25 May 2013


I have again been summoned to the offices of the Building Managers of the condominium in which I reside.  I am involved is a dispute over the flying of my Tibetan Prayer flags on my little verandah. I wrote about this a few days ago in a piece I called "Fluttering" and I have been expecting this summons.

Building Management are relentless in their pursuit of trite matters and my enraged fat Danish neighbour Jens is I am sure behind the complaint. He has been furious at me ever since the shitting-in-the-pool incident. Again, I have written previously about the cause of his rage at me in a piece entitled "The Floater" so I will not repeat the origins of this saga here.

I like the word 'trite'. I like quite a lot of words. In the context that I have used the word "trite" it means tedious or hackneyed. I also like the word 'hackneyed'. I like it even better than 'trite'. The origin of the word 'trite' is Latin and it is the anglicized version of "tritus" - which means "rubbed" or "worn down".

The word 'hackneyed' means "lacking significance through being overused". The origin of this word are a little more interesting. It has been suggested that the term being 'hackneyed' arose in the eighteenth century in England and in a town not too far from the city of London.

Unsurprisingly the name of this town is Hackney.

Hackney was supposedly known for breeding poor quality and low cost horses. These horses were used to pull the carriages of people who were ordinary and poor folk. The horses of Hackney had a reputation for being weak and sickly. Their joints and knees were apparently very dodgy. It has been suggested that these horses were of poor quality because they were interbred. Brother horses were mated with their sisters and sometimes even their mothers.

It was equine incest.

These poor creatures fell over a lot and the term 'hackneyed' arose. For reasons that are unclear the term was later applied to mean "very ordinary' and it became applicable to people and not horses. It was particularly applicable to writers and journalists of not-so-good prose. An abbreviated form of the word is 'hack' and if you are a 'hack' you are considered to be not very good at what you do.

So I fronted up at the Building Manager's office yesterday morning and the Building Manager Mr. Tan was sitting at his desk. As always he was accompanied by one of the security guards. I am not sure why he always accompanied by one of these guards but perhaps they act as his bodyguard. Mr. Tan should know by now that I am no physical threat and I mean no harm. I battle him with my cunning guile and wit however I am always courteous and respectful and our relationship is both cordial and polite. As is the norm both Mr. Tan and the Security guard were looking quite anxious.

They usually are when I meet with them.

"Good morning Mr. Tan. Good morning Mr. Sleepy" I announced cheerily.

Mr. Tan rose to his feet and the security guard shuffled about a bit. I shook both their hands and their shakes were weak and limp. Mr. Tan's hand was damp and sweaty.

I think I make him very nervous.

"Good morning Mr. Peter" Mr. Tan replied.

"Please take a seat"

I sat and crossed my legs.

"I assume I am here to discuss the serious cockroach problem that we have here on the property Mr. Tan?" I enquired.

I had decided before the meeting that I would go on the offensive and try to confuse and bamboozle Mr. Tan with a subject that he was not expecting.

"Cockroach?" Mr. Tan asked.

"Yes cockroach Mr. Tan. Nasty and dirty little insects. I found one in my kitchen yesterday and I was quite appalled. I think that the security guards have been letting them into the complex"

The security guard looked panicked.

"No Mr. Peter we have asked you here to again request that you remove the flags from your balcony"

"Cannot Mr. Tan" I responded.

"I have told you before that they are first of all not flags. They are symbolic pieces of cloth that are central to the expression of my spiritual beliefs. I have written to the Singaporean Prime Minister Mr. Lee to inform him of this and to express my outrage at your demand that I remove them". 

I have done no such thing actually.

I was calling a bluff.

"But there has been a complaint Mr. Peter" Mr. Tan replied.

"I must do something"

"I am aware of this complaint Mr. Tan", I asserted.

"I am also aware that it was lodged by my lunatic Danish neighbor Jens in a pathetic attempt at revenge for simply informing you that he was the person likely responsible for doing a poo in the pool last month. What is building management doing to ensure that he does not repeat such a despicable recurrence?"

"There has been a complaint though Mr. Peter" Mr. Tan repeated.

He completely ignored my enquiry of the dirty Dane.

"So you have said Mr. Tan"

"I must do something"

"Call in the pest control people to deal with the cockroaches and get the Security guards to keep Mr. Jens under close surveillance when he is in the proximity of the pool" I replied.

I was endeavoring to deflect the issue however I really did see a cockroach in my kitchen the other day.

"I would instruct them to focus their fumigation on the Danish guy's apartment" I also suggested.

"If he is indeed the person who shat in the pool then God knows what condition his apartment is in"

"But the flags Mr. Peter" Mr. Tan implored.

"They must be taken down"

"Under Article three, section four of the Singaporean constitution Mr. Tan I am entitled to express and practice my religious and spiritual beliefs without prejudice." I retorted.

I was making it up now but I was having a ball.

"They are also not flags Mr. Tan. They are Lung Ta which in Tibetan mean wind horses"

Mr. Tan looked very distressed now.

"You will not take them down?"

"I will not. At least until I have heard back from the Prime Minister Lee on the matter"

"You will let me know immediately when you have received a reply la" Mr. Tan responded.


"Can la" I assured him and then I stood to leave.

"In the meantime please let me know when the cockroach problem has been addressed" I added.

"We will call the pest control people immediately Mr. Peter" Mr. Tan replied.

I shook Mr. Tan's hand firmly as I departed and his palm was even more sweaty than it was before.

I gave the security guard an elaborate salute as I left the office and his return salute was instinctive but insipid.

I will probably take the Tibetan prayer flags down from my verandah in a couple of days and I will hang them up inside. I have had my fun and I don't really want to cause Mr. Tan too much more anxiety.

I rather like him and he is only trying to do his job.

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