Thursday 22 May 2008

He could have gone to the trouble of finding out her first name, though.

There is a bench near where I live which now bears the following inscription, half in black leading, half in blue felt tip. See if you can guess where the break occurs.

'In memory of John Randall-Gieves 1921 - 1995 - 2008 Frank Lampard's Mum.'

Despite the slightly unsettling Dr Who style regeneration picture it conjures up of the curious events of 1995, I find this oddly touching. I like the idea of these two people, Mr Randall-Gieves and Mrs Lampard, who are very unlikely ever to have met, finding themselves roughly yoked together by two other people's desire to commemorate them. After all, that's what you do with park benches - you share them with strangers.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Humph would be proud of us.

You know that little box on the BBC news website with the top five most popular stories at any given time? Well, at the moment the most emailed story is a report on how one British bird species is actually thriving under climate change, under the headline 'Great tits cope well with warming'. How encouraging to see that people are at last giving ecologicial stories the attention they deserve...

Sunday 4 May 2008

I am supposed to be writing a sitcom.

My friend Ed has just announced to the world, or that part of the world which is on F*c*b**k, (Gosh, that looks unexpectedly rude when you asterisk out the vowels) that he has seen 'more otters than you can possibly imagine'. Naturally, I scooted over to his page to leave a message with the funny joke that he shouldn't be too sure of himself, because I can imagine ten otters... only to find not one but two people had already got there. Well, I suppose it's quite an obvious joke. Plus my friend Ed knows a lot of comedians, both in the literal sense and the sense beloved of sarcastic policemen. However, I would like to point out that my two rivals used the numbers six and nine as the number of otters they could possibly imagine, both of which I think are slightly less funny than ten otters. Because it's a round number, and so sounds like a number I've genuinely reached by testing, not just one I picked for a joke, whilst still being hilariously low. But I didn't reach it by testing, of course. I just picked it for a joke. And that brings me to my sermon for today.

How many otters can you possibly imagine? Because if I say I can imagine a million otters, I'm obviously lying. I can't really even imagine a million pounds. I know what it could buy, but I can't imagine an actual million actual pound coins. Still less otters. They're famously harder to imagine than coins. Now, a thousand pound coins I think I can imagine. I can certainly imagine a thousand page book. But I don't think I can imagine a thousand otters. But then, what are my criteria here? To qualify as being imagined, do I have to be able to imagine each individual ottery face, and be able to distinguish in my imagination young Tasmania the Otter from Old Uncle Winchelsea the Otter? (I'm assuming here that otters use broadly the same naming system as Wombles.) No, I don't think so. I think I just have to be able to imagine what that mass of otters would look like, how much space they would take up, and how cross they'd be about it. I can imagine eight otters around my dining table, for instance, but I can't really imagine a thousand otters. My guess is that that's about a double decker bus full, but I can't imagine whether that's a tightly packed RSPCA nightmare of a bus, or whether the otters are lounging in relative comfort. (Remember they can sit under the seats as well as on them. And in the aisles).

Now, the ADC Theatre in Cambridge seats about 220, and I reckon I can imagine that full of otters. (An otter on every seat, that is. They only sit under them on buses. I mean, come on, they have to be able to see the stage). This is good - let's ramp it up. The Garrick theatre in London has a capacity, so Google tells me, of 656... but with regret I must admit I can't really imagine that full of otters. I mean, I can... but if I'm honest with myself, I'm just imagining the theatre, filling the stalls with otters, and then mentally clone brushing those same otters into the dress circle and upper circle. I'm not even certain I'm imagining the otters at the back of the stalls. I'm just imagining 'a theatre full of otters'. And now, confidence crumbling, I'm beginning to doubt my feat of imagination with the ADC. Did I really imagine 220 otters? Even the ones at the back, and the sides? Or am I just imagining 220 seats, and then tacking the word 'otters' over the word 'seats'? Hell, can I even imagine one otter? Let me check. Right, I've checked, I definitely can imagine one otter. He's called Barney, he's slightly over medium size, and he has a white mark on his muzzle where a larger otter named Velasquez snatched a trout from his mouth. From this we can draw two further conclusions: 1) I can imagine two otters. 2) The Womble naming system is not invariable amongst otters.

So. I'm confident I can imagine those two otters and their struggle to come to terms with that terrible summer's day when Barney's trust in Velasquez was forever shattered; but shifty about those 220 otters enjoying a patchy but basically competent student production of The Duchess of Malfi. So, maybe the thing to do is avoid any helpful framing device like a theatre or a bus or a netball team, and just imagine an increasing number of otters in a blank white void. No, that's too depressing. I'm just imagined Barney there alone, and it's breaking my heart. I'll imagine them in my garden. Ok. One otter. Check. Two otters. Will Barney ever forgive him? Three otters. Easy. Four otters. Piece of cake. Five otters. Yep. Six, seven, eight - yes. Nine, ten, eleven. I think so, yes. Twelve otters... ... ... ... ... no. I can't imagine twelve otters. Not really. When it comes right down to it, I'm just imagining six otters twice. And if I don't break it down into sub-groups like that, it's basically no different from my image of eleven otters. Come to that, I'm not sure my eleven otters were that different from my ten. What about my ten from my nine? No, there is a difference there. That's interesting. Because that seems to suggest that the number of otters I can possibly imagine... is ten. Ladies and gentlemen, it was funny because it was true.

I think Ed probably did see more than ten otters. I shan't bother leaving a message.

Friday 2 May 2008

Two things you might be interested in.

'John Finnemore, Apparently', my pilot radio sketch show, will be going out on Radio Four at 11pm this coming Monday, May 5th, and will be available on 'Listen Again' for a week afterwards. Hope you like it.

Also, free tickets are now available on the BBC website ( for the recordings of what they are pleased to describe as 'a new brilliant new sitcom'. So, both brilliant and new, then, but twice as new as it's brilliant... It's called Cabin Pressure, it's about the pilots of a tiny charter airline, and very excitingly it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, from A Life Backwards, Hawking, and Atonement; Roger Allam, from The Thick of It, The Queen, and A Cock and Bull Story; and Stephanie Cole, from A Bit of a Do, Housewife 49 and Talking Heads. And me, from here. The recordings are all in June - do come if you'd like to. (The tickets for the sketch show recording went surprisingly fast, so you may want to get in quick.)

Plug over, normal service will be resumed shortly.