I have come to believe that the whole scope of what’s wrong with the human condition can be represented by the microcosm of shopping trolley behaviour. What insights into the baser human instincts can be glimpsed by the observation of how people interact with their metal transport baskets! Here are some variations for you to consider:*

[Advisory – Trolley Trolls, as far as I’ve been able to observe, are equally represented by both sexes. I have alternated the sexes in the following examples, and nothing should be read into whatever gender happens to be associated with any particular category]

The Dumper:

The Dumper has no feeling of obligation to anyone. Once The Dumper has finished with his trolley, he abandons it right at the place where the last grocery item has been removed. This is probably in the last available parking space in the supermarket parking lot, or behind your already-parked car. Does he care that you’ll need to move his trolley in order to be able to go about your business? No he does not – that’s your problem pal.

The Pig Pen:

The Pig Pen thinks her shopping trolley is a mobile trash receptacle, and abandons it along with discarded items including – but not limited to – empty crisp packets, squashed muffins, spilled McThickShakes, soiled baby nappies, empty Coke bottles, used tissues, unwanted vouchers and fliers, and half-full cups of coffee. In some cases, three or more of the above at the same time.

The Fuck You:

The Fuck You takes the trouble to return his trolley to the trolley bay, but backs it in, linking his chain to the next trolley, but making it impossible for you to attach your chain and thus retrieve your coin. This person is probably a politician.

The Fuck You and the Horse You Rode In On:

The FYATHYRIO can’t be bothered to walk all the way to the end of the trolley bay, so attaches the trolley to the chain in order to retrieve her coin but leaves the trolley outside the bay, in such a way that it protrudes into the pedestrian walkway or the traffic transit lanes.

The Plague Vector:

As soon as your hands touch the trolley handle and feel the clammy dampness of bodily fluids, you know he’s been there.

The Rally Driver:

You never see the Rally Driver in action, just the long deep scratch down the side of the line of cars on the way to her destination.

The Magellan: You live half a kilometer away from any supermarket, but there it is: a trolley abandoned in your driveway. The Magellan plainly does not have a car – hey, I’m fine with that. BUT WHY IS THE TROLLEY IN MY YARD? Why is he not doing what a sane person would do, and keeping the trolley in his own yard to wheel back to the supermarket on the next trip? ((I’ll tell you why – because he is a fuckwit, and once he abandons the trolley it’s not his problem. He can always pick up another one next time.))

The Jammer: The Jammer takes the IKEA trolley back to the Woolworths bay, and despite the fact that the IKEA trolley is a completely different shape and size to the Woolworth’s model, jams it right in there, preventing any other person from docking their trolley. Thanks jerk. ((And seriously. Shopping stores: WHY DO WE NEED DIFFERENT SIZE TROLLEYS IN THE FIRST PLACE??? For fuck’s sake. Just adopt the same fucking standard as everyone else you cretins.))

The Choker: The Choker takes her trolley almost all the way back the trolley bay, but inexplicably abandons it about three paces away. That last little effort is just… so difficult. It’s evidently the ‘near enough is good enough’ philosophy.

The Utter Bastard: The Utter Bastard removes his trolley from the bay and then, inexplicably in terms of anything rational any sane person on the planet may consider, squashes chewing gum in the coin slot of the next available trolley, preventing any further trolleys from being used. I mean, WTF? Really, WTF?

The Complete and Utter Fucking Shithead Bastard: The CUFSB finds your trolley unattended in a quiet aisle (while you’ve gone off trying to find out why polenta isn’t in any sensible place you care to look) and attaches another trolley to it in order to steal your coin. This is a minor inconvenience if you have another coin, but if you don’t it’s a right royal pain in the ass.

*Lest you think I’m having a bit of a leg pull with all this, let me assure you that I’ve personally encountered every single one of these at some stage or another. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but you never actually see anyone carrying out these acts of despicable ratbaggery – indisputably because they know they’d be up for a public flogging if they were caught in the act.

A few days ago Violet Towne and I were down on the south coast of Victoria on a short break. On a day too rainy and bleak to be at the seaside we dropped into an antique and junk place for a rummage, as we like to do, and I was delighted to discover, in one of the more secluded nooks of the building, a framed print of one of the Giovanni Bragolin ‘Crying Boys’.

I was surprised to find that VT did not know the story of the ‘curse’ associated with the Crying Boy, and I thought I might take this opportunity to recap it here for others of you who may not have encountered this quirky piece of urban legend.

Giovanni Bragolin – known also as Bruno Amadio – was a trained classical painter and probably painted the original Crying Boy portraits – all variations on a similar theme – sometime in the early 1950s. It is likely that they were created specifically to sell to tourists as a money-making venture. Whatever the case, at some point Bragolin was evidently fortunate enough to secure a deal to have the paintings copied and printed and made widely available in English department stores in the late 1950s. There were probably many thousands made. ((Actual statistics are hard to come by, with various reports citing quantities from 50,000 to a quarter of a million, but given the widespread popularity of the prints, and the fact that they still turn up in junk shops on the other side of the planet, we can be fairly sure that a large number of them were made.))

For reasons that escape me personally, the Crying Boys were monumentally popular and ended up in households all over Britain (and elsewhere in lesser numbers). And there they hung for decades, doing nothing more confronting than offending the sensibilities of those with good taste. Until…

On the 4th of September 1985, Britain’s popular tabloid, the Sun, ran a story about a fire that destroyed the home of Ron and May Hall, a working class couple from the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire. The couple put the blame for the blaze on the ‘unlucky’ portrait of the Crying Boy which hung in their living room, which – according to the report – escaped the fire completely unscathed. Not only that, said the Sun, but it was common knowledge among firemen that there had been numerous other instances of this same scenario unfolding in blazes across England: homes devastated by fire, watched over by the completely untouched portrait of a Crying Boy. The picture, the firemen said, was cursed. ((No fireman actually said this, as it turns out, but the Sun was very happy to let the implication stick.))

The next day the Sun ran a followup story claiming that their offices had been flooded with calls from readers with pictures of the Crying Boy on their walls, all fearing that they might become victims of the jinxed painting. And so the legend of the Curse of the Crying Boy was born.

Some stories are just made to gather momentum, and this was one. Everyone had a ‘friend of a friend’ who had been affected in some way by the image. Rumours grew that not only did the painting survive house fires, but it could not be burned even if you tried. People who attempted to get rid of the picture fell afoul of bad luck, and some even reported seeing it move on the wall all by itself.

To add kerosene to the flames, it turned out that there were numerous incarnations of the Crying Boy theme painted by other artists – it was a veritable plague of Crying Boys. As I mentioned earlier, they were – puzzlingly – exceptionally popular, and the conjecture must be that in the 70s and 80s in England, if there was a house fire anywhere there was a fair to middling chance that the tenants were in possession of a Crying Boy. This possibly goes at least a little way towards providing some basis for the idea of the curse, but in all probability it can mostly be put down to a case of overactive imaginations and rumour run riot. ((There are many ‘supernatural’ explanations, of course, but they are banal and tedious and probably without any foundation in fact. You can, if you are so inclined, chase them up via the excellent Fortean Times redux of the Crying Boy Curse.))

The Sun (perhaps in a moment of conscience, but probably more because they knew how to ride a story to death) did a shout out to readers who were afraid that the picture might bring them ill luck. Send them to us, they said, and we’ll dispose of them for you! The offices of the paper had soon accumulated a staggering 2,500 copies of the Crying Boy, which demonstrates two things clearly, I think: just how popular the damn thing was, and also how frighteningly superstitious the readers of the Sun were.

In an act that just smacks of the British tabloid mindset of the 1980s, on Halloween 1985, Sun employees stacked the prints into a huge pile and they were set ablaze by a popular Page 3 girl. It could only have been more perfect if she’d been topless.

An urban legend isn’t quelled quite so neatly, though, and the Curse of the Crying Boy didn’t simply go up in smoke with the bonfire. Over the next decade it neatly transmogrified from fleeting newspaper titillation into full-blown myth, and lives on today, with many new riffs on the original story. Hang a Crying Boy next to a Crying Girl (yes, they exist too), it is said, and the bad luck will be thwarted. Hang ten copies of the Crying Boy together and the bad vibes are similarly dissipated (you’ll need some good luck finding ten copies these days, though). Whole narratives have arisen around the artist who painted the original picture and the supposed identity of the Boy himself, all with little or no basis in fact. Stories of disasters involving the Boy now come from countries all across the world and he is so embedded in popular culture that he even sports a Facebook page, of sorts. ((It’s a bit of a pathetic effort, really, and could be HUGELY more entertaining in my opinion.))

But I can sense the question on your minds, Faithful Cowpokes: did I buy the copy I saw? Sadly, I didn’t. I probably should have, but the truth is that I wasn’t totally familiar with the version hanging in the antique shop, and didn’t know if it was ‘the real deal’ as it were. That’s why I snapped the pic of it that you saw above – I wanted to check its provenence (there was no mobile reception, otherwise I’d have done it on the spot).

Oh, and anyway, as if I’d hang it in my house. Are you crazy?


UPDATE: The Crying Boy spotted on eBay in Israel. Printed on a magnet! (WARNING: May cause your fridge to burst into flames)


UPDATE #2: VT bought me one for a present! It now hangs in my office.

Sometimes you find some very disconcerting things whilst browsing in secondhand shops.

Technology We Don’t Actually Need #1

OK, so this morning I’m driving along on the freeway and a question comes into my head. It’s not the first time I’ve asked this question, but I think now is the right time for the world to ask it with me:

What the hell are parking lamps on a car for?

Ponder this – when was the last time you used your parking lamps for parking? In fact, an even more pertinent question is: how useful are parking lamps in the process of parking anyway? If I tried to park my car using the pallid gleam of its parking lamps I think I’d end up parking myself into the rear end of another car. Parking lamps are wussy and dim. In the light from the average streetlamp, they may as well not even be switched on.

Of course, this is not the reason for which most drivers think parking lamps should be used in any case. Those who are even aware of their parking lamps (other than as the temporary switch position between OFF and HEADLIGHTS) think that they’re supposed to employ them when they’re driving along on a dimly lit or rainy day. BUT, my friends, if the point of this activity is to heighten visibility, then why not use your headlights??? Parking lamps are, in this capacity, a grudgingly marginal commitment to safety. It’s like wanting to be visible, but not too visible. ((It strikes me that it’s not unlike the floatation vest you’re supposed to wear in the event of a plane crash – sure, put it on if it makes you feel better, but when you hit the water at 800+ mph, a life vest is going to be about as useful as a banana in a swordfight.)) The driver of the car who was behind me on the freeway this morning may as well have been waving a birthday candle, for all the visibility his parking lights were offering. ((Seriously. Outside, in the overcast daylight, I couldn’t actually tell if they were on or off. I only knew they were on because we had previously passed through a tunnel.))

So, racking my brains as to any conceivable explanation for the automobile parking lamp’s purpose for being, I did what all hip 21st century netizens do and turned to the Font of All Knowledge, Wikipedia. Well. The first thing that must be said is that Wikipedia’s entry for Automotive Lighting is one of the longest and most comprehensive I have ever come across. You want lights, it’s got lights. And it has more footnotes than a Tetherd Cow Ahead article about ShooTag. If you need to know stuff about car lights, this is your one stop shop. Suck on that Encyclopedia Brittanica.

It throws scant illumination, however, on the topic of parking lamps. Oh, it has several paragraphs about them, alright, but nowhere is there any persuasive explanation for any practical utility.

So, even with the vastness of the internet’s information-gathering clout at my fingertips, I can draw no other conclusion than that the car’s parking lamps are nothing more than the automotive evolutionary equivalent of a vestigial tail or an appendix. It is my view that they serve no function other than to supply the makers of light bulbs with a nice reliable income stream.

Honk if you agree.

You know those daft motivational posters that have been well-and-truly pwned by Despair.com? Well, a guy named Douwe Osinga, who works for Google, has made a fun web time-waster called Auto Poster that allows you to make your very own inspirational pontifications to send to your friends and colleagues. Just as I am doing for you, dear Acowlytes.

The app draws from Google’s vast cataloguing of the cyberworld for its images. ((Be warned – the images are selected via Google’s Image Search, and the intellectual property is likely to be reserved. Whatever the crap that actually means in this day and age…)) All you need to do is provide the wisdom. Auto Poster even thoughtfully chooses appropriate text colours for you!

Go now. Waste time. Post your efforts back here and make me laugh.

While we’re on the subject of television, in the last couple of weeks I’ve also caught a few episodes of a show called ‘Criss Angel: Mindfreak’ playing on A&E. Now, for anyone who doesn’t know, Criss Angel is an illusionist in the tradition of David Copperfield, Doug Henning, Chung Ling Soo (William Robinson) and Harry Houdini. That is, a Grand Illusionist. He does the kind of BIG magic that requires a stage crew of a few dozen people, a room at a venue in Las Vegas and (in case you haven’t inferred it) money.

Criss Angel’s schtick is to attempt shake off the stuffiness and shmaltz of his tuxedoed predecessors and instill into his act a semblance of anarchistic punk, ((Indeed, his logo is the anarchist ‘A’ in a circle, with a kind of Nike-slash flourish.)) but it is, the leather and the chains and the bandana notwithstanding, exactly the same kind of spectacular theatrical routine that has defined stage magic for the best part of a century. You know the sort of thing: cut a girl in half with a circular saw/escape from a locked box dangling over a precipice/make people disappear.

I want to say from the outset that Criss Angel is VERY good at what he does. And what he does, in exact terms, is to make people believe things that seem contrary to the laws of reality. The key words here are ‘believe’ and ‘seem’. ((Criss Angel’s Las Vegas show is, in fact, called ‘Believe’. The word, etched in twenty foot high letters on billboards across the city, seems more like a brute-force brainwashing command than an advertisment.))

Watching his show is a revealing exercise in how the impressionable mind works, and an excellent disciplinary pastime for the rational thinker.

Now I don’t know how Criss Angel accomplishes many of his illusions. I’d be disappointed if I did, because I really like good stage illusionists and I expect them to be able to outwit me if they’re worth their paycheck. But there’s one thing I can tell you for sure: Criss Angel, when performing his act – despite his frequent declarations to the contrary – does not care too much about telling ‘the truth’. ((Just like Britain’s Derren Brown who masterfully uses any method available to trick his audience.)) And neither do his stage crew or his film crew. What you see on Mindfreak is rarely what you have been told you’re seeing. ((I need to point out here that this is not surprising – stage illusionists excel in leading you to believe things that aren’t true. It is, after all, their job. Criss Angel takes things one step further by exploiting the ‘natural’ trust that people have when they see something on television. For some reason it doesn’t occur to most people that a magician on tv would use the medium itself to trick them. Think again folks!))

Here’s an example: Criss appears outside his permanent ‘magic’ home at the Luxor in Las Vegas, with a crowd of ‘random’ bystanders. He reaches into a bush and introduces them to a ‘pet’ that the management of the Luxor won’t let him keep in the hotel: a large scorpion. It’s a real live scorpion for sure – there’s no doubt about that.

The onlookers ook and gasp as he lets it crawl over his hands, and then, with a nice piece of sleight-of-hand, magics it away in a puff of smoke. But the real trick is yet to come. Angel reaches over and grabs an attractive (of course) girl from the crowd and gives her a big kiss, whereupon she mugs wide-eyed and ‘surprised’ and opens her mouth to reveal the scorpion crawling out.

This is one of the the oldest and most frequently-employed gambits in the book of magic – the girl, despite her convincing acting, is indisputably an accomplice. There is simply no other way to achieve a illusion like this. You can’t get a seven-inch-long scorpion into an unsuspecting girl’s mouth without her consent. I know – I’ve tried. ((That’s a joke.)) Seriously – this is the only way this trick can work, and even though no-one wants to believe it, magicians make frequent use of accomplices. ((If you still don’t believe me, watch the video very carefully – despite what Mr Angel wants you to think, there is no way he passed the scorpion from his mouth to the girl’s mouth with that surprisingly chaste ‘stage’ kiss. His ‘mouth acting’ of regurgitating the scorpion is, of course, purely a distraction. Therefore there are really only two possibilities: the scorpion got into the girl’s mouth via real magic, or, when the camera wasn’t on her, and when the crowd was totally engrossed with Angel making the first scorpion disappear, the girl was surreptitiously stuffing a second scorpion into her gob. You decide which of those two scenarios seems most plausible…))

Now I don’t want to seem like I’m making light of Mr Angel’s accomplishments as an entertainer. As I said, he’s good at what he does. Many of his tricks (especially the smaller ones) are quite astonishing. ((Even if quite a few of them have a pedigree stretching back a good many decades.)) But when Criss Angel ranges through the adoring crowd after setting the scene for his next conjuration and proclaims that there’s ‘NO BULLSHIT!’ there’s one thing that’s for certain – the greatest piece of magic in his entire repertoire is his ability to convince his audience that that statement is true.

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