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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 2 (May 1, 1939)

Notes On Knowers

page 42

Notes On Knowers

Knower's Nark.

Ever since the regrettable innovation of human speech there have been Knowers.

Noah was a Knower—but he happened to be right. It might have been a fluke, but it was more likely his corns; and the chances are that he was goaded into a regatta fixation by the brothers Hem and Sham who, boys being—well, what they have always been, scoffed, “Silly old cheese! He thinks he knows everthing.”

And Noah, discovering that even his wife suspected him of water on the brain, said: “O.K.! I'll show ‘em whether I know it's going to be a wet spring.” And so he laid the keel of the nark—more in contradiction than conviction. It just happened that he fluked a particularly damp spring and must have been pretty difficult to live with ever after.

Many Knowers have been less fortunate. Take the case of King Canute (later pronounced “cannot” as in horse-racing) who took a fly with the “books” on his ability to go over the edge without getting soaked! He had to be practically wrung out by the royal tide-waiters! He runs closer to the modern Knower than Noah.

The Knower comes within the category of scourges, plagues and pestilences. In the Excited States he is known as Wiseguy, and, in our own country, as many things which even his best friend wouldn't tell him.

A House-howled Word.

You may remember, many years ago, a biological phenomenon with the stage name, Argus, who challenged all-comers to a catch-as-catch-can with Knowledge. His slogan was “Ask Argus!” You could ask him anything from the number of three-penny bits circulating in Dunedin to the pronunciation of “centennial” and he could give you the answers; and, as no one knew what the answers ought to be, there was no harm done. He may have got the “bull” in the eye every time for all I know, but I can't help thinking what a bore he must have been at home. The common or house-howled Knower has no honour in his own family. Originally he is a domestic product—the victim of blind faith. In the first place he induces his wife to take a preference share in Marriage (Incorp.) on representations which, later, she finds to be unsupported by the evidence. Originally she is deluded by his air of doggish wisdom and, by the time she discovers that she has been sold a pup it is too late to rescind the license.

By this time he is an incurable Knower. Answers wing from his lips like migrating godwits, knowledge springs from him like rats deserting a shrinking sip, or fleas fleeing a drowning dog. He doesn't even have to think them up and they don't have to be correct because no one listens to them, anyway.

Prophet and Loss.

As his children multiply, his faith in himself is sorely tried and he is even tempted by an advertisement which demands, “How will you answer your children?” to buy a volume of five thousand answers to a similar number of frightful questions likely to be fired at suffering parents by heartless infants. But he knows that the answers to the brainteasers promulgated by his little hot-spots could not be found even in the Talmud; and, anyway, he isn't going to have his style cramped by mere authenticity.

He is already shocked to his artistic giblets by the drab unimaginativeness of the facts fed to his children by the Educational Authorities with the deliberate intention of discrediting his own authority; so much so that he is driven to reply to questions with, “Look it up in the book! How do you expect to learn if you rely on me to tell you everything?”

But you can't keep a good Knower down. He may take the count for eight but he will beat the ten-spot time and again. His motto is “Hic hoc hocus” which is dog Latin for “give it a pop.” He can tell you, without even thinking about it, that a totalitarian state is how you feel at tea parties, that the Cossacks are what monks wear, that the swastika was originally the laudry mark on certain shirts, that St. Paul's Cathedral was built by Christopher Robin, that the Trappist monks are tree-dwellers who snare
“How will you answer your children?”

“How will you answer your children?”

page 43 furred animals, that Sing Sing is in the Canary Islands, and that the seven wonders of the world are women's hats, six-o-clock closing, the way his wife treats the newspaper, why his boss can't see that he is worth twice his salary, bills, the international situation, and his general lack of luck.

He can tell you that the Colossus of Roads is a bulldozer, that a bigamist is a heavyweight lifter, that the sign of the Zodiac is three gold balls above a doorway, that the Incas came from the Black Sea, and that an igloo is what an eskimo beats his wife with.

A Topsy-Turfey Gee-Genius.

A Knower's end is inevitable. When his children take to reading encyclopedias, his wife to gaining her general knowledge from the visiting tradesmen, and even the dog gives up looking up to him with eyes swimming with dog-like delusion, his hours as an imaginative genius are numbered. He must either divert his ingenuity to used-car salesmanship, go dumb (which would probably result in a deep-seated explosion) or turn his unnatural ability to that most imaginative and inexact of all the sciences—horse-racing. Racing is peculiarly suited to the gee-genius of the Knower. There is something about the horsiness of a horse that gees up his creative faculties. There is so much to know, and so little time to know it in. You have to know the owner's intentions, the trainer's expectations, the jockey's ambitions and the horse's feeling on the subject of forging ahead and proving his claim to be the friend of man. And you've got to know when all these warring elements will cash in at the post.

Tennyson, the poet, was a worshipper at the shrine of “My Lady Nicotine,” and like many men of letters, preferred a pipe to a cigar. (Cigarettes hadn't been invented in his day). His favourite pipe was a common clay. He would take a new clay, fill and light it, smoke it till empty, and then, snapping the stem and throwing the fragments aside, would fill and light a second clay. He never smoked the same pipe twice. His tobacco was purest Virginian, for he insisted upon the purity of his weed. Therein he was wise. Really pure tobacco is harmless. Impure tobacco (i.e., tobacco containing much nicotine) may, and often does prove, highly injurious. This fact is at last becoming generally recognised. Hence the demand for our beautifully pure New Zealand tobacco which, containing less nicotine than any other, can be smoked even immoderately with absolute safety. Why?—because it's toasted! There are, as most smokers know, five brands only of the genuine toasted tobacco: Cavendish, Navy Cut No. 3. Cut Plug No. 10, Desert Gold and Riverhead Gold.*

“You can tell he is not running in the race because he is wearing a bridle.”

“You can tell he is not running in the race because he is wearing a bridle.”

Here is unlimited scope for the Knower. He may be discredited in his own family loose-box, his relatives may flee moaning from his presence, streets may clear of all sign of life at his approach, and he may be listed as an inflictious disease; but as a quadrupedagogue he claims audiences with impunity. He is not regarded as a nag among horses. His face grows long and solemn, but you can tell that he isn't actually running in the race because he isn't wearing a bridle. Even other Knowers listen to him if he looks mysterious enough to suggest a dividend complex. He whispers horsely of strange knowledge that has come to him in the night; of deep secrets plucked from the favourite's feed-bag; of devious devices designed to spice the sport of ginks with financial fecundity. He wears an air of melancholy dignity befitting one immersed in the topsyturfy affairs of life and debt.

And so at last he passes to the better course where there are only payout windows in the “tote,” and the bookmakers—I mean the barbers—send a tribute of horse-chestnuts inscribed: “Heaven's gain is our loss.”

But here's to the Knower. His heart's in the right place even if is voice is all over the place.

From the Ganges to Genoa,
You can bet you'll meet a Knower,
Glibly tossing answers back—
Be he yellow, white or black.
He's a goer is the Knower,
He's a gale, a whale, a blower,
Never stymied, never stumped,
(In Chicago sometimes “bumped”)
He can answer all you ask,
But you'd better wear a mask;
By the freedom of his blower
You will always know a Knower.

page 44