Seeing as it’s Christmas Day, and from memory the first time this column has been published on this festive occasion, I thought I would wrap some Christmas wisdom. I’m a wee bit short of goodwill though, so there may be a tongue-in-cheek edge to these, some famous, words of others, given their context. Cynical or sarcastic, but I’m neither talented nor witty enough for either. So, maybe just call me the grinch this year huh?
Civil servants are rarely visible, infrequently held to account, faceless, humorless, tragic really, they were the ‘almost’ kids in class, but never invited to parties. Often, they did ‘turn up,’ oblivious to their idiosyncrasies, the affectations that have molded them beyond choosing the civil service because it was ‘safe.’ Sir Winston Churchill was right when he intimated, they were “no longer civil,” and “no longer servants.” He found an unlikely ally in Quentin Crisp, of ‘Naked Civil Servant’ fame, who identified them as, “the outcasts. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of contempt, eventually find that without moving, they live in its metropolis.” However, they pale into insignificance when compared to politicians and lawyers.
Politicians greet us all, but we can smile and reflect that we usually get what we voted for, aka asked for, so can’t really complain, can we? Though that sonorous wit, Mark Twain said something like, ‘if our votes made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.’ But an obscure Portuguese diplomat and author with the grand name of José Maria de Eça de Queirós said, we ‘should regularly change both diapers and politicians, for the same reason.’ So, he may have been obscure, but that, for me, is cutting edge humor. Likewise, Henry Menken made his living as a satirist, and commented that ‘the odds of finding a good politician were as unthinkable as finding a good burglar.’ I just love this stuff.
Lawyers. Well, we can’t do with them, and can’t do without them. It’s in their DNA to see good people at their worst and bad people at their best I guess, but just trying to get a house purchase across the line, even after a mortgage broker has sourced the funds, is a challenge that always seems to be held up by Father Time. It’s almost inconceivable that the change of ownership for a motor vehicle can take just minutes, and cost only a pittance, whereas house conveyancing can take months. When a seller wants to sell, a buyer wants to buy, and the money is sorted, is it only the cynic in me that suspects chicanery? Maybe I should ask a lawyer? They do have long lunch breaks.
Put them all together and you have a cluster for the ages, for as famed ‘Monkey trial’ lawyer Clarence Darrow wrote, “lawyers are natural politicians,” and career mob boss Carlo Gambini said, “lawyers and politicians have a license to steal, I don’t need a license.” Now we may or may not believe the No 1 most wanted of his time, but who are we to contradict him? And the glitterati of culture and the arts have a distaste for either, George Orwell calling both ‘egoists,’ Renoir saying they were ‘monsters,’ Plato labelling them, ‘irresponsible,’ while Joan Giraudoux wrote, “No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as lawyers interpret the truth.”
It’s been said that gamblers are the greatest students of human nature, pilots are playboys, that blondes have more fun. That our theologians see our foolishness, teachers understand us, doctors identify our weaknesses, politicians survive on, and play on, our naivety, dance keeps us young, and exercise keeps us alive. However, it’s lawyers who see and exploit our wickedness, so it’s I guess only fair that we can see them in the image of a rhinoceros! Short-sighted, thick-skinned, and always ready to charge.
At least the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, whose ‘halo’ has tarnished recently, had the good grace to admit to her faux pas this week, so she survives, and we can all laugh about it now. Maybe that’s our naivety kicking in...