Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

April 25, 2016

Prince and the Canberra Heater Rule

Filed under: news of the day — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:58 am

Canberra has a bizarre cultural tradition you might have heard about. This is it: you invite social censure if you switch on your household heating before Anzac Day. Ask anyone who lives here for more than a year or two – if they don’t say it themselves, they will still be well aware of having heard it.

The specific consequences of infringing this oft-recounted social directive are never made clear. After a bit over seventeen years living here, I’m not yet sufficiently local to speak with any authority. But I infer that breakers of the Anzac Day rule are considered to be a bit on the soft side. They lack, I understand, the intestinal fire that will see them through the bitter winter.

Me, I’m just cheap. The longer we can put off cranking up the ducted heating the better. Our September gas bill is a shocker.

Still the “rule” has undeniable power. No matter how cold it gets in early April, you can’t help but hesitate before throwing the switch. Eleven on days when there’s frost outside and the car windscreens are all iced over.

You question yourself. “Do I really need to warm up?”

You ask yourself, “Couldn’t I just put on a jumper?”

You find yourself actively considering whether to just tough out the cold when the switch for the heater is right in front of you.

It’s astonishing how small, seemingly insignificant social pressures can influence our behaviour.

A few days ago as I write this, Prince died in what are still mysterious circumstances. Despite being in the right age group – my teen years were in the eighties – I never really got into Prince. I liked all the same songs that everyone else liked, but I never dug any deeper than listening to ‘Purple Rain’ a few times and digging about half of the Batman ‘89 soundtrack.

But this week’s massive outpouring of shock and grief at the untimely death of a celebrity – a state that 2016 appears to be conditioning us to never leave – has got me reconsidering my mildly indifferent stance. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious when you actually pay attention that Prince was a prodigious talent – singing, dancing, playing All the Instruments and etc.

More to the point, the sheer abundance of opinion on social media (and in traditional media, for that matter) exerts a quiet strength. I don’t think I even registered the moment this week where I went from being somewhat indifferent to strongly pro-Prince. It definitely happened. Unless something terrible comes out in the wake of investigations into his passing, that’s probably going to be my opinion for good.

It was a seismic shift affecting one small corner of my mind, but it happened without my even noticing it until after the fact.

(There’s probably some kind of book marketing lesson to be learned in that, but who cares?)

Instead I’m going to link to my favourite Prince moment from a few years ago, at a memorial concert for George Harrison. He’s not playing one of his own songs, but he plays with such effortless virtuosity that it might as well be his.

Listen to the whole thing (or start at 3:25 to skip listening to Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty singing, if you must). If you didn’t have an opinion about Prince before, this might change your mind.



  1. Never heard of it! Male undergraduates here have the bizarre cultural tradition of coming to classes in t-shirt, shorts, and thongs *every single day*, even if the apparent temperature with wind chill is -8.
    Still trying to overcome my own susceptibility to social pressure – it is interesting how the tiniest steps away from craven timidity result in a reputation for fearlessness.

    Comment by Chris — April 26, 2016 @ 3:27 pm

  2. Meh, my indifference holds.

    I’ve always been contrary. The stornger everyone else feels about something the more likely I am to head off in a different direction or at least develop a complete indifference. Its basically my “nobody is going to tell me who to be” knee jerk reaction, which I have to keep an eye on because sometimes what everyone else is doing might actually be good for me.

    As a child I rejected horses, ballet and ABBA because I was expected to be mad about them all.

    By the way, the wearing of lab coats everywhere by the chem students is back in vogue up here. Probably because of all the profesional degrees that have uniforms.

    Comment by Jenny — April 28, 2016 @ 10:22 am

  3. Chris – to the best of my knowledge it’s a uniquely Canberra tradition. I’d certainly never heard of it either before coming here. But clearly they make the young folk from sterner stuff in your part of the world.

    Jenny – horses are bitey and stupid, ballet is an excruciating torture in pleasing costumes, and ABBA is – hmm, I was going to say something disparaging about ABBA, but actually they were mostly pretty amazing for all of their implacably calculated populism.

    I understand the kneejerk impulse to resist and distrust the popular – in my younger days there was a strong (though not absolute) correlation between people who were aware of and helped define what was popular in my social circles and people who were pretty unpleasant to me and my friends. But as you say, it’s never a bad idea to assess things on their own merits just in case the popular opinion has something to it after all.

    In Prince’s case specifically, I’m attracted to the precision and fluidity of his instrumental technique, his commanding stage presence and the fact that at the end of the clip he throws his guitar into the air and it appears never to come down again, which is ten times more amazing than a completely deserved mic drop would have been.

    Comment by lexifab — April 29, 2016 @ 1:05 pm

  4. And I just came across this article about that very performance, which among other things demonstrates that the shocked and delighted expressions on Tom Petty and Dhani Harrison’s faces are genuine, because they had never rehearsed Prince’s solo and were hearing it for the first time: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/28/arts/music/prince-guitar-rock-hall-of-fame.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

    Comment by lexifab — April 29, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

  5. Heh, I love the way that even the others who were there *don’t know* what happened to the guitar…

    Comment by Dr Clam — April 29, 2016 @ 9:17 pm

  6. That was my favourite bit too.

    Comment by Lexifab — April 29, 2016 @ 11:18 pm

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