The Age of Bluffing | Pushing the Wave

The Age of Bluffing

Opinion, 28 April 2023
by L.A. Davenport
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary
Even the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is not compact enough to bring to a pub debate.
I have been wondering this week what it would be like to be an 18th century carouser and merrymaker. A young buck, one might say, quaffing wine at breakfast, sipping a few ales and a pint or two of porter in the afternoon, before polishing off a bottle or two of sherry or port in the evening.

That might be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly not too far wide of the mark, if the diaries of literary luminaries of the age are to be believed. And it’s not so much the drinking per se that I have been turning over in my mind, but rather what that would do to one’s decision making.

The reason is I have been seeing friends quite a bit over the last week or so, and it’s led to me having a few evenings of exuberance, including a couple one after another.

I find, after imbibing to the edges of excess, that not only does one have impaired judgement while drinking but also the effects of a hangover seem to add a rather different sheen to matters. It’s as though everything, including one’s desires and aims, are being viewed through a filter that replaces one’s normal way of thinking with a tilted, slanted approach. One that, while certainly isn’t the same, is complete enough to appear almost reasonable.

It’s hard to give concrete examples without being hungover while I write, which I am not, but anyone who has over done it the night before and doesn’t have anything of great import to do the next day, and so does not need to snap out of their alcohol-induced frame of mind, will find that all sorts of ideas are considered quite seriously when they wouldn’t have been given the time of day only 24 hours before.

The reason I mention this is that, while one might slip into this alcohol-soaked netherworld while on holiday, or while seeing friends over a few days, imagine if that was your everyday? What decisions would be made? On what basis? Where would it all lead?

Many people in the 18th and 19th century, and before, would have been drinking non-stop all day, seven days a week. How might they have lived differently? How differently might history have played out if everyone had been tee-total?

I am sure someone, somewhere has written a thesis on the impact of alcohol on politics and power in the time of Empire. I would be fascinated to read it.
Another aspect of the dark ages before the bright, shining age of the internet and instant information (I am being ironic) was that people could and would set themselves up as armchair experts and pub boors without any knowledge or justification, again often fuelled by a tipple.

I was reminded of this recently when we had friends over for dinner, and one of those general knowledge questions arose in which everyone is sure they know the answer. But we all came up with something different. We couldn’t all be right. What was clearly required was an internet search, but we chose not to go down that road.

We decided instead that we want to remain the murky half-light of partial enlightenment. But why? Because, of course, we were all old enough to remember an earlier, simpler time, when a question was posed, an answer was given and by and large it had to be believed. It wasn’t possible to find out for sure.

To be in this age of laser-guided fact searching precision sometimes feel a bit dull. It can even seem a little like a fall from grace, an ejection from the garden of Eden.

It is as if we have left behind a more mysterious world, one in which it wasn’t possible to find out everything at once, where one had to trust other people, and in which someone could tell you something amazing, scandalous, joyful or plain interesting, and you had to take it on faith.

On the other hand, it has meant we are less prey to wannabe intellectual bluffers, who would tell you any old nonsense and expect you to believe it.

We could of course find out the information, but just not right there and then, when the topic came up, via a pocket device that could connect instantaneously to a thousand different sources of information whenever required.

We had the Oxford English Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Roget’s Thesaurus, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and their Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics. We had biographical encyclopaedias, histories of the world, anthologies, weighty tomes on art, and many more. Books upon books upon books upon books. All extremely useful and informative and often more thorough that what we have now online.

But they could hardly be lugged down the pub in case they might be needed to settle a pressing question. That is why people ended up bluffing. In most scenarios, someone would give an educated guess, presented as hard facts, and hope for the best. It is also why general knowledge was both expected and respected. To retain facts and to share them when required was something of which to be proud.

Now I seem to meet many people who are content, almost proud, to know nothing, and merely search for information when required. I don’t know what it will do to our brains but I cannot imagine it will make us more intelligent or capable.
Confession time: I have always had a problem with dedicated sandwich toasters.

This is not a complaint against toasted sandwiches, of course, which are one of the greatest inventions ever to occupy a plate. My beef is with the contraptions designed to make them.

To explain, I had one for years that was too small for standard bread, so the sandwiches over-spilled. More than that, it couldn’t be easily cleaned, it never closed tightly enough to cut through the bread and make triangular sandwiches, and it heated the ingredients to such a temperature that they became a fire hazard.

My memories of my sandwich toaster are consequently that it was a frustrating, inadequate and dirty experience that invariably left me with the inside of my mouth stripped of its skin. The impression I have gained from occasional discussions on this topic has been that most sandwich toasters are not much better, even if they may be easier to clean.

But my life has been changed, utterly and happily, in the last year or so by something that only in my wildest dreams I could have imagined: the toaster insert.

It may seem obvious to this in the know, but it hadn’t occurred to me, and it frankly takes the experience of toasted sandwiches to a whole other level. The making of the sandwich becomes a doddle, it is easy to clean, the result is edible, and now I am able to enjoy one of the pinnacles of western civilisation as often as I desire, with the only lingering sensation that of being happily replete.
I have not had as much time to write, or work on music projects, in the past week, but they continue to progress, and I hope to pick up the pace and have something to show you in the coming weeks.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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The Age of Bluffing | Pushing the Wave