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16 July 2007


'Never a borrower or a lender be,' my Uncle used to say, and perhaps inevitably the bank sacked him

By Simon Munnery

Recently I’ve been thinking about the many forms of help.

Advice is the easiest to give, and the least use.

President Truman said: “I’ve found the best way to give advice to my children is to find out what they want to do, and then advise them to do it.”

“If you want my advice…” folk say, and before you’ve had a chance to say “No! No! A thousand times No!” it’s too late, they’ve told you anyway. Normally it’s something you’ve already considered and rejected – wisely realising you don’t have the strength to carry it out. Giving up smoking, for example, or taking up potholing.

“If I were you…” folk say. I think “You’re not, and never will be, so let’s not even go down that road – and please refrain from imagining yourself in my shoes; I consider it rude, an invasion of privacy.”

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In circles of power the role of the adviser is sinister; the power behind the throne; cunning puppet master. Yet when things go wrong it’s usual for the leader to sack his advisors; blaming the advice giver rather than the one that took it.

There is advice in sayings, and the law is a form of advice, backed up by truncheons.

‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise’ runs the adage. Wise? It may be wise to get an early night, but it won’t make you wise: you do not become wise by sleeping; or university courses would feature a compulsory coma.

“Never a borrower or a lender be” my Uncle used to say, and perhaps inevitably the bank sacked him.

Riddle me this my riddle me roo: What are broken before they are made?

Rules, as a rule.

We make a rule after a problem has arisen; people kept crashing their cars while drunk : no drink driving.

The tenth commandment runs “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour”.

Presumably slaves, oxen and donkeys were common at the time. Nowadays it looks a little dated; and you’d presume God would have a bit of foresight and could have perhaps included Porsche in the list, just for us.

Moses came down from the mountain
With The Law on a stone twice single
Generations of lawyers each added their own
And buried it under a mountain of shingle.

Ask, ye shall be given
Beg: driven away
Nag, ye shall be ignored
God is a DJ.
He doesn’t do requests.

Giving money is a form of help I try to refrain from.

The announcement runs ‘Please be aware that professional beggars are operating in this station’. But how are they operating? Are they operating normally – or is there a restricted service? More information please. And what’s so bad about professional beggars anyway – surely it’s the amateur ones that deserve our disdain; those who earn a living in some other fashion and beg just for fun.

I notice I no longer give money to beggars that are sitting down. The game’s moved on, and it’s high time they realised this. The beggar I shell out to is the one that spots me from a distance, knows my type, which strings to pull, and even though I take avoiding action still manages to engineer an encounter. Then the story begins; hardship and woe and somewhere they’ve got to get to – the longer it goes on the more you owe them. It’s pure theatre, a bit like the West End, but with better acting.

“Help me if you can I’m feeling down” sang the Beatles. What had they got to be depressed about?

“You may say I’m a dreamer” sang Lennon after the split. Presumably someone had accused him of being a dreamer; in the pejorative sense, someone who spends his time dreaming rather than getting on with something useful; and if so the next line does nothing to rebut the accusation – “but I’m not the only one”. If something is bad there being more than one of it is worse surely not better… “You may say I’m a Nazi, but I’m not the only one…”

But perhaps the greatest forms of help are those innumerable forms that you have received and continue to receive without even being slightly aware of them. That your skin doesn’t blow off in the wind, that the ground beneath your feet is not molten rock, that the sewage system functions adequately – all the things you take for granted, and the whole mysterious gift of life. The correct position is surely gratitude; but gratitude is tiring – and a tad demeaning, particularly when you feel you can’t reciprocate the generosity you’ve been shown. And how can you with the gift of life? Ah, there’s one way….

I should be more grateful to my parents. That I’m not is their fault: they should have raised me to be more grateful.