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.