27 December 2010

Labyrinth with sock puppets

Featuring Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman.

19 December 2010

Norman Rockwell as high art

Reviewer Brian Sewell on Norman Rockwell's America, an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery:

In overwhelming self-esteem, Rockwell evidently agreed with the verdict of the immaculately dishevelled, widely smiling, cap-toothed examples of American dentistry who are the authors of Norman Rockwell’s America, the book-cum-catalogue of the current exhibition of his work at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. They have it that he was and is “America’s pre-eminent artist-illustrator, perhaps our greatest storyteller, and the world’s most beloved illustrator”. That is one hell of a triple claim. There may well be some truth in the first part, substantiated by his 322 covers for the Post between 1916 and 1963 (almost half a century of a style and vision that underwent no fundamental change) in decades when magazines had far greater penetration and circulation than now. At the storyteller claim, however, I am inclined to toss the names of Fenimore Cooper and his Natty Bumppo, Poe, Stowe, Hawthorne and Twain, who told so many of my childhood stories and Henry James, Edith Wharton and the innumerable hacks of detective and pulp fiction who followed them, for no painted picture tells a story better than a scribbler’s prose. As for Rockwell’s being best beloved of the whole world — this is arrogant piffle, ignorant balderdash, flapdoodle, hokum, bunkum and horsefeathers.

On what purports to be a serious catalogue, the authors impose a repellent Reader’s Digest style and a text of pure puerility, to which the cynic must respond that this is precisely the aesthetic and intellectual level of exegesis that Rockwell merits and that anything more perceptive would be a mismatch with the homespun, cracker-barrel, neighbourly folk to whom his work was pitched.

The hokum and horsefeathers are, alas, infectious: here and there in this wretched text are signed interpolations by the eximious director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery himself, snippets of schoolboy art history declaring, for example, that in The Runaway and Young Valetudinarian, he perceives something of European Old Mastery, Rockwell sharing the aims that Rembrandt pursued with such authority in the last years of his life. Not content with diminishing Rembrandt in this comparison, he does the same for Dou and Van Dyck, tempting ridicule and derision by reproducing their paintings on the same page as, in these two cases, Rockwell’s absent canvases — 25 included in the catalogue are not hanging on the walls.

Elsewhere, in a “Statement” (how pretentious), the director gushes his enthusiasm for Rockwell. Citing his Rockwell “epiphany” at an exhibition in America, he affirms the painter’s greatness, his special skills, his truths greater than reality, his marvellous realism, his visual jokes and whimsical insights, hauls in a comparison with Ostade, hints at a connection with Vermeer, and asks who among us would not want to live in America as Rockwell saw it? He even demands that those of us who do not share this fatuous view should “lighten up” — to which my command of the American vernacular provides no polite printable retort. I observe, in passing, that Vermeer painted a brothel scene and that Ostade was much given to images of peasants drunk, vomiting, emptying their bladders and putting their hands up skirts; we find none of this in Rockwell’s work, in which even the dogs are decorous, never emptying their bowels as 17th-century Dutch dogs so often did in churches.

- Evening Standard, 16 December 2010

14 December 2010

How Irish law works

'There are three states of legality in Irish law. There's all this stuff here, which comes under "That's grand!"; then it moves into "Ah now, don't push it"; and finally into "Right, you're taking the piss"'

- Dara O'Briain, Live at the Theatre Royal, 2006

09 December 2010

No-one puts Baby Jesus in a corner

'A watermelon!" I shouted at the Archbishop of Canterbury. "She said that she carried a watermelon!"

Yes, it was a standard Wednesday night out for me: explaining the plot of Dirty Dancing to the leader of the Church of England.

I think Dr Williams has seen the film anyway. But it's hard to be sure. I didn't really let him get a word in.

Having been invited to a reception at Lambeth Palace (in error, I assumed, as I hurriedly accepted before the mistake could be rectified), I had been taken aback to see the archbishop actually standing in the doorway. The Archbishop of Canterbury. My jaw dropped. I clasped his hand. I gabbled something incomprehensible. I am a fan of his and I did the fan thing.

"Well done," muttered my friend Charlie as we finally moved through the doorway and into the reception. "If Lou Reed is standing in this room, I don't think I'll be able to embarrass myself as much as you just did."

Sympathetic, perhaps, to my star-struck awkwardness, the kindly Dr Williams came to talk to us again. It was an opportunity for me to be a little cooler. Say something witty, perhaps. Or wait for His Grace to speak. Or Charlie.

Instead, I apologised for my random opening remarks by way of a rambling soliloquy about the moment in Dirty Dancing when Jennifer Grey sees Patrick Swayze in a nightclub and fancies him so much that she can say nothing more sensible than: "I carried a watermelon."

Oh yes. In this scenario (I realised too late to stop talking), I was Jennifer Grey. And the Archbishop of Canterbury was Patrick Swayze. The grinding, bare-chested target of Jennifer's summer lust. I have racked my brains, in the nights since then, over whether I could have come up with a less appropriate analogy. After some reflection: no. On the plus side, I have worked out that my pillowcase might make a very effective noose.

- Victoria Coren, Guardian, 5 December 2010

Moviegoers' Code of Conduct

The BBC's Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo surveyed their listeners for the basic rules of decent and courteous behaviour in cinemas. Here, then, is the bottom line. Read and obey, bag rustlers, phone-checkers and mutterers! (You bastards!)

06 December 2010

Early contenders for the Darwin Awards

From a discussion of religious turmoil in North African Christendom in the 5th century:

Donatists were fanatical revolutionary martyr-terrorists, attacking landlords and money-lenders and sometimes forcing rich men to run behind their carriages while their slaves rode. And since they believed that martyrs went straight to heaven, they would reportedly challenge passers-by to kill them or would throw themselves en masse off cliffs.

One of the most influential Christians to come out of Africa during this time - or rather to stay in Africa, because he lived in the Libyan city of Hippo Regius - was the bishop of Hippo. St Augustine, as he is known by millions of Christians, was the anti-Donatist rhetorical hit-man. By logic and authority he demonstrated that suicide was not martyrdom but a sin. (It must have been very disheartening for any Donatist, having persuaded a passing fish-paste salesman to kill him, to find that instead of entering heaven he had just bought a ticket to hell).

- Terry Jones & Alan Ereira, Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History, London, 2006.

04 December 2010

Athlone Scumbags

Mentioned by comedian Dara O'Briain in his recent stand-up DVD 'This Is The Show', this clip of two rough types having a free and frank exchange of views in a street in Athlone is noteworthy for its wide-ranging inventive use of language - virtually all of which is not in the slightest bit safe for work.

Marketing mega-fail

Toy manufacturer Hasbro has released a Transformers toy with a remarkably inappropriate name... so now you can queue up this Christmas to buy your child the new Spastic Transformer. Seriously.

Hasbro unleashes 'Spastic' Transformer

[Via The Now Show]

03 December 2010

"You're the first girl he's ever thought about the Führer with"

'The future with', not the Führer! Just one of the many mishaps generated by the iPhone's seemingly Tourette's-suffering autocorrect function. For many, many more, see:

Damn You Autocorrect

[Courtesy of Louise]

26 November 2010

Whales stuck in traffic

What do Cher and Christina Aguilera share, other than top billing in this double diva musical? Foghorn vocals, for a start: a large part of Burlesque sounds like whales stuck in traffic. Immobile faces, also: Cher's has been sanded into death mask perfection, while Aguilera's seems simply glazed with vacuity, frozen in a semi-pout, half-human, half-dolly, unshakably impassive beneath a permanently sunlit bouffant.

- Catherine Shoard, Guardian, 25 November 2010

25 November 2010

Salvador Dali

The legendary artist appears on the US TV programme What's My Line in January 1957. Blindfolded guests struggle to guess his identity, understandably.

22 November 2010

World's biggest Firefly fan?

With a somewhat obscure yet refreshingly specific taste in fancy dress, this lady has decked herself out as a person-sized version of Jayne's woolly hat.

I Liked Firefly Too, Lady...But Jesus...
[Via Poorly Dressed]

17 November 2010

Radcliffe sings The Elements

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe sings the periodic table in an arrangement by Tom Lehrer, on the BBC's Graham Norton Show:

[Via PodBlack Cat]

08 November 2010

Oh Superman!

'Time to clear up and clean up before Danny Aykroyd, Rosie Shuster and friend Margot Kidder drop in ... 'What a well-vacuumed house,' Danny comments. Danny and Rosie have come over on Laker's Skytrain, and say it's grim but cheap.

Margot Kidder is playing Lois Lane in the Superman movie (which is still shooting, over a year after they pulled out of Shepperton).

Apparently most of her work involves hanging in a harness alongside Christopher Reeve whilst people do strange things to them. They have to fight an eagle on the top of the Empire State Building. The first 'eagle' they got was from Taiwan and looked so un-eagle-like, with a funny red crop on its head, that it was sent home and it was decided instead to use large falcons. The falcons would only fly after chicken bones, so Margot and Superman were suspended, with wind machine blowing them, between one man hurling falcons towards another man holding chicken legs.

As Superman perspired heavily, leaving tell-tale patches around the armpits of his costume, one member of the crew was standing by to blow-dry his armpits.

The length and design of Superman's cock was the subject of much controversy, which culminated in Superman appearing at a photo-session with a large metal dong down his tights. Margot said she got so fed up with this thing digging into her leg that she took to flicking it with her fingernail, causing a light but noticeable metallic ting every time she touched his shorts'

- Diary entry for Saturday 6 May 1978, in Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-1979, London, 2006.

02 November 2010

DIY house-moving

Who needs pricey removal companies?

[Via Popurls]

01 November 2010

Mow in haste, repent at leisure

A neighbourhood dispute in Fairlie, in which police from all over South Canterbury were called out and one man charged, appears to have stemmed from a row over the use of a lawnmower.

Temuka, Timaru, Fairlie and Geraldine police all attended the incident, which is believed to have occurred about 1pm yesterday on Regent St in Fairlie.

Senior Constable Russell Halkett, of Fairlie, said the situation was "ugly" and involved at least five people. One man has been charged with possession of an offensive weapon and will appear in court later this week.

"People should have known better, they were all adults," Mr Halkett said.

Several people were questioned at the scene and there were further charges pending, Mr Halkett said.

A man was treated for injuries to his head and abdomen.

While he could not confirm the cause of the incident, Mr Halkett said the dispute may have been partly triggered by a lawnmower being accidentally taken from one of the properties.

"That's one version of the story," he said. "Tempers got frayed. It all seems to have started from something that seems pretty trivial. You get these egos involved and it blows things out of proportion."

Mr Halkett said he arrived on the scene to find a punch-up taking place on a driveway. He said he tried to defuse the situation, with police from Geraldine, Temuka and Timaru coming shortly afterwards.

- Timaru Herald, 1 November 2010

30 October 2010

"Not all affairs have a positive effect on a marriage"

Tunbridge Wells [in Kent] has been laid bare as an infidelity hotspot by a controversial website. Nearly 1,000 love rats from the town are said to have signed up to a website which helps married people meet new lovers.

We spoke to one local adulteress who has been cheating on her husband for nine months. She said: "It's a self-esteem boost when you get lots of messages from people wanting to get to know you. I definitely don't want my marriage to end. I'm not sure what I would do if I got caught."


The website even carries a startling disclaimer, warning visitors that "not everyone is suited to having an affair".

"Not all affairs have a positive effect on a marriage," it adds.

The website claims to have 944 members from Tunbridge Wells, while across Kent more than 11,000 people are using the site to cheat on their other halves.

- This Is Kent, 29 October 2010

29 October 2010

"It's not finished... now it's finished"

'During the first set Rufus has asked that you please do not applaud until after he has left the stage as his exit is part of the piece'.

- Notice to fans attending a Rufus Wainwright concert

[Via Popbitch]

28 October 2010

"I wish they wouldn't waste it on dogs"

Comedian Kristen Wiig reads from a slender collection of poems written by former Three's Company actress Suzanne Somers, in an instalment of the Celebrity Autobiography show.

22 October 2010

One man's passion for VCRs

This chap - Finnish, I gather - has what is perhaps the world's biggest private collection of VCRs. Here he takes viewers on a tour, providing a rare insight into the life of an obsessive collector. And his hair is a bit special too.

[Via Guardian Viral Video Chart]

21 October 2010

David Mitchell's metal penis

From a recording of the comedy panel show The Unbelievable Truth, hosted by David Mitchell:

DM: I'm not playing the game - I see myself as the 'icy host'.

Chris Addison: You see yourself as an Anne Robinson figure?

DM: Yes, an Anne Robinson figure. But still partially organic.

CA: What part isn't organic, just out of interest?

DM: My metal penis.

CA: Isn't that a Kaiser Chiefs album?

DM: I'm very pleased with my metal penis, but it certainly gets through the diesel.

CA: If it's diesel does that mean it's taxed more highly than the unleaded metal penis that you were previously using?

DM: I try and say that I should be able to use the agricultural diesel, because it's used for breeding purposes. But as I have failed to breed with it I'm not allowed.

Rufus Hound: It's classed as a recreational vehicle?

DM: I know, it's ridiculous really, because I've never seen anyone have any fun with it.

- The Unbelievable Truth, Radio 4, 18 October 2010

The naked truth

The cheek of it... Berliners strip in protest at city's sky-high rents

The movement is sending shock waves through the normally orderly world of Berlin estate agents: when they show off apartments for rent, their presumed tenants strip off and prance around wearing nothing but Mickey Mouse masks to hide their identities.

The protesters, who paint their naked bodies with slogans such as "too expensive" and "rip off", pose as ordinary would-be tenants and queue up to "view" expensive apartments to let.

Once inside they strip off and dance around to blaring music pumped through loudspeakers while being filmed. In most cases they manage to flee before the police arrive. A video of their protest usually appears on YouTube the following day.

"We want every estate agent and every apartment management company to be aware that if they try to rent out flats at rip-off prices, they can expect a visit from us," one of the protesters, who would only identify himself as Denis, declared on one of the videos.

The rent rise protest is conducted by a group called Hedonistic International which recently gained publicity after its members stormed a neo-Nazi pub. Their demonstrations have so far been confined to the Berlin inner-city districts of Kreuzberg and Freidrichshain. Both districts are being gentrified after providing cheap flats for immigrants and students for more than two decades.

- Independent, 21 October 2010

18 October 2010

Coachella in miniature

Lovely tilt-shifted and fast-forwarded short film capturing a day in the life of the 2010 Coachella rock festival; catchy tune too -

Coachelletta from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.

16 October 2010

Careful, you'll have someone's eye out

'Mum was 15 when the war started, and started work in an office. By the age of 18 she was also an ARP warden. I've never been able to understand how risk-averse my mum is. She hated conkers, pea shooters and anything that could have someone's eye out: skipping, swinging on your chair, talking with your mouth full. I think there must have been something deficient in the diet in 1920s Portsmouth and people were born with very weak eye sockets, so that if you burped a baby over-zealously, there was a risk its eye would pop out over your shoulder. I understand Mum grew up in a time of danger and that she wanted us to be safe, but I did sometimes wonder how she got through the war at all. How did she function as an ARP warden, venturing out during the Blitz in a tin hat, looking for fires, injured people, unexploded bombs and possible German paratroopers? She could cope with all that, but if a Jerry had crept up on her with a snowball, she'd have panicked because there could be some grit in that and that can have someone's eye out'

- Jeremy Hardy, My Family And Other Strangers, 2010

15 October 2010

How to get ahead

'The odd thing in this world is than an eager-beaver type, with no original ideas, who mimes those in authority above him right to the last twist of necktie and scrape of chin, always gets noticed. Gets selected. Rises. In the banks, in insurance companies, big electric companies, missile building firms, universities. He had seen them as assistant professors teaching some recondite subject - survey of heretical Christian sects of the fifth century - and simultaneously inching their path up with all their might and main. Everything but sending their wives over to the administration building as bait'

- Philip K Dick, Time Out Of Joint, 1959

08 October 2010

'This Monty Python, is he one of us?'

'Being Margaret Thatcher was a very demanding, 24-hour-a-day job. Like many people held in the grip of their own convictions, Thatcher had trouble understanding the thoughts and words of others. She was, and no doubt is, a kindly woman. Staff were always pleased when she remembered their birthdays, even more when she remembered their children's birthdays. She could be tolerant of other people's way of living, even when she did not understand or sympathise with it. However, if she had a sense of humour, it was well hidden.

There are many stories about this. When the Liberals adopted a sort of stylised yellow bird as their logo, one of her speechwriters produced a passage based on Monty Python's parrot sketch – 'this parrot is no more, it has shuffled off this mortal coil and gone to join the choir invisible . . .' She had to be persuaded that the lines were funny, and would be recognised by the audience. She had one other concern: 'This Monty Python, is he one of us?' (Interestingly, Cameron referred to the same sketch in his party conference speech this week, confident that everyone would get the joke.)

Earlier, Peter Jay, the son-in-law of the then prime minister Jim Callaghan, had said that Callaghan saw himself as Moses, leading his people after long travails into the promised land. It was a silly thing to say, and Thatcher's people seized on it. They wrote a line for her party conference speech: 'My message to Moses is: 'Keep taking the tablets.'' But she didn't get the joke and tried to change it to 'Keep taking the pills.' Only after it was carefully explained to her did she agree to the proper version.

She was nonetheless the source of much unwitting humour. Just as, in an early silent movie, when you see a man up a ladder with a pot of paint, you know with near certainty that the star is going to walk under the ladder at exactly the wrong moment, so with Thatcher. When a double entendre appeared in the offing, you felt she was certain to utter it.

I recall Thatcher being asked in the Commons about pacifists handing out leaflets outside an army barracks. 'I'm sure soldiers will know exactly what they can do with those leaflets!' she said, to outright laughter from the Labour side and surreptitious giggles from the Tories.

At a training centre in Putney, she was introduced to an extremely large youth who was working with a giant wrench. 'Goodness,' she said, 'I've never seen a tool as big as that!'

But Thatcher saved the best of all for her victory tour of the Falkland Islands. She was taken to inspect a large field gun, basically a ride-on lawnmower with a barrel several feet long. It was on a bluff, overlooking a plain on which another Argentine invasion might one day materialise. She admired the weapon, and the soldier manning it asked if she would like to fire a round.

'But mightn't it jerk me off?' she replied. Chris Moncrieff of the Press Association, who was covering the visit, recorded the manful struggle of the soldier to keep his face, indeed his whole body, straight'

- Simon Hoggart, Guardian, 8 October 2010

27 September 2010

Fearne Cotton

'If you think that [Radio 1 DJ Chris] Moyles is quite annoying you should listen to this Fearne Cotton woman afterwards; everything she says is 'ooh it's amazing, it's brilliant, it's awesome!' It's like listening to someone who has never seen cutlery and then showing them a spoon'.

- Sandi Toksvig, The News Quiz, Radio 4, 24 September 2010

25 September 2010

On Wagner

Stephen Fry recently extolled the virtues of the famed German opera composer Richard Wagner, but for many people his work is rather inaccessible due to its extreme length and bombast:

As Wagner grew older, his operas grew longer, culminating in Der Ring des Nibelungen, composed of four separate operas taking some sixteen hours to perform. For all its enduring popularity, his work has also drawn some inspired criticism. One composer complained that a Wagner opera 'starts at six o'clock and, after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6.20', while Friedrich Nietzche derided Die Meistersinger as 'German beer music'. Here are some other choice critiques:

Gioacchino Rossini - 'Wagner has beautiful moments but awful quarter hours'.

Oscar Wilde - 'I like Wagner's music better than any other music. It's so loud that one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says'.

Charles Beaudelaire - 'I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws'.

The gentlest of the barbs came from Mark Twain, who helpfully proclaimed that 'Wagner's music is better than it sounds'.

- W.B. Marsh & Bruce Carrick, 366: A Leap Year of Great Stories, Cambridge, 2007.

23 September 2010

Poll: 1 in 5 Americans believe Obama is a cactus

WASHINGTON — According to a poll released Tuesday, nearly 20 percent of U.S. citizens now believe Barack Obama is a cactus, the most Americans to identify the president as a water-retaining desert plant since he took office.

The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found a sharp rise in the number of Americans who say they firmly believe Obama was either born a cactus, became a cactus during his youth, or has questionable links to the Cactaceae family.

"We asked people of varying races, ages, and backgrounds the same question: 'What is President Barack Obama?'" Pew spokeswoman Jodi Miller told reporters. "And a fifth of them responded, 'A cactus.'"

According to the poll, Obama has lost favor among many voters who supported his candidacy in 2008 but have since come to doubt he is a mammal. While these Americans concede Obama may not specifically be a cactus, most believe he is a plant of some kind, with 18 percent saying the president is a ficus, 37 percent believing him to be a grain such as wheat or millet, and 12 percent convinced he is an old-growth forest in Northern California.

When asked why they agreed with the statement "President Obama is a large succulent plant composed of specialized cells designed for water retention in arid climates," many responded that they "just know," claiming the president only acts like a human being for political purposes and is truly a cactus at heart.

- The Onion, 22 September 2010

21 September 2010

Tourette's Karaoke

The most excellent skills of Guy Daniel Francis are to the fore in these videos, demonstrating that all you need to improve a good pop song is to add random swearing. Not safe for work viewing due to language, naturally, and here's a bit of info about Tourette Syndrome for some context.

See also: Losing My Religion, A Little Respect, and Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm by Crash Test Dummies.

[Via Popbitch]

14 September 2010

Thieves obviously unaware of the value of livestock

Instead, they just stole the gate:

A Kingston farmer is concerned someone could have been seriously injured after some "idiots" stole his farm gate along the Devil's Staircase highway to Queenstown at the weekend.

Fortunately some overseas tourists saved the day, after Loch Linnhe Station owner Murray Scott's 4.6m by 1.2m steel mesh farm gate was taken from its hinges overnight on Saturday.

The foolish act left more than 30 cattle and 300 sheep free to roam the Kingston to Queenstown highway in what would have been a blind spot over a hill for traffic heading north.

"It was right at the top of a hill the gate was stolen... just as you come over the hill. If someone had flown over the hill they would've had nowhere to go," he said.

- Southland Times, 14 September 2010

06 September 2010

Careless whiskers

Adam and Kristi from Cracked sum up their top 6 foullest, most noxious facial hair in music. Includes two geezers you've never heard of, plus John Oates of Hall & Oates, owner of the most reprehensible rock moustache in history.

The 6 most atrocious uses of facial hair in music history

[Title pun and link courtesy of the Guardian Guide]

Josie Long

Comedian Josie Long at the New Zealand Comedy Festival in 2008, on stealing branded promotional pens, the challenges of contemporary mime, and the delights of mis-spelling.

01 September 2010

Munchy box!

Glasgow's finest culinary tradition: the grease-laden, artery-popping combination of kebab meat, fish & chips, naan bread, onion rings, chicken tikka and loads and loads of potential health problems, all sandwiched into a dripping, sellotaped-shut cardboard pizza box. Gory pictures in full at:

What is a Munchy Box?

Iranian editorial policy

"Sticks and stones may break my bones – but names will never hurt me." I was reminded of the highly sensible old saying when I read about the typically level-headed and well-modulated attack on First Française Carla Bruni and the actress Isabelle Adjani for daring to add their voices to the international protest against the proposed stoning to death of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, the 43-year-old mother-of-two accused of adultery, by the Iranian newspaper Kayhan.

This paragon of the free press is directly under the supervision of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government and has its editor appointed by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khameini – and don't you just wish you could be a fly on the wall at one of their editorial meetings.

"That Carla Bruni – she says we shouldn't stone adulteresses to death."

"She must be a prostitute!"

"Yeah, and her Mum!"

"And that actress – Isabelle Adjani? She says it too."

"Right, that's it. She was in that film Ishtar, with that Zionist thug Dustin Hoffman – I hated that film! That's 103 minutes of my life I'll never get back again!"

"She's probably a prostitute too!"

"OK, there's our headline – FRENCH PROSTITUTES ENTER HUMAN RIGHTS PROTEST. Now, next up – who's the stunna getting stoned to death on Page 3 today?" [...]

I must say that I was perplexed, though, by the reference to Mrs Sarkozy as a "hypocrite", while drawing ungentlemanly attention to her sexual generosity over the years. (Sexual charity, even, if you count Mick Jagger, who looks as if a very bored giant practised origami on his face for a very long time.)

Surely wishing women not to be put to death for committing adultery, if you are yourself a woman who has slept with married men, is the opposite of hypocrisy – ie, damn good sense? Surely a hypocrite would be a woman who had committed adultery yet wanted other women to be stoned to death for it?

- Julie Burchill, Independent, 1 September 2010

26 August 2010

Ava Vidal

Comedian Ava Vidal on the Michael McIntyre Comedy Roadshow in 2009:

People say what Madonna's actually done is that she's gone to Africa and bought a black child for £1.5 million. Someone said to me, 'Surely you find that offensive?' Not really - I find it exciting, because I've got two black kids at home. I can't lie to you - I skipped home that day. I was like, 'Kids, you need to get your coats on'. And their faces lit up, they were so excited. They were like, 'Ooh mummy, where are we going?' 'I don't know, but with a street value of £1.5 million each you're not staying in my house'.

18 August 2010

Too short to be decent

'This year, my favourite has been the announcement by the headmistress of a school in Hereford that the girls there were wearing skirts "too short to be decent" and from September they will line up every morning and have their skirts measured by teachers. If a girl's fingertips come below her hemline, she will be sent home to change. Some parents have vigorously objected to the new rule, with one mother claiming that "the idea of lining them up is straight out of the Gestapo handbook. It's disgraceful."

A few things.

Number one – the need for an intermediate historical analogy to which one can liken modern inconveniences is becoming pressing. So few things are, after all, really like six million people being systematically slaughtered across a continent. I nominate, "It's like the rule of Napoleon III! A moderate police state, but civil liberties are increasing and people are, on the whole, taken in the round, becoming better off!" Or, "I feel like Myrna Loy during MGM's golden age, forever under the essentially benevolent but still tyrannical eye of Louis B Mayer!" Press your buttons now.

Number two – I remember being a teenage girl. Well, no, that's not true – I remember being surrounded by teenage girls. I was, until the age of about 22, technically a mineral – but I do remember the steaming, roiling tide of hormones that swept everyone (normal) along in an all but unstoppable headlong rush and against which onslaught the entire adult world united in order to mitigate the damage. Even with their best efforts, my educational establishment generally looked like a specialist brothel. Black bras under white shirts were de rigueur, as was enough eyeliner to drown a mouse, and waistbands rolled over so many times you would have thought genitalia were actually part of the school uniform. "Suzanne, where is your vagina today? Oh, you forgot it, did you? That's the third time this week. Once more and you'll go on report."'

- Lucy Mangan, Guardian, 14 August 2010

12 August 2010

The moribund Senate

'Filibusters, once rare, are now used to block the most routine procedures, ensuring minimal cross-pollination of ideas. The obstructionism and crankiness are laughable. Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, while vowing not to leave the chamber as a procedural move to hold up unemployment benefits for millions, complained about the personal hardship he suffered for his parliamentary stunt — missing a college basketball game on TV.

“Free smoothies for crazy people in the lobby,” was Jon Stewart’s suggestion to get Bunning out of the chambers, not an unreasonable idea for this gilded nursing home of people muttering into C-Span cameras [...]

Little has changed since Mark Twain offered this assessment: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”'

- Timothy Egan, New York Times, 11 August 2010

09 August 2010

The most enjoyable aspect of lecturing

'The most enjoyable aspect of lecturing, I discovered, were the staff meetings -- which the Head of Department conducted as a sort of homage to avant-garde cinema (a genre to which he was excessively devoted). Plot and chronology had been abandoned years ago in favour of expressionist flow-charts and long, meaning-filled silences. At times, his presentations seemed to be taking place in sepia with French subtitles.

Surrounded by the most socially retarded people in a 100 kilometre radius, I experienced an exhilarating sense of eloquence. As my colleagues gazed at their laps -- carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone else and pretending to be invisible -- I found myself making erudite suggestions for the running of the department.

At one meeting, I casually dropped the word 'pedagogical' into the discussion. There was a murmur of approval around the table. At another meeting, the Head of Department asked me to assist with a party of 15-year-old school pupils who were touring the college. "You're just the sort of extroverted person who would inspire these children," he said, without apparent irony.

Alas that his recommendation provided a brutal lesson about social limitations. Two hundred school pupils were gathered in a lecture theatre to receive a speech by the vice-chancellor, who -- at the last minute -- was called away to deal with a crisis. I suddenly heard the Dean of Engineering announce that he was going to prevail upon me to give the talk instead.

My recollection of the next half-hour is hazy. I recall telling the children that the importance of school was over-rated, and that it was better for them to enjoy themselves than pass exams. I may have mentioned that a 'gap year' might be useful to some of them, so that -- in an unfortunate choice of words -- they could try out "having sex and taking drugs". I've blanked out the rest'

- David Haywood, 'Confessions of a Social Retard', 8 August 2010

05 August 2010

A vast bicycle conspiracy

'Colorado's Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes has accused his likely opponent, Democratic Mayor John Hickenlooper, of "converting Denver into a United Nations community" by promoting bike riding and other sustainability issues.

According to Maes, who is a Tea Party favorite, Hickenlooper's bike plans are "all very well-disguised, but [they] will be exposed."

Specifically, the plans that Maes is raising the alarm over include the city's B-Cycle program which makes a network of about 400 red bikes available for rent at locations throughout the city. B-Cycle's website touts that, "bike sharing makes it economical and convenient to use bikes for trips that are too far to walk but too short to drive.... With your magic red bike, you don’t have to look for a parking space or bring your own bike with you everywhere you go. Plus, riding a B-cycle is good for you and good for the environment. It’s the newest and best way to get around town."

However, Maes warns that B-Cycle is "bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms."

Additionally, Maes, who made these comments during a campaign rally and also to the Denver Post, worries about Denver's membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). The ICLEI, which is an international association of local governments dedicated to sustainable development, has over 600 US communities as members.

Maes, however, says he is not being fooled — “At first, I thought, ‘Gosh, public transportation, what’s wrong with that, and what’s wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes? And what’s wrong with incentives for green cars?’ But if you do your homework and research, you realize ICLEI is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty,” adding "some would argue this document that mayors have signed is contradictory to our own Constitution."

Responding to Maes' accusations that Mayor Hickenlooper is leading Denver down a path towards UN rule, a spokesman for the mayor noted that Denver’s membership in ICLEI dates back to 1992, while Mr. Hickenlooper was elected mayor in 2003'.

- Greenanswers, 4 August 2010

31 July 2010

Travelling rough on New Zealand railways

Countries where the railway came late seemed to lag well behind in provision for passengers. A journalist travelling on New Zealand's first major railway in 1864 reported how he and fellow passengers were 'politely requested by the guard to leave the carriage and help to push the carriage and engine to the summit of the bank ... and on returning to our seats, the guard promptly collected 2s 6d from us as our fares!'

The accommodation on the trains was a throwback to the Europe of thirty years before: 'The standard carriages of the 1870s were tiny four and six wheel boxes with rigid axles, longitudinal (lengthways) bench seats and gloomy colza-oil lamps. Heating, toilets and passageways between carriages were non-existent'. There were only two classes but despite paying 50 percent extra, first-class passengers were in the same carriages separated only by a partition and benefited only 'from horsehair cushions, coir floor mats, brass spittoons and the "quality" of one's travelling companions'.

An English visitor described it as barely up to second class back home but far slower since the trains averaged 20 mph.

- Christian Wolmar, Blood, Iron & Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World, London, 2009

27 July 2010


While fearsome rock chick Courtney Love has never struck me as the kind of woman you could embarrass easily, it seems that band mates have succeeded in locating her weak spot.

Among the hell-raiser singer's more unlikely romantic conquests in recent years was one Steve Coogan, the man behind that national treasure of fictional broadcasting Alan Partridge. Despite the said liaison occurring some five years ago, Kurt Cobain's widow complains that she still isn't being allowed to forget it.

"I'm in a band with three Brits and it never, ever ends," sighs the star, who reveals that she still has to endure Partridge catchphrases on a regular basis while on the road. "It's 'Back of the net!' or 'Cashback!' or whatever," she says. "It's torture. I walked into the studio recently and they'd put up this giant poster of Alan Partridge on the wall. I was like 'You take that down, right now!'"

- Independent, 27 July 2010

20 July 2010

Gluttony as innoculation

'Several of the [railway] lines across what is now the Republic of South Africa were built by George Pauling, who, together with his brother Harry, and later his cousin Harold, formed the most successful railway contracting company in Africa. Pauling was one of the great characters of African railway development, a fat man who professed that the only way to resist the local disease was through vast consumption of food and, especially, alcohol. Famously, on one two-day trip along the Beira Railway with its manager Alfred Lawley and chief engineer, A.M. Moore, the three consumed 300 bottles of German beer. Breakfast for three, a few days later, consisted of 1000 oysters washed down with a modest eight bottles of champagne'

- Christian Wolmar, Blood, Iron & Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World, London, 2009.

19 July 2010

Static electricity?

Iraqis often ask why the bombers are able to pass unsuspected through so many checkpoints. Over the past year, it has become clear that there is an appallingly simple reason for this that explains much about the weakness of the Iraqi state machine. The extraordinary truth is that keeping bombers out of Baghdad is, to say the least, undermined because the main bomb-detecting device used by troops and police to find explosives is a proven fake. The government paid large sums for the detector, called a "sonar" by Iraqis, though it comes without a power source – and supposedly receives this from the man holding it, who is supposed to shuffle his feet to generate static electricity.

Useless though it is, the "sonar", a black plastic grip with a silver-coloured wand like a television aerial sticking out the front, is the main method by which suspect vehicles in Baghdad are checked by soldiers and police. If arms or explosives are present, the wand is meant to incline towards them, operating in the same way as a water diviner's rod.

What is striking about the bomb detector, officially known as the ADE-651, is that it has been repeatedly exposed as useless by government experts, newspapers and television. It was originally produced in Britain, on a disused milk farm in Somerset, but the managing director of the company behind it was arrested in the UK on suspicion of fraud and its export has now been banned. The only electronic component in the device is a small disk, worth a few pennies, similar to that attached to clothes in high-street shops to stop people walking away with them without paying.

- Independent, 19 July 2010

14 July 2010

Zombie queen a part of history

A digital poster for the London Dungeon featuring the sudden transformation of Queen Mary into a zombie-like character has been banned by the advertising watchdog for scaring children.

The ad, developed by the agency Farm, ran on digital screens throughout London Underground stations.

Over the period of a few seconds an image of a serene Queen Mary – dubbed "Bloody Mary" for her persecution of Protestants – sitting on a chair, morphs into a zombie-like character with sunken eyes, pale skin, a wide-open mouth and a scarred face.

The Advertising Standards Authority received four complaints that the ad was likely to frighten and distress children and was "inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium" such as digital escalator panels [...]

Merlin Entertainments, which runs the London Dungeon, said that in order to "avoid causing fear and distress" it had followed London Underground's guidelines in "avoiding flames and excessive, dripping or running blood".

The company said that it had planned to run the ad again on the London Underground during the summer school holidays and Halloween.

It was meant to show the "dark side of [Queen Mary's] personality and portray her as a villain", Merlin added. The company said that the ad was "obviously historical and in no way irresponsible or gratuitous".

- Guardian, 14 July 2010

[The ad was 'historical': so does that mean Queen Mary was 'obviously' a zombie? I saw this ad and remember thinking that if it gave me the willies, what would little kids make of it?]

12 July 2010

But inherent contradictions are on the rise

House values up in static market

Quotable Value statistics released today show Nelson property values are 5.1 per cent up while Tasman is 6.1 per cent above the same time last year, but that increase has dropped from 6.3 and 7.5 per cent respectively during the last month. The average sale price in Nelson was $376,290 in Nelson and $390,563 in Tasman during June.

QV Nelson valuer Geoff Butterworth said people weren't buying or selling unless they needed to.

"Listings are low, as is demand, and prices are relatively static"

- Nelson Mail, 12 July 2010

09 July 2010

How to be an IT professional

From an interview with three IT professionals:

Does the advice "turn it on and off" really work?

Bob: With surprising regularity. From an outsider's point of view, that is everything that we do.

Harry: It solves 80% of problems. You've got to know when to switch it on and off. Switch it off, wait 10 seconds, then switch it on, that's the trick.

Shaheen: It does, but IT people dress it up. They'll say, "Have you given it a service reboot?" There's quite a few euphemisms they've developed because it's often effective. Like a "power recycling", "refresh" and things like that.

- Guardian, 9 July 2010

08 July 2010

Pesky M

James Bond is having a spot of bother with M, who keeps ringing him up to discuss Shakespeare. Jolly inconvenient, what?

05 July 2010

A little proof-reading never hurts

'Monday 5 until Friday 23 July, inclusive, southbound trains to Aldgate do not serve Baker Street. Off-peak southbound trains from Amersham terminate at Wembley Park.

Amended by MM as per request from Phil Dunwell. JP seelcted to display message when results are returned'.

- TFL Metropolitan Line travel advisory, 5 July 2010

How to impress the ladies

'At ten o'clock this morning a robbery was committed on the [Wimbledon] Common by a single highwayman on a coach and four. It seems the robber ordered the coachman to stop and then immediately drove the muzzle of his pistol through the coach window to the edification of four squabbling females and one miserable male. However, the gentleman would not give up his money and attempted to seize the highwayman through the window - by which daring feat he cut his wrist most dreadfully and was nearly brought out of it [the coach] entirely by the robber who in turn seized him. If the ladies had not held their valorous knight by the coat with all their strength, he would have been ignominiously dragged through the window.

I shall certainly order my servants to carry loaded pistols with them when I go my pleasant airings now for the future'

- Countess Spencer writing to her husband, October 1784, quoted in Richard Milward, Wimbledon Two Hundred Years Ago, 1996.

30 June 2010

Life's such a struggle when you're cutting back

From an article in which journalists describe the ways their families have been trying to cut back on spending, here's Jonathan Prynn:

By making the most of the aisle-end deals we probably did cut 25 per cent off the normal shopping bill. But at what cost to family well-being? I was also quite put out that I could not find my favourite type of butter —from Brittany with embedded sea salt crystals.

- Evening Standard, 30 June 2010

26 June 2010

That's not a very constructive contribution

From a discussion of the 16th century negotiations between Spain and Portugal on the line of demarcation between their two overseas empires, known as the Tordesillas Line:

To symbolise the strict impartiality of the deliberations, the summit was held on a bridge spanning the Guadiana River, along the Spanish-Portuguese border, but the location nearly undid the conference. As the distinguished members of the Portuguese delegation happened to be walking across the bridge, they were stopped by a small boy, who asked if they were carving up the world with King Charles. The former governor of India, Diogo Lopes de Sequeira, acknowledged that indeed they were. At that, the boy lifted his shirt, turned to reveal his bare bottom, and with his small finger traced the line between his buttocks.

"Draw your line right through this place!" he declared.

- Laurence Bergreen, Over The Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, New York, 2003

25 June 2010

'Never have I been accused of corduroy'

When he was cited by Tatler as a champion of corduroy, he threatened to sue the magazine. "I will tolerate most things said about me," he told me. "I've been accused of misogyny, racism, sodomy, homophobia, plagiarism, drug addiction, whoremongering, being a pimp, pervert and prostitute but never have I been accused of corduroy".

- Sebastian Shakespeare remembers Sebastian Horsley, author of Dandy in the Underworld, Evening Standard, 25 June 2010

Little Master Cricket

A 'rag-doll' style cricket batting game that works surprisingly well. You can either go out blasting or try for the slow and steady approach. My best score so far: 143 282 378 522.

Little Master Cricket

24 June 2010

Just brilliant

Increasing Number Of Americans Unable To Point Out Map

WASHINGTON—-An alarming new study released Tuesday by the Department of Education found that nearly 70 percent of Americans are incapable of pointing out a map when presented by researchers with a map. "Not only did a majority of people just stare blankly ahead, but nearly half pointed to nearby desk lamps in their attempts to guess correctly," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who called the findings endemic of the nation's failing school system. "In fact, 14 percent of all Americans claimed they had never 'even heard of no map,' and asked if being prompted to locate one was some kind of trick question." According to Duncan, the Department of Education has suspended all further studies and will instead be spending the next six months just screaming into a pillow.

- The Onion, 23 June 2010

23 June 2010

Probably not ideal ambassadorial material

From an article on the corruption trial of disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich:

[His former chief of staff John] Harris told jurors that Blagojevich suggested leaking false reports that he was thinking about appointing state officials, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to give Obama and his advisers the impression that he would be expending a lot of political capital in appointing their preferred candidate Valerie Jarrett — and so would expect more in return.

Among a list of appointments he thought he might be able to secure in the new administration in exchange for appointing Jarrett to the seat was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, or ambassador to the U.N., Canada, Germany, England, France or India, according to the tape.

Harris implied that ambassador to India might be too important a position for a former Illinois governor.

"I'm the governor of a $58 billion corporation," Blagojevich said on the tape, referring to Illinois and cursing. "Why can't I be the ... ambassador to India?"

Blagojevich says to Harris in the recorded conversation that he understood he was so politically damaged in Illinois that he didn't want to ask Obama for any help that might suggest he wanted to remain governor.

- Christian Science Monitor, 23 June 2010

Careful Elton, you might make Belarus gay

Belarusian officials have requested tapes of Elton John’s past performances before his upcoming concert in Minsk. Their fear? That Elton John would convert concertgoers into homosexuals:

'The Public Council for Morality is to study recordings of earlier performances by the British singer to make sure “they have no elements inconsistent with the law and morality,” the head of the organization said.

“We have requested the organizers of the concert to give us records of Elton John’s earlier performances,” he said.

Sexual minorities have become active in the country of late and “even attempted to hold a gay parade in Minsk,” Cherginets said. The attempted parade was broken up by police.

Cherginets said the Council had already prevented outbreaks of “immorality” during a May concert by German industrial metal band Rammstein in the Belarusian capital.

“If we had not interfered, there would have been sex on stage and the relief of physical needs right in front of the audience,” the official said.

- Via Neatorama, 22 June 2010

22 June 2010

No digs, no dice

From an article discussing the problem faced by Chinese bachelors, who find themselves priced out of the real estate market by high prices, and squeezed by would-be brides, who increasingly demand that potential husbands own their own property before marriage:

Wang Haijun, a real estate agent on Beijing's east side, said he can always tell when a desperate bachelor walks into his office.

"They're always the least rational buyers," Wang said. "They don't care how little money they have. They just want an apartment as soon as possible. They take on a mortgage with the longest terms and highest interest rates. But they have no choice. They have to get married. I feel sorry for them."

Zhang, [a] language tutor and interpreter, wanted to marry his girlfriend, a receptionist at a language school. The two shared a love for American TV — "Sex and the City" for her and "Lost" for him.

The closer they grew, the more she asked about their future and a home.

"I told her I loved her and would marry her if she didn't mind not having a house," Zhang said. "But she said no. I told her I wanted a house too, but I didn't know how. I'm not rich."

Zhang began checking real estate listings in his neighborhood a year and a half ago. He was stunned. An apartment of about 1,000 square feet cost $150,000. Zhang's parents, who run a modest bakery in northeast China, offered to help. But the $30,000 down payment was still well out of reach.

His girlfriend grew increasingly concerned. She wanted to get married while her grandparents were still healthy and could celebrate her wedding. Last December, she called off the relationship.

- Los Angeles Times, 21 June 2010

Milton Jones

Tousle-haired stand-up comedian Milton Jones offers a selection of his one-liners in two excerpts from Mock The Week:

Far superior to a hockey game

It’s also worth noting the amazing interest shown by white women in the World Cup. While they generally find most professional sporting events to be boring, the atmosphere at a World Cup match is much more amenable. Mostly because they don’t have to drink light beer and there is a good chance that they might meet a European man, or, at least someone who might be planning a trip there. This is far superior to a hockey game where, at best, they might meet a Canadian. It goes without saying that for white women, the World Cup can’t come soon enough.

- Stuff White People Like, 1 June 2010

18 June 2010

Perhaps I'll rephrase that

From a comments thread discussing the BBC comedy panel show, Mock The Week:

My favourite Russell Howard joke was the one he said about the most embarassing moment he had at school. This was when the maths teacher was presiding over a quiet classroom and a fellow pupil called Linda was hitting her calculator repetitively on the desk. The teacher suddenly exploded 'Linda, how would you like it if I banged you against the desk?'

- Guardian, 16 June 2010

17 June 2010

Marketing fail

From an article on bottled water sales in the UK:

Coca-Cola launched Dasani in the UK in 2004, neglecting to alter its US marketing strategy, which saw it labelled "bottled spunk", a PR disaster soon topped when it was revealed to be treated water from a tap in Sidcup.

- Independent, 17 June 2010

04 June 2010

A pakeha myth, like speed limits and Dunedin

From an imaginary interview with Maori Party MP Hone Harawira:

DP: There’s been some confusion about the Maori Party’s flagship Whanau Ora initiative. Can you give a brief overview of the policy?

HH: At its core it’s very simple. Billions of years from now . . . [At this point a door opens in the building; due to noise from the nearby rehearsal Mr Harawira's voice is not audible - drowned out by 'Oh No You Won't', a charming duet between Helen Clark and Mr Harawira's Mother Titewhai. The gap lasts for nine minutes.]

HH: . . . W and Z bosons and the kaitiaki of the rangitira over all elementary particles we estimate Whanau Ora will allow New Zealand to overtake Australia in GDP by as soon as 2018.

DP: That’s just breathtaking.

HH: But the real key is communication. Without a clear understanding of the policy in the minds of the nuinga we are doomed to fail.

DP: And this policy has buy-in from the National Party cabinet and John Key?

HH: Actually there is no such thing as John Key. He’s a pakeha myth perpetuated by the racist media – like speed limits and Dunedin. But we have support from the Ministers with the relevent portfolios.

DP: I’d like to ask you about the extra funding received by Te Puni Kokiri in the budget. Extra funding for Maori tourism and export operators on top of continuity for existing programs such as Ngā Kaihanga Hou . . .

HH: All excellent programs that deliver great returns for all taxpayers . . .

DP: So what is your response to the recent leaked Cabinet report concluding that the only function Te Puni Kokiri serves is to make up fake Maori sounding words and try and trick gullible white people into using them?

HH: Simply not true and this is another area where National and the Maori Party have agreed to disagree and abide by the Maori principle of tirangawhai.

- As imagined by Danyl of the Dimpost

02 June 2010

How to attract a politician's attention

Threaten to kill the Prime Minister in a fax detailing your name, address and telephone number (er, actually please don't):

A North Canterbury farmer accused of threatening to kill Prime Minister John Key was upset earlier threats were not taken seriously, a court has been told.

Mark Stafford Feary, 53, of Oxford, faced two charges in the Christchurch District Court yesterday of threatening to kill Key and 12 of threatening grievous bodily harm against various politicians and government officials. Those targeted included the police commissioner, the attorney-general and the ACT, United Future and Maori Party leaders.

Feary, who is representing himself, pleaded not guilty to all charges.

He has been involved in a long-running battle with officials over a 1780-hectare Mt Oxford farm that has been in his family since the 1920s.

Crown prosecutor Tim Mackenzie said threats had been faxed by Feary in February last year, including one to Key saying "it's killing time".

Mackenzie said Feary had "upped the ante" after threats sent by post to Wellington between September and December 2008 were not taken seriously.

- The Press (Christchurch), 2 June 2010

['Who is representing himself' = seldom a good sign]

24 May 2010

On royal weddings

Do you know what I was doing on 29 July 1981? I was sitting on the sofa with my sister, eyes as big as saucers, clutching our joint Lady Diana scrapbook, drinking in every moment and wearing plastic Union Jack bowler hats. We must have looked like Toddlers for Ukip. (I was seven at the time, but the years of emotional abuse and a diet consisting solely of burned fish fingers and fear had stunted my growth considerably.)

Oh, she was so beeyootiful! The doe eyes! The hair! My mother and her friend noted with satisfaction that it had been specially brushed back from her face for the day, but even this intrusion of maternal practicalities into magic could not entirely break the spell. Nor could the fact that the bride's dress, as she descended on to terra firma, had obviously been crushed to buggery in the landau. A landau! Be still my beating heart. It was a pity the man she was marrying was so ugly, but at least, as my paternal grandmother pointed out, he'd bought her a decent ring - good for pawning if the going ever got tough. I thought this was very considerate of him.

And, of course, we had the day off school. And every child in - what? The borough? The south-east? The country? - got a silver(ish) spoon with the happy couple on the handle (he still looked ugly, she still looked beeyootiful) to mark the day.


If and when Prince William ever decides to make an honest woman of Kate Middleton, rather than simply ennoble her for services to the royal penis and the A-line skirt, I doubt whether today's seven-year-olds, never mind the rest of the country, will be able to muster the requisite enthusiasm for the endeavour. A free spoon won't elicit much pro-monarchical fever these days. "Come back to us with a gold-plated Wii and we'll talk, mofo," they will say to the market researchers beating a hasty retreat under a hail of Ritalin bottles and knives. A day off school will just cause them to fail their Sats and doom them to a lifetime of burger-flipping and fomentation of rebellion against King Wills and his queen. They will be baffled that the shimmering figure under the Westminster Abbey transept towards whom the bride glides is not Simon Cowell but the Archbishop of Canterbury.

- Lucy Mangan, Guardian, 22 May 2010

[Alternate post title: 'Services to the royal penis']

21 May 2010

A sudden and violent looseness

One day, going on foot to the guildhall with his clerk behind him, he was surprised in Cheapside with a sudden and violent looseness [of the bowels], near the Standard. He turned up his breech against the Standard and bade his man hide his face; ‘For they shall never see my arse again,’ said he.

- John Aubrey (1626-97) recounts a tale of Sir William Fleetwood (1535-94) in Aubrey’s Brief Lives, 2nd modern edition edited by Richard Barber, 2004

19 May 2010

Hate muffins?

So do these well-known movie characters:

[Via /film]

18 May 2010

'Waiter, there's a bone in my pizza'

Investigators believe some pizza restaurants in Naples are using wood from stolen coffins to bake their famous pizzas.

The southern city's favourite dish is said to rely on smoke from wood-fired stoves for its celebrated flavour.

But police think many restaurant owners across the notoriously lawless port are purchasing cut-price wood from a gang of coffin thieves operating in the city.

"A real suspicion hangs over pizza, one of the few remaining important symbols of the city, that it could be cooked with wood coffins," said Il Giornale, the daily paper which belongs to the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "Not only the pizza, the bread, too, may have been cooked with the wood."

Naples prosecutor Giovandomenico Lepore is leading an investigation into the suspected racket.

- Independent, 18 May 2010

14 May 2010

How the BBC works

Q: How many BBC employees does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: We are all about change! However, the bulb can only be changed once assessed for Health and Safety, and provided the new lightbulb is sourced from a Preferred Supplier to the relevant Department, and that requisitioning and payment for the new lightbulb has been submitted and approved via the appropriate channels to both your department manager, line manager and financial controller. Once this has been signed off by at least two senior departmental executives, and providing that the new lightbulb is fully compliant (compliance to be obtained and ratified prior to any invoicing thereof), and providing that the new lightbulb is requisitioned via the SAP system and conforms to all current policies on ethnic, sex and age discrimination, the lightbulb can then be changed by approved personnel from a Preferred Maintenance Outsource Supplier, provided this is budgeted for under the guidelines currently in force regarding lightbulbs and the changing thereof within the current financial year.

- Hugh Dennis, Steve Punt & Jon Holmes, The Now Show Book of World Records, London, 2009

13 May 2010

An urban liberal's dilemma

Columnist Lucy Mangan, on how to cope with the new Conservative government:

First of all, do not despair. I have known – thanks to university, law school and my husband's insistence that I meet his friends – many Tories and the first thing to realise is that they are not all evil. I was brought up to believe that they are, but this is not universally true. Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the cabinet are, of course. But the further out you move through the rings surrounding that toxic little nucleus, the more you will find basic humanity starting to creep back in. I would say that the average Conservative, while 100% wrong, is no more than 30% actual evil. It gives you something to work with.

- Guardian, 13 May 2010

10 May 2010

'France is not in Europe'

From an interview with educators from China, who are teaching their language in American high schools with the help of a government subsidy:

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

Some students were astonished to learn that Chinese people used cellphones, she said. Others thought Hong Kong was the capital [...]

That afternoon, Ms. Zheng taught classes at Central Middle School, drilling 22 eighth graders on how to count to 100 in Chinese and explaining some Chinese holidays before turning her back to write a Chinese tongue twister on the board.

Out of the blue, a girl with long brown hair asked her classmates loudly: “Where’s France at?”

“In Europe,” a boy with baggy jeans called out from across the room.

“France is not in Europe,” another boy said. Ms. Zheng just kept writing Chinese characters on the board.

“American students don’t know a lot about the outside world,” she said later. “Mostly just what they see here.”

Ms. Zheng says she is hoping to do her part by teaching them more than how to write characters.

- New York Times, 9 May 2010

09 May 2010

Quite a mouthful

From a blog posting criticising the ever-expanding length of station names in the Washington DC Metro:

Over time, Metro's station names have gotten longer with the addition of nearby sites and neighborhoods. This "name sprawl" has gotten out of hand. Metro should return to the original 15-character limit on station names.

Station names range in length from Takoma's 6 letters to 44 characters for U St/African Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo. In fact, that station's name is the longest (by character) heavy rail station name in the United States. It beats out gems like Atlanta's Georgia Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center and New York's Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport.

- Greater Greater Washington, 7 May 2010

08 May 2010

If you have nothing better to do with your life

Why not devote precious moments of your spare time photographing unimportant trademark infringements and dobbing retailers in to corporate headquarters?

A member of the public ratted on Nelson's Seabreeze City Takeaways for having a "whopper" burger on its menu, according to Burger King's New Zealand office.

Spokeswoman Rachael Allison said photos of the store's menu board were received by Burger King's international office.

"We haven't been involved in this at all. The matter was brought to their attention by a member of the public who took the photo. We certainly don't trawl New Zealand looking for instances of breach of trademark."

- Source: Nelson Mail, 8 May 2010

07 May 2010

50 Impressions in Two Minutes

Comedian Peter Serafinowicz performs fifty impressions in two of your Earth minutes:

06 May 2010

None Of The Above

And now for a bit of novelty. Press Association's Chris Montcrieff reports that a candidate whose surname is "Above" and whose "Other Names" are given as "None Of The" is contesting the election in Chingford and Woodford Green, the seat being defended by Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader.

Unfortunately for "Mr Above" he appears, for alphabetical reasons, at the top of the list of candidates, with no one above him.

It might have been wiser for him to have renamed himself "Below", which would at least have put him second in a list of eight candidates.

- Guardian election liveblog, 6 May 2010

01 May 2010

A likely story

He was called to the Bar in 1952, but practised only briefly. In his memoirs he recorded that he secured the acquittal of a lorry-driver accused of indecent exposure by persuading the magistrates that the man had been "shaking the drops from his person" after urinating, and by getting the man's young wife to testify, wearing a tight sweater, that she and her husband enjoyed a healthy love life.

- Wikipedia.org, on Sir Robin Day, who later became a renowned British TV interviewer

29 April 2010

Helpful instructions

Care instructions: Hand wash only. Wash before first use. Freezer safe.

- Instructions on packaging for a flexible ice cube tray from Tesco

Henning Wehn

Understated German comedian Henning Wehn, introduced by Stewart Lee, on the concept of comic timing and the German sense of humour.

They fight crime! Well, orcs.

Caddoc, standing around seven foot tall and with axes seemingly emanating from every orifice, is good at knitting. No, wait, not knitting! Melee combat. That's it. His elfin buddy [E'lara], as well as possessing breasts of +3 later life back pain, is more of an archer, loosing arrows from her bow with a speed and accuracy that only comes from wearing entirely no clothes.

- Rich McCormick previews Hunted: The Demon's Forge, PC Gamer, May 2010

28 April 2010

Death by Powerpoint?

No one is suggesting that PowerPoint is to blame for mistakes in the current wars, but the program did become notorious during the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. As recounted in the book “Fiasco” by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press, 2006), Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, who led the allied ground forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, grew frustrated when he could not get Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander at the time of American forces in the Persian Gulf region, to issue orders that stated explicitly how he wanted the invasion conducted, and why. Instead, General Franks just passed on to General McKiernan the vague PowerPoint slides that he had already shown to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time.

- Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, 26 April 2010

27 April 2010

A glass half-full

"I got so sick of bowling no-balls I decided to do something permanent about it" - former New Zealand fast bowler and current cricket coach Heath Davies shrugs off the recent amputation of his left foot after an accident at his workplace involving a fork-lift truck.

- Andy Bull, The Spin cricket newsletter, 27 April 2010

26 April 2010

"We're all doomed, doomed"

The second so-called debate last week was a cross between the Who Wants To Be A Prime Minister show and Dad’s Army. The three contestants put on their best performances for the viewer’s vote, each displaying their own qualities from the classic 1960s series: David Cameron reminded me of Private Walker, a slick-talking spiv, trying to sell us a load of old junk. Gordon Brown was Frazer, the Scottish undertaker who effortlessly exudes doom and gloom. And Nick Clegg, despite his recent bombardment of adoration, perfectly took on the role of the boyish Private Pike, prattling on about what life would be like in his Liberal La La Land…

- Peter Flynn, Sheffield, letter to the Independent, 26 April 2010

23 April 2010

The live abortion of democracy

Marina Hyde, on the sea of insincerity, desperation and hubris in the Sky Leaders Debate spin room:

"Mos Eisley spaceport," sighs Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy ... " Evidently Obi Wan never visited Sky's post-debate spin room, which – pound-of-flesh for pound-of-flesh – must have been one of the most distasteful places to be in this galaxy or any other tonight.

The venue was an interactive science museum in Bristol, magically transformed by Rupert Murdoch's news network into a fully operational 10th circle of hell. Behold, the cream of Britain's arseoisie, as journalists, spin doctors and politicians interact in scenes that just scream "Come, friendly bombs …"

To the left, George Osborne robotically repeating "David Cameron showed passion, leadership and commitment." To the right, Michael Gove simulating anguish that Nick Clegg should have referred to the dead Polish president's party as nutters: "The sort of comment that no one who wants to be taken seriously should utter." In the middle, Alastair Campbell failing to pull off sang froid: "It's a poll, it's a poll – you can take them or leave them." And unifying the picture, Sky's endlessly pant-wetting coverage of its own coverage.

It was like watching the live abortion of democracy. Had the network decided the evening should have been immortalised in oil paint (surely only a matter of time), Hieronymus Bosch would have declined the commission on the basis that it was a hellscape too far even for him.

- Marina Hyde, Guardian, 22 April 2010

22 April 2010

Philosophical debate

Religion A: My God is the only true god. He is kind and just. He knows everything and he can perform any miracle that he wants. My god is omnipresent -- that means he's everywhere, even in the plumbing!

Religion B: Fancy being so superstitious! Your God is just a figment of your silly imagination. My God is the only true god. He is genuinely kind and just, and can really do all the things that your imaginary god claims to be able to do. Plus he's the God of love and tolerance. Oh, and if you don't believe me I'll kill you!

Religion A: Not if I kill you first!

Followers of the Scottish Premier Football League will be familiar with the general flavour of such philosophical debates, and indeed the above conversation could equally well be rendered as follows:

Rangers' FC supporter: Jimmy McGrory kicked like a jessie!

Celtic FC supporter: I disprove your argument thus...

Rangers' FC supporter: Oof! [as his nose is broken by a head-butt from Celtic FC supporter...]

- David Haywood, Southerly, 22 April 2010

21 April 2010

Granny power!

Turn the vamp factor up to ten for Eartha Kitt, here performing the 1929 Fats Waller standard Ain't Misbehavin' on the Later With Jools Holland show in April 2008. Kitt, who was aged 81 at the time, died on Christmas Day of the same year.

16 April 2010

Beware the poison damsels

There is another fair and good isle, full of people, where the custom is that when a woman is newly married, she shall not sleep the first night with her husband, but with another young man, who shall have ado with her that night and take her maidenhead, taking in the morning a certain sum of money for his trouble. In each town there are certain young men set apart to do that service, which are called gadlibiriens, which is to say ‘fools of despair’. They say, and affirm as truth, that it is a very dangerous thing to take the maidenhead of a virgin; for, so they say, whoever does puts himself at peril of death […]

I asked them what the cause and reason was for such a custom here. They told me that in ancient times some men had died in that land in deflowering maidens, for the latter had snakes within them, which stung the husbands on their penises inside the women’s bodies; and thus many men were slain, and so they follow that custom there to make other men test out the route before they themselves set out on that adventure.

- Source: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a 14th century novel that supposedly details the diverse wanderings of an English knight from 1322-56. This edition translated by C.W.R.D. Moseley, originally published 1983, revised edition 2005

15 April 2010

K-9 and Company

As featured on Charlie Brooker's You Have Been Watching, the title sequence of the 1981 Dr Who spin-off K-9 and Company, featuring Elisabeth Sladen. Stylish! Exciting! Featuring a wall!

Serial apostrophe abuse

Repent, sport's nut's!

[Via Marathonpacks]

14 April 2010

Just a little off the top thanks

In Hong Kong a red and white striped pole outside a premises may not necessarily indicate a barber shop. It's also a sign for a brothel. Which is bad news if you go in and ask for a number two all over.

- David Mitchell, The Unbelievable Truth, Radio 4, 11 April 2010

13 April 2010

Police and thieves

It was meant to be an imaginative way of hammering home the message that some householders are making life too easy for burglars. But police were under fire today after admitting they had been sneaking into people's homes through open doors and windows and gathering up their valuables into "swag" bags.
Officers in Exeter –who left the swag behind, together with crime prevention information – found more than 50 unsecured properties and claimed people had been glad to receive the wake-up call and advice. But not all residents were happy and a criminal lawyer suggested that the police may have been guilty of trespass [...]
Devon and Cornwall police said the operation was launched after a "spike" in burglaries, mainly at student accommodation. Officers had encouraged householders to take security more seriously but warnings were not heeded.  Other forces have tried initiatives such as rattling windows and trying doors then shouting to residents – sometimes waking them up – to warn them they may be at risk.  Officers decided a more "innovative approach" was needed and the "swag" campaign was launched [...]
A spokesman said: "This initiative was carried out with the best of intentions. However we do accept that our actions of entering properties to leave the bags could be deemed as trespass.  This was a one-off initiative which we will not be repeating."
- Guardian, 29 March 2010

10 April 2010

Wellington hair

It's universally acknowledged that women who live in Wellington have terrible hair. Women who move to Wellington from somewhere else have especially bad hair.

They get down there, and the wind maddens them, and they get tired of trying to do their business in a Force 5 gale, and so they cut it all off, and they style it into a short sharp bob, regardless of the fact that throughout history, the short sharp bob has been proven to suit precisely two New Zealand women - Katherine Mansfield, and Rosemary McLeod.

Katherine and Rosemary aside, it's a look that is best left to women who are either teenaged or French, or preferably both. On the women of Wellington, the effect of the short sharp bob is less Josephine Baker, more prisoner cell block H.

- Noelle McCarthy, NZ Herald, 9 April 2010

[No mention of Josephine Baker should pass without mentioning her famous banana skirts. Not very practical for the Wellington breezes though]