Metaphors for life - you are taking the piss

6th March 2009 at 00:00

The late US president Lyndon B Johnson said of the former FBI chief J Edgar Hoover that it was better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.

I'm sure you've heard that before and, perhaps, even used it. I know I have. It's clever both in concept and construction and rudely funny too. So much so that, until recently, I have not bothered to think whether it is correct or not. Maybe it isn't. Surely anyone inconsiderate enough with his urination would be just as likely to stand in the middle of the tent and ... well, you can fill the rest in for yourself.

When I was at college, we were given a metaphor for the working life. It was a see-saw where good bits of your job were balanced by bad bits. The worse the bad bit or the better the good bit, the further it was from the fulcrum of the see-saw. Did we want jobs where wishy-washily good bits were balanced by not-very-bad bad bits? Or would we prefer ones where terrifically good bits were balanced by horrendously bad bits?

Dutifully, as a class, we elected for terrific and horrendous. Our lecturer opined that this was just as well, because teaching was like that.

Alas, there's a false premise which is that the good bits and the bad bits don't necessarily balance out. Either that, or there was a gravitational anomaly around Carluke after my first year of teaching: in year two, the good bits got better and the bad bits weren't quite so bad. It may be that my lecturer knew of this phenomenon and had in fact postulated a four-dimensional see-saw that balanced over time, but I doubt it.

I suggest that teachers dump this insidious concept with its "into every life a little rain must fall" homily. It lets those who could lighten the load on the nasty end of your see-saw off the hook. Take up arms against the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune and, by opposing, end them. Mind you, that's easy for me to say since I'm now outside the tent (but discreetly behind a tree).

Gregor Steele has known one or two people who have relieved themselves in the middle of the tent.

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