug addicts, who are responsible for most crime, should not go to jail. Why not, when they can get drugs more easily there? Everyone would be happier.

3. A prostitute arrested in Ipswich for soliciting complained the council was doing nothing to help her get off drugs. Like a lot of people nowadays she thinks her problems belong to someone else.

4. London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone often appears drunk in public, praises and gives civic receptions to Arab and Irish terrorists and is a disgusting anti-Semite. His close associates are now under investigation for stealing money – three arrests so far. And who believes Ken knew nothing about what they all called "Ken's slush fund"? Yesterday he delivered a sermon lamenting that parents are raising their children with no sense of right or wrong. What an arsehole.

All that in the few days since I came back from Australia. Mind you, if I lived there, I would be a little worried about Kevin Rudd, who seems to have picked up a few hints from the Bliar.

One of Tony’s little wrinkles was that rather than do anything to solve problems he would set up a commission. That always puts things on hold for a couple of years while he thought up some new excuses.

Kevin is setting up commissions as fast as he can think up names for them. But he beats the Bliar for sheer effrontery.

After his first 100 days he got someone to write a report (which I guesss the tax payers paid for)on how wonderfully he was doing. Then he went on TV to tell the world.

This is known in yiddish as chutzpah. The best definition is the story of the man that murdered both his parents who said to the judge “How can you prosecute an orphan?”

Monday, 10 March 2008

Why does so much marketing stink?

It's a small world, they say. Maybe that's why people keep copying each other- badly.

We were walking through Duke of York Square near our Chelsea flat when we spotted a sign in the window of a posh shop.

It read - I'm not kidding - "Lingerie is the new black".

What is it with marketers that they are so utterly devoid of imagination?

Did the buffoon who dreamt this up not know how fatuous it is? Why not say "Elephants are the new giraffes"?

My old boss David Ogilvy called this sort of idiocy "Skidding about helplessly on the slippery surface of irrelevant creative brilliance" - except that this was neither creative nor brilliant.

It was just a silly copy of a line that has suffered a thousand deaths in the fashion business over the last ten or fifteen years. When it first came out it was a fairly neat idea if you were a fashionista. Now it's just like the local pub bore repeating his one not very funny joke - and screwing up the punch line.

Why does this kind of tripe get out? The answer is simple. People know no better. They lack guidance. They have not been trained and are too idle or stupid to train themselves.

Their bosses clearly know no better either. They think the answer is to hire good looking 23 year olds who've just emerged from the shambles of a lamentable education system which has failed to teach them to write well or think clearly.

Well, many years ago I was a fairly good looking 23 year old but I didn't get anywhere on looks. I got to be a copy chief by 25 in a well-known London agency by studying - by reading everything I could get my hands on.

The first book I ever read in the Manchester Central Library was called Copy- the Core of Advertising by Aesop Glim, which was the pseudonym of a columnist in Printer's Ink, the advertising magazine.

And funnily enough two nights ago over dinner I discovered that a friend who has won more Cannes Lion awards for direct marketing than anyone in the world had read the same book.

The key to success is good, knowledgable people. And the key to better people is training.

What am I going to do about it?

Well, last week with two infinitely more attractive and hardworking associates I went to Brussels to gain European Certification for a year long programme that is going to train people in direct and interactive marketing, mostly throughout Central and Eastern Europe, starting in June.

The idea was my partner's, and I wonder if she realised what we were getting outselves into. However, we already have 11 of the national Direct Marketing Associations keen to participate.

I hope to entertain myself through my declining years helping to make it succeed. One of the lectureres will be the friend I had dinner with - and another will be my Australian partner. Should be fun.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Loathsome media nag slapped down. Hurrah!

My Australian partner Mal sent me this, and I must say it filled me with fierce joy.

Major General Peter Cosgrove is an "Australian treasure” who was interviewed on the radio recently by one of those politically correct horrors who seem to emerge mysteriously like evil-smelling bubbles of gas from a swamp.

Germaine Greer is the first who comes to mind. My second wife Anna, whom I mentioned a few days ago used to work as a waitress with Germaine before she became famous.

We were both mystified by the way the papers used to say that Greer was beautiful when she had all the allure of clothes-peg with tits.

“Actually,” said Anna, “when I knew her she could never laid to save her life – and God knows she tried. The trouble is she was such a bore. Never stopped talking which put the men off. She was always bloody desperate.”

Anyhow, back to the story about the general.

Regardless of how you feel about gun laws, you'll love his reply to the interviewer, who was clearly one of You know: the sort you want to strangle.

It's one of the best comeback lines of all time. The General was about to sponsor a Boy Scout Troop visiting his military headquarters.


So, General Cosgrove, what things are you going to teach these young boys when they visit your base?


We're going to teach them climbing, canoeing, archery and shooting.


Shooting! That's a bit irresponsible, isn't it?


I don't see why, they'll be properly supervised on the rifle range.


Don't you admit that this is a terribly dangerous activity to be teaching children?


I don't see how. We will be teaching them proper rifle discipline before they even touch a firearm.


But you're equipping them to become violent killers.


Well, Ma'am, you're equipped to be a prostitute, but you're not one, are you?

End of interview. Ha!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Watch out, Ratatouille! Here comes Chef Bird

The first honest money I ever earned was in my parent's kitchen over 50 years ago. Their restaurant was in the Good Food Guide right from the first edition.

I'm still trying to cook - this is the salmonella king at work in Manly last Sunday, before catching the plane to Perth. Linguine alla Vongole e Cozze - more or less - with some superb 5 year old unoaked Chardonnay from Victoria, supplied by my old friend John Hancock. Nobody died yet, as far as I know.

Maybe I should stick to punctuation.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Are you out of your tree or what?

This morning I was going through my e-mails after getting back from Oz and I saw the dopiest invitation.

It was from the editor of a magazine called The Informed Executive.

It read - boringly and complete with mandatory jargon and the redundant quotation marks usually found on greengrocers' windows in Penge:

It may interest you that the business services edition opens with an interview with the DBERR Secretary of State, John Hutton, MP. That piece concludes with the 'message' that UK businesses need to be pro-active in doing business with Europe. If you are keen to raise your profile as a European player, this would be a good opportunity to do so.

God, what a breakthrough. Do they think we should be inactive?

More to the point, what can Mr. Hutton teach anyone in business?

His entire employment history before becoming a professional bullshitter under the Bliar reads:

Research Associate Templeton College. 1980-81
Senior Lecturer in Law at Newcastle Polytechnic 1981 – 92

Now, joking apart, what the hell could you learn from a man who has NEVER IN HIS LIFE WORKED IN A BUSINESS THAT HAD TO MAKE MONEY?

Very droll.

Maybe the mag should be called The Misinformed Executive. On second thoughts, though, maybe I’m being unfair. It does pay to know your enemy. Or perhaps this is some kind of post-ironic jape.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A few Aussie tales - and truths for you

Before I get going on this subject, if you're interested in marketing and you sometimes wonder why what happens happens, scroll down to December and read something about poltergeists, which I just found in draft and edited.

If it doesn't make you smile, I'll be surprised.

Now to my subject.

The English tend to make stupid jokes about the Australians, as most of the first white settlers were criminals.

The jokes are stupid because hardly any of those people were what we would call criminals now. If you look at the appalling misery most people lived in, you'd have had to be a saint or stupid to stay honest. The choice was simple: steal or starve.

However, the chief criminals here now are often - just like everywhere else - the grimy politicians and their henchmen. I learned this the first time I came , in 1971. I had a beautiful new wife called Anna, was so broke I lived under a false name, and came out to stay with her parents - and to try and make some money.

I failed dismally - and the one thing that would have made me successful I never even tried. I asked people about mail order, and they said there was no future for it. Like the idiot I am I took their word for it. Ha!

Anna had been a world-class dancer with the Katherine Dunham ballet, a top model and was actually a Maori Princess. She was a pretty remarkable woman. She introduced female wrestling in Australia - and her description of that was hilarious.

She had also worked in politics and was engaged before she met me to a powerful politician called Lionel Murphy Q. C., who became Attorney General, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Lionel ended up indicted for taking bribes or something equally shady, and only beat the rap by dying of a heart attack - no surprise because he drank like a fish. During that visit Anna and I had a memorable lunch with him during which he drank wine out of two glasses.

Then he took us up to his office and showed us all the legislation he would put through if they got elected - which he did. "And the person who inspired me to do all this was your wife," he added.

My most memorable day that visit was driving from Sydney to Canberra with Anna and a gay friend called Michael who had worked in stockbroking and politics. He told us all about the crooked stuff that went on - and still does - for which there is a wonderful Aussie word, "shonky".

Judging by the front page of The Australian yesterday, nothing much has changed. The PM of New South Wales seems to have some rather shady friends, there's massive corruption going on in one of the local councils - even Berlusconi would be impressed.

My most memorable afternoon on that long ago visit was spent drinking with one of Anna's ex-boyfriends, Clyde Packer - brother of Kerry. Clyde was actually his father's favoured heir, but they had a row. When Clyde took Anna to meet his father, the legendary Sir Frank Packer, the old rogue tried to put his hand up her skirt.

Don't blame him. God, she was beautiful.

My most memorable sight was a TV show which featured film of a few Sydney detectives taking bribes. You could see the cash, hear the conversations - everything. Then they interviewed the chief of the crime squad, after showing him the film.

"What do have to say about that?"

"What?" was the reply.

"The bribe taking."

"What bribe taking? What are you talking about?"

Talk about nerve.

The only people I've seen that worried me more than that lot were the terrifying security guards in our hotel in Kiev last year, who had obviously got the job because they were too villainous to fit in with the normal criminal community.

But that's another story.

This is hilarious - really

My friend George Machun works for a university in San Francisco, so I guess he does a lot of "research", or how come he sends me so many jokes.

I got this one this morning - taken from Craig's List. Really, when Americans are funny, they're funnier than anyone

To the Crazy-bat-shit-lady who picked up the free fridge

Date: 2007-11-30, 10:06PM EST

Dear Crazy-As-Bat-Shit-Lady:

I am honored that you chose my ad for a mini fridge out of all the ads you could have chosen. It makes me feel good that my mini fridge will be supplying you with the ice cold beverages you've obviously become accustomed to.

Next time you answer one of my ads, please note the following:

1. I am not Home Depot. If you travel thirty minutes to pick up a bulky 40-pound object, please come prepared with the necessary items you'll need to secure it to your vehicle. Yes, I have rope. I have a lot of rope. I have many different colors and sizes of rope. No, you can not have my rope. The ad said I was giving away a fridge, not a fridge with rope. Nor was I offering a fridge with padding so that the pleather seats on your piece of crap 89 ford pinto with no hub caps car don't get marked up.

2. What part of ' must pick up' in the ad was confusing to you? Yes, I have a vehicle. No, I don't want to haul your fridge all the way to East BumbleFuck on the coldest day of the year. No, I'm really really sure I don't want to do that. No, really. I'm sure.

3. Please call me only once with ALL your questions. I left for the day, and had 5 messages on my answering machine, the last one was at 11:30 pm. Frankly lady, you were sounding a bit too crazy by the end of the day. It's a fridge. A small metal box that keeps shit cold. I don't have the fridge's family tree. For all I know the fridge's was conceived by a slutty young Maytag that graced some hillbilly's side porch. I don't know the exact age of the fridge. I bought it a few years ago, I used it for a couple of months, ok, I lied, I used it a whole year. The fact is, you're not buying a race horse, you're buying a used fridge.

4. No, I will not throw in a couple bucks of gas money to pick it up because your anal retentive eyes picked up the ittiest, bittiest hairline scratch with a microscope so it wasnt completly described. I'm not making judgements on you, but I'm pretty damn sure Donald Trump didn't send you across the state to pick up a used fridge for Trump Towers. Though I'd wager the whole concept of the mini-fridge bar is a familar one to you.

5. Yes, you can unplug a fridge without any harm to the fridge. Believe me, the fridge is fine. The manufacturers have figured out a way to extend the life of a fridge that has been unplugged. Yes, I'm absolutely sure of that. No, you did not have to leave 2 messages about your concerns with the fridge being unplugged, and frankly it was a little embarrassing having the same conversation with you in my driveway where my neighbors could hear.

6. No, I don't have the operating instructions. I can write them down for you though: Plug fridge in. Open door. Put crap inside. Take crap out when it's cold. Eat or drink crap.

7. I am not a fridge pimp. I don't have any more fridges at that price.No i dont have one in a diffrent color to match your other appliances, No, I don't know where you can get another fridge just like this one for your friend. Yes, I know it's in great condition, and I'm sure you'd like your other crazy-as-bat-shit-mini-fridge-finding-friends to have one just like it, but this is all I have. Here's a thought, there's this online classified ads website. Yeah, you may have heard of it, it's called CRAIGSLIST. I dunno, maybe, just maybe, in this great land of ours, there's another mini-fridge being advertised there.

8. Please remove my phone number from your address book. I think our relationship is over. Oh, and if you've added me to your AIM Buddy List, please delete me. Please. I beg you.

Yours truly,

the guy that gave you the fridge

Location: jersey
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

PostingID: 494903542