MAJOR'S CORNER Maj. (retired) Nigel Smythe-Brown
Let no one say that I do not adore my club. However, there is a little stumbling evident these days in the senior reading room; people are talking where they should be reading. I don't mean an occasional whisper of inquiry or pre-condolence for the chap dying in the corner, but a full-blown discourse on subjects such as "Is that a nose hair?" and other banalities.
The room, for those in the dark, has in its very name the word "reading," which shouts "No talking!" to most of civilized society.
In my early days, it was the norm if one heard loud chatter to call out "Order," which silenced the guilty immediately. No longer, I am afraid. Today the place is fairly burbling with discussion, much of it inane.
There were moments in the past when speaking out could not be helped, such as in the case of Mr. Combe-Over in the late 1930s, who between bites of a cucumber sandwich quietly said, "I see that we are at war." You take my point. It was done with taste and a strict observance of need. Nothing else was said, only a sad nodding of nearby heads.
During the Depression, a put-upon stockbroker shouted that he was ruined because he had overbought soon-to-be-arriving pork bellies. He was told to pipe down. Shortly afterward, depressed and out of sorts, he leapt from a nearby window. However, as he was only on the second floor, he landed safely in the large rhododendron bush with only a torn shirt. Fortuitously, a salesman with an oversupply of portable stoves happened to be passing as the broker landed. They struck up a friendship and become partners in a large number of hotdog stands, making an unexpected fortune.
Silence in this roaring world of ours is very nearly unknown, and contemplation of any kind is almost out of the question. Where must large silent types go to write sonnets to strong moustachioed women with athletic leanings?
A friend of mine has been spending time in the rear pews of churches in an attempt to find the lovely sound of nothing, in order to finish the many works of Friedrich Nietzsche, which he has been trying to do for 30 years. The only problem lies with his wretched sobbing at the less-than-happy contents, which has caused several concerned priests to grant him absolution, just in case.
Many of us at the club remember watching the World Cup from South Africa a few years ago with the sound turned down because of the noise created by those dreadful horn thingies. The sorry upshot was that the commentary was unavailable to us, and so we stared mutely at the goings-on.
It is one thing when solitary souls wish to deafen themselves with their own devices, but to impose the unasked-for bellowing on the innocent public is appalling. The situation was not helped by a colonel firing his elephant gun from the club balcony in answer to the sharp sounds coming from below. The police arrived and removed the squirming soldier, who believed somehow by his gesture others might follow, but what? We simply called for more drink.
On another plane, one of the few joys of having reached an age such as mine is that I occasionally am asked to advise schoolchildren on careers. At my last appearance, several children asked me what will be the best job in the future. I answered without thinking: "Tattoo removal."
I went on to say that in a few years, tattoo regret will hit like a flaming meteorite as people realize the force of gravity has pulled what was once a perky face on a chest into Edvard Munch's The Scream.
Both teachers staring at me were vigorously tattooed. I left shortly thereafter, wishing I had noticed before.
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