In So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, the late Douglas Adams introduced us to a minor character by the name of John Watson or, as he preferred to be called, Wonko the Sane. Those who’ve read it will probably recall Wonko’s unusual house and the reason for it being that way, but for those who don’t know the story here is how the book puts it.
His house was certainly peculiar, and since this was the first thing that Fenchurch and Arthur had encountered it would help to know what it was like. It was like this:
It was inside out.
Actually inside out, to the extent that they had had to park on the carpet.
All along what one would normally call the outer wall, which was decorated in a tasteful interior-deisgned pink, were bookshelves, also a couple of those odd three-legged tables with semicircular tops which stand in such a way as to suggest that someone just dropped the wall straight through them, and pictures which were clearly designed to soothe.
Where it got really odd was the roof.
It folded back on itself like something that M. C. Escher, had he been given to hard nights on the town, which it is no part of this narrative’s purpose to suggest was the case, though it is sometimes hard, looking at his pictures, particularly the one with all the awkward steps, not to wonder, might have dreamed up after having been on one, for the little chandeliers which should have been hanging inside were on the outside pointing up.
The sign above the front door read “Come Outside,” and so, nervously, they had.
Inside, of course, was where the Outside was. Rough brickwork, nicely done pointing, gutters in good repair, a garden path, a couple of small trees, some rooms leading off.
And the inner walls stretched down, folded curiously, and opened at the end as if, by and optical illusion which would have had M. C. Escher frowning and wondering how it was done, to enclose the Pacific Ocean itself.
“Your wife,” said Arthur, looking around, “mentioned some toothpicks.” He said it with a hunted look, as if he was worried that she might suddenly leap out from behind a door and mention them again.
Wonko the Sane laughed. It was a light easy laugh, and sounded like one he had used a lot before and was happy with.
“Ah yes,” he said, “that’s to do with the day I finally realized that the world had gone totally mad and built the Asylum to put it in, poor thing, and hoped it would get better.”
This was the point at which Arthur began to feel a little nervous again.
“Here,” said Wonko the Sane, “we are outside the Asylum.” He pointed again at the rough brickwork, the pointing, and the gutters. “Go through that door” — he pointed at the first door through which they had originally entered — “and you go into the Asylum. I’ve tried to decorate it nicely to keep the inmates happy, but there’s very little one can do. I never go in there myself. If I ever am tempted, which these days I rarely am, I simply look at the sign written over the door and I shy away.”
“That one?” said Fenchurch, pointing, rather puzzled, at a blue plaque with some instructions written on it.
“Yes. They are the words that finally turned me into the hermit I have now become. It was quite sudden. I saw them, and I knew what I had to do.”
The sign read:
“Hold stick near center of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.”
“It seemed to me,” said Wonko the Sane, “that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.”
And it’s Wonko the Sane and his house that immediately spring to mind when I read, via Watts Up With That, that fat people are the latest cause of warble gloaming and via this PR that watching TV is as bad for you as smoking. I wish I was making that second one up, and I still hope that I’ve fallen for a joke, but but I’m afraid it’s probably meant seriously.
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We’ve known for some time that Niemöller’s warning is as relevant today as it ever was, that as victories are won over the smokers and drinkers the rest of us would come in for our turn, and that the salad dodgers would be among the first. And now I think the next couple of phases are becoming clear. Your weight isn’t just your problem anymore, it’s not just for your own good that the swivel-eyed are exhorting you to lose weight. No, it’s also essential to help stop warble gloaming. Yes, folks, we have identified passive obesity, and since we’re also going to be told that TV is as bad as smoking – no qualification, no consideration to the obvious differences between, say, an hour’s telly time after a hard afternoon’s slob and an hour’s telly time after a daily 10km cycle followed by a warm down and a shower – we can expect passive TV watching to be only around the corner. Christ’s sake! I’d intended to sit down with Mrs Exile this evening and watch Sons of Anarchy together over some delicious take-away food from Urban Burger* just up the road in Balaclava.** Actually I still do intend to, but I’m wondering how much longer we’ll be allowed to get away with it if we’re going to be told it’s bad for us and accused of raping polar bears to death with our wanton secondary televisioning.
Wonko the Sane was very nearly correct: the world, or at least quite a lot of people who have a disproportionate say in its running, is completely mad. Where Wonko was wrong is the nature of the insanity. It’s not the harmless* and almost genteel lunacy of the Adam’s H2G2 universe, but a vicious psychosis that increasingly seems determined to stamp out anything it does not approve of – freedom, mostly – and isn’t at all reticent in coming up with all kinds of reasons why having your liberty reduced and removed is A Good Thing. Why you must be nudged into it if you don’t want to and punished if you refuse is rarely far behind.
And so I find Wonko the Sane’s take on house design increasingly appealing. So appealing, in fact, that I might have applied for planning permission if it wasn’t for the problem that there isn’t the faintest hope of the inmates of The Asylum granting it. I’ve also spotted a critical flaw in the design. Remember that door that Wonko pointed out to Arthur and Fenchurch, the door they had just opened and walked through minutes before to come in from The Asylum?
I reckon it needs a big fucking lock on it.
* Which incidentally serves delicious burgers and chips, and preempts the possibility of food packaging legislation in the future by putting them in plain brown paper bags. I’m absolutely not making that up, and even if it is just coincidental I wouldn’t bet against it one day coming in handy for them.
** Yes, I’m still in Melbourne, not the Crimea, and no, I have no idea why a landlocked local suburb is called Balaclava. After the battle, I think, but why exactly and why that battle I can’t imagine.