Thursday 30 December 2010

Maybe they had them already?

Hope you had a good Christmas. I, probably like most of you, gave everyone in my family plastic co-axial aerial sockets, and small grub screws. Oddly enough, some of them seemed a little unimpressed, despite the clear assurances I was given by the shop where I bought them.

Completely inexplicable.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Things on which I saw people slide down Primrose Hill this Christmas week.

- Sledges
- Trays
- Binbags
- Recycling box lids.
- A shelf.
- One of those pallets in which bakers deliver loaves.
- A 'Men at Work' road-sign.

And then there was this guy:

One of nature's optimists.

(While I'm here: some things you might care to listen to / watch on Christmas day, once you're bored with mince pies and arguing.

- Cabin Pressure Christmas Special, 8:30am, Radio 4. I wrote this, and am in it. 
- Now Show Christmas Special, 12.30pm, Radio 4. I wrote some stuff for this. 
- The One Ronnie, 5.10pm, BBC One. I wrote a sketch for this. The Attenborough one.)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Wherein beholders do discover everybody's face but their own.

John Bishop is a hugely successful comedian, far more successful than I am. However, I've never seen his act, so I have absolutely no opinion on how good he is. He may well be excellent. All I do know is that there's something about the publicity photo that's everywhere at the moment that has made me take an instinctive- and let me stress totally irrational- dislike to him. This is the photo. 

Inoffensive, cheerfully smiling, rather handsome man, right? I know. But for some reason, I just have this feeling I wouldn't like him. And today, I suddenly realised what it is. It's those stray curls of hair from the back of his head you can see poking out below his ears. That, I'm pretty sure, is the sole reason I've taken against him. Anyway, I realised this, thought about doing a blog about it, and then thought - as you are no doubt doing right now - nah, it's not really worth one. 

Two minutes later, I caught sight of a mirror. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what I look like right now. 

What shall we file this under, I wonder? 'Chronic Lack of Self-Awareness'? 'Subconscious Self-Loathing'? Well, let's be charitable, and simply go for 'Time for a Haircut'.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Min...nie, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear ol' Minnie.

You don't hear so much these days about Mickey Mouse's stint in the Black and White Minstrel Show, do you?

...Not unless you ride the Bakerloo line on the London Underground. 

Monday 6 December 2010

The Mystery of Lincoln's Chair, continued.

M'learned readers have already proposed several explanations for Lincoln's empty chair: that it signifies his approachability; the fact that his life was cut short; his disdain for the political systems of Ancient Rome (possibly a bit of a stretch, this one) or his skill at oratory. I'm most impressed by all these theories, though I still think it looks a bit silly.

One correspondent also wonders when and why a statue of an American hero came to be erected in Parliament Square. A little poking around reveals it was unveiled in 1920, having been delayed by the First World War, and was intended to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and thus peace between English speaking nations. (Tangent: Has this peace been maintained for the subsequent ninety years, I wonder? I certainly can't think of a war since between nations with English as their first language.)

Also, there was some disagreement about which of two statues to present. In the end, the less favoured one was sent to Manchester, where it still stands. Because in it Lincoln looks rather gaunt and haggard (even for him) and has his arms crossed over his abdomen, it became known as the Stomach Ache, or the Tramp With The Colic.

(In this statue, Lincoln has no chair. How the people of Manchester are expected to tell how good an orator he was, or how much he hated Rome, I have no idea.)

Sunday 5 December 2010

Or is it a double sculpture? Was Mrs Lincoln famously invisible?

I passed an interesting statue in Parliament Square this week. 

As you see, it's a statue of Abraham Lincoln, and a chair that he's not sitting in. I wonder what happened here. Perhaps the sculptor was famous for his lightning speed, and by bad luck happened to begin work on what was intended to be a seated sculpture at the very moment Abe got up to answer the door. Or perhaps the chair is also famous. Perhaps in the world of chairs and chair-fanciers, this is known as the Parliament Square statue of an eagle-back scroll-legged cabriole chair (partially obscured by bearded man). Or perhaps it's intended as a symbol of what a virile, dynamic president Lincoln was - 'This here's a chair, but you won't find Honest Abe lounging about in one o' they! No Sir! He'll be up and about, pulling at his lapel, and slightly flexing one knee! That's just the kind of man he was.' Perhaps this inspired a whole movement in presidential sculpture of which I'm unaware- Eisenhower with a bed he's not asleep in. McKinley in front of a big pile of cakes, not one of which he's scoffed. Hoover and a pretty frock he's totally not wearing. Clinton turning his back on a disappointed Monica Lewinsky. I hope so.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Ol' Lols

I had a conversation this week about which writers could still make you laugh out loud from a distance of over a hundred years. A huge number of funny authors pre-1910, of course, but how many can actually make you physically laugh -even just a chuckle- as you read? (For fairness, I think it has to be from the page, not when read out or in performance.) We immediately came up with very early Wodehouse; Jerome K Jerome; Mark Twain and the Grossmith brothers (the authors of The Diary of a Nobody, which I've always thought would make an excellent musical). Since then, I've remembered Saki and Stephen Leacock. One of us nominated Dickens, which may be true for him, but, though I like Dickens and find him funny, I'm not sure I've ever actually laughed out loud whilst reading him. Nor at Shakespeare, nor Swift. At Wilde, outside performance? Not sure, but I think maybe not. Thurber, Parker, Waugh and Lardner are all too young. Who else? There must be more. Who've I forgotten?

P.S. Since I started writing this post, I accidentally came across another one - a writer whom, had someone else proposed them, I'm afraid I'd have put in the huge 'funny-but-not-laugh-out-loud-funny' bracket: Lewis Carroll.  I was reading a book of his letters, and this, written to a child in 1871, definitely made me (appropriately) chortle.

'You know I have three dinner-bells - the first (which is the largest) is rung when dinner is nearly ready; the second (which is rather larger) is rung when it is quite ready; and the third (which is as large as the other two put together) is rung all the time I am at dinner.'

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Next Week: What Happened in Kathmandu?

I turned on the radio today to hear this:

ANNOUNCER: 'What Happened in Copenhagen?'
GIGGLY AMERICAN WOMAN: Oh, I don't know what happened in Copenhagen!
ANNOUNCER: And now, the Archers.

I really hope this wasn't just the end of a trailer, but an entire programme.

While I'm here, some plugs: I guested in Miranda on BBC2 this week, as a tremendously punchable man named Chris, with the tremendous Margaret Cabourn-Smith as my less punchable, though no less irritating, wife. (Though having said that, she did, throughout rehearsals, enthusiastically punch herself in the prosthetic stomach.) It should be around on iPlayer for the next week.

And there are still some, though I believe not all that many, tickets left for the musical I have co-written, The Diary of a Nobody. It's from the 2nd to the 5th December, and tickets are available here I have bought myself a large ginger beard to wear in it. That, surely, is worth the entry fee alone?

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge, and lady's blouses.

I am aware that I can hardly post what I'm about to post without inviting questions about how I found it. Well, my explanation, which you can choose to believe or not as you wish, is that I used the word 'decolletage' in something I'm writing, then realised I only vaguely knew what it meant; and so looked it up on Wikipedia, which redirected me here:

That's my story, at any rate, and I'm sticking to it. The page is a lot of fun on its own account, because Wikipedia is at its funniest when attempting to be po-faced about something it finds really, really exciting; but even better is the discussion page, in which various learned academics debate on how to improve the page. My favourite contribution is from this concerned scholar:

I am unable to find the terms used in this article to distinguish the various ways of exposing parts of the breasts ("cleavage décolleté," "cleavage centros," "cleavage côté," "cleavage underside," "cleavage cleavy") anywhere else on the Web except Wikipedia mirrors and bikini science. [...] I hope someone can cite authentic sources for these terms, or at least provide numerous photographs illustrating them from all angles.

I've no doubt you do, sir. No doubt at all. 

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The Diary of a Nobody

Sorry it's gone a bit quiet here, though those of you who like Cabin Pressure will be happy to know that's because I'm working really hard on it. Normal service will be resumed next week, but in the meantime, have I mentioned that I have co-written (with the musical genius Susannah Pearse), and will be performing in a musical based on the brilliant comic novel The Diary of a Nobody? No I haven't, is the answer to that; but I have now. It's on from the 2nd to the 5th of December at the Drill Hall in central London, and let me immediately reassure you that I barely sing at all. But others do, and they're terrific at it. Tickets are available from the Drill Hall.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Great Rhyming Journeys of the World.

Can you a) identify them? (for answers, look at the file name, or simply click to make big enough to read) ; and b) suggest any more? Be warned - I may nick the best ones, and put them on the radio. 

I have actually done of one of these, by the way. The most boring one. 

Monday 25 October 2010

Also, I'd like to build a giant village. On a 10/1 scale.

On a recent trip back to Dorset, I passed in the same day a board advertising the model village in Wimborne, with the slogan 'Not Just a Model Village!' and a banner advertising the model village in Corfe Castle, with the slogan 'More Than Just a Model Village!'

I have a strange compulsion to give up my job and go and set up a model village in, say, Wareham; roughly half way between the two, simply so that I can advertise it with the slogan 'Just a Model Village!'

Thursday 21 October 2010

Hold the snide.

I feel this blog has got a little sneery lately, so here's something I saw in Edinburgh that I really liked. It made me both smile and admire everyone involved - the person who wrote it, and the people who did what they did when they read it. Click for a bigger version, if it's too small to read. 

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Man Irritated By Estate Agent Shock

I'm looking for a flat to rent at the moment. One of my least favourite things to do in the world, because of exchanges like this one:

Me: Thanks, but it's not quite what I'm looking for.
Estate Agent: It's been on the market a while now, I think they'd be prepared to take an offer.
Me: Well I'll think about it and let you know.
Estate Agent: Ok, but places like this tend to get snapped up pretty fast.

...But... you... just said...

I'm resigned to estate agents lying to me, but it would be nice if they at least listened to their own lies. Instead, they're like goldfish who think the conversation only began six seconds ago. Sure enough later on, when I asked him if he had any of such-and-such a type of flat on his books, he said no; and there was no point me waiting for one, because this was the slowest time of the year. Evidently the jostling crowd of eager flat-snapper-uppers had already vanished back into the mists from which he had conjured them.

Monday 18 October 2010

Coming soon: the Rubik's Tesseract.

Meanwhile, exciting news from the twin worlds of toys and theoretical mathematics:

A 4D puzzle! Because after all, 3D is really in right now, and 4D - well, that must be one better! I wonder what the fourth dimension in which this eighteen piece plastic model of a clownfish exists is? Hopefully, the makers mean that they have discovered a method of imbuing this plastic fish with an extra coordinate axis, orthogonal to the other three, allowing it to inhabit a  previously purely abstract geometric reality, all whilst maintaining its famously Highy Detailed Finish. On the other hand I'll be a bit disappointed if it just means that the fish exists in time. Like the Archers.

Friday 15 October 2010

Just wait till he sees the escalator at Angel.

Have just shared a lift at St Pancras station with two teenage boys from Yorkshire, who were apparently scripted for the occasion by Alan Bennett. My favourite exchange was:

First Boy: I tell you what: I've never seen a lift as big as this.

Second Boy: (scornfully) Well you won't have, in Bradford.

Obviously I have no way of knowing their relationship or circumstances, but I dearly hope the first boy left Bradford a couple of years ago, made good, and has now invited the other to visit and be introduced to his glamorous new life of London sophistication and massive lifts.

(Since you ask: It was a fairly big lift. I have, however, seen bigger.)

Thursday 14 October 2010

Still better than the film, though.

Here's an extraordinary thing I drove past in France:

Now then. I suppose you could argue that that's not a specific sinking ship, it's just a generalised, fictional sinking ship; a ship from which all the passengers definitely escaped on the plentiful lifeboats, and actually found the whole experience rather fun and invigorating. But I'm not convinced - the black and white design, the funnels, the rounded stern - I'm pretty sure that what we have here is a jolly inflatable representation of the violent deaths of one and a half thousand people. 

So, if les enfants have been especially good recently, why not treat them to a fun-filled afternoon on a bouncy disaster? Shriek with glee as you slide all the way from the deck to the sea, just like hundreds of passengers who slid to their deaths in the freezing ocean as the ship's stern rose into the air! Children of all ages love it, apart from 53 children in 1912, who didn't love it so much. And don't miss our forth-coming attractions: the Challenger shuttle firework display, and the Twin Towers helter-skelter.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Cabin Presents

Hello. Sorry it went a bit quiet, I've been a little busy. And here's news of one of the things I've been busy with: 

My Radio 4 sitcom Cabin Pressure is having a Christmas special this year; a one-off episode which will go out, we've just been told, at 8:30 on Christmas morning! And then repeated at a more civilised time on December 29th, but I'm very chuffed to get a Christmas Day transmission. It will be recorded at the Drill Hall in London on November 7th, and if you'd like to come, the way to do so is to keep checking here:

...for the (free) tickets to become available, which they will do, I am told, within the next 24 hours. They will then, if past experience is anything to go by, sell out very quickly, which is why I've asked to be allowed to give you advance notice here.

There will also be a third series of Cabin Pressure, though I'm aware that I've been saying this for so long now some people are beginning to disbelieve me. Nonetheless, there will be; it will be recorded early in the new year; and I'll try and give you a similar heads-up when the tickets for it are about to come online.

Oh, and in other cheerful Cabin Pressure news, I'm happy to say we've once again been nominated for a Writers' Guild Award. Hooray! 

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Obviously, I'm just jealous of Pete.

Then, I went to the Edinburgh festival, which looks like this:

...and where the local bus company was trying to exploit the frantic pace of life at the festival to promote their online ticket service.

Yep, megabusy. That's the word alright. Why, this have-it-all burn-the-candle-at-both-ends lover of life has no sooner finished attending the tattoo on Tuesday, then, pausing only to do nothing at all for a day and a half, it's time for dinner with Pete x! (That 'x' presumably either because his surname is Ximenes, or to remind her that she has to kiss him this time.) And barely has she managed to catch her breath from that then, a scant thirty-six hours later, it's time for that much anticipated kids theatre show1.30pm smiley face. Yes, when you're as megabusy as this, you pretty much have to pay for bus travel online. When else would you find the time to do it?  Wednesday?

Thursday 23 September 2010

Fairly Unique.

On my way back, I encountered the following Massive Yacht:


Of course, the big question here is, is it a deliberate joke? Because if so, it's quite amusing, but not much more. But something about the choice of III rather than II makes me hope that it it isn't. That this guy has or has had three massive yachts: the One&Only, the One&Only II, and the One&Only III. Because you've got to have a system.

Please let this be true.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Pink elephants on parade. (Not pink)

I have been asked by someone who doesn't know what they're letting themselves in for if I have any more pictures of elephants. Oh yes. That I do. Look, here come some now. Click for bigger, and watch out for elephants masquerading as baby turtles. They're devilish cunning, these elephants.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Your guarantee of quality.

Oh, good. You're sure, though? Because if there's one thing I hate, it's being fobbed off with products that have not come 100% from an elephant's backside. I'm sorry, but I'm a stickler. 

(Also seen the day I took that picture, something for very long-standing readers, if such people exist: a completely unimaginable number of elephants.)

Thursday 9 September 2010

Oh, and a flower on a stick.

Well, after all that excitement, who's up for an Acme Special Cocktail?

Certainly stunted mutant Elvis is; he's got himself all dressed up in his favourite baby blue romper suit, he's very carefully laced his shoes, and he's proudly displaying the tiny thumb which qualifies him for a disability discount on all cocktails composed of five or six varieties of dirty dishwater, topped off with a layer of Fairy Liquid and a mysterious blue ball. 'Special' indeed.

Sunday 5 September 2010

King of the Swingers.

Here is the sign to a museum I visited:

I find it hard to imagine anyone who could resist following that sign. Perhaps you, too, would like to encounter Raja the Tusker? Very well. 

There he is. And not looking too bad, is he, considering he died in 1989? Say what you like about Sri Lankan taxidermists, but they don't shirk a challenge. Raja, it turns out, was not only a tusker, but also a Royal Elephant - and indeed a replacement Royal Elephant has not yet been found, twenty one years later. 'And how does one become a Royal Elephant?' I hear you cry, perhaps wondering if your own elephant might be a candidate for the job. Well, apparently (though I haven't managed to find anything confirming this on the internet) the qualifications are: fully developed tusks, a certain size and height, and the ability, when standing at rest, to touch the ground with all your toes; your trunk; your tail, and one other thing. 

Good grief, Raja. Well done. 

Friday 3 September 2010

Still, it's American, apparently, so it must be good.

This is a popular brand of bottled water in Sri Lanka:

Am I wrong to find the slogan a little... intimidating? 'Just drink it! Don't think about it! Just drink it! Don't worry about what's in it! Stop asking questions! Just drink it! Just DRINK it! DRINK IT!' 

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Renowned as a LOVELY and TEA-thirsty SUPER GUY, during his reign of NICENESS he CUDDLED thousands.

Right, in the spirit of 'first day of the school year', over the next week or so I'm going to put up some things I saw over the summer but didn't have the time or internettiness to put here at the time. Starting with this, the most suspicious-looking imaginable attempt at 'correcting' a brass plaque:

'Peace Loving'. Yes. That's what he was. He certainly was one Peace Loving guy, that King Pandu. It's always said that. No, don't look under the rectangle. There's no need. It just says 'Peace Loving' again. But in, er, the wrong... font.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Though some scientists predict we will eventually succeed in splitting the cheese.

Sorry for going quiet - I've been at the Edinburgh festival, narrating this, which, should you have children and be in Edinburgh, you should definitely see.

Whilst doing that, sometimes, if my description of the various colours and sizes of flowers in the Emperor's garden seemed to be going down big with the crowd, I would fearlessly batter down the fourth wall - I am a compulsive risk-taker as a performer - and ask a child what was the smallest thing they could think of. The results were as follows: four votes for 'a mouse'. One for 'a pin'. One for 'a daisy' (leading to the not entirely astonishing botanical revelation that the Emperor had flowers as small as daisies). One slow, pitying shake of the head. And, by far my favourite, one vote for 'a cheese'.

Sunday 8 August 2010

What kind of an idiot am I?

The place I'm staying at the moment is lovely, but the food and drink is rather expensive. Knowing this, when I went to the bar after dinner just now, I ordered a pineapple juice, thinking it'd be relatively cheap. When it came, it was elaborately dressed up like a cocktail, and came with a large bowl of peanuts. Oh dear, I thought- rightly as it turned out- this isn't going to be cheap at all. I looked at the nuts. I've just had dinner, I'm full, I don't in the least want any nuts. But here they are, and the drink's going to be really expensive... I'd better eat them. I start to eat the nuts. The nuts are covered in chilli powder, which I don't like. My immediate, uncontrolled reaction is to think: 'Great! Things are going my way at last! Now I don't have to eat the nuts I don't want!'

That's the kind of idiot I am.

Friday 6 August 2010

And a Muthumudalige Pushpakumara to you too.

So, generalising wildly but usefully, it seems that Sri Lankan people are extremely friendly, and enjoy talking to foreigners. Usually without at any point trying to sell anything, though I did once have a handshake turned so seamlessly and expertly into a palm reading that I was halfway being introduced to the six children who are to enrich my 93 year long life before I realised what was happening. Though perhaps it was worth 500 rupees just to learn that I will, so the Hand foretells, be attending high school next year. As I am 32, I'm very excited about this. I wonder if they'll let be in that musical I've heard so much about? Anyway, apart from that guy, most people seem keen to talk to the ridiculous sweaty man in the concertina'd linen trousers just for the fun of it, but often without speaking much English. And my Singhalese is distinctly rusty these days.  Luckily, though, they really love their cricket. Unluckily, though, I merely mildly like my cricket. Which meant that in the last fortnight, I must have had a dozen conversations along the following lines:

Australia? Germany?
Oh! Freddie Flintoff!
Yes! Murali! 800!
(I was in Sri Lanka when Murali retired with a record-breaking 800th wicket. I would charactise the Sri Lankan response to this news as 'positive'.)
Yes! Andrew Strauss!

Now here, obviously, is where I ought to say the name of another Sri Lankan cricketer that I know. You will have guessed the problem with that. Of course, I could easily have learnt the name of another one, but the thing is, where is that policy going to end? I am pretty sure any given Sri Lankan could name more English players than I could name Sri Lankan players, however many I tried to memorise. Come to that, they could almost certainly name more English players than I could name English players.

I found a solution in the end, though. I just said 'Murali!' again, only with even more awe. Turns out that's fine.

Monday 2 August 2010

Return Flight

Still in Sri Lanka, but have just discovered Radio 4 have rather sneakily started repeating Cabin Pressure series 2 while my back was turned. It's on Tuesdays at 6:30, and then on Listen Again for a week, which means you have have one day left to catch Helsinki, should you wish to, which is one of my favourites.

This seems like a good time to announce that before series three arrives early next year, there will also be a Christmas special, at, of all times of the year, Christmas.

Monday 26 July 2010

The last one is the least convincing.

Hello, sorry for the silence. It's likely to continue for a while longer, though, because I am on holiday, and there is very little Internet. However, I know you're desperate to learn what sort of things Sri Lankan taxi-drivers have written on the canopy of their tuk-tuks, so here are a few.

Still waters run deep.
I love and trust you.
Don't think too much.
Out of debt out of death.
Honesty is the best policy.
New grade dragon power.
I love you but please don't kiss me.
Fully insured.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

The cartoon critic.

One of the many terrific books by James Thurber is 'The Years With Ross', an account of his experiences of the early days of the New Yorker magazine, and in particular its eccentric, energetic, unpredictable founder and editor, Harold Ross.

Ross was deeply involved in every aspect of the magazine (except perhaps the financial), including scrutinising the submitted cartoons every Tuesday, pin-pointing weaknesses with a white knitting needle. Thurber says:

'I was on hand when he pointed his needle at a butler in a Thanksgiving cover depicting a Park Avenue family at table, and snarled 'That isn't a butler, it's a banker.' Suddenly, the figure was, to all of us, a banker in disguise, and Ross dictated a note asking the artist 'to make a real butler out of this fellow.'

On another occasion he stared at a picture of Model T driving down a dusty road for two minutes, before saying 'Take this down, Miss Terry. Better dust.'

It was Ross who decided, though not without misgivings, to publish not just Thurber's brilliant articles and short stories, but also his equally brilliant but untrained and elliptical cartoons, such as this one:

Of course, this sort of naif style looks perfectly normal to us, but in those days of the elegant draftsmanship of Peter Arno or Charles Addams it was rather shocking. According to Thurber, one angry artist:

'...yelled at Ross one day during the thirties, 'Why do you reject drawings of mine and print stuff by that fifth-rate artist Thurber?'
'Third-rate,' said Ross, coming promptly and bravely to the defence of my stature as an artist and his own reputation as an editor.

Elsewhere, Thurber quotes E.B.White, on finding Thurber trying his hand at the more usual elaborate cross-hatching style of cartooning: 'Don't do that. If you ever got good you'd be mediocre.'

Saturday 10 July 2010

Right here, right Now.

Sorry, seems like I'm always plugging stuff these days. This should be the last one for a while, though: I co-hosted The Now Show again this week,  and if you don't believe me, then here's the proof.

See? Told you so. Or, if you prefer being made to listen to things at a specific time, it's on Radio 4 today at 12:30.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

The choice is yours.

Leanne and Lianne were the most identical twins the world has ever seen. They won prizes for it. No-one, not even their closest family and friends, could tell them apart. They looked identical; they sounded identical, they acted identically, and everyone thought they must actually be identical.

They weren't, though.

Friday 25 June 2010

Now. And again.

Hello. Excitingly (for me) I'm back on The Now Show this evening: 6:30 on Radio 4; repeated at 12:30 tomorrow; available thereafter from here  and also (I am urged to tell you) as a podcast here: BBC Friday Comedy Podcast.

I can't pretend my section is all that satirically hard-hitting this week. It's largely about bees. And when it's not about bees, it's about aardvarks.

And now, just so that this post isn't all advert, a picture quiz. How many people can you see in this photo?

Just a girl in a white top sitting alone under a tree, right? Actually, no. Look again, and you should be able to make out a girl dressed in black and a boy in blue sitting next to her. Some people claim they can see a fourth figure, but actually that's just a red push-chair.

Monday 21 June 2010

It really, really shouldn't happen to a vet. Or any mortal.

Earlier this year, I went to see James Herriot's old veterinary practice. (It's in Thirsk, which was on my long cycle ride. I mention that so that it doesn't seem like I went on a pilgrimage to see it. Then again, the reason I am sensitive about you thinking that is because I did, a bit.) Anyway, it's been turned into a small museum of both him and veterinary history, and it's jolly good. One of the exhibits is a case of editions of his books from around the world. Most of the covers are gentle to the point of torpor, and feature some combination of rolling dales; loyal sheep-dogs; vintage cars, or all three. This one, which I think is Chinese, but apologies if I'm wrong, goes for a slightly different approach. 

Crikey. Shirt off, steely glare, stance so heroic his feet are pointing 180 degrees in opposite directions - it's James Herriot the hero of the Glorious Communist Struggle for Agricultural Supremacy. Except, no, he's not muscled enough, and, oh God, something really horrible's happened to his torso and face - it's more like All Creatures Great And Small as retold by Kafka. And, Jesus Christ, who is that woman? Helen? Mrs Pumphrey?? What's she doing there? Why is she wearing a floor-length evening dress in a cowshed? And why are her sightless eyes glowing with crimson fire?

We're not in Darrowby any more, Toto. 

Friday 18 June 2010

Commercial Break

I shall be on the Now Show again on Radio 4 this evening at 6:30, repeated Saturday at 12:30, and available here for the following week, sharing my important thoughts on the oil spill, with particular regard to walruses, robot crabs, and Kevin Costner's scientist brother.

So long as I'm plugging, the new series of David Mitchell's Soapbox rumbles merrily on - the latest one is here, is all about it being a good thing to include references to things not everyone will get, and thanks to the cleverness of the animators, includes several references to things neither David nor I get. (Anyone know what that transparent red bollard is, for instance?)

Tuesday 15 June 2010

I'm not saying it's a bad symbol of it. Just a surprisingly honest one.

Is it me, or has this shopping centre in Merthyr Tydfil selected as its symbol...

...a litter-bin on fire? 

(Incidentally, I don't want you to think I've spent the whole of my time in Wales taking pictures of signs in shops.)



Thursday 10 June 2010

Though I once lived on a street called 'Szyszko-Bohusz'. 10-3.

Talking of supermarket signs, I'm in Wales at the moment, and very much enjoying the language.

That's a twelve letter word with a single vowel. You've got to admire a language that can do that. Even if you count the ys it's a 9-3 walkover for the consonants. 'Beer' is cwrw - a 4-nil whitewash! I gather, from the extremely tiny bit of research I just did, that actually w is a vowel in Welsh (damn), and so cwrw is pronounced something like 'cu-roo'; but as I first tried to pronounce it to myself, in my ignorant English way, it came out very much like the noise our dog used to make when puzzled.

That extremely tiny bit of research also told me that Welsh does not have the letters J, K, Q, V, X or Z. What extremely low-scoring Scrabble games they must have. Though apparently they do sometimes borrow these letters for words that originate from other languages, with the excellent result that the Welsh for zoo is 'zw'.

Monday 7 June 2010

Our Wine & Spirits Pledge: Helping you get cirrhosis of the liver.

Dear Tesco. (I imagine you read this blog.) I recently enjoyed this sign in one of your excellent shops, but I just wondered if you could explain to me what these twelve words actually mean? When you say 'Our Fruit and Veg Pledge', it's very stirring, but it does rather raise the expectation that you're about to make some sort of, well, pledge, perhaps relating to your fruit and veg. Something about the freshness, maybe, or the extent to which they're locally sourced, or, if you like, a pledge only to sell fruit and veg that if hollowed out could house an average sized muskrat, but something. Instead, you have 'Helping you get your 5 a day'. How? What are you pledging to do to help me get that? Give me my first five pieces of fruit free? Refuse to sell me cakes and ale unless I also buy fruit and veg? No. What you mean by 'Helping you get your 5 a day' is 'Prepared to sell you fruit and veg'. Which I sort of suspected, Tesco, because you are a grocery. 

So, can I suggest you don't really need 'Helping you get your 5 a day' on that sign, and you certainly don't need 'Our' or 'pledge'. All you really need is 'Fruit & Veg'. And even then, since the sign is above an enormous display of fruit and veg, we could perhaps take the signified for the signifier, and drop those words as well. Which just leaves us with the four wispy dancing stick people. You should definitely keep them. They're beautiful. 

Friday 4 June 2010

About six foot, incidentally.

A couple of days ago, because of the odd job I have, I needed to know roughly how long a giraffe's neck is. But, as a friend of mine has already brilliantly illustrated, when you're halfway through typing a phrase like that into Google, it starts suggesting the things that most people who start a question that way have gone on to ask, in a way that looks rather like a poem. It's quite an arresting snapshot of a world of curious people:

How long is a g-

How long is a generation?
How long is a governor's term?
How long is a giraffe's neck?
How long is a giraffe's tongue?
How long is a goldfish's memory?
How long is a girl's period?
How long is a great white shark?
How long is a good nap?

Did anyone else see the nap coming? I didn't. Until then, it was pretty clearly a precocious but bashful child trying to slip the question he really wants to ask in a barrage of camouflaging stuff about animals. But then right at the end, he suddenly becomes about 75. And sleepy.

Anyway, obviously I now had to go through the rest of the alphabet. Here are my two favourites. In both cases, as in the above, I've removed some obvious repetition, but otherwise left it untouched.

How long is a kilometer?
How long is a killer whale?
How long is a keg good for?
How long is a king size bed?
How long is a klick?
How long is a king cobra?
How long is a kitten a kitten?

See, once again, it saves the best till last - just as you're getting worried about what kind of grotesque stunt, or possibly illegal fight, these frat boys are planning to stage with their whale and their cobra and their beer and their bed... suddenly out of nowhere comes that adorable meditation on the precious transience of kittenhood. 

Ok, last one. For this one, I like to imagine it as a dialogue, with one person insistently asking the first seven questions, and the other finally answering with the eighth.

How long is a passport good for?
How long is a paragraph?
How long is a pregnancy?
How long is a patent good for?
How long is a prescription good for?
How long is a p90x workout?
How long is a platypus's bill?
How long is a piece of string?

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Just the one, Mrs. Wembley?

I wouldn't normally trouble you with an example of the old misplaced quotation marks thing, because it's so wide-spread, and there's a whole blog doing it already. But this one is something special. It easily replaces my previous favourite (a sandwich board outside an Edinburgh pub proclaiming that Thursday was "Ladies" Night), if only for the sheer unfathomableness of the thought process that lead to it.  I present:

Oh, me too. The number of times I've promised myself that I'm just popping out for 'a' pizza- and then the red mist has descended, and I've woken up, six hours and fourteen Quattro Stagionis later, spreadeagled in the gutter amongst a heap of crusts and discarded olives - once more a victim of my liking for 'a' pizza.

Friday 28 May 2010

Great unidexters of history.

Maybe you knew this already, but I've just discovered that Robert Louis Stevenson based the character of Long John Silver on his friend, the physically imposing, charming, and one-legged William Ernest Henley. Henley was also a friend of J.M.Barrie, and it was his daughter Margaret Henley's description of Barrie as her 'friendy-wendy' that inspired at least the name of Wendy in Peter Pan.

So, Wendy Darling's father was Long John Silver. No wonder she took Captain Hook in her stride.

Bonus facts: William Earnest Henley wrote the poem Invictus, which Nelson Mandela found so inspiring, and which gave its name to the film last year.

Captain Hook is described in Peter Pan as 'the only man Long John Silver ever feared' Also, he went to Eton; as did Bertie Wooster, Peter Wimsey, and James Bond.

Throughout 'Treasure Island', Long John Silver is referred to by his fellow mutineers by his nickname... 'Barbecue'. Which, for me, slightly detracted from his menace.

Monday 24 May 2010

Mad Men. No, actually mad.

Advertising has got very sophisticated these days, very subtle; but sometimes a good advertising executive has got to know when to go back to basics, to the old reliable methods that always have sold product, and always will. 

Sometimes, in other words, it's time to wheel out a cartoon of a little girl shouting into a dog's arsehole. 

Now just sit back, and watch them fly off the shelves.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

And leading away from it... Woozle tracks.

Do you have a child? Or know a child? Has that child done something to displease you? Would you like to make that child cry? Indeed, do you wish to disturb that child's dreams and psychologically scar it for years to come? No problem! Just show it this picture of something I came across this afternoon.

Job done.

Monday 17 May 2010

...And the Dutch, who are probably high, may or may not have something to say about our pepper.

Quote from the blurb on the back of a packet of sea salt:

"The French, as fussy about health as they are about food, make great claims for the rare salts contained in Sea Salt."

This may be the most arm's-length recommendation of one's own product I've ever read.

"The French..." (Not us, you understand, we're not French. And not any particular French. Just, you know, the nation in general)

" fussy about health as they are about food..." (Silly faddy Frenchies. I wouldn't listen to any claims they might happen to make, the big Gallic fuss-pots.)

"...make great claims..." (We're not saying what the claims are. And we're certainly not saying whether or not they're true. In fact, with the adjective 'great', we're rather hinting they're not.)

"...for the rare salts contained in Sea Salt." (So, just so we're clear, these unspecified and unsubstantiated claims made by unidentified people are not, in fact, for our product, but for trace elements found within it. So, no suing, Ok? But, yeah, basically, salt is good for you.)

Saturday 15 May 2010

Another box of soap.

Review of a downloadable audiobook: "Reader is good, very old school British accent". Praise that I'm sure will delight the reader, one Alec Guinness.

Talking of things you can download, the first in a new series of  David Mitchell's Soapbox, which I co-write with the titular box-owner, is available at the link above, or from iTunes. Free, in either case. And coincidentally, the reader is good, with an old school British accent.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Things Change With Time And Circumstances Shock! Read All About It!

Strapline on BBC News website story about Cameron and Clegg's press conference:

"Election clashes? Apparently that is all behind them."

Well, yes. I imagine that will be to do with the election being behind them as well. Honestly, whatever you may think of Cameron or Clegg or both, I don't see that you can blame two professional politicians for adjusting their behaviour towards each other in the contexts of a pre-election debate and a post-election co-alition. I think what really annoys me, though, is the smirkily insinuating style of the strapline, as if the perceptive writer has rather devilishly noticed something that seems to have passed everyone else by. I look forward to his or her sports interviews:  'So, I can't help but notice that now you're both on the podium, neither of you is trying to punch the other one at all...'

Tuesday 11 May 2010

The liver, though, stubbornly refuses to talk.

Meanwhile, exciting news from the world of medical science:

Ah, so that's what those are. I thought the neighbours had left the TV on. 

Monday 3 May 2010

'Excuse me, do you sell eggs?'

I thought I'd seen the ultimate in up-front salesmanship with We Sell Paint. But of course I should have realised that for true no-frills plain-speaking, I needed to visit Yorkshire. I mean, it could be argued that the vendor here could have got his message across in fewer words. But my God, he makes every one count.

In other news, I'm doing the Vote Now Show again tonight - broadcast at 11pm on Radio 4. I also did the one last Wednesday, which will still be available on iPlayer for a bit.

Friday 23 April 2010

...I think. Or possibly just a middle-aged man in shades.

Sorry for the hiatus - been cycling. From London to York so far, via Cambridge, King's Lynn, Boston and Hull. But at the moment, bike is in intensive care where a team of brilliant bicycle surgeons are trying to save it from this:

... and I can do nothing but pace up and down outside and hope the little guy pulls through. 

Here's what I've seen so far: 

Lots and lots of pubs called The Chequers. Any idea why? A quick googling reveals it's one of the oldest pub names, and the sign of a chequered board was used in ancient Rome to indicate that a tavern also provided banking services, for which the board was used - this being the origin of the word 'exchequer', and indeed 'cheque'. Doesn't explain why there seem to be so many of them in South East England, though.

Plenty of posters and boards out for the Tories (but then, I have been cycling through the shires.) Quite a lot for the Lib-Dems, mostly in the towns, especially Cambridge. Not a single solitary one for Labour so far. Not even in Highgate, or Humberside. 

A really astonishing number and variety of squished animals. It's carnage out there. 

A life size metal giraffe.