12:50:23 pm on
Monday 25 Sep 2017

Whence My Ideas
David Simmonds


I am often asked, at diplomatic receptions, mortgage foreclosure parties and the like, where I get the ideas for my columns. If pushed, I will shrug and confess that it’s mostly the real life news.


Finding ideas in newspapers is fun.

Matter of fact, I like nothing better than hunkering down on a Sunday with The New York Times International Weekly, a supplement to the Toronto Star, and imagining how news stories could be the basis for columns. So this week, why don’t we do it together? I’m going to work with the March 21-22 edition.

The story that immediately caught my eye was “China Insists Dalai Lama Reincarnate.” That sounded a little puzzling, until you unbundled it. The Chinese Communist Party, which exercises political control over Tibet, wants a say in the selection of the next Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, presumably, so that he or she will be more China-compliant. The DL himself, as we have started calling him recently, is attempting to avoid the confrontation, saying he may choose not to reincarnate. The Party has replied by insisting that he must reincarnate and on its terms.

Of course, this is deadly serious, as political struggles go, and must be treated as such. The line in the sand is in a peculiar place and is of potential interest to readers of The Times; especially those readers that devour the Times for its philosophical content; those that skip the stories about sewage budgets and size of council debates.

Three big questions raise their thorny heads. One: can the DL choose, himself, if he is to reincarnate? Two: what does the godless assemblage of the Chinese Communist Party have to offer in the mystic process of selection of a reincarnated DL? Three: can a reincarnation that takes place under duress be genuine?

In a quest for a deeper answer to these question, we proposed to noted Hollywood actor and DL advocate Richard Gere that we 'do lunch' in Beverley Hills. Unfortunately, the meeting fell through, as all the nickel-and-diming management at The Times would spring for was breakfast in Wellington. Yet, they call it "The County's Independent Voice"!

Well that’s enough to get started. Where would you take the column from here? You still have about 400 words to go.


Megyer, Hungary, as a top vacation spot.

Perhaps philosophy will not amuse you. How do ideas about imaginative tourism sit with you? The Hungarian village of Megyer, population 18, had failed to impress tourists as a rural vacation jewel, so it tried something different. It rents out the entire village. For about $700 a night, you get to be deputy mayor of the place, controlling seven cottages that sleep about 40 people, the town hall, chicken and sheep barns, a dog, a bicycle fleet, a pig slaughterhouse, a classroom and a private pub. You also get to rename the two streets in the village for the duration of your stay and receive an official certificate to verify it.

Before the stunt, the village got about three tourist inquiries per day. Now, it has about 400 inquiries a day and bookings to back up the stats. “Let’s face it,” said the mayor; “it’s in the middle of nowhere”; two hours west of Budapest, through the Somlo wine district with its steep, rocky vineyards. The mayor has other interests, as well. He is the manager of two Hungarian rock bands, Sex Action and Hollywoodoo. The story doesn’t make it clear whether the services of those fine musicians are available to village-bookers at a discount or even whether that would make a difference to them.

Don’t the parallels seem a little eerie? Megyer is in the middle of nowhere. There are rocky vineyards. There’s a slaughterhouse in village? I don’t see that Wellington has any Hungarian rock bands to offer up, but you get the point. You can take it from here. You have about 200 words to go.

Maybe a tourism theme doesn’t work for you either. May I suggest a touching story, such as the “New Leader Sees Halos over the Golden Arches”? It’s how McDonalds restaurants is trying to square the circle between those who love their traditional, cheap and fast, Big Mac and Fries, and more finicky eaters who want fresh, natural, custom food and might be prepared to pay more and tolerate a slower service pace. Can it appeal to both customer groups or should it just aim for one of them; if so, which one?

The new CEO, of McDonalds, believes it can do both. For example, he has announced that within two years, all chicken in the company restaurants will be free of antibiotics or at least antibiotics used in humans. McDonalds, of course, is the world’s largest fast food franchise, with 36,000 outlets, worldwide, and with 14,000 outlets, the biggest fast food chain in America. The challenge is a serious one: sales per store have fallen for each of the past five years. Already, to receive a drive-through Big Mac takes 189.5 seconds compared to152 just ten years ago. That’s 189.5: no casual rounding up to 190 please.

There’s another one started for you. Where would you take it? We’re almost out of column space. The phrase "drive-through Big Mac" is ambiguous: you had better give it your own wording.


Need even more ideas?

Still not biting, let alone chewing? How about the story called “Balti Curry Seeks Standing in Britain.” The Balti Curry district in Birmingham, England, is seeking recognition as and European Union subsidies for a traditional British specialty food like the Cornish pasty. Does this mean bye, bye, steak and kidney pie? How about “Study Reveals Lashes Keep the Eyes Moist,” which is an attempt to eliminate an answer to the old party game question about what part of the human anatomy is useless from an evolutionary standpoint. We’re now down to the earlobe and the appendix, because I think I read somewhere that ear hair is a functioning dust filter.

That somewhere, of course, must have been the New York Times International Weekly.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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