Sunday, May 25, 2014

Catch 22

I was thinking about books that I'd like to read or reread and Joseph Heller's amazing, absurdist novel, "Catch 22" came to my mind. I remember being about 17 or 18 years old when I first read the novel, and when I finished it, the first thing I did was start reading it again. Over the years I must have read it 4 or 5 times though I probably haven't read it for 15 years. So I went into my local bookshop today and bought it. It is such a unique work that it goes down as one of those things that you either love or hate, there is no middle ground with Catch 22. I personally love it, from the first line "It was love at first sight", through the bizarre characterizations and incidents which can be funny, tragic, absurd and shockingly close to the bone. I will be reading this again in the coming days. It was the 50th Anniversary edition of the novel and this brought a few things to my mind: words, catch 22's, and anniversaries.

A catch 22 situation has become part of our everyday language, but before Heller's 1961 novel, it was an unknown term. The term Catch 22 describes a situation where the only logical solution is denied by something which is part of the problem. The novel's absurd principle sees the main character trying to get out of the war he is in by claiming to be insane. The catch for him is that the army doesn't accept that people who are insane can see that they are insane, therefore anyone claiming to be insane, must be sane!

We now use the term more broadly for a no win situation, or just a situation with no apparent solution. A simple example of a catch 22 situation is when we lock our keys in the car, or the house (yes, I'm sure this has happened to most of us!). The catch is that we need the keys to open the door to get to the keys, but the keys are behind the door that we can't get through because we don't have the keys....very frustrating!

I've recently written quite a bit about words and it interests me how languages develop, and keep developing. Some words are used forever, some become antiquated, some obsolete while new words and phrases are adopted into our vocabulary. It seems to me, for instance, that computer jargon has completely revolutionised our language, with people using acronyms, and textspeak in their daily conversations. However, it's all about communication and while I'm not a fan of some phases that I hear (lols...OMG, makes me want to barf!) I'm happy that our language is developing and not stagnating.

A similar phrase to catch 22 is a Hobson's Choice. This is a situation you are offered a choice with only one option. Apparently, it derives from a Thomas Hobson who owned a stables and offered his horses on the basis that anyone who wanted a horse had to have the one nearest the stable door, or none at all. Thomas Hobson was alive in the 16th and 17th centuries, and this was a phrase that was still used a fair bit in the south of England when I was growing up in the 1970's. Unfortunately, I haven't heard it much recently, so I guess it is falling into the rarely used, antiquated, or even obsolete categories.

One thing I do find odd is how quickly we adopt these words and phrases. I mean, 50 years isn't really that long in the scheme of things, yet the term Catch 22 seems somehow much older. There are 2 anniversaries coming up in my life soon. This year I will have been married to my beautiful Caroline for 20 years, and not long after that, it will be her 50th birthday. To me, there is an odd feeling about our relationship as I can't believe how quickly those 20 years have flown by, yet at the same time, it seems as if I have known Caroline for much longer. It is simply that time moves swiftly while feelings grow deeply.

While we were in the book shop today where I was buying Catch 22, Caroline bought me a present.

Knowing that I enjoy a snifter (see last Sunday's post for the meaning of snifter) of whisky once in a while, she bought me a little book on the subject. I've tried quite a few in the book, but still have some to go, and the book deals with whiskies from around the world, whereas I tend to go for Scottish single malts. I thought I'd have a quick look across the internet to see if there are any 50 year old Whiskies around, and of course, there are. For instance, a Master of Malt 1964 vintage will cost a mere $675 a bottle (not sure if that includes shipping). But I guess if you were really to go for it, then it would be a Dalmore 50 year old decanter, coming in at a cool $7,500 from whisky exchange.

And another anniversary coming up is 10 years of living in Australia. We arrived here in early 2005, so by this time next year, we'll be in our second decade of life in Melbourne. Again the time seems to have gone quickly, and perhaps the biggest change to my life has been the move from English publife to Melbourne Cafe culture. While I still enjoy a tipple of whisky once in a while, I now drink coffee daily. I have regular haunts that I love but I'm always on the look out for new places. I've found a cafe which seems to connect with me so I think I'm going to give it a tryHusband in South Yarra.

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