It ain’t necessarily so

This much I know is true: don’t trust those who say things with absolute certainty.

Back in primary school, they told me I couldn’t subtract a big number from a little number.

“Don’t even try,” said crow-faced Mrs Pillay, leaning in, breath smelling of cough drops and decay.

“You’ll rip a hole in the space-time continuum. Winged goblins will steal your parents and the family dog will eat your face while you sleep.”

Of course, the rules of mathematics changed significantly when I got to big school.


There are things people say that make sense when you first hear them. But as George and Ira Gershwin once suggested in a song, It Ain’t Necessarily So.

Here are seven:

“Teaching is a noble profession.”

Mrs Pillay aside, it strikes me that the vast majority of teachers aren’t responding to any sort of calling.

Friends tell me tales of teachers who helped them turn their lives around, got them off crack and inspired them to live out their wildest dreams of life in actuarial science or network administration.

I wasn’t so lucky.

I had this handicraft teacher. Serious, moustached, tie curling up at the end from years without dry-cleaning. We didn’t get along. He turned my re-imagining of a desk lamp into a term-long running gag. I didn’t find it funny.

One day, he stopped the class — no words, just a raised hand — and sang an unsolicited and unimaginably bad rendition of Nights in White Satin, then ran out of the class crying about how he wanted so much more.

For the good of the listening public, I’m glad he didn’t get it. I disagree with Kulula; not everyone should fly.

“Medicine is a noble profession.”

No, like the rest of us, they’re in it for the money.

“If women ruled the world, there would be no war.”

Women in positions of power do no better at upholding human-rights standards or keeping the peace than men. Proving the point are Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Condie Rice.

Perhaps there wouldn’t be quite as much bloodshed. But how would you like to suffer through the mind games, the manipulation, the doublespeak? There would be a war, of course. It would just be a cold one.

If Hillary wins the American presidential race, what, exactly, will it mean when she ends negotiations with North Korea with the word “Fine” followed by a loud sigh?

“Organic is better.”

Personally, I like my bananas to look like they were engineered in a lab using a precision geometry set and a Pantone chart to get exactly the right shade of yellow.

Still, I’m glad that Woolworths now gives us the option of spending more money on sweet potatoes that look like the wizened fingers of a fairytale witch. Who needs the pink, plump, unnaturally merry-looking spuds that years of genetic modification have brought us?

I understand that there are those who enjoy a bit of sand in their sandwiches. I respect that you might want a bit of humus in your hummus. That’s fine. Understand, though, that not everything organic is good for you.

A few organic things that are a great threat to your health include:

  • Organic beef, still on the bull, charging at you through a field;
  • A sharp organic stick applied to the body in a stabbing motion;
  • Anthrax.
  • “Children are innocent.”

    Anybody who says this has obviously never been a kid.

    “Old people are wise.”

    The divided history of South Africa might have a lot to do with it, but I find sage old people to be outnumbered by dirty old bigots.

    Recently, I’ve been trying to give the Bygone Brigade a chance, listening out for pearls of wisdom that could only have been produced after years of monk-like contemplation. Here’s a recent pearl that I let roll to the corner of the room — “Your people are so good with numbers.” (I had been waiting politely through the old man’s epic shuffle across the foyer of an office building, holding the elevator door open and had just asked him which floor he was going to.)

    And finally….

    “Sex without love is meaningless.”

    It might be less meaningful, but it’s still better than TV.

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