29 December 2009

You can never have too many toilets

Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith delve into the mysteries of bathroom design on Not The Nine O'Clock News.

26 December 2009

On Basingstoke

'Basingstoke: A respectable town in Hampshire whose name for some reason has come to be regarded as droll or even irresistably amusing, placing it on a par with towns such as Chipping Sodbury, Godalming, Scunthorpe, Wigan and Surbiton'

Mad Margaret: When I am lying awake at night ... strange fancies crowd upon my poor mad brain, and I sometimes think that if we could hit upon some word for you to use whenever I am about to relapse - some word that teems with hidden meaning - like 'Basingstoke' - it might recall me to my saner self [W.S. Gilbert, Ruddigore, 1887]

- Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, London, 17th ed., 2005

22 December 2009

Hens in the skirting board

Victoria Wood and Julie Walters in the classic shoe shop sketch from Victoria Wood As Seen On TV in January 1985:

21 December 2009

Defying the dark lord

In the much-hyped chart battle for the UK's Christmas No. 1 single spot the campaign to defeat Simon Cowell's X Factor winner Joe McElderry's cover of Miley Cyrus' The Climb has been successful, with half a million downloading Rage Against The Machine's sweary 1992 track Killing In The Name. Charlie Brooker of the Guardian spells out which side of the fence he sits on:

For one thing, I happen to think Killing in the Name is an excellent song, so I've already got something out of it. Most importantly, it contains genuine emotion. Even if the climactic repeated howls of "F--k you, I won't do what you tell me!" put you in mind of a teenager loudly refusing to tidy his bedroom – as opposed to a masked anarchist hurling petrol bombs at the riot squad – there is at least an authentic human sentiment being expressed. Zack de la Rocha is audibly pissed off.

Compare this to the pissweak vocal doodle that is Joe McElderry's X Factor single. For a song whose lyrics ostensibly document an attempt to gather the spiritual strength to overcome adversity and thereby attain enlightenment, The Climb is about as inspiring as a Lion bar. It's a listless announcement on a service station Tannoy; an advert for buttons; a fart in a clinic; a dot on a spreadsheet. Listening to it from beginning to end is like watching a bored cleaner methodically wiping a smudge from a Formica worksurface.

But then nobody's buying The Climb in order to actually listen to it. They're buying it out of sedated confusion, pushing a button they've been told will make them feel better. It's the sound of the assisted suicide clinic, and it doesn't deserve to be No 1 this Christmas.

Of course, as Brooker points out, both tracks are ultimately owned by Sony BMG. But the thought that this might in some small way have irritated Simon Cowell makes it all worthwhile, no?

- Guardian, 21 December 2009

20 December 2009

Neville Cardus

'The chance to read one's own obituary is rare. [Cricket writer] Neville Cardus, on being told that the Buckinghamshire Examiner had described his death and published a moving tribute, paused before saying: "I have no wish to challenge the authority of the provincial press. They must have some information."'

- Jeremy Malies, The Wisden Cricketer, March 2004

19 December 2009

American football and the judicial process

'Circuit Judge Dan King announced Wednesday he would grant a delay in the civil suit Traywick v. Energen Corporation, which was scheduled for trial Jan. 4 in Bessemer, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham.

The reason?

Energen’s defense attorneys want to attend the showdown between the University of Alabama and University of Texas at Austin, scheduled for Jan. 7 at the Rose Bowl. If Alabama wins, it will be the first time in 17 years that they’ve claimed the Bowl Championship Series national title, considered by many to be the apogee of college football achievement.

“Such an event only comes infrequently during a person’s lifetime and is an achievement of such a magnitude that all involved in this litigation should want everyone to fully participate in this achievement,” writes Jon Terry, attorney for Energen, in his nine-point motion for a delay.

Because so many lawyers, jurors, and witnesses are planning to travel to Pasadena, Calif., for the game, it would be a hardship, he says. February would be better. Much better'

- Christian Science Monitor, 18 December 2009

17 December 2009

Morgan Freeman Chain of Command

Morgan Freeman: seemingly omnipresent for a while, and doubtless a nice fellow. Now someone's mapped out the career hierarchy of the major characters he's played, from a deity in Bruce Almighty down to Miss Daisy's driver. Warning: upon seeing this graphic you will immediately waste your precious, precious time disagreeing with the order in which the various Freemans have been placed. Inmate, Freed Slave, Driver?! A Sergeant Major outranking a judge?! I'm writing to my MP to complain.

The Morgan Freeman Chain of Command (img)

Everything's online these days

From an article on the suspension of Dr Suresh Vatsyayann from the Waikato District Health Board:

It is understood the Hamilton GP, who runs his own private practice, sent out an email to board members where he questioned the integrity of members and DHB management.

He is an elected member of the Waikato DHB board and a controversial figure who has regularly criticised the DHB and media, including posts in an online bog.

- Stuff.co.nz, 17 December 2009

10 December 2009

Sugababe overload

Sunday, April 30, 2265: the date on which it has been statistically proven that every man, woman and child in Britain will be a Sugababe.

- Popjustice

08 December 2009

Rent day

Every year, a strange and very ancient ceremony is enacted at the High Court on the Strand. Called the Horseshoe and Faggott Cutting Ceremony, it recreates the payment due for rent on two pieces of land. For the first, the City Solicitor presents two hazel rods to the Queen's Remembrancer, who replies 'Good service,', which settles the rent on the Moors at Eardington in Shropshire. Then a second payment is made in the form of six horseshoes and 61 nails, to which the Remembrancer replies 'Good number'. This is the rent for the piece of land on which Australia House now stands. It is not a public ceremony, though one can apply to watch; and no-one is entirely sure if the rent paid is the right amount, as it was all rather a long time ago.

- Jo Swinnerton, The London Companion, 2004

Homeland Security

Gavin Esler notes that US border controls are getting tougher. The [BBC] Newsnight presenter flew to Washington recently and reports in his email to viewers on a Kafkaesque experience.

'When I arrived from London two days ago I was stopped as usual by the immigration authorities,' he writes.

'I handed over my passport, my completed immigration and customs forms, was fingerprinted and photographed. "Why are you here?" the Homeland Security lady asked me. 'Because the president is scheduled to announce a big increase in US troop numbers in Afghanistan'.

"Who do you work for?" 'The BBC'. "How do you spell that?" Hmmm. A tricky one. How do you spell BBC? 'Er, B... B... C...' The lady looked at me. "Do you have any identification?"

'You are holding my passport,' I said, with a smile'

- Evening Standard, 7 December 2009

05 December 2009

Maid of (questionable) honour

Drunk bridesmaid bolts from wedding

A drunk bridesmaid disappeared from her friend's wedding early this morning, running off and getting lost in the Waitakere Ranges.

Police launched a search and rescue operation to find the 26-year-old, who ran away from the post-wedding party in West Auckland, at a property backing onto the bush-clad hills, about 1.20am.

After a search involving search and rescue volunteers and a police helicopter, the woman was found about 5.30am. She was asleep about 10 or 15 metres into the bush, Inspector Shawn Rutene told NZPA.

She was cold after her night spent sleeping rough, but otherwise fine, he said.

- NZPA, 6 December 2009

03 December 2009

The future's so bright

A 1958 Disney animation illustrating how the growth of modern highways was going to revolutionise transport and society in general. It's stylishly drawn escapism, and you don't have to wait too long before the obligatory mention of atomic cars.

[Via Jarbury]

02 December 2009

Lame album title puns

Luke Lewis of the NME jots up a quick list of some of the worst offenders:

Public Enemy, ‘Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age’. That's a pun on 'music and our message', in case you were wondering.

Salt N Pepa, 'A Salt With A Deadly Pepa'. I'm sorry, whichever way you pronounce it, pepper just doesn't rhyme with weapon.

Butthole Surfers, 'Hairway To Steven'. A pun's that's both desperate and completely meaningless: a double-whammy of lameness.

REO Speedwagon, ‘You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish’. Again, completely pointless.

Westlife, 'Allow Us To Be Frank'. Yes, this was an album of Sinatra covers.

Wet Wet Wet, 'Popped In , Souled Out'. This was the first album I ever bought. Even as a seven-year-old, I knew that was a weak pun.

- NME, 1 December 2009

[Via LHB]

A Virgin berth

'I've just been to the cinema, to see Paranormal Activity, and found the experience highly disturbing. The film was no problem, but there was an advert on beforehand for Virgin Trains with Richard Branson that must be causing people to wake up shrieking "Aayeeugh he's all jolly and fluffy and horrible," until they're given an injection.

No one should be reminded of Virgin Trains at any time, as their one outstanding achievement is attention to detail, because everything is awful. Any train company can make trains late, but Virgin put in that extra effort, so there's an announcement as you leave that there's no tea because the boiler's busted.


Perfectionist that [Branson] is, Virgin also has the worst record for answering complaints, replying to a wonderful 36 per cent within 20 days. I enjoyed some of this service last week, when I rang to reserve a seat but couldn't get through for 26 minutes.

So I said I'd like to complain, and was put on hold for another 15 minutes, then told the complaints department was very busy so could I ring back later. So later I called a customer relations department who told me, "This can happen."

"Is there an explanation?" I asked, and she said: "I've given you one." I said, "What was it?" and she said: "I TOLD you – this can happen."

Just to make sure, I said, "Are you telling me 'This can happen' is the explanation."

"Yes," she said triumphantly.

So it seems Virgin is being run by philosophers from the 13th century. When someone rings to ask why they were stuck for two hours outside Preston they must get told "Ah, 'tis God's will". The station announcements will soon say: "We apologise for the cancellation of the 2.15 to Coventry. This is due to the fact that this can happen. It's not our place to incur the wrath of our creator by asking why."'

- Mark Steel, Independent, 2 December 2009

01 December 2009

Colonial chauvinism

From a discussion of the hard-living New Zealand Fencibles, a collection of retired military personnel who arrived from 1847 to 1852 to help defend the young colony:

...[A] concomitant of the legendary Irish fondness for alcohol and fighting was the sense of humour, very often chauvinist in tone. The 'Wanted' column on a page from the Pensioners' Gazette posted on the wall of one of the rebuilt Fencible houses at Howick carried as an advertisement: 'A wife, with fine points, pretty fetlocks, small muzzle, sound in wind and warranted free from vice'. An item in the 'Marriages Births and Deaths' column mentioned that a Panmure lady 'well known for her beauty and accomplishments is rumoured to be about to be married to fourteen different gentlemen. As soon as we can find out the favoured gentlemen we will chuckle over the knowledge and keep it to ourselves'.

- Quoted in Gordon McLauchlan, The Life and Times of Auckland, Auckland, 2008, p.119-120.