Sunday, 20 December 2009

I'm beginning to think they don't even have any good tidings for me. Or my kin.

Help! Am trapped in the house by a gang of strangers, demanding something called 'figgy pudding'. Have told them I have no pudding of any sort, 'figgy' or otherwise; but they are deaf to reason, and simply keep repeating that they won't leave until they get some. Did my best to improvise with what I could find in the kitchen, and offered them tinned rice pudding with dried prunes in it; but they threw it angrily back in my face, and went back to chanting 'bring some out here', despite the fact that they are inside with me. The siege is now in its third day. Please send help. Or figs.  

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sibling rivalry.

Christoph Dassler, a worker in a German shoe factory in the early twentieth century, had two sons, Adolf and Rudolf. Adolf trained as a cobbler, and the brothers decided to set up a shoe factory of their own - the Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik -  in their mother's laundry, in their home town of Herzogenaurach. As time went on, a rift grew between the brothers; according to one account because Rudolf was the more enthusiastic Nazi; according to another because of an occasion during an air raid when Adolf and his wife got into his air raid shelter to find Rudolf and his family already there, and Adolf said ‘The dirty bastards are back again’ - referring, he later claimed, to the Allied planes. Rudolf wasn't convinced that’s what he was referring to.

Whatever the reason, in 1948 the partnership broke up for good, and Rudolf moved to new premises on the other side of the river, and set up his own shoe factory, which he originally named Ruda (RUdolf DAssler), but then changed, to Puma.

Meanwhile, Adolf renamed the original company, also after himself. Adolf wasn’t generally known as Adolf, though (especially not by 1948, I imagine) - he was known as Adi. Adi Dassler.

The international headquarters of both companies are still located across the river from one another in the small town of Herzogenaurach. Rudolf and Adolf, who never reconciled, are both buried there too, in the same cemetery... as far away from each another as possible. 

Monday, 7 December 2009

Also, given that there's snow on the ground, aren't shorts a rather adventurous choice, Gramps?

Whilst picking over the carcass of Borders this weekend, I came across this little work of literature:

Well, given that there is only one person in that picture who could possibly be old enough to be a grandparent of the giraffe-legged girl, I assume one of the Things that the anorexic Paul Newman is advised to do now he is a grandparent is to waste no time in finding himself a pencil-hipped twenty-something brunette mistress to go roller-skating with, whilst Grandma stays at home and massages her cellulite.

It did occur to me that the woman might be supposed to be Paul's daughter and giraffe girl's mother, but evidently not: when I looked up the book to find a picture to post here, I find most editions have made this small but significant change to the colourisation:

In which, for the sake of appearances, Paul Newman has at least persuaded his mistress to wear an Honor Blackman wig. Though she's fooling no-one. The minx.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Grant, Marx and Victoria: Same hairstyle all their lives. Gandhi - not so much.

I'm so impressed. I certainly wouldn't have got more than two. Anyway, in case you haven't seen the answers compiled by the Brains Trust in the comments box, here they are.

Sorry about the wonky layout, I spent too much time trying to sort it out, failed; and have decided not to spend the way too much time it would presumably take to succeed.

A few unsorted thoughts: Marx is my favourite. At first, it's inconceivable that Marx ever looked like that - but put the pictures side by side, and suddenly old Marx is just young Marx in a Father Christmas costume. Look at his eyes and nose - they haven't aged at all.

All these people lived relatively long lives, and yet, even with the evidence before me, it doesn't really change the way I feel - that the unfamiliar pictures are an interesting curiosity, but that Queen Victoria was basically always an old woman, Chaplin was always a young man, and Cary Grant was always about 45.

Alice Hargreaves, nee Liddell, was still alive in 1934! There will be people alive today who remember her. Crikey.

It's encouraging for those of us who plan to become old men that whilst handsome young men (Chaplin, Grant) turn into handsome old men; plain young men (Darwin) can do the same.

Talking of Darwin as an old man, can it be entirely coincidence that whilst his rather simian brow and deep set eyes make him look more like an ape than most men; his white hair and flowing beard make him look considerably more like God? And if it's not a coincidence, whose joke is it?

And speaking of God liking a joke, let's hope he does, because conversation in the comments somehow lead me to promise the following in return for a completed quiz sheet:


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

It's quiz time again! Hooray! Oh, don't roll your eyes like that. You don't HAVE to play.

I've had this great idea for the picture round of a pub quiz, but sadly I don't run a pub quiz, so I'm going to inflict it on you instead.

Here are pictures of six very, very famous faces. I mean, really amongst the most instantly recognizable people in history. But I you bet you can't identify more than, say, two of them.

Answers on Wednesday afternoon...

...but before then also, mostly, in the comments box.

Friday, 20 November 2009

...And if Lt Colebourn had been posted to Saskatchewan, Piglet's friend would be Reggie the Pooh.

I’ve invented a good work-avoidance game, of researching what something was named after, and then what that was named after, and so on, until you reach the original source. Though it’s surprisingly hard to get more than three links. Here’s some examples:

Apple Macintosh computers are named after their inventor’s favourite type of apple, the McIntosh Red. The McIntosh Red is named after the Canadian farmer who first grew it, John McIntosh,  1777-1846. I suppose we could go back further by claiming that John was in a sense named after Shaw MacDuff, who founded the clan Mac an Toisich (son of the chieftan), but that feels like cheating.

They Might Be Giants, the band, are named after ‘They Might Be Giants’, the 1971 film starring George C Scott, which in turn is named after Don Quixote’s reason for tilting at windmills.

Winnie the Pooh  was named after a black bear at London zoo named Winnie (and a swan named Pooh, but we’ll concentrate on Winnie). Winnie the bear was donated to the zoo by Lt Harry Colebourn, who bought it from a hunter in Canada, and named it after the city of Winnipeg. Winnipeg takes its name from the Cree words meaning ‘Muddy Waters’.

The Kit Kat biscuit was first made by Rowntree’s in 1935, and named after the Kit Cat Club, an 18th century artists’ club. The club was (probably) named after the ‘Kit Cat’, a mutton pie served at the chop house where the club originally met. And the Kit Cat pie was named after its baker, the pastrycook Christopher (or ‘Kit’) Catling.

Incidentally, Kit Kats (the biscuits, not the mutton pies) have recently become very popular in Japan, particularly at exam season, because the name sounds similar to the Japanese phrase ‘Kitto Katso’, meaning ‘ You will surely win’, and a tradition has arisen of giving them as good luck charms.

So, if a seventeenth century pastrycook had preferred the abbreviation ‘Chris’ to ‘Kit’, it’s fair to assume the Nestle corporation would have lost a significant sum of money in the twenty first century. Bet you didn’t know that this morning.  

Monday, 9 November 2009

Commercial Break

Firstly, Miranda Hart's fantastic new sitcom, in which I play a small part, starts going out tonight on BBC2. It's called 'Miranda', written by Miranda, and starring Miranda as the character 'Miranda'; and it's basically about a man named Chris who goes to a tango class. What the writer has rather cleverly done is restrict the main character's appearance to a couple of scenes in the second episode, to really maximise his impact; like Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now'. (Or possibly, given that I haven't seen the edited version, like Rebecca in 'Rebecca'...) As I say, my bit is in the episode broadcast next week, on the 16th, but you should definitely start watching it tonight. It's really very good.

Secondly, I'm happy to say 'Cabin Pressure', that thing I do on the radio about pilots, has been nominated for a Writers' Guild Award. Hooray!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Conversation that presumably took place between the planner and the caterer of a thing I was at recently.

- So, you want six trays of sandwiches, four of hors d'oeuvre, and four of fruit.
- Yes. Oh, and let's have one of cheese and biscuits as well.
- ...Ok. Some cheese, and some biscuits.
- ....Some cheese and biscuits, yes.
- ...How do you mean?
- Well, you know. A tray of cheese and biscuits.
- ...What, all on one tray?
- ...Yes.
- Together?
- Yes!
- Ok! You're the boss!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Oh my God! The 134 from Chesham Broadway doesn't stop in Tring!

A poster I saw on a bus-stop in Hertfordshire:

Really? As shocked as that? Crikey. Just what kind of information are we talking about? Because, I can't help noticing, she doesn't seem shocked in a pleased way, like someone whose Hertfordshire travel knowledge has been expanded to hitherto undreamt of widths. Frankly, she looks as if a more honest strapline would be "You'll be horrified and appalled at how much information is available." Is some of the information about her? Does she maybe have a disgruntled ex-boyfriend who works for Hertfordshire Travel Information? Whatever's going on, I'm scared to go there now. Both to the site, and to Hertfordshire.

Friday, 30 October 2009

In which I slam my fingers badly in A Little Knowledge.

Just passed a young guy selling poppies at King's Cross tube station, with the words: 'Poppies! Getcher poppies! All profits go to the armed forces!'

Er... no. No no no. To an armed forces charity. That's probably an important difference. I mean, it's not that I'm such a hopeless leftie I don't think we should have an armed forces, or even that they should be adequately funded, but I do think maybe buying a symbolic representation of a Flanders Fields poppy to help get the Royal Tank Regiment a new Challenger 2 might be ever so slightly missing the point.

Or so I thought. The above is what I composed in my head between hearing the guy and getting to my computer, but to my shame I realised I couldn't remember who wrote 'In Flanders Fields'. I assumed, however, that it was one of the Owen / Brooke / Sassoon / Graves gang, and I was absolutely sure - it didn't even occur to me to doubt - that the sentiment was of the 'Dulce Et Decorum Est' variety. Not at all, as I'm sure everyone but me knows. 'In Flanders Fields' is by the Canadian John McCrae, and ends:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Those don't sound to me like the words of a man who'd be unhappy if we all chipped in for a tank.

(The tattered remains of my original point still just about stand, though. That's not what we're doing, and I'm glad about that.)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Lazy comedy cliche things that actually happened to me this weekend.

I was infuriated by the confusing instructions for assembling some flat-pack furniture.

I avoided work by needlessly alphabetising my DVDs.

I hit my thumb with a hammer.

Join me next week, by when I will have slipped on a banana skin, had my computer explained to me by a child, and enthusiastically slagged someone off before realising that she's standing right behind me, isn't she?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

First five things I thought on looking at this portrait in the National Gallery, which basically mean I don't deserve to go there.

* Wow. That horse has a really tiny head.
* Charles I and his horse have the same hair.
* If everyone had a small framed sign saying who they were hung up beside them wherever they went, would that be useful or irritating? It would certainly be good at parties.
* Did Charles pick the horse because it had his hair, or did he get the horse first, and then grow his hair out in order to copy his horse's signature look? Or hasn't he even noticed? I bet the rest of the court has. Van Dyke definitely has.
* Well. I'm hungry.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

More collaborations

If you read the comments on this thing (and you really should, I am blessed with great commenters), you will know that a correspondent has kindly pointed me to a whole book of these. Meanwhile, another correspondent points out that Housman should be careful about giving people ideas, given the tumpty rhythms and inviting rhymes of many of his own opening couplets, and a third correspondent brilliantly proves her point:

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say:
"You're twenty one, the numbers there
go round the other way."

This reminded me of another collaboration: the composer Thomas Beecham's grandfather made his money from a laxative named Beecham's Pills, and as a boy Thomas supposedly earned half a crown by writing the following Christmas advert:

Hark the Herald Angels Sing:
BEECHAM'S PILLS are just the thing!
Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild; 
Two for an adult, one for a child.

All of which makes me think it's a shame Housman didn't have a family business to promote...

When the lad of longing sighs
Mute and dull of cheer and pale 
Will restore him without fail!

Once in the wind of morning
I ranged the thymy wold;
Till I found a HOUSMAN'S awning
Where FIRST RATE PIES are sold!

Think no more, lad; laugh, be jolly:
Why should men make haste to die?
Especially when they've bought, by golly,

Monday, 12 October 2009


A.E.Housman (probably, or at least possibly) once wrote a couplet to follow Wordsworth's lines in 'To the Cuckoo':

O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice?
State alternative preferred
With reasons for your choice. 

Another four line poem is quoted by Keats in a letter, but doesn't seem to me to be claiming authorship of it. And where it crops up elsewhere, it's often as the punchline to a story in which an undergraduate calls on a friend, only to find he has gone out, but has left on his desk a pad on which he has written the first two lines of a new poem:

''The sun's perpendicular rays
Illumine the depths of the sea'

Which the visitor helpfully finishes off for him:

'The fishes, beginning to sweat, 
Cry 'Damn it! How hot we shall be!''

Monday, 5 October 2009

Which means 'Growing' is still my best effort. Any advance?

So, it turns out you can have a whiter shade of pale, and grass that is greener on the other side. You can have redder blood than I; tell bluer jokes, and have a blacker heart. Your face can be pinker; browner; yellower; greyer or even purpler than mine. But... there's no such word as 'oranger'. What crazy system is this? How am I meant to compare two things, both of which largely reflect light at a wavelength between 585 to 620 nm, but one noticeably more so than the other? How am I supposed to differentiate between half-hearted and fervent supporters of the Dutch royal family? What sort of a impoverished tongue is it in which we cannot point out that both these oranges are orange, but this orange is the oranger orange? It's an outrage.

(I accept it is possible that to fully appreciate the enormity of this situation, you may need to be an occasional insomniac; to try to defeat your insomnia by playing word games in your head, such as the one where you build up a word by adding a letter at a time, each time creating a valid word; and to have believed last night that you had smashed your previous record with the sequence 'a, an, ran, rang, range, orange, oranger, orangery'. Until you checked the dictionary this morning, and discovered this OUTRAGEOUS GAP IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. But even if such happens not the case for you, I expect you're pretty cross about it.)

Friday, 2 October 2009

Forever Friends

Talking of London Zoo, this is the life-size statue that stands right in the centre of it, between the flamingo lake and the tiger enclosure.

Yep. Striking, isn't it? In case you can't read the plaque, it records that the sculpture was presented to the zoo by J. B. Wolff in 1906.

I see. So, in 1906, J. B. Wolff commissioned an enormous sculpture representing man and beast locked in their age-old conflict; the lion straining to rend the man apart with tooth and claw; the man armed with a primitive knife, desperately trying to disembowel the lion - implacable enemies locked in a fight for survival only one of them can win.

And then he gave it to a zoo.

You know what I think? I think J.B. Wolff simultaneously gave the zoo a large amount of money, on condition that they prominently display this statue in perpetuity. I think J.B.Wolff hated the zoo. You're a funny guy, J.B. Wolff.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Crooks chase cops! Cats have puppies! Hot snow falls up!

If you live in or near London, and haven't been to the zoo recently, let me just say this: there are lion cubs. Anyway, have a look at the 'other' section of this sign:

Don't you think that the vaguely feminist 'They've got the right idea, eh girls' implication is ever so slightly undermined by that exclamation mark?

'In lemur society, the females are in charge! If you can imagine such a bizarre thing! And day is night and up is down. Truly, those crazy lemurs live in a topsy-turvy land of misrule...'

Thursday, 24 September 2009

If you must know, I shot a librarian. But I did not shoot a deputy librarian.

Here are the three books I've been reading at the library this week, as research for something I'm writing. But the librarians at the issue desk don't know that. And somehow, they always manage to hand them to me with the red one on the top of the pile...

... and then give a look that says 'My God... what did you do?'

Or so it seems to me. Maybe it's just my guilty conscience.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Pieces of advertising material that have recently annoyed me - part six of at least nine.

For a phone company, answering the question 'What would you do if you had free texts for life?'

Would you now. So, Chris Addison's ugly cousin, you've been wanting to start a superband for a while, have you, but what's held you back is that the only way you can think of to contact 'all the musicians you know' is by text; and you're not prepared to go to that expense unless, in some utopian dream-world, a phone company gives you free texts for life. You see, I worry that you might not quite have the drive it takes to succeed in the music business.

Also, surely you can't start with a superband? You have to have a band first, you can't skip straight to 'superband'. Unless they missed out the space, and he's actually planning to start a super band. With topping drums, and spiffy guitars. I do hope so.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Muttonchops and parrots: for those of you who like your Earls of Aberdeen a little racier.

I promise this marks the end of Lord Aberdeen week. More eminent scholars than I have been looking into the whole question of Lord Aberdeen's father-in-law and that dog he invented. So let us instead now briefly examine Lord Aberdeen's great-great-grandfather, and his grandson.

Our Lord Aberdeen, John, and his wife, who called themselves 'we twa', seem to have been beloved wherever they went, sent off by Queen Victoria around the Empire like benevolent supernannies, jollying Ireland along here, inventing brigades of nurses for the Canadians there, and generally adding to the gaiety of nations (although along the way, it seems, spending the family's money like water, especially on fruit farms and pageants, two things to which her Ladyship seems to have been particularly partial).

It was a different story when Lord A's ancestor George Gordon, the third Earl, was in the driving seat. Known as 'Lord Skinflint' and 'The Wicked Earl', he evicted tenants; only granted 19 year leases, and in general, I think we're safe in concluding, ensured there were no fruit farms or pageants for anyone on his watch. He was also quite the ladies man. Here, according to John Doran, is the charming tale of how he met his wife:

"During a stop-over at the Stafford Arms in Wakefield, he was so pleased with the mutton chops served for his supper that he demanded to see the cook. Thus he met Catharine Hanson, a handsome woman of 29 and immediately led her to his bedchamber. When the time came for him to return home, George could not resist the temptation to again sample the delights of the Stratford Arms. This time Catharine had a surprise for Lord Aberdeen. Faced with a loaded pistol and the choice of marriage or his life, George pragmatically decided the Gordons of Haddo would benefit from an infusion of English blood."

As we have seen, Lord John did not noticeably take after Lord George. But genes are funny things, as we will see when we now turn to Lord John's grandson, Alastair Gordon, 6th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (Lord John was promoted from 7th Earl to 1st Marquess, hopefully for services to comedy, or at least pageants.) Alastair, who died in 2002 at the age of 82, was an artist and art critic, 'a tall, sprightly, bespectacled man with a toothbrush moustache', who listed his recreations in Who's Who as 'wine, women and song'. He wasn't joking, either. The year before his death, he wrote an article for The Oldie entitled 'The Good Whores Guide', comparing and contrasting his wartime experiences in Mme Janette's brothel in Beirut, and Mrs Fetherstonhaugh's 'private hotel' in Kensington. Here he is on Mrs F's recruitment policy:

"This consisted of asking girls who seemed as if they might be enthusiastic amateurs - out-of-work actresses or married women with husbands away at the war - if they would like to come to a party. If they then showed signs of enjoying themselves, it would be suggested that they continue to do so for money."

His wife Anne, according to the obituary, 'regarded her husband's interest in sexual matters with tolerant amusement' and 'decorated their home with her colourful flocks of parrots.' That's what I call a wife.

I now promise not to go on about any other Lord Aberdeen. Not even Lord John's grandfather: the Prime Minister who took Britain into the Crimean War; or the current incumbent, Lord Alastair's son Alexander, and his ill-fated tank-driving business. You can have too much of anything, even Lords Aberdeen.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Lord Aberdeen's best joke.

So, yesterday I was grossly unfair to John Hamilton-Gordon, seventh Earl of Aberdeen. I went through the whole of 'Jokes Cracked By Lord Aberdeen', and deliberately selected the one that has aged least well in the last hundred years or so. So today, by way of atonement, here is his Lordship's best joke. Seriously, I really like this one.

A lady remarked to a former Bishop of London on one occasion “Oh! Bishop, I want to tell you something very remarkable. An aunt of mine had arranged to make a voyage in a certain steamer, but at the last moment she had to give up the trip; and that steamer was wrecked; wasn’t it a mercy she did not go in it?”
“Well, but” replied the bishop, “I don’t know your aunt.”

Pretty good, eh? And surprisingly cruel. Modernise the language and references, and Jimmy Carr could use that today. Not that I'm saying that's necessarily the highest accolade in comedy, but not bad coming from a late Victorian Governor General of Canada.

The Laird ruminates over whether he's better off sticking to his tight ten minutes tonight, or trying out some of his new stuff on the second Home Rule bill.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Obviously, you have to read it in the voice.

The British Library sells postcards (that's not the main thing they do, but they do do it), and some of them are of unlikely book-covers, such as this one:

However, another thing the British Library do is allow you to order almost any book ever printed in Britain (that is the main thing they do). So anyone sufficiently intrigued by the material of nineteenth century Scotland's premier aristocratic comic can nip up to the reading rooms, and order it up. Which reminds you, have you heard this one?
"A young man had occasion to move from where he had hitherto lived, to another district. He had been associated with Presbyterians in his former abode, but it transpired that his views in Church matters were not of any rigid sort. It occurred, therefore, to the clergyman of the Episcopal church in the neighbourhood that the young man might suitably be invited to become a member of that Church. This was accomplished; but not long afterwards it transpired that he was about to join the Roman Catholics. On hearing this a friend of the Rector, who, like himself, was a keen curler, remarked, “Man, you’ve souppit him through the Hoose.”
*tap* *tap* Is this thing on? Oh, come on! He'd souppit him! Through the Hoose! Because, he had been associated with Presbyterians in his former abode, but now.... oh, never mind. Tough crowd.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Times when apostrophe contractions, though normally so useful, are probably best avoided.

  • I think, therefore I'm.
  • Unforgettable, that's what you're.
  • I'm what I'm, and what I'm needs no excuses.
  • 'Will you love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others keep thee only unto her so long as you both shall live?' 'I'll.'

    Thursday, 3 September 2009

    Sexist packing

    Hello. Back now, and straight into the myriad joys of flat-moving. One of the sixteen billion boxes into which our lives have been packed is labelled as follows:

    Tool Kit
    Christmas Decorations
    Jump Leads
    Fairy Lights

    I think anyone going by the evidence of that box alone would have to conclude that our flat is shared by Ernest Hemingway and Milly Molly Mandy.

    And is that so very far from the truth?

    (Answer: Yes. )

    Thursday, 20 August 2009

    Out of Office

    Right, I'm on holiday for a bit. A very small amount of walking in Italy, followed by a large amount of lazing around in Italy, which I will pretend has been justified by the walking, but which, in fact, isn't. So, nothing here until the end of the month... but the last of the second series of Cabin Pressure goes out tomorrow on Radio 4 at 11.30, and will be on Listen Again and iPlayer for a week afterwards. It's a bit different from the others - hope you like it.

    Wednesday, 12 August 2009

    Before you ask: Yes, 'Floyd' is a surprisingly common name amongst Southern African tribesmen.

    From the paper 'Psychological Factors Affecting Preferences for First Names', by Colman, Hargreaves and Sluckin of the University of Leicester.

    "Another striking example of the psychological importance of names is found among the Pondo tribesmen of Southern Africa. The patriarchal structure of the Pondo kinship system is reflected in a set of taboos governing name avoidance by married women. A Pondo bride is forbidden to utter the names of her husband's elder brothers, her father-in-law and his brothers, or her husband's paternal grandfather, whether they are living or dead. She is not even permitted in day-to-day speech to use words whose principal syllable rhymes with any of these names. She is also forbidden to use the personal names of her husband's mother, paternal aunts, and elder sisters, but she need not avoid words which rhyme with them."

    No, because that would just be silly.

    What I wonder is how they police this rule. I like to think the married men of Pondo carry little buzzers with them at all times.

    - I'm just going out for an hour, husband. Will you still be in when I get back?

    - Bzzt! If I can just stop you there, wife, and remind you of my brother Jack.

    - Oh. Yes, of course. Alright, will you still be in when I... return?

    - Bzzt! Sorry dear, you seem to be forgetting Great Uncle Ern.

    - Oh, come on! Your father had twenty five brothers! I can't avoid all their names!

    - Bzzzzzzzzzt! Great Uncles Joe, Ron, Arthur, Clive, Floyd, Paul and James!

    - Arthur does not rhyme with father! It's a half rhyme at best!

    - Yes it does! Doesn't it, village elder?

    -Well, on this occasion I'm going to give your wife the benefit of the doubt, but the village enjoyed your challenge, so you get an extra point.

    Friday, 7 August 2009

    There are moments in the film where he ISN'T clutching her arm. These are not two of them.

    Good guesses, but there's really no way you're going to identify a slightly obscure film from a drawing in which I have not attempted to actually draw the stars, and have, for instance, given one of them a moustache on a whim. If I do this again, I'll do it properly. But, in case you're interested, these are the stars...

    ...and this is the movie.

    Tuesday, 4 August 2009

    Peppy and Sterne, Private Investigators.

    You know I said a while ago I might start posting drawings from time to time? Well then, that explains this, doesn't it.

    They're not pictures of anyone in particular, but they are inspired by the stars of the film I was watching when I drew it. I will be astonished and impressed if anyone can identify that film. It would difficult enough if I had actually drawn the stars of it, and I haven't. And I don't see how Google can help you. I reckon it's impossible to get it unless you happen to have seen it in the last couple of weeks.

    (P.S. The title is not a clue. Neither of the stars of the film were private investigators. That's just what I think this pair look like.)

    Monday, 3 August 2009

    Now make the gas oven work...

    Here's something that hadn't occurred to me until I saw it.

    How do you get this sink:

    ...which is not in a real kitchen, but a temporary set islanded in the middle of a television studio, to run water when the tap is turned, without hoses running across the studio floor, or similar inconveniences? Answer:

    Techies are great.

    Saturday, 1 August 2009

    Perfect character sketch in three words.

    All is forgiven, Radio Four. You may market atrocious spoons (actually, it's probably not even you that do that; it's probably the sinister 'BBC Worldwide', the identity of which I've never quite understood), but you also provided the following terrific quote today. Broadcaster Charles Wheeler remembering spy George Blake, with whom he worked during the war:

    'He was a curious person. He was very charming. People liked him. Smiled a lot... smiled rather too much. Smiled at breakfast.'

    Friday, 31 July 2009

    Biting the hand that feeds me.

    Today, I saw this for sale in the BBC shop at Television Centre, and since I had to suffer it, I'm spreading the misery to you too.

    No. No, that just won't do. It's not that the time/thyme pun is up there in the gallery of over-used pun infamy with 'Eggstravaganza' and 'Purrfect'. Well, it is that, but that's not all it is. It's that they've managed to use that hackneyed old pun in a context where it doesn't even work... and it doesn't work not just once, but twice over.

    They have a wooden spoon with a The Archers logo on it. They need - and I use the word 'need' in the loosest sense imaginable - a jaunty punning phrase connecting the worlds of The Archers and wooden spoons. They've gone with 'thyme', which as far as I know seldom or never comes into contact with a wooden spoon during the cooking of anything; and 'time' as in, sometimes it is the 'time' that The Archers is on.

    So, in full, the 'joke' - see note for 'need'- reads like this: This wooden spoon is found in the kitchen, where you might also find the spice thyme, which is a homophone for the concept time, which is a dimension in which popular radio soap The Archers exists, (as does everything else on Earth). So, in a very real and humorous sense, this spoon means that it's "Thyme" (!) for The Archers!!!!!

    You may ask if I have a better pun to put on a wooden spoon promoting The Archers. I couldn't be more proud to say that I do not. Why, do you?

    P.S. Good, that's Radio Four ticked off. After all, what has it done for me today, apart from broadcasting the third episode of Cabin Pressure, and an episode of the Now Show I wrote for. But that's all!

    Sunday, 19 July 2009

    You never think it will happen to you.

    I was shocked and saddened to learn that this year's Running of the Bulls in Pamplona ended in tragedy, with the death of one of the young men taking part. How awful that a young life was so cruelly cut short. It's just one of those ghastly freak accidents that there's really nothing anyone could have done to prevent. Daniel Jimeno just happened to be in the wrong place - the narrow cobbled streets of Pamplona - at the wrong time - the time when the city elects to goad a herd of maddened, terrified bulls into stampeding through those streets.

    How could he have known, when he decided to join in the annual event in which 15 people have died since it began in 1911, that he might die? After all, as Pamplona's mayor Yolanda Barcina wisely pointed out, no-one's been killed by a bull in Pamplona for quite some time - not since 1995. Ancient history! In fact, Mayor Barcina continued: "before Daniel Jimeno was gored, participants of the run had been complaining for years that the run was losing excitement and risk because of all the security measures which the municipality has put in place," Senor Jimeno's family can take comfort, then, that he did not die in vain. He's definitely shut those people up.

    I suggest, then, that we set up a fund in his name, a charity dedicated to raising money to research what on earth it is that causes some otherwise healthy young men, whilst voluntarily trying to outrun maddened bulls, to get gored to death by maddened bulls. There must be some common factor, if only we could put our finger on it. It's really ignorance that's the killer here. Ignorance, and maddened bulls.

    (Other fatalities of the Pamplona Bull Run this year included, as always, all the bulls. But that was as planned, so it's fine.)

    Friday, 17 July 2009

    Did I mention Alison Steadman's in it?

    Should you have missed the first of the new series of Cabin Pressure - and heaven knows, what with it going out at 11:30 in the morning on a weekday, who wouldn't - you can listen to it here for one week starting... now.

    I'm not saying you have to, I'm just saying you can.

    Thursday, 16 July 2009

    Round up the usual suspects.

    Hello. Sorry about the hiatus, I was writing a sitcom. It's done now, by the way; and recorded;and the first one is broadcast tomorrow at 11:30 in the morning. Hope you like it. I think I do.

    In the meantime, does anyone recognise this man?

    I'm particularly interested to find out if he's a magistrate, Tory councillor, or headmaster (He sort of looks like he could be all three.) Because I have a picture on my phone which, with a little judicious cropping and reflection removal, could lay the poor man open to an unscrupulous blackmail attempt:

    Thursday, 25 June 2009

    Banianos in Pyjianos are coming down the stair...

    Is there really not an English accented rhyming dictionary on the net? Stupid Yankee RhymeZone thinks that 'bananas' doesn't rhyme with 'Bahamas' and 'pyjamas'; but does rhyme with 'Atlanta's' and, bizarrely 'pianos'.

    Not really worth a week's wait, that, was it? Sorry- blame it on the Cabin Pressure. Similarly, if you're one of the many people to whose emails I have failed to reply this week, I'm very sorry. Better, more efficient, times are coming.

    Friday, 12 June 2009

    I'm so sorry, I just clicked on it, and...

    The BBC website invites me to sign up to its Facebook or Twitter feed, because 'it's embarrassingly easy'. I am English enough that I embarrass easily, and often unnecessarily, but I think even I could manage to quell the hot flush of shame about how easily I have signed up to a Twitter feed. I'm not going to sign up, though. Just in case.

    First recording of Cabin Pressure seemed to go pretty well, by the way. At one point I found myself performing a scene with Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Greenall, Matt Green, and Alison Steadman. I mean, bloody hell! How did that happen?

    Thursday, 28 May 2009

    I also at one point used the phrase 'Slight Disimprovement'.

    That was dispiriting. I was just called up by ICM, the pollsters. And it wasn't a boring one about how many holidays I take or how much yoghurt I buy, it was a proper one about general elections and the expenses row. Great! Like everyone else, I've always secretly felt it was a shame that these polls consist entirely of people who aren't me, and that they therefore do not reflect My Important Opinions. Now all that would change! Now My Important Opinions would at last be heard. Bring it on. 

    Turns out I don't know anything. 

    What they asked: 
    'On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to vote in the next general election.'
    What I replied:
    What I thought before I replied:'
    'Oh yeah. I'm Mr Responsible Politically Active Citizen. You're talking to the right guy here, my friend.'

    What they asked:
    'Do you think the MPs' expenses saga is: a major scandal; serious; regrettable but not serious; irrelevant?' 
    What I replied:
    'Regrettable but not serious.'
    What I thought before I replied:
    'Great! I already have an opinion on this! And, by lucky chance, my opinion is totally correct. If only people asked me what I reckon about stuff more often. I'm basically a policy wonk. If I was in the West Wing, I wonder whether Josh or Sam would want to be my friend most?'

    What they asked:
    'Which party leader do you think has been least affected by the MPs' expenses saga?'
    What I said:
    'Nick Clegg'
    What I thought before I replied: 
    'Er... hang on... er... I don't know... none of them, really. I mean all of them. Well, technically I suppose Nick Clegg, in that he's least affected by everything, because we still don't really know who he is. I'll say Nick Clegg.'

    What they asked:
    'How would the following measures affect the political system: large improvement; slight improvement; no effect, slightly worse, a lot worse. Allowing MPs to vote remotely, via the internet or video link-up?'
    What I replied:
    'No effect.'
    What I thought before I replied:
    'Oh God, I've no idea, I've never heard of that suggestion before, I thought you were going to ask me whether I thought constituents should be able to sack their MPs, I know exactly what I think about that, they shouldn't, ironically this is based on my general feeling that constituents are easily-lead opinionated idiots who don't know what they think until someone tells them, a theory I am amply demonstrating right now, well come on, think about it, I suppose it would allow MPs to spend more time in their constituencies, less need for second homes, so I suppose it's a good thing, but there must be all sorts of arguments against it, I just don't know what they are, but I bet if I heard someone explain them I'd agree, also going through the division lobbies is an ancient tradition, and my knee-jerk response is always in favour of keeping traditions, oh I don't know, if this was just a news story I was supposed to be coming up with jokes about for the Now Show it would be easy:  'MPs, videolinks, the internet, not a very wise combination, Jackie Smith's husband, haw haw haw', is hopefully the sort of train of thought I'd reject in favour of something better; but actually deciding, on the hoof, whether it's a good idea or not is just too much for me, I'd better say 'no effect' but that's ridiculous, it's a massive change to the system, the one thing it's definitely not going to have is 'no effect'; but still, this pause has already become embarrassing; it's about to tip over into unsettling, I've got to say something, at least that's sort of neutral.'

    I'm an idiot. Take away my vote. 

    Monday, 18 May 2009

    I might start using it as an exclamation.

    Prayer improvised by teenage boy on bus yesterday, sort of jokily, but not, I think, deliberately getting it wrong:

    'Oh, Father God, Heaven, and Holy Christ!'

    For full effect, bear in mind this was said while making a 'T' shape on his throat - starting by drawing a finger across it in the sign for 'dead', then drawing a line down from Adam's apple to clavicle. 

    Still, he didn't mean any harm, so just say four Hail Caesars and a Mary Mary, my son. 

    Thursday, 14 May 2009

    I'd call it 'Johntember'.

    Advert Google served up to me alongside my emails today: 

    'Dates Highland

    Only if you are serious and from Highland. Free month.' 

    Sadly, I am not very serious, and not all from Highland. But I would dearly love a free month. 

    Friday, 8 May 2009

    Cabin Pressure II

    Just to let you know that the second series of my radio sitcom Cabin Pressure, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Roger Allam and Stephanie Cole, will be recorded in London on the 7th and 28th June, and the 12th July (all Sundays). Tickets are available from here , but it's possible that they'll go quite fast, what with being free and all, so I suggest you get in quick if you'd like to come. 

    Monday, 4 May 2009

    Pieces of advertising material that have recently annoyed me - part five of at least three.

    Wow! Surely, this is the very epitome of daring fusion cuisine - McDonalds, but thrillingly combined with the exotic tastes of western America! It seems like madness, but McDonalds dare to dream. And what is it they most dearly hope to gain from this previously unheard-of 'western' influence on their burgers? Why, sophistication, of course! Because if there's one quality the people of Utah, Wyoming and Arizona pride themselves in having above all others, it's sophistication. They might not be able to rope a steer like those folks in Boston, and you can bet they're always gonna come off worst in a fist-fight with a Parisian, but hoo boy, when it comes to sophistication, they've got 'em all licked.

    Wednesday, 29 April 2009

    And this is a big coat.

    Monday, 27 April 2009

    That's a big jumper.

    Sorry about the hiatus - this place often tends to suffer a bit when I have a lot of writing to do (in this case series two of Cabin Pressure). So, in order to keep the posts ticking over, and because I need practice, and because I've bought a new scanner, I thought I might start putting drawings and caricatures up as well. I expect they'll mostly be people and faces, because that's what I mostly draw. They'll tend not to be actual specific people, though they might be sometimes. Hope you don't this too self-indulgent, though possibly the ship of me not being self-indulgent sailed when I bought '', and filled it with three years of what I reckon about stuff. 

    Anyway. Here's a chap. 

    Saturday, 11 April 2009

    Also, at some point he falls in love.

    At the cinema, there was an advert for something or other to do with the cinema itself, advance booking or something, that involved several ultra-mini-trailers for forthcoming films. One, in its entirity, went like this:

    Clip one- Footage of second best special effect. Solemn Character: 'Evil has returned.'
    Clip two- Footage of best special effect. Brave Character: 'We have to find the Dragonball!'

    Now, I've got nothing against that sort of movie,  but it strikes me that that is pretty much its perfect length. This is literally all I know about 'Dragonball', but I bet I already know as much about the characters and plot from those two sentences as I ever would from a ninety-odd minute film. I suppose the director might argue that the edited version above lacks closure, and would want it at least doubled so as to include the lines:

    Clip three - Brave Character: 'We've found the Dragonball!'
    Clip four - Solemn Character: 'Evil has gone away again.'

    But to be honest, I think he's wrong. I don't think anyone was in any doubt whether the Dragonball would be found and Evil would go away, or whether the Dragonball would forever remain down in the crack behind the washing machine, and Evil would settle in and start choosing new carpets. In fact, on the contrary, I think the edited version is still a bit flabby. Here's my ideal cut:

    Footage of best special effect. 
    Wise Character - Evil.
    Brave Character - Dragonball!

    That'll be £9.50, please, not including popcorn. 

    Tuesday, 7 April 2009

    Projects in development with the studio that brought you 'Fifty Dead Men Walking'.

    • Fifty Taxi Drivers
    • The Fifty Godfathers
    • The Fifty Elephant Men
    • The Fifty Ladies Vanish
    • The Fifty Godfathers, Part One Hundred
    • The Fifty Men in The Fifty Iron Masks
    • The Hundred and Fiftieth Man
    • Six Hundred Angry Men
    • Five Thousand and Fifty Dalmations

    Wednesday, 1 April 2009

    More thrilling adventures of spending too much time in a library.

    The franchise of the cafe in the British Library has changed hands, which has left me flustered, indignant and disturbed , despite the fact that the staff and prices remain the same, and the food looks, if anything, nicer. Is this a sign I have become institutionalised?

    Meanwhile, find this mournful chain of comments written, in various hands, on one of the paper 'How to read a book, you idiot' signs on every desk.

    - PHD-takes forever!
    - Agreed
    - Would never put myself through that.
    - You don't have to.
    - It's worth it in the end. DR.
    - I didn't get funding, so...

    Not sure whether the penultimate Smuggins signed with their initials, which is bad - are we supposed to know who s/he is? Daniel Radcliffe? Diana Ross? - or signed as 'Doctor', which is worse, and probably best treated with a smack in the mouth.

    Monday, 23 March 2009

    Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

    • White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emaneul cleans out his toenails with a toothpick.
    • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Oscar-nominated director of 'Babel', jiggles his leg up and down in meetings.
    • Atsutoshi Nishida, President of the Toshiba Corporation, keeps his wallet in the breast pocket of his jacket. 
    • Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, does the Everyman crossword in his bath on Sunday mornings. 
    • Carl-Henric Svanberg, CEO of Ericcson Telecommunications, absent-mindedly pulls hairs from his moustache when thinking.
    • Jaideep Bose, Editor in Chief of the Times of India, empties his pocket change each night into a clay dish his daughter made at school.
    • Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy, sleeps with the light on. 

    Tuesday, 17 March 2009

    Is there a dialectologist in the house?

    I've just read a couple of articles by P.G.Wodehouse about writing lyrics, in which he tries to explain 'why, when you see a librettist, he is generally lying on his back on the sidewalk with a crowd standing round, saying "Give him air."'

    In one of these, he celebrates the rising popularity of Hawaii, 'with its admirably named beaches, shores, and musical instruments', and also its capability of being rhymed with "higher". Elsewhere, he disapproves of shoddy lyricists who 'can make "home" rhyme with "alone", and "saw" with "more", and go right off and look their innocent children in the eye without a touch of shame.' 

    Now, I can easily imagine - though I never knew - that we've altered the way we pronounce 'Hawaii' in the last century, but how on earth was Plum pronouncing either 'saw' or 'more' so that they didn't rhyme? No matter how much of a strangulated 1920s voice I put on, I can't make them come out differently. Is it somehow related to a Michael Flanders joke I've never understood, in which he announces he's going to sing "an Edwardian -or 'Edwaardian'- song"? Did everyone in the first quarter of the century pronounce all their 'a's long? Does anyone know?

    Monday, 9 March 2009

    Oh, and do you remember bendy buses? That takes me back!

    Today I opened a book of mine I haven't looked at for a few years, and out fluttered the number 38 bus ticket I had used as a bookmark. And immediately I was hit by a wave of nostalgia - Oh yes! The 38! I used to take that all the time! And just think, the last time I closed this book, I was sitting on the 38, and now here I am. Ah me, where are the snows of yesteryear, etc etc.

    The thing is, I still live on the number 38 bus route. I use it all the time. The superficially poignant circumstances - book, creased old ticket, etc - had automatically tripped my nostalgia switch without me stopping to ask whether there was actually anything to be sentimental about.

    This happened to me once before - some friends and I were on holiday, and one evening about half way through, one of us put the photos he'd taken so far as a slide-show on his computer. But being a bit arty, he'd turned some of them black and white, and he picked some rather slow wistful classical music to accompany it. And as we watched it, everyone went a bit quiet, and I swear we were all feeling a pang of nostalgia for the holiday we were still on. 

    Tuesday, 3 March 2009

    And home in time for tea.

    Favourite sentence from the version of 'Jason and the Argonauts' I'm listening to at the moment: (For context, the heroes are nearing the end of a mighty quest, in which every island they've come to has presented them with a new and terrible enemy; human, beast, monster or Titan. Then:)

    'They passed the cave wherin lurked Scylla, the many-headed monster- though on that day, she slept.' 

    Across the millennia, I have a stab of fellow-feeling for the myth-maker. God knows I feel like that about plotting sometimes. Still, think of all the work he could have saved himself if he'd only come up with that approach earlier: 

    'Next, the brave Argonauts came to the mighty clashing rocks of the Symplegades, which crushed to splinters any ship which passed through them - though on that day, they were being repaired. 

    Then they arrived at the court of King Aeetes, owner of the fleece, who had sworn that none should have it who could not first yoke his ferocious fire-breathing oxen. Though on that day, he was in a good mood, and agreed to take cash. 

    Finally, they arrived at the oak tree on which the golden fleece hung, guarded by a mighty dragon with claws of brass and wings of fire, who never slept, needed no repair, and was never in a good mood. Though on that day, he was out. '

    Sunday, 1 March 2009

    It's that slim-line colour scanner in the office, isn't it?

    Today, Marianne's computer told her it had 'experienced a minor lapse in fidelity'. Which sounds to me more like a senior civil servant trying to weasel his way out of trouble with his wife: 'Listen, darling, we were both drunk, it meant nothing... but to be perfectly blunt with you, I have experienced a minor lapse in fidelity'.

     Marianne has agreed to give her computer another chance, for the sake of the printer. 

    Wednesday, 25 February 2009

    They're not, for a start.

    It is wrong of me, absolutely wrong of me, and I don't pretend it's anything other than wrong of me; that whenever I see the headline about teenage pregnancy on the front of the copy of 'The Week' that's lying around the flat at the moment- 'Children Who Have Children' - I find myself humming '...are the luckiest children in the world'.

    Monday, 23 February 2009

    Cabin Pressure - Repeat of series one.

    Just to let you know... The first series of my radio sitcom Cabin Pressure, about a tiny charter airline and starring Roger Allam, Stephanie Cole, Benedict Cumberbatch and me, is being repeated on Radio 4 at 6:30 on Tuesdays starting tomorrow (February 24th). After that time, you should also be able to hear each episode for one week after broadcast on the BBC iplayer or via Listen Again.  Hope you enjoy it.