Posted in Occasional Observer
The Big Bear Signs with UTA!
I’ve never considered myself a Hollywood Animal, however the opportunity to translate my books into other mediums and to create entirely new projects for the stage and screen is genuinely exciting. To that end I’m shamelessly pleased to announce that I have signed with the United Talent Agency, of Beverly Hills, California, USA.
Beyond their heavyweight status and excellent reputation, I chose UTA as the ambassadors of my modest genius because so many of the truly brilliant creative talents that I have long admired are also represented by this happily unconventional Hollywood powerhouse agency: Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson, Julian Fellowes and Lasse Hallström, to name but a few.
From this point on UTA will represent me for work in television, film, radio, stage and lectures. However my publishing endeavours will now and forever remain with my beloved Literary Agent, Sir Albert Zuckerman, of Writers House, New York.
At UTA I will be working with a team of Agents, each a specialist in their own field – including Kassie Evashevki, Chris Newman, Johnny Pariseau and others I’ve yet to meet. I’m still not entirely sure how it all works, but ignorance has been my cherished friend for many years so I feel quite comfortable stumbling into the void.
To be clear, I don’t intend to spend much time in Hollywood – The untamed corners of Tasmania and Alaska suit me just fine. However I feel honoured to have joined this extraordinary company and I look forward to the creative possibilities that this exciting new partnership has to offer.
October 10th, 2013
Posted in Occasional Observer
Discover “The Lost Bear”, by BTG, a new feature debut on GoComics
Bradley Trevor Greive (aka ‘BTG) is one of the most popular humor authors of all time. With numerous New York Times Best Sellers to his credit, countless publishing awards, and over 20,000,000 copies sold in 115 countries, you would think his brain would be highly organised … But it’s not.
The Lost Bear feature, exclusive to GoComics, will be ample proof of this. Welcome to BTG’s lifelong cerebral misadventure. The Lost Bear showcases the delightfully odd daily debris that tumbles out of BTG’s head when his mental engine starts to misfire. This is public therapy at its most entertaining, set within an absurdist pseudo-intellectual petting zoo – Feel free to feed the bear.
Check it out here
Discover The Lost Bear here
Posted in Occasional Observer
The Essay That Changed BTG’s Life
By taking the time to read this post you are exactly the kind of idle swine I loathe … Or at least you used to be … Nowadays though I have undiluted respect for your keen mental powers, potent creative reserves and curious sexual energy. The reason for this profound change of heart can be credited to a singularly superb essay by Bertrand Russell: The prickly, iconoclastic and utterly brilliant British Nobel Laureate who was blessed with perhaps the greatest philosopher’s haircut of all time. Russell was born in 1872, and died in some unpronounceable corner of Wales on my sister’s birthday in 1970, exactly 20 days before I drew my first breath of Tasmanian air. This often surly pipe-sucker’s views on the importance of a cerebral vacation, first published in 1932, have never seemed more relevant than they are now, as we daily wade though a toxic polychromatic melange of desperate digital demands.
I strongly suspect that, like me, you may be considering a mid-year break, and if so, I urge you take it. The benefits will far outweigh the costs, and if you read this essay, then you’ll see why. Bertrand Russell’s seminal essay, In Praise Of Idleness, helped inspire me to write The Book For People Who Do Too Much, but more importantly it reminded me that physical and mental respite made for a healthier brain and body, and a thus a better person, and ultimately a better life. BTG
In Praise of Idleness
by Bertrand Russell
Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.’ Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveller in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. this traveller was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.
Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people’s mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people’s mouths in spending as he takes out of other people’s mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.
One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.
But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labour, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface card in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labour into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.
All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.
Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.
From the beginning of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labour as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by warriors and priests. In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger. This system persisted in Russia until 1917 , and still persists in the East; in England, in spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until a hundred years ago, when the new class of manufacturers acquired power. In America, the system came to an end with the Revolution, except in the South, where it persisted until the Civil War. A system which lasted so long and ended so recently has naturally left a profound impress upon men’s thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
It is obvious that, in primitive communities, peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted with the slender surplus upon which the warriors and priests subsisted, but would have either produced less or consumed more. At first, sheer force compelled them to produce and part with the surplus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to induce many of them to accept an ethic according to which it was their duty to work hard, although part of their work went to support others in idleness. By this means the amount of compulsion required was lessened, and the expenses of government were diminished. To this day, 99 per cent of British wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it were proposed that the King should not have a larger income than a working man. The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own. Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labours of the many. But their labours were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.
Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munitions work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.
This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day’s work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: ‘What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work.’ People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the source of much of our economic confusion.
Let us, for a moment, consider the ethics of work frankly, without superstition. Every human being, of necessity, consumes, in the course of his life, a certain amount of the produce of human labour. Assuming, as we may, that labour is on the whole disagreeable, it is unjust that a man should consume more than he produces. Of course he may provide services rather than commodities, like a medical man, for example; but he should provide something in return for his board and lodging. to this extent, the duty of work must be admitted, but to this extent only.
I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work, namely all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.
If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment — assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure. In America men often work long hours even when they are well off; such men, naturally, are indignant at the idea of leisure for wage-earners, except as the grim punishment of unemployment; in fact, they dislike leisure even for their sons. Oddly enough, while they wish their sons to work so hard as to have no time to be civilized, they do not mind their wives and daughters having no work at all. the snobbish admiration of uselessness, which, in an aristocratic society, extends to both sexes, is, under a plutocracy, confined to women; this, however, does not make it any more in agreement with common sense.
The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.
In the new creed which controls the government of Russia, while there is much that is very different from the traditional teaching of the West, there are some things that are quite unchanged. The attitude of the governing classes, and especially of those who conduct educational propaganda, on the subject of the dignity of labour, is almost exactly that which the governing classes of the world have always preached to what were called the ‘honest poor’. Industry, sobriety, willingness to work long hours for distant advantages, even submissiveness to authority, all these reappear; moreover authority still represents the will of the Ruler of the Universe, Who, however, is now called by a new name, Dialectical Materialism.
The victory of the proletariat in Russia has some points in common with the victory of the feminists in some other countries. For ages, men had conceded the superior saintliness of women, and had consoled women for their inferiority by maintaining that saintliness is more desirable than power. At last the feminists decided that they would have both, since the pioneers among them believed all that the men had told them about the desirability of virtue, but not what they had told them about the worthlessness of political power. A similar thing has happened in Russia as regards manual work. For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of ‘honest toil’, have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement. In Russia, all this teaching about the excellence of manual work has been taken seriously, with the result that the manual worker is more honoured than anyone else. What are, in essence, revivalist appeals are made, but not for the old purposes: they are made to secure shock workers for special tasks. Manual work is the ideal which is held before the young, and is the basis of all ethical teaching.
For the present, possibly, this is all to the good. A large country, full of natural resources, awaits development, and has has to be developed with very little use of credit. In these circumstances, hard work is necessary, and is likely to bring a great reward. But what will happen when the point has been reached where everybody could be comfortable without working long hours?
In the West, we have various ways of dealing with this problem. We have no attempt at economic justice, so that a large proportion of the total produce goes to a small minority of the population, many of whom do no work at all. Owing to the absence of any central control over production, we produce hosts of things that are not wanted. We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labour by making the others overwork. When all these methods prove inadequate, we have a war: we cause a number of people to manufacture high explosives, and a number of others to explode them, as if we were children who had just discovered fireworks. By a combination of all these devices we manage, though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot of the average man.
In Russia, owing to more economic justice and central control over production, the problem will have to be differently solved. the rational solution would be, as soon as the necessaries and elementary comforts can be provided for all, to reduce the hours of labour gradually, allowing a popular vote to decide, at each stage, whether more leisure or more goods were to be preferred. But, having taught the supreme virtue of hard work, it is difficult to see how the authorities can aim at a paradise in which there will be much leisure and little work. It seems more likely that they will find continually fresh schemes, by which present leisure is to be sacrificed to future productivity. I read recently of an ingenious plan put forward by Russian engineers, for making the White Sea and the northern coasts of Siberia warm, by putting a dam across the Kara Sea. An admirable project, but liable to postpone proletarian comfort for a generation, while the nobility of toil is being displayed amid the ice-fields and snowstorms of the Arctic Ocean. This sort of thing, if it happens, will be the result of regarding the virtue of hard work as an end in itself, rather than as a means to a state of affairs in which it is no longer needed.
The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labour, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth’s surface. Neither of these motives makes any great appeal to the actual worker. If you ask him what he thinks the best part of his life, he is not likely to say: ‘I enjoy manual work because it makes me feel that I am fulfilling man’s noblest task, and because I like to think how much man can transform his planet. It is true that my body demands periods of rest, which I have to fill in as best I may, but I am never so happy as when the morning comes and I can return to the toil from which my contentment springs.’ I have never heard working men say this sort of thing. They consider work, as it should be considered, a necessary means to a livelihood, and it is from their leisure that they derive whatever happiness they may enjoy.
It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two sides of one transaction, this is absurd; one might as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.
When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort of things that would be considered ‘highbrow’. Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural areas, but the impulses which caused them to be cultivated must still exist in human nature. The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.
In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it contributed nearly the whole of what we call civilization. It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.
The method of a leisure class without duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None of the members of the class had to be taught to be industrious, and the class as a whole was not exceptionally intelligent. The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers. At present, the universities are supposed to provide, in a more systematic way, what the leisure class provided accidentally and as a by-product. This is a great improvement, but it has certain drawbacks. University life is so different from life in the world at large that men who live in academic milieu tend to be unaware of the preoccupations and problems of ordinary men and women; moreover their ways of expressing themselves are usually such as to rob their opinions of the influence that they ought to have upon the general public. Another disadvantage is that in universities studies are organized, and the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged. Academic institutions, therefore, useful as they are, are not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone outside their walls is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits.
In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.
Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.
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Posted in Occasional Observer
The Greatest Speech BTG Never Gave
On September 1st, 2010, The Taronga Foundation, one of BTG’s most beloved wildlife charities, celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a dinner to thank the tireless Governors and Patrons for their ongoing support. BTG, a founding Governor, was overseas this night and thus very sad not to be able to accept this special invitation, or agree to the organisers’ request to speak to the impressive assembly of honoured guests. However, determined not to disappoint those who have meant so much to him, BTG agreed to send a short address of thanks to be read out by the Taronga Foundation’s venerated Chairman, Dr Maurice Newman, AC, one of Australia’s most respected businessmen and philanthropists, and also one of BTG’s dearest friends. What follows is the transcript of BTG’s extraordinary remarks, as delivered with heroic deadpan by the august Maurice Newman, respected Chairman of both the ABC and the Australian Stock Exchange. This unlikely combination of dignity and fiendish wit was the hit of the night, and, when you read the script, it’s easy to see why this performance brought the house down:
“Honoured guests, fellow Governors and Patrons, Thirsty souls,
It is a genuine pleasure to channel my disembodied voice past the well-formed tonsils of our illustrious Foundation Chairman. Nevertheless, I deeply regret not being on the fashionable side of the Pacific to partake in this evening’s luminous throb. The Taronga Foundation’s 10th anniversary is a truly special occasion, a defining moment wholly worthy of state, national and indeed global recognition … and of course there are few things more endearing and amusing than tipsy Zoophiles.
I am desperately proud to have been present at The Foundation’s immaculate inception, but I feel doubly honoured for having been able to enjoy the company of my fellow Governors and Patrons along the way – What a dashing and dynamic, well-shod group we make – Such creative, accomplished and generous benefactors are almost as rare these days as many of the precious creatures whose vital cause we champion.
Now fully realised as The Taronga Conservation Society of Australia, Taronga Zoo has come a very long way – From the bare minimum that a civilized society could accept, to a noble institution of profound and increasing global importance and an object of un-muffled international envy.
Much else has changed since the Taronga Foundation was formed. The environmental, financial and political challenges we face have escalated, but our commitment, benevolence and enduring resolve has more than kept pace, thanks, in large part, to a sound strategy and tremendous leadership.
I cannot stress enough how much I admire, nay revere, the firm-loined gentleman gifting sonorous voice to my exquisitely crafted remarks.
I wholeheartedly applaud the commanding silhouettes and winning smiles of Len Bleasel, Cameron Kerr, Matt Fuller, Cameron Mowat, Linda Newton, Simon Duffy, Paul Maguire, Hayley Holloway, Richard Morecroft, and every current and previous member of the Zoological Parks Board and TCSA team who have fulfilled the promises we made, and have helped us achieve more in this, our tenth year, than any reasonable person could have imagined.
I am supremely grateful to the NSW Government Ministers and Staffers who, throughout a decade featuring spasms of political turmoil that history will no doubt declare a flummery of ineptitude, did not lose sight of humanity’s obligation to set and achieve ambitious wildlife conservation and education goals.
The simple truth is that we have been able to inspire others because we were first, ourselves, inspired. So it is also appropriate, on an occasion such as this, to make special mention of some of those early believers whose tireless endeavours shaped the cornerstone of our vision and paved the way for our success, namely: Bob Debus, Michael Egan, Julie Brown, Shanthini Naidoo, and the late John Kelly.
And of course, where on God’s green, blue and ecru earth would we be without Guy Cooper? Sure, our resident silverback, Kibabu, may have been a marginally more physical lover – at least in public – during his prime – but no human being has given greater service to this noble institution than Australia’s Father of The Year.
Furthermore, The Zoo’s recent Directorial transition has been flawless. Yes, we lost a slim-hipped tango dancer of great renown, but we gained a fearless dawn surfer. In short, the TCSA continues to be in secure and perversely energetic hands as we approach our glittering centenary.
As I travel the world, meeting with our conservation partners and walking the wild verge, it is painfully clear there is much to be done. Make no mistake, a great and empty darkness gathers itself just beyond the horizon. However, for the Taronga Foundation at least and, most importantly, the unique and wondrous creatures we have pledged to save, the future is bright with hope. And this bright light, this same wonderful light we see reflected on the face of every child that comes to Taronga Zoo and Taronga Western Plains Zoo, is a living legacy we can all be proud of.
After years of happy philanthropic moil I still can’t honestly tell you why the Taronga Foundation has done so well. In the 3,652 days since we came into being I have seem bigger and smaller charitable entities of equal virtue struggle under less difficult circumstances than ours. Thus I can only assume that it is the innate, organic chemistry of the Patrons and Governors, our supporters and the TCSA faculty that makes all the difference.
And so, tonight, I close my astral address by saluting the unholy yet blessed alchemy of our mortal union, collective will and the righteous passion of our excruciatingly critical cause.
To each and every one of you, from the most belligerent anchor of industrial might, to the friskiest Harbour City nymph, I thank you all for giving the best of yourself to the Taronga Foundation and for being, and for continuing to be, charismatic champions of compassionate capitalism.
Naked primates, if you will, please join my handsome flesh-puppet and dear friend, Mr Maurice Newman, and raise your glasses for a rousing toast…
To us – To life on earth – To the Taronga Foundation!”
Bradley Trevor Greive
September 1st, 2010.
To find out more about The Taronga Foundation
or make a donation, click here
Posted in Occasional Observer
BTG’s sits down with Zachary Turpin @ The Book of Odds
Interview with Bradley Trevor Greive
Posted By: Zachary Turpin
Posted On: May 3, 2010
Book of Odds reporter Zachary Turpin recently sat down with Bradley Trevor Greive—author of Why Dogs Are Better than Cats—on a sunny beach on the Tasman Sea and discussed, over smoked salmon and vodka gimlets, what it is that makes canines so special to us.
OK, almost none of that happened. The interview was, in fact, conducted by email. Mr. Greive (who really does live in Tasmania) was still as thoughtful and forthcoming as one could hope for.
Have you always been a dog person?
Yes, I suppose I have always been a dog lover, but I can honestly say I like both cats and dogs. But whilst I can acknowledge that cats are fascinating animals I would no more have a cat as a pet than say, a sea otter, an emu, or a bat. Dogs and humans forged a unique and enduring friendship some 15,000 years ago—this curiously wonderful partnership has become synonymous with the advancement of civilization and the celebration of our finest virtues. Dogs have helped us explore our world, put food on our tables, care for our farms, protect our homes; rescued our loved ones, and stopped postal workers from becoming fat and complacent.
Dogs won the title of “Man’s Best Friend” over all living creatures, not just cats, and I defy anyone to question a dog’s loyalty, courage, affection, empathy, and unfettered butt-wagging sense of joy. When it comes to pets, nothing comes close to the love of a good dog.
What do dogs have that cats don’t?
The list is far too long to repeat here, but far greater intelligence and sociability for starters. There’s really no comparison: a dog is a true animal companion, whereas cats are, by and large, sociopathic, semi-vegetative fluff-balls.
Cats are cute, I’ll grant you that, but as pets they are basically plush toys with bad attitudes. There are some people who, for reasons of limited time, space, income, mobility, intelligence, and possibly self-respect, are better off choosing a cat—but I feel sorry for them. Compared to a dog, having a cat in your home is like listening to elevator music: vaguely irritating but perhaps better than nothing. Cats don’t even want to be pets—that’s why you have to lock them inside the house all of the time. Having a cat is like keeping it hostage and hoping that at some stage Stockholm Syndrome will kick in.
Cats are solitary predators and want to be out hunting—hunting and killing are always on their fiendish little minds and every game they play is a rehearsal for delicious murder. Whereas dogs truly share your home and see you as family, to a cat your home is either a prison or just a safe, warm cave where threats are low and food and water are plentiful.
Cats are like Hollywood socialites—they just want to be noticed and can survive indefinitely on air-kisses and the odd salmon canapé.
You tie the rising cat population to the collapse of civilization. Can you elaborate?
Look around you—cat population numbers are climbing faster than a singed gibbon. There are now more than 200 million more pet cats than dogs in the world today—20 million more pet cats than dogs just in the USA alone! Cats are breeding machines, much like rabbits, mice, and Marlon Brando: in just a few years, two healthy cats and their subsequent offspring can bring more than 500,000 sofa-scratchers into the world. It’s only a matter of time before the whole planet is smothered by cats and we find ourselves buried beneath a mewling funereal shroud.
In just the last 30 years cat numbers have doubled in the UK alone—now ask yourself, what has happened to humanity during that time: kids are getting fatter, divorce rates are sky-rocketing, hate crimes are on the rise, armed conflict is escalating all over the planet, and don’t even get me started on reality television.
Is there anything to be said for felines, or are they basically a wash?
Cats are undeniably attractive and soft to the touch, and as such they benefit greatly from what is known as “Supermodel Syndrome,” which is where we give beautiful creatures far too much credit. Nevertheless, being slim-hipped and aloof is no indication of intelligence, and if it were, Paris Hilton would be a certified genius. The truth is, there’s not a whole lot going on behind those glittering eyes—indeed the only domestic creature with greater claim to idiocy is a person who vehemently defends cat intelligence.
If the best and worst thing about dogs is that they love too much, and thus put themselves at risk of abuse—then conversely the best and worst thing about cats is that they just don’t care. This can obviously lead to pained levels of disappointment, especially if you acquire a cat and hope for the kind of active and intelligent engagement that you can only have with a dog.
However, in some instances, such as when a person has only enough time, space, and energy to engage with say, a goldfish, a sock puppet, or a Chia Pet, having a supremely ambivalent cat in their home is a big plus. Cats are quite low maintenance, mostly quiet, and relatively clean pets—perfect for soulless city living.
Do you think people are flexible in their love of cats or dogs—open to discussion, willing to change sides, to love both—or are they as one-sided and bitterly unbending in the dog/cat debate as they are about, say, politics or sports?
Hmmm, well, the gigantic sacks of poorly punctuated hate-mail and death threats I’ve received over the past 12 months tend to indicate a certain level of humorless fanaticism. But, considering that these threats come from sedentary types in oversized elastic-waisted pants, I’m not too worried. To some degree your pet choice represents a living extension of yourself, so it’s bound to get personal and, in some cases, highly irrational.
Tell me about writing Why Dogs Are Better than Cats.
It’s the funniest book I’ve ever written, and also the most beautiful—the photographs by Rachael Hale and the design by Gayna Murphy are simply dazzling and, to be blunt, I’m immodestly proud of it. I actually came up with the premise when I was in hospital having my knee and shoulder rebuilt for the umpteenth time—the title itself was enough to make me laugh out aloud and then off I went. I spent much of the next few months stuck in bed, which was the perfect opportunity to devour a library of information on cats and dogs, and after that the book basically wrote itself. Why Dogs Are Better than Cats is obviously tongue in cheek—but at its essence it has two serious goals:
First, to champion the many virtues unique to dogs that seem to be overlooked by most of us.
Second, to celebrate the differences between cats and dogs and thus, hopefully, save the lives of millions of cats. Last year alone some ten million dogs and cats ended up in American pet shelters. Half of these never found a new home and thus, after a fearful period of uncertainty, were put to sleep—the great majority were cats. In some places the euthanasia ratio for cats to dogs was as high as ten to one.
People need to choose a cat as a pet because they really love cats, in spite of or, better still, because of all the weird and wonderful things cats do. Cats and dogs may be equally wonderful creatures in the sight of God, but the notion of pet parity is a perverse falsehood pushed on us by pet food manufacturers and pet supply stores who don’t care what animal we have in our lives as long as we buy lots of stuff. A cat is not a cheaper, smaller, quieter, safer version of a dog—it is a supremely different and unique animal. Let knowledge and compassion define your pet choice, not fetid apathy.
What are the benefits of a shelter dog?
First of all, dog shelters are a great place to start your search for a new dog simply because there are always so many different dogs to look at—all ages, all sizes, and every possible breed combination. Plus, every shelter dog will have had a vet check and been washed, wormed and neutered—so that makes life easier too. Finally, and this is the bottom line: when you take home a dog from a shelter, you not only get a new best friend, you save a life.
You have 30 seconds to convey to alien abductors that dogs are better than cats, after which you may be vaporized, you human scum. What do you do?
Showing supreme sincerity and humility, I would get down on my knees and say, “Cats are by far the best thing this pathetic planet has to offer—please, I beg you, help yourself, take all you want, stuff as many cats into your space ship as you can, and then leave us in peace!”
If people want to learn more about you and your books, where should they go?
For more from the Book of Odds click here
Posted in Occasional Observer
Bradley Trevor Greive now on Twitter!
Have you ever found yourself at a loss for words when things have gone horribly wrong, or been left speechless when an outcome has exceeded your wildest expectations?
Don’t let these pivotal encounters leave you looking slack-jawed and stupid – Don’t dredge up a decent retort or winning compliment 20 minutes after the moment has passed – New York Times Best-Selling Author, Bradley Trevor Greive (BTG), has exactly what you need!
BTG proudly presents his new range of free Twitter Curses and Twitter Blessings, a growing library of potent and pithy utterances with which you can smite your enemies and heap praise upon the worthy.
• Unable to articulate your wrath? Then feel free to dish out BTG’s devastating Twitter Curses, including such classics as:
Twitter Curse #38:
May people pretend to like you in order to spend time with your pets.
Twitter Curse #11
May all the dairy items in your fridge be of questionable vintage.
Twitter Curse #35:
May your name feature prominently in public restroom graffiti.
Twitter Curse #10:
May you trip over a guide dog.
Twitter Curse #24:
May your pubic hair grow at an alarming rate.
Twitter Curse #21:
May your sexuality become a popular topic of workplace conversation.
Twitter Curses #1:
May your inquisitive orthodontist have the morning breath of a thousand apes.
Twitter Curse #25:
May dolphins spit upon your sandals.
• So overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that you are left tongue-tied? Then dip into BTG’s treasure trove of Twitter Blessings, including such gems as:
Twitter Blessing #5:
May your excuses for avoiding tedious social engagements always sound credible.
Twitter Blessing #15:
May your love-handles be easily concealed.
Twitter Blessing #11:
May you receive an uninhibited sponge-bath.
Twitter Blessing #6:
May you appear slightly more attractive in photographs than in real life.
Twitter Blessing #3:
May your foul elevator odours always be attributed to other people.
Twitter Blessing #7:
May you find forgotten chocolate in your fridge during a difficult time.
Twitter Blessing #4:
May your new business cards give a false impression of success.
Twitter Blessing #2:
May your neighbour’s rooster have a sore throat.
Twitter Blessing #12:
May you woo your lover at a picnic by winning the trust of wild animals.
To sign up for BTG’s Twitter Blessings and Twitter Curses join me on Twitter here
It’s easy and it’s free!
Posted in Occasional Observer
Since 2004 I have donated 10% of all my Russia book royalties to sponsor the Kamchatkan Brown Bears at Moscow Zoo and the in-situ conservation of these great bears in the wild.
A couple of days ago Mooshir, the 28 year old male, passed away peacefully (28 is extremely old for a big bear). Mooshir will be missed by all who knew him, especially his 18 year old best friend, Rosa.
Rest in peace, big fella.
Mooshir was huge – a truly big bear. Polar bears might be taller, but Kamchatkan Brown Bears, like their Kodiak Cousins, are the true heavyweight heart-throbs of the bear world.
Mooshir was also smart and loved to wave to the crowds, and splash around his swimming pool during warmer weather. Not surprisingly he was a big favourite at Moscow zoo with both staff and visitors alike.
Mooshir (on the right), laying a big wet, furry, smooch on his sexy girlfriend, Rosa
Good bye, Mooshir.
Good bye, Great Bear of the East.
We will miss you!
Posted in Occasional Observer
A Short History of Music
One of the frustrating things about being a creative person is that much of what you create never ever sees the light of day. However thanks to the the internet we are now able to showcase of lot of great projects that, for whatever reason, were passed over, didn’t get finished or simply never quite made it into general circulation. To that end, here’s something rather lovely we just dug out of the dusty BTG STUDIOS vault. It’s so ancient that the pop reference is ‘Vogue’, Madonna’s dance-floor smash from 1990 (who feels old now?!).
I originally created the short illustrated booklet, A Short History of Music, and wrote the track, Following Clouds, to be included in a special music compilation to be called, Blue Grooves. The premise for Blue Grooves was that, through music, we would try to replicate the same entertaining emotional transition as The Blue Day Book. By which I mean, I hoped to select a variety of songs that, when carefully arranged in the right order on the finished CD, would take the listener on an uplifting journey, starting at their lowest point, moving through a pleasant melancholy state and finishing with a sense of hope and joy in your heart. Plus, frankly, I just really loved the idea of creating my ultimate mix-tape. Call me selfish.
The original seed for this idea came to me when I was listening to a prearranged list of songs on my iPod whilst taking a walk by the beach to clear my head (I call this track list ‘Big Bear’s Bumble Mix’). I often do this when I’m tired, sad or stressed out and it really works for me – so I thought, ‘well, if I like doing this, then perhaps other people might like it too’.
In the end there was a genuine offer from a major record label but, somehow, over about a year or two of circular discussions, it all just faded into nothing. I cant even remember what the sticking point was now, though I do recall that during our negotiations the record label was taken over by an even bigger company, and then suddenly all the top people I was talking to were fired. Such is the nature of the cutthroat music business, apparently.
By this stage my plans were well under way – the images were purchased and booklet was finished, I had written and produced two original songs with my good friend Mark Rivett (from SongZu), and I had even produced a great little animated music video for one of the tracks (Shine On Me – also known as the Sunny Bear Music Video – here’s the link in if you want to watch it on Youtube: Sunny Bear
Following Clouds is a really beautiful song, and the longer, full acoustic version is my absolute favourite. I wrote this track to appear in the middle of the Blue Grooves album, it’s a song about sadness but also about hope and self belief. The gentle poetry of the lyrics is something I’m very proud of – the words still bring tears to my eyes every time I listen to them. However the lyrics themselves would have no power but for Mark’s addictive melody and great arrangement, Peter Northcote’s superb guitar work (he played both the rhythm and the lead guitar parts in two separate takes), and Sarah McGregor’s amazing voice.
Speaking of Sarah: When I asked for some new Australian vocalists, Mark sent me a demo tape of Sarah humming – not even singing – and right then I knew I needed to write a song for her. I listened to her demo tape over and over, and then started to put words on paper. This is the result.
I hope you enjoy listening to Following Clouds, a beautiful and haunting song that is very dear to me but, until now, has never been heard by anyone outside of my BTG Studios team.
Click here to Launch Following Clouds
Buy your copy of The Blue Day Book 10th Anniversary Edition here
Posted in Occasional Observer
‘Big Bear’ loses his beard at the 2010 World’s Greatest Shave
On the weekend, with help from the Lord Mayor of Hobart I shaved off my beloved, trademark ‘Big Bear’ beard at the Early Childhood Expo in Hobart, Tasmania, to raise money for The Leukaemia Foundation.
A moment of eerie calm descends upon us before my sentence is publicly announced. I contemplate the Zen-like state of pure beardlessness, while the Tasmanian Premier communicates telepathically with a green balloon.
The Big Bear is introduced to the crowd
As a condemned man, I am entitled to say a few, final words. I may have also sung a Sinatra medley. I really can’t remember. it’s all a blur
Even as I take my appointed seat I earnestly try to convince the organisers that there has been a terrible mistake
The Lord Mayor of Hobart grabs hold of my ear to prevent escape, and then slowly raises up the hungry shears
the horror, the horror, THE HORROR!
Glittering mechanical teeth meet BTG face-fur. The man-fleece starts to peel away from my tender chin
The first cut is the deepest…
I become slightly hysterical as my beard drops into my lap and around my feet, and all I am left with is a 19th century Turkish cavalry moustache
The moustache is not spared the eager blade either as the Lord Mayor swiftly closes in on my quivering septum
Final, surgical strokes and the deed is done. The beloved ‘Big Bear’ Beard is no more.
Waking up the morning after and struggling to come to terms with new sensations as curious fingers caress the freshly denuded landscape of my face
Smiling through the tears. I’m feeling like a beardless freak, but am also reveling in the fact that thousands of dollars have been raised for The Leukemia Foundation
Wait, what’s this?! An emergency WGS Beanie with a false beard to warm my moosh and hide my shame!
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, bliss! I feel whole again……
(Even my dog, Chieftain, is drawn to the magnetic properties of a full beard, fake or otherwise)
No, I will not hide behind a synthetic fur mask – this is the fresh-faced Bear.
This is … The New Me!
By the way: It’s not too late to make a donation to the Leukaemia Foundation. Just follow this link and then click on the green ‘Sponsor Me’ button:
Every dollar makes a real difference to the lives of sick kids, so be generous!
Posted in Occasional Observer
Quentin Bloxam Retires
What follows in my personal tribute to Quentin Bloxam, a dear friend and Gerald Durrell apprentice, who who finally retired yesterday after dedicating many decades of noble service to saving endangered wildlife from extinction.
Though by no means a saint, he may yet be destined for celestial glory as he was and remains one of the most enjoyable and inspiring people to cross my path. The planet’s natural wonders are safer for his tireless devotion, though now that he is retired I dare say the world’s supply of fine wine is in genuine peril. Cheers, Q!
“Having had the good fortune, due to no great ability on my own account, to be published in one hundred and fifteen countries I am constantly both delighted and appalled to find that everywhere I go the name Quentin Bloxam goes before me eliciting the most curious reactions: Women clutch their ovaries and sigh, furious Cossacks draw swords, police officers frantically load pistols, monks scramble to bolt their cellar doors and startled altar boys leap back and cross their ecclesiastical vestments twice, and twice again.
Even before he attempted to steal silverware from Buckingham Palace, Q was far too much of a scoundrel to be considered for a knighthood, though perhaps not quite caddish enough to join the peerage. Mores the shame. Not since Francis Drake has Britannia had such a magnificent brigand in her service. And such dark times as these call for brigands.
For many decades Q’s passionate exertions have brought great acclaim. In defence of wildlife and wild places Quentin has swum oceans, traversed deserts and stormed jungles, bars and cloistered nunneries without flinching. He is, standing here before us, as renowned a champion of Durrell’s living legacy as any that has ever or will ever walk the face of this green earth.
For all his primate savvy and feminine acuity, Quentin Bloxam is a man’s man. Silver tongued, quick with his fists and always thirsty. It’s no secret that, in the event of his untimely demise, donating Quentin’s liver would qualify as a malicious act. Were it not for the fact that every summer he foolishly believes England can win The Ashes he has all the makings of an Australian Prime Minister.
It’s hard to imagine a more capable and engaging fellow. Though often happily bemused, he never seems ruffled or out of sorts and thus is a boon when great tasks are at hand. Rough and ready, coifed, rakish and eagerly committed to the kind of devilish roguery that vestal virgins find so offensively charming, Q is a formidable ally when he chooses to use his powers for good.
In 2003, when we joined forces for the Australasian promotional tour of Priceless; The Vanishing Beauty of a Fragile Planet, a book dedicated to the memory of The Trust’s charismatic namesake, Q proved invaluable when it came to building bridges between disparate wildlife groups and uniting rival zoos. His potent allure was shameless and I soon came to accept that the excited crowds awaiting our public presentations had no interest whatsoever in my existence. Indeed it’s fair to say no other European entity has so overwhelmed natives of the Pacific since smallpox. Our public obligations presented a relentlessly gruelling schedule, however Q remained energetic and light-hearted throughout, indeed the only time I ever heard him complain was to the effect that he was being stalked by a nymphomaniacal posse of Czech supermodels.
Needless to say, Quentin’s robust and amenable veneer masks a great vault of hard-won knowledge. He is an insatiable student of life and a venerable teacher. Whether he be knee deep in iguana guano or molesting a member of the royal family, Quentin is always a gentleman.
He is also a creature of tremendous appetites, tireless good humour and astonishing inventiveness, yet curiously old-fashioned enough to value timeless traditions and thus is only very rarely found unconscious in public. One wonders how he will adapt once released into the wilds of retirement. Is the civilized world ready for a Quentin Bloxam with time on his hands? I think not.
Of course I could go on and on about Q’s many amusing mishaps, diplomatic disasters and life threatening faux pas. I really could. Such as the time he almost expired after becoming lost on a well watered island no bigger than a football field, and then there was the night strange sirens were knocking on every hotel door in Melbourne hoping to discover his whereabouts, and who can forget the countless acts of drunken indecency at sites which, as a result, have subsequently been consecrated to both Dionysus and Priapus. But I will abstain from such unsavoury jousting, for as soon as Quentin Bloxam walks out the door, and for the rest of our lives, we swinish braggarts will crow that we knew this man and so, instead of crowning his platinum pate with shameful japery, I propose a more solemn toast -
I raise my glass to the man behind whose hairy chest beats an enormous British heart still largely free of tropical endomyocardial fibrosis.
A bona fide original and a great inspiration, whose intoxicating joie de vivre and profound compassion for God’s forgotten creatures marks him out as one of Gerald Durrell’s true heirs. My dear friend, Quentin Bloxam.”
February 11th, 2010