29 April 2008

The perils of naturism

Adam Nicolson (a grandson of Vita Sackville-West) remembers a sticky situation his father, the writer, publisher and politician Nigel Nicolson, got into when he bought the tiny Shiant Isles, off the coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides:

At a loss of a hundred pounds to Colonel Macdonald [the previous owner] the Shiants were finally transferred to my father and he spent the month of August 1937 there on his own. He nearly drowned, when a collapsible canoe did indeed collapse halfway between Eilean Mhuire and Garbh Eilean but that wasn’t the only catastrophe. His supplies had been sent up by train from Fortnum & Mason – it was a different world – in smart, waxed cardboard boxes. They were delivered to the quayside in Tarbert. From there they were loaded on to the fishing boat and on arrival at the Shiants offloaded onto the beach. My father waved goodbye to the fishermen, who said they would return in a month’s time, carried the boxes to the house and began to open them. As he folded back the cardboard flaps, he found a neatly typed note from the Manager:

Dear Mr Nicholson,

Please find enclosed the supplies as requested. Unfortunately, due to Railway Regulations, we are not permitted to dispatch flammables by rail and therefore have not been able to include the safety matches you requested. Trusting this will not be of any serious inconvenience, we remain,

Yours etc…

Faced with the prospect of a month without a fire, my father dismantled his binoculars and with one of the lenses managed to focus a few rays of the watery Hebridean sun on to some dry bracken. Somehow a flame sprang up and he carried it between cupped hands to the fireplace in the house.

For the four weeks he would have to nurture the fire like a dying lamb, returning to it at least once every two hours to see that its heart still beat. All went well, until one day returning from a walk on the heights of Garbh Eilean, he was horrified to see from above that a yacht had anchored in the bay and a party from it was picnicking on the beach between him and the house. If he was to get back to the fire, whose thin grey thread of smoke he could just see trickling upwards from the chimney into the sky, he would have to pass the picnickers. That in itself would not have been so bad if he had been wearing any clothes. He wasn’t. It was a 1930s habit to walk about in wild places undressed.

Unobserved from the beach, he waited crouched behind a rock for the picnickers to leave. They were having a marvellous time. Sprinklings of laughter came drifting up to him. The young men and women in their yachting skirts and blue jerseys lay back on the warmth of the shingle. The hours went by. The trickle of smoke from the chimney had thinned to invisibility. There was nothing for it. Dressed only in what he describes as ‘an apron of gossamer fern’ my father strolled with as much dignity as he could, past the picnickers and on to the house where with flooding relief he could dress himself and restore his faltering fire to life.

- Adam Nicolson, ‘Sea Room’, 2001

25 April 2008

Moonwalking mannikin bird

As featured on this evening's episode of Stephen Fry's brainy comedy panel show 'QI': the incredible moonwalking mannikin bird. The TV audience certainly laughed like drains, as did I.


'In your local newsagent, Madonna currently stares down from four magazine covers. One of them belongs to a style magazine, celebrating the release of Hard Candy with a Madonna special that goes on and on like the old girl's career. Its 70 pages commence with an unwittingly hilarious interview. The journalist quotes Hard Candy's lyrics with a solemnity that suggests the words have been handed to him on tablets of stone. Every line is granted its own paragraph, as befits such sage words of profundity: "See my booty get down."

The album itself is described as "the next genre flux, a sonic collage ... the sound of a self-satisfied America teetering on the edge of nihilism", which is certainly one way of saying that it sounds like Justin Timberlake's last album'

- Alex Petridis reviews Madonna's new album, Guardian, 25 April 2008

23 April 2008

Political put-downs

A light-hearted reminiscence of fabled political insults crops up regularly every year in the British press, generally re-hashing the same old quotes.  This one in the Times definitely follows that well-worn path, and for good reason: we shall not see their like again.  Winston Churchill features prominently, of course:

Then we come to Winston Churchill, who seems to have spent every spare waking moment being rude to somebody. ("Winston," said the Conservative statesman F.E. Smith, "had devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches".) Clement Attlee, the man who interrupted his reign as Prime Minister, probably got it worse than most. "A sheep in sheep's clothing," Churchill said of him. And also, "A modest man with much to be modest about."

Not that the great man was fussy. He'd be rude to pretty much anyone. "There but for the grace of God goes God," was his memorable verdict on Sir Stafford Cripps, but his best ever may have been when an aide knocked on his toilet door and told him that the Lord Privy Seal wanted to see him. "Tell the Lord Privy Seal I am sealed in my privy, and can only deal with one s--t at a time," said Churchill. He'd probably been waiting to trot that one out for years.

- 'Now that's an insult!  Top 10 political put-downs', The Times, 23 April 2008

20 April 2008

Glastonbury rain

'Just thought I'd throw in my tuppence worth (Glastonbury denies reports rapper Jay-Z is to pull out, April 14).  There is another far more pragmatic reason that I and quite a few of my white middle-class friends aren't going to Glastonbury this year.  It's not the lineup.  There's always a hoo-ha about this year's lineup: "You should've been here last year, it was so much better last year".  I wouldn't mind seeing Jay-Z.  He's got to be better than Oasis at Glastonbury 2004, headlining Friday night.  My mum with a ukelele would've been better than Oasis at Glastonbury 2004.  And I quite like them.  No, I'll give you a clue.  It pissed down in 2004.  It pissed down in 2005.  Only once, but the torrent was biblical.  And it just pissed down the whole pissing time in pissing 2007.  I'm 40 this year and the gamble is just too much.  GlaxoSmithKline themselves couldn't produce a stimulant stimulating enough to artificially make me forget the pissing horror of three pissing days cold and wet in a pissing field'

- Justin Missingham, letter to the editor, Guardian, 19 April 2008

Sexuality and cricket statistics

On converting good scores into centuries, from an article about Brendon McCullum:

His IPL debut follows on from a no-less-extraordinary 170 from 108 balls for Otago against Auckland in New Zealand's State Shield final last month, two innings that could herald the opening of the floodgates. "Flem always said hundreds are for poofs," McCullum joked during the recent England Test series, an opinion he might soon be forced to revise. "My conversion-rate does bother me a little bit, but saying that, hopefully I've got another ten years left in the game. With the lessons I've learnt, if I can keep going and keep learning, the numbers will look after themselves."

Perhaps McCullum should've specified some heavy rabbit-ears irony in the quoted phrase "hundreds are for poofs", unless he wants to get his ex-captain in a spot of bother! 

I remember a televised music awards ceremony from Queensland in the late 80s or early 90s in which the inexplicably ubiquitous Aussie singer John Farnham (the Australian Cliff Richard) won several awards and started crying with joy on stage, at which point he inadvertently blurted, "Aw, you'll all think I'm a poof or something".  Oops.  As it happens, he won yet another award and was able to point out that, on reflection, there wasn't anything wrong with being a poof per se... because poofs probably buy John Farnham records too.  Inexplicably.  
- Source: 'Mac the Knife', Cricinfo, 20 April 2008

Blood is thicker than water?

A Taranaki woman will shortly stand trial for giving a false name - her sister's - when stopped for drunk driving.  The woman, who says she has not been in contact with her sister for five years, is also alleged to have been convicted for the driving offence under her sister's name, and then attempted to divert her sister's mail to prevent her from discovering the conviction.  Nice.  Well that's one way of shortening your Christmas card list!

- Source: Taranaki Daily News, 19 April 2008

18 April 2008

An Engineer's Guide To Cats

All good, but my favourite has to be the cat yodelling.

- Source: Guardian Viral Video Chart, 18 April 2008

Newcastle United

'...[C]ynics from the rest of the north will often chunter into their half-time Bovril about Newcastle United's absurdly inflated sense of self-importance.  This is a team, after all, who haven't won a domestic trophy for half a century and have spent the GNP of several African states in the not winning of anything.  According to the 'Toon Army', the self-mythologising name they've given themselves, Newcastle United are a 'massive club'.  You hear this time and time again and frankly no one outside the NE postcode seems to know what that means.  It seems to mean, as it does with Manchester City, 'used to be quite good'.

If, as those cynics suggest, there is monumental self-delusion at work here, it gets stoked regularly.  Chairman Freddy Shepherd's claim that the Newcastle job is 'one of the biggest in world football' shows a loyalty to the club somewhat undermined by his comments that Geordie women football fans were 'dogs'.  Former Magpies striker Micky Quinn once claimed that 'Newcastle is a bigger job than England', which is the football equivalent of saying that the horn section of Dexy's Midnight Runners are controlling the weather through people's televisions'

- Stuart Maconie, Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North, 2006

[In the interests of fairness I should point out that in the remainder of the book's discussion of Newcastle Maconie is quite complimentary, particularly of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Baltic arts centre.  And Newcastle United did win something called the Intertoto Cup, whatever that is, in 2006 after the book had been written]

16 April 2008

Who ate all the pies?

'Some people just make a strong impression upon you. The other day my five-year-old son was watching the highlights of a New Zealand-England ODI, the one we lost by 10 wickets. Later I was bowling to him along the diagonal of our living room and James had become Jesse Ryder. It was Ryder this, Ryder that, except when he got out: that was Alastair Cook. Later, at dinner, we told him that he wouldn't grow to be Jesse Ryder unless he ate all his fish fingers. James snorted with derision. "No one wants to be that fat," he said'

- Marcus Berkmann, 'The beauty of the bulge', Cricinfo, 15 April 2008

13 April 2008

And it's not even 1 April

'Shoes from Crocs, the much-maligned plastic clog manufacturer, will be worn by New Zealand Olympians as part of their official uniform - a decision that has appalled prominent fashionistas.

Female athletes will wear the "sueded alice" model - a suede-topped, plastic-soled shoe - for the opening ceremony and all athletes will wear the "beach" model - a version of the famous plastic slipper with holes in - around the games village.

Olympic chef de mission Dave Currie confirmed the sueded alice Crocs would form part of the official uniform being unveiled at a function at an Auckland winery on April 30. He said the opening ceremony Crocs would be "very stylish" and "not the ones with the holes in them", and an athlete design panel had collaborated on the uniform choice, which he described as "sensational"'.

Why not go one step further and outfit our athletes in Ug boots?  And I'm sure someone has probably already suggested that the athletes should emerge into the stadium in Beijing for the Olympic opening ceremony wearing jandals.  Like all unhealthy, ill-advised and embarrassing addictions, the key is to Just Say No, kids!

- Source: 'Crocs will be 'stylish' part of Olympic uniform', Sunday Star Times, 13 April 2008

11 April 2008

A cab, innit

'A teenager was greeted by a display cabinet instead of a taxi because her 'Ali G-style' slang confused a series of phone operators.  The girl hurriedly dialled directory inq­uiries to book a taxi from her home in London to Bristol airport, using the cockney rhyming slang Joe Baxi.  But the operator told her they were unable to find anyone by that name.  Seething, the youngster snapped back: 'It ain't a person, it's a cab, innit.'  The operator duly gave her what she asked for and put her through to the nearest supplier of cabinets, Displaysense.

The teenager must have felt the world was against her when a cabinet saleswoman seemed equally confused.  'Look love, how hard is it?' she fumed. 'All I want is your cheapest cab, innit. I need it for 10am. How much is it?' The sales adviser told her £180. The tantrum-throwing teenager quickly left her address details before ringing off.

The next morning, rather than being picked up by a cab, the young woman had the cabinet dropped off'
- Metro.co.uk, 11 April 2008 
[Great stuff!  But too good to be true, surely?  And I love the idea that the girl thought that taking a taxi from London to Bristol airport - a distance of 200km - was a good idea in the first place]

10 April 2008

Students responsible for housing slump

The Dominion Post has reported that a survey has revealed that 'suburban New Zealanders rate students as second only to squatters in a roll-call of undesirable neighbours, such as party people sharing houses and families with teenage kids', and apparently 'having ... students as neighbours could devalue a home by up to 10 per cent'.  So there we go - the solution to softening house prices: just ban students. 

- Dominion Post, 10 April 2008

09 April 2008

"Help, my baby's a redneck!"

'As a new-born we attempted to pacify him with soothing classical CDs -- but he simply wasn't having it. Brahms made him scream; Mozart turned him purple with rage. Any kind of rock or pop reduced Bob to a blubbering wreck. And a brief encounter with jazz left him more distraught than the occasion when a mid-wife stuck a giant needle into his bottom.

Curiously, it was only when Bob was accidentally exposed to his parents' most hated genre of music that his true inclinations were revealed. The transformation was astounding. He stopped screaming. A beatific smile crept across his features. He began to grunt in a manner that indicated he wished to be held next to the loudspeakers in order to enjoy country music at maximum volume.

And so, to our intense horror, we have become a country music-playing household. God knows what it's doing to Bob's mental development. If classical music is supposed to enhance children's intelligence, then one can only theorize that country -- at the very least -- might make them inclined to vote for Winston Peters.

Even more worrying is the emotional impact of those country lyrics on Bob's impressionable young psyche. If you believe the newspapers, teenagers are always topping themselves after listening to depressing tunes on their iPods. And I defy anyone to come up with a musical genre more depressing than country. In evidence, I quote from a song called "No Depression" (presumably an ironic title) recorded by the Carter Family in 1936:

This dark hour of midnight nearing,
tribulation time will come.
The storm will hurl the midnight fears,
and sweep lost millions to their doom.

Bob usually gives a huge guffaw of laughter when he hears that last line -- a response which, I fear, is already not a good sign'

- David Haywood, 'Nine Months of Baby Hell', Southerly, 31 March 2008

[Read the rest of Haywood's entertaining blog article, and then forward it to your sprogged-up friends - they'll thank you for it]

08 April 2008

The urinating 'Calvin'

'I live in a borderland, in a space of crossings, in an in-between. I live in Fort Collins. Sure, with relative ease you can locate and thus seemingly isolate it on a map. But a map lacks perspective, movement, and contour. It does not adequately capture how Fort Collins is pulled, even torn, between the mythical vision of cowboy country to the North and the magical wonders of Californication to the South. Fort Collins, you see, lies nearly equal distance from Cheyenne, Wyoming and Boulder, Colorado. It is perhaps little wonder, then, that while driving down the street one is as likely to see a bumper sticker for Pat Buchanan as for Ralph Nader. I grew up on the East Coast, so when I moved to Fort Collins seven years ago, I was immediately struck by the sheer volume of "automobile art" — alright, cheap car decals. But I guess when you live in a borderland, you feel an irrepressible urge to be immediately clear about who you are, where you stand, and what you like to pee on. With just one well-placed sticker, a driver can unequivocally communicate, "Howdy, I'm an American. I love my Ford F-150. And if given the chance, I — like this little cartoon boy — would relieve myself all over your foreign import." Or if one prefers, a decal that informs fellow drivers, "Dude, I believe we ought to legalize marijuana. And later today, I — like this little cartoon boy — plan to … what was I talking about?"'
- Brian L. Ott, 'To Pee or Not to Pee: On the Politics of Cultural Appropriation', FlowTV, 27 March 2008 (reprinted from 2004)
[Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, has pointed out that the well-known 'urinating Calvin' image was of course never part of his cartoon strip - it was a pirated and doctored image.  Wikipedia says: 'Except for the books, two 16-month calendars, the textbook Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes, and one T-shirt for a traveling art exhibit on comics, virtually all Calvin and Hobbes merchandise is unauthorized. One of the widely circulated counterfeit items is a series of window decals depicting Calvin grinning wickedly as he urinates on various companies' logos. As Watterson pointed out during the notes of one of the collection books, the original image was of Calvin filling up a water balloon from a faucet. After threat of a lawsuit alleging infringement of copyright and trademark, some of the sticker makers replaced Calvin with a different boy, while other makers ignored the issue. Watterson wryly commented, "I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo"']

Old-school gaming

Asteroids (1979, Atari) Of all the early monochrome classics, Asteroids was my favourite, because it's truly bleak. Rather than aliens or robots, your enemies are unthinking lumps of rock that are hurtling through space. Twirling somewhere in the middle of this cluttered void is your tiny, heartbreakingly fragile spaceship, armed only with a feeble electric peashooter. If Asteroids has a message, it's this: you are insignificant, the universe doesn't care about you, and you are definitely going to die. Brilliant.

Pac-Man (1980, Namco) Pac-Man himself may be an ultimately unknowable yellow disc, but his spectral pursuers had proper googly eyes and everything. And nicknames. And blood types. OK, not blood types. But this was one of the first games with identifiable characters, which goes a long way to explaining its success.

3D Deathchase (1983, Micromega) A Spectrum game in which all you had to do was avoid trees and shoot fellow motorcyclists. Simple, speedy pseudo-3D graphics meant suddenly you were starring in the bike section from Return Of The Jedi. Yes. You really bloody were.

Stop The Express (1983, Hudson Soft) A rare Japanese Spectrum game, this was an insanely breakneck combat/platformer in which you had to scamper along the top of a runaway train, fighting assassins and dodging obstacles. Best of all, when you beat it, your sole reward was a caption reading "Congraturation! You sucsess!"
- Charlie Brooker, 'The best videogames of all time (part 1)', Guardian, 5 April 2008

07 April 2008

The day the music died

"Musically, we are more talented than any Bob Dylan," announces Robert Pilatus, 24, with very little prodding. "Musically, we are more talented than Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger, his lines are not clear. He don't know how he should produce a sound. I'm the new modern rock 'n' roll. I'm the new Elvis." His (often silent) partner, Fabrice Morvan, 23, has his own key to success: "Rhythm, you know."

- Milli Vanilli speaking to Jay Cocks, Time, 5 March 1990

[Courtesy of Matthew]

05 April 2008

Having an agent

A creative guide to having an agent

Up until 1973, if you wanted to get ahead, you got a hat.  Now if you wish to play Hamlet, publish your memoirs or even just walk down the street in a jaunty pair of slacks, you need an agent. 

Agencies tend to be founded by groups of people (Squiggle, Cheek & Pob) or set up by individuals (The Susan Pus Agency).  There are two principal breeds of agent: literary agents read all day, pausing briefly to dictate letters that say: 'Thanks, but we don't feel your work is quite right for our list,' or: 'Sorry not to reply for four years...'

By contrast, theatrical agents spend their days speaking to their clients, uttering statements such as: 'But dahling, Police Academy VIII is a departure for the genre...' and 'The moment I hear back from Findus Crispy Pancakes you'll be the first to know!'

I've got an agent.  Let's call him Charles (even though his name is Alan).  Until recently, I thought Charles was dead, so quiet had he been.  When I discovered he was alive, I felt great elation, mixed with mild disappointment - you see, Charles is very rude and coughs without using his hand.  AND he takes 15 percent commission.  Still, I suppose 15 percent of nothing is still nothing.

So whether you're an actor, writer, singer or even a promising young milkman, don't just sit there, get out there!  Sing!  Dance!  Do something funny!  Stand on your head!  Do a wheelie!   And if no one notices, set up your own agency and take yourself on.

- Saul Wordsworth, Metro (London), 3 April 2008

04 April 2008

But private property's fine?

"I appeal to people not to damage public property and to remain calm."

- Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar gives a statesman-like message after being handed a five-year ban by the Pakistan board
[Source: Cricinfo]

03 April 2008

"I've baked a quiche"

All 21 James Bond movies, as re-enacted by bunnies.

Bun, James Bun

02 April 2008

Frog-hunting tree rats

The Minister of Conservation, Hon Steve Chadwick, and her staff issued an April Fools press release detailing a scheme to deploy trained rats to track rare native tree frogs.  They assumed no-one would fall for it, but it was picked up and reported by a wire service until a retraction was issued.

The threatened frog species made chirping sounds, had round eyes and did not have webbed feet, the minister stated.  "It was just a bit of lighthearted fun," a spokeswoman for Mrs Chadwick said.

- Rotorua Daily Post, 2 April 2008