While sitting on my throne in the undisturbed sanctuary of our bathroom the other night, because they can and very often do, another new train of thought railroaded its way through my ever so, over-active mind…
“How do you get to be memorable then?”, it pondered. “What elusive combination of words, a catchphrase or tagline if you will, would one need to use to concoct something so instantly memorable that I would immediately come to mind whenever services like mine would be needed? And then, having found anything remotely like that, what would have to be done to make it stick?”
Time for a little exploration maybe…
First off then, who were all the extraordinary people whose sayings and aphorisms cram the pages of dictionaries of quotations? Were they all supermen (“My name is Batman, my parents are dead”)? Or maybe they were geniuses from whose lips even the most idle of chatter fell in pure crystal form, gathering symmetry, brilliance and momentum in Newton’s newly found gravity on the way down (“Apples fall down?”)?
Were they hell as like!
More likely, they spent most of their time being just plain and ordinary folks – just like you and me – trudging around worrying about their water rates, eleven o’clock shadow, anniversary presents and codeine induced constipation. But – unlike you and me – they luckily once said something really bright, realised its potential and went out and flogged it like mad.
Compare and contrast the average conversationalist who fills an awkward gap at a party with, “I said something really memorable last Thursday at the Gabba – damned if I can remember what it was now.”
Of course memorability of this nature does depend, to a certain extent, on who you are and what you do.
For instance, if it is dark and I hallow out, “Let there be light!” at best somebody will turn on the light and forget that I ever asked them.
If on the other hand, I had just created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and had looked upon my works and had seen that they were good (and I have testimonials to prove it), perhaps then people would take a lot more notice of what I said. Or if not, at least I could maybe become an electrician and work on the switching or my writings would attract a lot more attention than they do at present.
As a case in point, take Archimedes…
As I am sure you will all recall, he was an Ancient Greek charged with inventing rudimentary physics while sitting in the bath, and who at some point in time, amid other Eureka!! moments also said, “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the earth.”; Thus anticipating the wishes of the Ayatollah Khomeini by a good two and a half thousand years.
Despite all that, I think Archimedes’ greatest achievement was to make up a quote so rock solid that it could travel intact down the hundred and fifty generations from the sacking of the city of Syracuse to the ink-stained hands of the typesetters of the elementary school edition of ‘Physics Can Be Fun.’
I am sure that he had to work hard at it though. I mean, it’s not the sort of remark that would survive long if just dropped casually into a conversation over an after dinner mint and an amphora of coffee.
You’ll realise what Archimedes was fully up against…
when you recall that during the Watergate affair, President Nixon was recorded as saying to a henchman, “Get on with the cover up”, and that this was reported for a limited posterity of two months as “I’ve got no plans for a cover up.”; Likewise with Clinton’s “I didn’t have sexual relations, that was cock-a-leaky soup on her dress” saga.
Taking into account this kind of short term distortion then, I estimate that the entire recorded history of mankind has all the reliability of a chain gang of myopic lip-readers muttering “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.”*
There is no doubt in my mind then that Archimedes must have bust a gut in order to protect that sentence of his from similar degradation and distortion. He would not have been able to trust even the most reputable contemporary journalists such as Thycydides (author of ‘The Athenian Disaster In Sicily’), Herodotus (of Reuter’s), Homer (an independant) and Euripides (of the Times) along with many others like Sophocles, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle and Euclid (who were all last seen cobbling together a documentary on cuttle fish).
Even they would probably report it as ‘Archimedes To Start New World Movement’ or possibly ‘Give Me A Long Leave Says Pacifist Archimedes’, in which case he would have gone down as being the inventor of the conscientious objector, and the Archimedean Screw would have meant something completely different.
To be certain that history was going to get him right, he must have covered all the angles. He must have spent all his free afternoons hanging around the agora (market-place), making sure that all and sundry heard him say it.
“Hi there! I’m Archimedes – hey, listen, give me a lever long enough…”
He may even have given concerts too. Much as today the young folk flock to Madison Square Gardens to hear groups like The Kitchen Sink Units play songs like ‘Sod Everything’, so the Ancient Greeks must have pressed up against the earthworks of the winter quarters when the word got round that Archimedes was coming on to do his ‘lever’ number in the second half.
He probably saturated Syracuse with it. (This is Syracuse in Sicily, by the way. At that time, Syracuse, New York, was occupied by wild, half-dressed savages. As indeed it still is to this very day). The whole town would have been buzzing with it after a few weeks. Children would be humming it in the streets. It would be scribbled on lavatory walls, carved into pencil boxes, etched onto breast-plates, taught to parrots and tattooed onto slaves.
And so, when the Romans moved in on little Syracuse, bringing with them the benefits of paved roads, colonial governments and nouns ending in –um… Archimedes’ little sentence had happily survived the death of his city. It then passed intact through the Dark Ages in Latin and via the East in Persian and later Arabic, through the Renaissance in what the Florentines flattered themselves was Italian, and finally through the cack-handed printers and boss-eyed proof readers of the Caxton Press Ltd. where his now English version sailed, still somehow intact into the scholarly physics syllabus, where it now nestles against other perpetual truths about the squaw on the Potomac, and Einstein’s E = mc2.
It all makes me wonder if any of my little off the cuff witticisms like ‘Andy Robinson – a Handy Man to Know’ (emphasis added, please don’t ever forget me!!), will ever really make the grade then. I came out with some real beauties last week, honest I did, but unfortunately, at the time, my official biographer was unavoidably non-existent, so they remain to this day, unrecorded.
And so, in order to redress this lack of foresight on my part, I’m thinking of holding an ultra up to the minute whizz-bang webinar party wotsit doodah thingamajig, when I’ll basically be saying all of my most notable remarks again for all posterity. By all means, come along if you’re free. Any time will do. And don’t worry about bringing a bottle either, just bring some indestructible paper and indelible ink… anything to help me go viral.
And for the time being, if you could commit the following to memory…
LOCALAD SERVICES HANDYMAN ASSIST ARE PROBLEM SOLVERS AND SOLUTION PROVIDERS FOR ALL HOME AND BUSINESS OWNERS WANTING ALL THEIR ANNOYING BUILDING PROBLEMS SOLVED QUICKLY AND EFFICIENTLY…
that would be great.
And of course, let’s not forget, a place to stand and a long enough lever. Or words to that effect.
*Years ago some military orders had to be sent via a series of radio relays. Each radio operator would listen to a command and then repeat it to the next operator in series. If you have ever played the game “Chinese whispers” you may know the result of this process. Here is the example I just used of the initial military order and the final result: Send reinforcements. We are going to advance. ~ Send three and four pence. We are going to a dance.