21 December 2011

How to refuse a Christmas drink

During the socially fraught Christmas party season it's always advisable to have a legitimate-sounding reason to turn down a drink, but now the "I'm driving" ploy has been exposed (thank you, Medical Research Council, which conducted the study), what's needed are a few surefire excuses that will stop you getting served right away – no further questions asked:

"No thanks. I get really racist after a few drinks."

"Before I accept, I should warn you I brought a guitar with me."

"I love drinking, but it doesn't half make me vomit."

"Not for me, I have a flight to catch later on. No, I'm a pilot."

"I know I don't look it, but I'm only 15. It's a long and deeply disturbing story."

"A few more of these and I'll be ready to describe my unpublished novel to you!"

"Just the one – I left my tiny children home alone with nothing but an angry dog and a gas fire for company."

"I would, only I swallowed all these condoms full of drugs earlier."

"Well, it breaches the terms of my Asbo, but what the hell – it's Christmas!"

- Tim Dowling, Guardian, 15 December 2011

05 December 2011

Pippa Middleton's new book

A predictable wave of rage greets the news that Pippa Middleton is writing a party planning guide, for the amusing fee of £400,000.

We've been here before, when the Middleton parents were accused of "plotting to cash in on the royal wedding" by selling party props. That is one serious plot. They started a company selling party props in 1987. So the ground was laid for the Great Bunting Wheeze when the potential royal bride was only five years old; eat your heart out, Guy Fawkes.

The nation, or at least its gruesome reflection on TV discussion shows (a self-selecting bunch, you have to admit), is "shocked anew" at this latest cash cow from the royal in-laws. What on earth can Pippa advise about parties that's worth so much money?

("Fast of all, make sure you have enough chars. It is rarely important – like, rarely rarely important – that everyone can sit dyne. This is even true if you're iteside. And nobody wants a hog roast in the jolly old rain, so a marquee is a tairbly good idea…"?)

- Victoria Coren, Observer, 4 December 2011

27 November 2011

New Order

'We picked the name New Order in complete innocence. Rob [Gretton] came up with it after reading about Kampuchea in the newspaper. We released our first bloody record and everybody's like, "You've done it again you Nazi bastards". We said, Fucking hell! Why didn't you tell us it was also Hitler's new order?! We kind of laughed at our own stupidity and thought, It's fairly typical of the way we do things, let's stick with it'.

- Bernard Sumner, Mojo, July 2011

19 November 2011

Growing up in the Waikato

'They had an escalator in Hamilton - one at 2-4-6, I think.  We used to go ride it on a Friday night - that was the best thing going'.

- Neil Finn on growing up in Te Awamutu, Radio New Zealand, 19 November 2011

23 October 2011

Till their eyes are almost staring out of their heads

From a biography of 18th century English explorer Samuel Hearne (1745-92), who travelled extensively in the vast northern regions around Hudson's Bay, a discussion of Hearne's record of the medical traditions of the Dene Indians (First People):

The Dene had conjurors of their own, highly skilled men who reminded Hearne of magicians and 'jugglers' (sleight-of-hand artists) he had seen working the streets of London. To treat injuries, Dene conjurors would blow, spit and suck on the wound, or else chant over it unintelligibly. 

'For some inward complaints, such as griping in the intestines, difficulty in making water, etc., it is very common to see those jugglers blowing into the anus, or into the parts adjacent, till their eyes are almost staring out of their heads; and this operation is performed indifferently on all, without regard to either age or sex. The accumulation of so large a quantity of wind is at times apt to occasion some extraordinary emotions, which are not easily suppressed by a sick person; and as there is no vent for it but by the channel through which it was conveyed thither, it sometimes occasions an odd scene between the doctor and his patient; which I once wantonly called an engagement, but for which I was afterwards exceedingly sorry, as it highly offended several of the Indians; particularly the juggler and the sick person, both of whom were men I much esteemed, and, except in that moment of levity, it had ever been no less my inclination than my interest to show them every respect that my situation would admit... Being naturally not very delicate, they frequently continue their windy process so long, that I have more than once seen the doctor quit his patient with a face and breast in a very disagreeable condition. However laughable this may appear to an European, custom makes it very indecent, in their opinion, to turn any thing of the kind to ridicule'.

- Samuel Hearne, quoted in Ken McGoogan, Ancient Mariner, London, 2004.

07 October 2011

The dignity of scientific endeavours

Defences were found against U-boats. The great (New Zealand) physicist Sir Ernest Rutherford was held upside-down from a rowing boat above the Firth of Forth to see if he could hear anything, and eventually a hydrophone was invented, able to hear underwater noise.

-          Norman Stone, World War One: A Short History, London, 2007, p.102

15 September 2011

No bananas for Plato

Kaspar say when he were rilly young he crave adventure so he go to Balaclava. He do the spellings so I know I got it right. Balaclava is near Sevastopol.

'There I am making the Grand Crimean Central Railway. I am that which you English people call a navvie'.

'I aint a Inglish people'.

'I beg your pardon. Are you only borrowing that nose and mouth? Are you speaking their language only for a time?'

'I want coin,' I say, hoping to end talk that turn sly.

'What are you desiring coin for, liebling?'


Kaspar reply to me, 'Plato is saying that there is only one thing for which all coin should be exchanged, and that is wisdom'.

Prolly Playtoe never et a binarna.

- 'Halfie', in Hokitika Town by Charlotte Randall, 2011

14 September 2011

Heaven and hell to merge services

It has just been announced by a joint panel of representatives from both above and below that Heaven and Hell are to merge many of their services in an attempt to reach budget targets set by their respective bosses.

According to a press release, admin and some policy roles currently supporting both Saints and Sinners are to be cut back with many positions merged into one service.

The aim is to continue delivering the complete heaven/hell experience to those who arrive but reduce the amount of paperwork required for the process [...]

The statement said the proposed amalgamation of the policy divisions of heaven and hell would bring a more robust approach to the development of guiding documents. It cited the Ten Commandments as a classic example of great policy writing.

"There are only 10 bullet points in the entire document. They are succinct, devoid of waffle and easy to understand. The mission statement developed by those managing hell is also sharp and to the point. Terms like fire, brimstone and damnation are very evocative and clearly represent the nature of the experience awaiting those heading that way.

"Merging these two different messages into one brief directive: "Good or Evil - You Choose" then syndicating the concept to a reality TV programme will reduce staffing costs and boost profits."

- Terry Sarten, Wanganui Chronicle, 28 August 2011

08 September 2011

Children's face paint

Waiting in line for the boats, our children rub their chins in the dirt and push their foreheads against our feet. They roll around on the ground and shout obscenities, then run in circles, screaming nonsense, while we play with the car keys in our pockets and gawk passively at the boats. Typically, we don't allow our children to misbehave this way. However, we do our best to understand. Their faces are in pain.

Our children's cheeks begin to ache as they wait in line for the boats and continue to ache until their faces are painted at the Frost Mountain Picnic. We've come to understand that all children are born with phantom cat whiskers. All children are born with phantom dog faces. All children are born with phantom American flag foreheads, rainbow-patterned jawbones, and deep, curving pirate scars, the absence of which haunts them throughout their youth. We understand that all children are born with searing and trivial images hidden in their faces, the absence of which causes them a great deal of discomfort. It is a pain that only the brush of a face painter can alleviate, each stroke revealing the cryptic pictures in our children's faces. Any good parent knows this.

- Seth Fried, 'Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre', in The Great Frustration, Berkeley, 2011

03 September 2011

Thor only knows

Special effects seem to muffle rather than quicken [director Kenneth] Branagh's interest, and, besides, there is no CGI in existence that could cope with the difference between [Natalie] Portman, a practicing sylph, and [Chris] Hemsworth, who looks to me like six and a half feet of corned beef. At one point, he takes his shirt off, and she stands beside him, a bit dazed, with the top of her head not quite parallel with his nipples. At the end - and I am giving away no secrets here - they kiss. But how? Is he holding her up, with her little toes kicking his kneecaps? Thor only knows.

- Anthony Lane reviews Thor, New Yorker, 16 May 2011

11 August 2011

Cigarettes and Listerine

Creating and playing on consumer insecurities, advertisers told potential buyers that one key to maintaining beauty, youth, energy and attractiveness was health and personal hygiene. The actress Constance Talmadge, promoting cigarettes, declared, 'There's real health in Lucky Strike ... For years this has been no secret to those men who keep fit and trim. They know that Luckies steady their nerves and do not harm their physical condition. They know that Lucky Strike is the favourite cigarette of many prominent athletes, who must keep in good shape'. Advertisers' success in manipulating the gullible buying public became an article of faith. An essay of 1922 on the subject opened with the words, 'Do I understand you to say that you do not believe in advertising? Indeed! Soon you will be telling me that you do not believe in God'.

In the early 1920s Listerine, variously used in the nineteenth century as a surgical antiseptic, a cure for venereal disease and a floor-cleaner, was transformed by advertising into a magical product which would free its user from the dreadful, life-ruining scourge of halitosis - a faux-medical term for bad breath invented by the marketing men. Their advertisements showed a downcast girl holding her friend's bridal bouquet above the caption, 'Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride'. The cause of her loneliness was 'chronic halitosis' - which, happily, Listerine (rebranded as a mouthwash) promised to cure. Listerine's profits soared from $115,000 to $8 million in just seven years.

- Lucy Moore, Anything Goes: A biography of the Roaring Twenties, London, 2008, p.146-7.

23 July 2011

Scottish politics

We have our own Parliament in Edinburgh, at a place called Holyrood, which, for information, is just north of Brigadoon. If you haven't been there and want to paint a mental picture for yourself, think of the glamour of Hollywood - then think of the exact opposite. With kilts.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me set the scene. The main political parties in Scotland are the SNP, Labour, and The Proclaimers. In addition to the main parties, a number of smaller parties have had some success, because we in Scotland have a system of proportional representation. 'What is this fictional form of voting,' I hear you cry, 'Is it something J.K. Rowling wrote of in the marvellous Harry Potter books?' No, it's real! You may have heard that PR is a concept that's as likely to work as Europe, but it does. As a result there are representatives at Holyrood from minority parties, such as the Greens... and the Conservatives. I should clarify that the situation for the Tories in Scotland is very different to that down south. In Scotland you're as likely to see a Tory as you are fruit. The majority party is the Scottish National Party, headed up by First Minister Alec Salmond. He's a tremendous orator, but he's got the unfortunate tendency, when he becomes passionate, to sound increasingly like a Dalek. 'Westminster must bow to the wishes of the Scottish people. Exterminate!'

- Susan Calman, The Now Show, Radio 4, 1 July 2011.

05 July 2011

A peace activist

I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or interest of that government [Massachusetts], or any other upon the continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independency [...] I am as well satisfied as I can be of my existence that no such thing is desired by any thinking man in all North America; on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest advocates for liberty, that peace and tranquility, upon constitutional grounds, may be restored, and the horrors of civil discord prevented.

- George Washington to Capt Robert Mackenzie, 9 October 1774, quoted in J.C.D. Clark, 'British America: What if there had been no American Revolution?', in Virtual History, Niall Ferguson (ed.), 2011 (originally published 1997). 

On marriage and politics

Then there's the matter of "personal baggage", which in [Newt] Gingrich's case is a steamer trunk of Titanic proportions. Republicans are strong believers in man-on-woman marriage, so it makes sense that three of the most prominent Presidential possibilities - Daniels, Trump and Gingrich - have married eight times. (Only seven wives, though: Daniels married the same woman twice, with a Grover Cleveland-like four-year interval during which she left him to marry someone else). Gingrich stands out, for hypocrisy (daily demanding Clinton's impeachment which carrying on his own extra-marital affair with a subordinate), brutality (dumping his first wife while she was in treatment for cancer), and chutzpah (attributing his adulteries to "how passionately I felt about this country").

- Hendrik Hertzberg, New Yorker, 23 May 2011

15 June 2011

Insert your own 'short leg' reference here

Freddie Owsley and his family were playing a game of beach cricket last week. Which was a fine thing for a teenager during a half-term holiday in Polzeath. The only problem was that nobody had brought a bat. No matter. Freddie found a suitable stick in the rocks nearby, long, thin and smooth with a lump at one end that would make a good club head. Freddie's hunch was right. The stick had a sizeable sweet-spot and when he swung and hit it sent sixes sailing out into the sea.

They were half-way through the game when a family friend who happened to be a doctor spotted that the reclaimed bat was in fact a human thigh bone. The police later found part of a pelvis and spine as well. Local archaeologist Phil Coplestone estimates that the bones are 200 years old, and thinks that they are the remains of a sailor whose body was washed ashore after a shipwreck in 1808.

- Andy Bull, The Spin cricket newsletter, Guardian, 14 June 2011

14 June 2011

How to appear diligent

Sir - I can remember working in the City of London back in the 1990s when it started to become necessary to work longer hours. A colleague had an extra jacket that he left over the back of his chair so that it looked like he was away from his desk. In fact, he had left to catch his train.

- Cary Labdon, letter to the Times, 25 May 2011

12 June 2011

Flashman weighs his options

In George Macdonald Fraser's 1990 novel Flashman and the Mountain of Light, the eponymous anti-hero and unabashed cad finds himself in a bit of a pickle during his secret mission to the Court of the Punjab in 1845. He sits down to tabulate the pros and cons of his present perilous situation, in his own inimitable style:

EVIL: I am cut off in a savage land which will be at war with my own country presently 
GOOD: I enjoy diplomatic immunity, for what it's worth, and am in good health, but ruined.
EVIL: An attempt has been made to assassinate me. These buggers would sooner murder people than eat their dinners.
GOOD: It failed, and I am under the protection of the queen bee, who rides like a rabbit. Also, [the American adventurer and agent Alexander] Gardner will look out for me.
EVIL: My orderly turns out to be the greatest villain since Dick Turpin, and is an American to boot.
GOOD: [Major] Broadfoot chose him, and since I see no reason why he should be hostile to me, I shall watch him like a hawk.
EVIL: Damn Broadfoot for landing me in this stew, when I could have been safe at home rogering Elspeth [Flashman's wife].
GOOD: Rations and quarters are A1, and Mangla sober is a capital mount, though she don't compare to Jeendan drunk.
EVIL: If I were a praying man, the Almighty would hear from me in no uncertain terms, and much good it would do me.
GOOD: Being a pagan (attached C of E) with no divine resources, I shall tread uncommon wary and keep my pepperbox [pistol] handy.

27 May 2011

Clockwork cricket

"Well, I've got my cricket gear in the car. We could try that" - Malcolm McDowell explains the inspiration behind one of the most iconic outfits in movie history, the white suits and codpieces worn by Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. McDowell recalled this week how he and the film's director Stanley Kubrick were struggling to come up with a costume for the lead character.

"I was over at his house, you know, looking for stuff to do. And I didn't like anything there, really. They had a big box of hats, some with feathers. I thought that was pretty lame. So I went to the car and got my cricket gear. And he says, 'Oh yeah, I love the white.' And so I put it on. And Stanley goes, 'Oh put the protector on the outside.' So I wore the box on the outside like a codpiece. He goes, 'This could be like the middle ages. I like this look.' And that's how the look of the Droogs came; because I had my cricket stuff in the back of my car."

- Andy Bull, The Spin cricket newsletter, Guardian, 24 May 2011

26 May 2011

Observational comedy

It was very different then, comedy in the 80s.  What the comedy was in the 80s was a load of people and they all hated the Tories, and they went out to a place, and there was a guy on stage there, and he hated the Tories. And he'd go, "I hate the Tories!", and the audience would go, "We hate the Tories as well!", and they'd go home happy, 67 pence well spent.

It's very different now, the comedy. I've seen some of it on the Roadshow on telly.  It's in stadiums now innit. What the comedy is now is a load of people, and they all hate their electrical appliances. And they go out to a place, and there's a guy on stage there, and he hates his electrical appliances. And he goes, "I hate my electrical appliances!", and the audience goes "We hate our electrical appliances as well!", and they go home happy, forty-seven pounds fifty well spent.

"I hate my toaster, it's only got two settings: black burned charcoal, or just warm bread". It's broken, innit. Mate, that toaster's broken. They wouldn't make a toaster like that. There'd be no market for it.

-Stewart Lee, in Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, s.2 e.4, BBC2, 25 May 2011

20 May 2011

Archetypal TNT 'Desperately Seeking' ad

Further to my post from last year on TNT Magazine's 'Desperately Seeking' column, this classic appeared in this week's edition (16-22 May):

I'm looking for a short blonde Aussie girl with glasses called Jean or Joan: I met her at the Walkabout the Friday before Easter Bank Holiday. She was hanging about the men's toilets with a few scrubbers and I managed to pull her later after the pub shut. I would like to see her again, if only because I have apparently got the clap and she is one of the girls I need to contact. If she can drop me a line I would like to see her again, maybe for a rematch under better circumstances.

It's such a relief to learn that chivalry is not dead.

14 May 2011

The requisite amount of contempt

There was a film last year, the film Kick-Ass. And the young people were very excited about the film Kick-Ass, because in the film Kick-Ass there was a scene where you could see a 12-year-old girl use the word c***, which is the C-word, isn't it.

Now where I live, in Hackney, I can see that any day of the week. In fact only this morning on the 73 bus I saw a 12-year-old girl call someone a c***. Although to be fair there were mitigating circumstances. Her daughter was being extremely annoying.

Did you like that joke? I didn't, I'm ashamed of it to be honest. I'm ashamed of having thought of that joke. Although I have been advised that I might be able to sell that joke to Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights. Apparently it has the requisite amount of contempt for vulnerable people. Or 'edge', as it's known at Channel 4.

- Stewart Lee, in Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, s.2 e.2, BBC2, 11 May 2011

12 May 2011

Familiarity and Radio 4

'People don't like things because they're nice - they like things because they're used to them. That's the whole principle behind Radio 4'.

- David Mitchell, The Unbelievable Truth, Radio 4, 2 May 2011.

10 May 2011

Delusions of would-be Apprentices

It's time for The Apprentice on the BBC once more, which is the cue for a round-up of the most foolish and bizarre boasts from previous competitors. Can't they see the headlights getting closer, ever closer...?

"I'm not a one-trick pony, I'm not a 10-trick pony - I've got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this job." Stuart "The Brand" Baggs last year, uttering the now infamous line. What?

"When you can break bricks with your hands you believe in your head you can do anything, and in business I take on the same ethic," said Ifti Chaudhri in series four. Andrew Billen, TV critic at the Times, says such horrible jargon is right out of Ricky Gervais's The Office, although done without any sense of irony. "They are Ricky's phrases in the making, but there's no self knowledge in any of it."

"Everything I touch turns to sold." Really Stuart Baggs? Everything except all those sausages you failed to sell in the very first task in series six, resulting in you almost being fired by Lord Sugar in week one. "I don't know why they say these things, because Sugar is quite plain speaking," says Billen.

"Don't tell me the sky is the limit when there's footsteps on the moon." Yes, we've sneaked in a line from one of this year's candidates. Melody Hossani, we look forward to hearing a lot more from you.

- BBC News, 10 May 2011

30 April 2011

Holidaying with Kylie Minogue

Apparently, The Sound Of Arrows is not a 'swoosh' followed by the throaty dribble of arterial blood from a favourite section of torso. It seems to be a scientific experiment to replicate the exact sound of holidaying with Kylie Minogue in a pink seaside pleasure-palace while eating pistachio ice creams shaped like tiny flamingos. 

- NME reviews 'Nova' by Swedish band Sound of Arrows, 26 April 2011 

The expectant father

He still asks perturbing questions from time to time. "How long until he gets interesting?" was the most recent one.

"How do you mean?" I replied, putting down my book and reaching for my special tablets.

"How long before he can smile, crawl, talk to me about the Battle of Jutland, that sort of thing?"

"Ah. Respectively, six months, nine months and, if he takes after you, a year, or after me, never."

"What do we do for the first six months, then?"

"I look after him and you look after me."

"Right you are."

Everything will work out eventually, I'm sure. I'm sure.

- Lucy Mangan, Guardian, 30 April 2011

On married life

Marge: Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?

Homer: Yeah, pretty much. Except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.

- The Simpsons, 'A Milhouse Divided', s.8 e.6, 1996

28 April 2011

Jeremy Hardy on education

Education should be free.  If you start charging for universities then why not charge for primary schools?  Basically they're trying to steer kids away from carrying on at school anyway, because they want to put them into apprenticeships at 15: [Adopts posh voice] 'The trouble is with a lot of these young kids is that they're better suited to sorting out my bathroom'.  The whole of the upper middle class has 'knocked through' in the last couple of years and realises that there's a terrible shortage of tradespeople.  So they want to steer the children of the poor away from Hamlet and into grouting.

- Jeremy Hardy, The News Quiz, Radio 4, 22 April 2011

26 April 2011

The principal purpose of philosophy?

"And all this pertains how, exactly?" Ferbin asked. His feet were sore and he was growing tired of what seemed to him like pointless speculation, not to mention something dangerously close to philosophy, a field of human endeavour he had encountered but fleetingly through various exasperated tutors, though long enough to have formed the unshakeable impression that its principal purpose was to prove that one equalled zero, black was white and educated men could speak through their bottoms.

- Iain M Banks, Matter, 2008.

21 April 2011

Rotten boroughs

Until the 1830s, it was common for a rich landowner to regard a Commons seat as his family property. These were the rotten boroughs and pocket boroughs, which had such tiny electorates that an election was easily bought or rigged. The families who owned them considered it their birthright to choose their MPs, or – if money was tight – to sell the privilege to someone else.

Old Sarum, site of the original Salisbury settlement, was the most notorious example. Because there was a bishop's house there in the 13th century, the area was invited by Edward II to send two representatives to the Commons. The bishop moved his residence to Salisbury soon afterwards, but for centuries, Old Sarum solemnly returned one or two MPs, long after its last human inhabitants had left. Only once in six centuries was there a contested election in Old Sarum, when three candidates vied for two seats.

Old Sarum held its elections under a designated tree in a cornfield. None of the electors lived in the constituency. No one did. But the landlord had the right to allocate votes to a handful of his tenants who would assemble under the tree and do as they were told.

The seat was owned by the Pitt family for 110 years, until they sold it for a reputed £43,000 after a member of the family had created a national scandal by instructing Old Sarum's seven electors to vote for a clergyman. It was considered improper for a man of the cloth to sit in the Commons. William Pitt the Elder began his political career under that famous tree.

- Independent, 21 April 2011

19 April 2011

The Sun is a mass of incandescent Prescott

David Mitchell: The human body produces more heat than the Sun on average by mass.  The human body generates five times as many calories as the Sun per pound of mass each day.

Clive Anderson: So if the Sun were replaced by a huge mass of humanity...

Sue Perkins: John Prescott?

CA: ...the world would be hotter?

DM: I think that the mass of the Sun isn't that great because it's largely gaseous.

CA: So if it were replaced by John Prescott not too much would change then?

DM: No.  I think maybe the sunrise would get less romantic... I think poetry would change.  Seeing a spherical John Prescott rise redly from the horizon looking baffled...

SP: You'd long for dusk, wouldn't you?

- The Unbelievable Truth s.7 e.2, BBC Radio 4, 11 April 2011.

18 April 2011

Just say no to bow ties

"It's the truth that you should never trust anybody who wears a bow tie. Cravat's supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why'd you wanna trust somebody whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?"

- Doc Wilson, in David Mamet's State and Main, 2000

11 April 2011

Insulted by Authors

Bill Ryan goes to book signings and attempts to score creative title page insults from the pinned-down and unable-to-escape authors sitting behind the signing table.  Here's a few examples:

Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

For Bill - You douche bag, you think you can emotionally manipulate me, a very nice person, into insulting you, by appealing to my niceness?

David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

To Bill - you're so nauseously [sic.] nice!

Amy Sedaris

I'd call you a c--- but you lack the warmth and depth.

For more, see:

Insulted by Authors

02 April 2011

Putting an 'i' in front of things

John Holmes: 

As Sean Connery in Highlander once said, right now appears to be 'the time of the gathering'. A time of mass gatherings in fact, in London, as we've heard, with people recently laying siege to shops. I saw them on telly, standing in a queue for two days outside the Apple Store in Regent Street, protesting that the cuts have left them with no choice but to spend £450 on an iPad 2. It's Apple's latest thing of course - a rectangle with a screen that does nothing that three of the other Apple products that you already own don't do already.

But you have to admire the amazing discovery they've made over the last few years. Simply putting an 'i' in front of an already existing word makes it sound cool and must-have. First there was a phone of course, then suddenly it was an 'iPhone'. Macintosh computers, which magically became 'iMacs' - basically a computer with a two-storey tall cinema built in... Personally I blame the Americans, who think that simply by taking something and interfering with it makes it better. See also: iRaq. But it's not just the Americans, of course. This also happened in ancient Rome.

Hugh Dennis (advertising voice-over): 

Have you got a Claudius, an old-fashioned Claudius? Afflicted with a limp and deafness due to sickness at a young age? Then upgrade to the all-new 'I, Claudius'. We've made the old Claudius much more powerful, simply by killing his predecessor, Caligula 1.0.

- The Now Show, Radio 4, 1 April 2011

30 March 2011

How to be a successful manager

Head of Olympic Deliverance at London Twenty Twelve, Ian Fletcher, who has asked his employee Kay to deliver a presentation in difficult circumstances, discusses his technique for getting the best out of his staff:

Fletcher: It's never easy when you're asking people to step outside their comfort zone, no-one likes that. But sometimes as a manager it's your job to push people just that little bit further than they think they're capable of.

Interviewer: Right. And are they grateful afterwards?

Fletcher: Not usually, no. They hate it.

Interviewer: Right, yes. You don't think that a presentation on sustainability translated into Portuguese and without any visual aids might possibly confuse them?

Fletcher: I think it might do, yes. So basically so it's a question of how long Kay can keep it up.

- Twenty Twelve s.1 e.2, BBC4, 22 March 2011

29 March 2011

Potentially dangerous levels of Katherine Heigl exposure

'We understand that exposure to this amount of Katherine Heigl is dangerous for anybody, even somebody who doesn't hate her...' - Sony Pictures

In Freak Accident, 34 Katherine Heigl Films Released At Once

28 March 2011

Mixing work and friendship

From a 2007 episode of Channel 4's The IT Crowd, a scene in which office manager Jen tries to avoid inviting her workmates around for a dinner party at her flat:

Jen (Katherine Parkinson): Oh I can't... I can't! It's my home, it's my special place. I can't let you nutjobs into my special place!

Richmond (Noel Fielding): Nutjobs... I hope you're not including me in that.

Roy (Chris O'Dowd): Wait a second, we were all brilliant friends a minute ago.

Jen: Yes, I meant friends in a different way. In a kind of special way that means that you can't come into my home.

Moss (Richard Ayoade): Right, so sort of like not being your friends at all.

Jen: Yes yes! Sort of like that. But in a really special way.

- The IT Crowd, s.2 e.4

27 March 2011

The meaning of true romance

The movies make out that romance is all about heroic displays of emotion, grand passion and running hand in hand through cornfields. But I think what's truly romantic is sharing each waking moment with the same person every day for 25 years and still being able to look them in the eye and utterly mask your despair.

- Charlie Brooker, So Wrong It's Right, Radio 4, 24 March 2011.

23 March 2011

"I've never eaten grits, cropped a share, or ridden a boxcar"

Hugh Laurie knows how easy it would be to mock a Cambridge-educated doctor's son, now the highest paid American television actor, for recording an album of blues music.

So he's got in first with a statement saying: "I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. I've never eaten grits, cropped a share, or ridden a boxcar. I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south. If that weren't bad enough, I'm also an actor: one of those pampered ninnies who can't find his way through an airport without a babysitter."

Laurie is a clever comedian and knows how to deflect criticism. When he talked about his family's previous musical sessions - sons on drums and sax, daughter on clarinet and himself on guitar and vocals - he joked: 'Nauseating, isn't it?'

- Martin Chilton, Telegraph, 23 March 2011

21 March 2011

The Only Way Is Essex

Perhaps the most off-putting aspect of the show is its staginess. Not so much its much-discussed lack of fly-on-the-wall realism, but everyone's uncomfortably stilted delivery. All the conversations on The Only Way Is Essex are full of weird little pauses, as if they're all communicating via a faulty 1970s satellite link-up. It's like watching an old Open University programme on Advanced Pointlessness.

I'm also slightly hamstrung by the fact that I don't understand anything that anyone says. Maybe there's an inexplicably heavy tax on hard consonants in Essex and that's the reason people say "arrrra?" instead of "hello" and "shaaaaaap" instead of "be quiet". At one point last series a character said "naaaloooor" and it took me about five minutes to work out that they meant "nightclub." Between this and the pauses, The Only Way Is Essex comes off like a nightmarish Teletubbies update starring several florescent Bratz dolls (vajazzled, of course).

Last night's episode didn't help matters. Narratively speaking it had a structure that was somewhere between scattershot and nonexistent. A couple got lost in the woods, an old lady went swimming, a Playboy model got a spray tan, a boy legitimately decided that he wanted to be known as Joey Essex, a woman asked where south London was and a pig urinated on the floor and then started drinking it. In fact I've made it sound much more exciting than it actually was. Nothing was captivating enough to make you want to tune in for a second 45 minutes, unless you harbour an inexplicable fascination with incontinent pigs. If things keep up at this rate, I'll be no closer to understanding the show than I was during the first series.

So if you watched and enjoyed The Only Way Is Essex last night, then please explain it to me. Am I supposed to be rooting for these people? Or does the pleasure come from judging them? Is it supposed to be good, or do people watch it because it's terrible? And, if so, is it terrible by accident or design? Honestly, I'm so confused.

- Stuart Heritage, Guardian, 21 March 2011

[If all this means nothing to you, consult the documentary evidence on Cassetteboy vs The Only Way Is Essex, which sums up all you need to know in two relatively painless minutes]

14 March 2011

Pretending to have read Tennyson

The girl stared at him, dropping her slice of bread-and-butter in her emotion.

'You don't mean to say you read Tennyson, Mr Widgeon?'

'Me?' said Freddie. 'Tennyson? Read Tennyson? Me read Tennyson? Well, well, well! Bless my soul! Why, I know him by heart - some of him.'

'So do I! "Break, break, break, on your cold grey stones, oh Sea..."'

'Quite. Or take the "Lady of Shalott".'

'"I hold it truth with him who sings..."'

'So do I, absolutely. And then, again, there's the "Lady of Shalott". Dashed extraordinary that you should like Tennyson too.'

'I think he's wonderful.'

'What a lad! That "Lady of Shalott"! Some spin on the ball there.'

'It's so absurd, the way people sneer at him nowadays.'

'The silly bounders. Don't know what's good for them.'

'He's my favourite poet.'

'Mine, too. Any bird who could write the "Lady of Shalott" gets the cigar or coconut, according to choice, as far as I'm concerned.'

They gazed at each other emotionally.

'Well, I'd never have thought it,' said April.

'Why not?'

'I mean, you gave me the impression of being... well, rather the dancing, night-club sort of man.'

'What! Me? Night-clubs? Good gosh! Why, my idea of a happy evening is to curl up with Tennyson's latest.'

"Don't you love "Locksley Hall"?'

'Oh, rather. And the "Lady of Shalott".'

'And "Maud"?'

'Aces,' said Freddie. 'And the "Lady of Shalott".'

'How fond you seem of the "Lady of Shalott"!'

'Oh I am.'

- P.G. Wodehouse, 'Trouble Down at Tudsleigh', in Young Men in Spats, London, 1936.

04 March 2011

"I'm a hypocrite, but not an idiot"

From Film 2011's questionnaire slot, Stephen Merchant offers the movie that he "just doesn't get":

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I just can't get into it - I'm bored out of my mind. Someone made me watch the director's cuts - I think it goes on for nine or ten hours. You can get to Tokyo in that time! And there's just this endless journey that goes on and on and on for hours. And he destroys the ring and you think "brilliant", and then you go, "well how are they going to get home?", and a giant bird turns up and they fly home. Where was the bird at the beginning?!

But if Peter Jackson offers me a role in any of his films obviously I will take it. I'm not an idiot. I'm a hypocrite... but not an idiot.

- Film 2011 with Claudia Winkleman, BBC1, 2 March 2011

03 March 2011

Tim Minchin

From his Live at the O2 album, Australian comedian Tim Minchin sings Thank You God, his in-depth analysis of miraculous divine interventions in cases of middle-aged cataract sufferers from Dandenong.

28 February 2011

Whitcoulls' downfall

Auckland writer Graeme Lay argues that the demise of New Zealand book retail chain Whitcoulls is no surprise:

Stories of Whitcoulls' ineptitude towards local literature became legion among New Zealand writers. For instance, after my first novel, The Mentor, was published, I went eagerly into the Whitcoulls flagship store in Queen St to see where it had been shelved.

It was nowhere to be seen. So without divulging that I was the author, I asked an assistant if she could show me where a new book, The Mentor, was.

She looked thoughtful. "Mentor. That's a kind of insect, isn't it?" And she pointed me in the direction of the Natural History section. "No, no, it isn't an insect," I protested. "Oh no, that's right." She thought again. "Mentor, mentor. Oh yes, that's right. It's not an insect, it's a creature. A half-man, half horse. Try the Classics Section. It's at the back of the shop."
A comment on Lay's article reads: 'I went in to Whitcoulls and asked for a copy of Jane Eyre to give to a relative. The assistant asked, What did she write?'

- NZ Herald, 28 February 2011

27 February 2011

Brooker on Gaddafi

From 10 O'Clock Live, Charlie Brooker on the increasingly bizarre utterings of everyone's favourite 1980s throwback dictator, Libya's Colonel Gaddafi:

[Via Boingboing]

24 February 2011

On the attractions of older women

In June 1745 the 39-year-old author and printer Benjamin Franklin, who would later become one of the United States' great statesmen, wrote a letter to a friend. In it, he advised that a young man should marry, but if he could or would not, he should prefer the company of an older woman to that of a young one. Franklin set out eight reasons for his belief, of which the startlingly matter-of-fact fifth instalment is:

Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.

[Via Letters of Note]

18 February 2011

Mission Impossible Squirrel

One intrepid squirrel agent proves that [s]he's got what it takes to complete the ultimate mission. Caution: may contain nuts.

- Via Neatorama

16 February 2011

Teaching the teachers

From an article discussing principals' concerns about declining standards of literacy amongst New Zealand teachers:

Mike McMenamin, principal of New Plymouth Boys' High School, said there would always be teachers lacking literacy skills.

"I always look at how a teacher relates, challenges and gets the best out of the students. When you start to look at it in depth, there's more than just writing and spelling to consider," he said.

"You have to take into consideration the teacher's ability to inspire a class of students."

He makes a fair point about the need for a broad range of skills, and particularly the ability to provide an inspiring set of lessons for students. But perhaps it's not too much to ask for teachers to be able to inspire students and know how to spell and apostrophise correctly too?

- Taranaki Daily News, 16 February 2011

14 February 2011

Rosamund Pike spices up the Baftas

From last night's Bafta ceremony in London, actor Rosamund Pike falls victim to an autocue fault and stumbles perilously close to revealing the name of an award winner before the nominees have even been announced. Great edge-of-the-seat television, but Pike is a properly savvy actor with a good head on her shoulders, so it just goes to show that mishaps like this can happen to anyone under that sort of pressure. And Mr Dominic Cooper, you weren't much help!

13 February 2011

The conspiracy is much larger than Glenn Beck suspects

The Christian Science Monitor discusses reaction to Fox News' Glenn Beck and his conspiracy theories about Egypt, which are leading some conservative commentators to distance themselves from Beck's wacky diatribes:

“Of course, the conspiracy goes deeper than Beck has yet revealed,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. “I'm hoping that, in coming days, if the Freemasons, working in concert with Hezbollah and the Washington Redskins, don't succeed in suppressing the truth, that Beck will reveal the identities of the most pernicious players in this grotesque campaign to subvert our way of life.”

“I can't reveal too much here,” Goldberg writes. “But I think it's fair to say that Beck will be paying a lot of attention in the coming weeks to the dastardly, pro-caliphate work of Joy Behar; the makers of Little Debbie snack cakes; the 1980s hair band Def Leppard; Omar Sharif; and the Automobile Association of America. And remember, you read it here first.”

- Christian Science Monitor, 12 February 2011

09 February 2011

Rhyming Sigourney with horny

Simon Pegg still can't believe he's appearing in a film alongside his childhood crush Sigourney Weaver.

The Alien star plays a "crackpot" woman in the Brit's new alien comedy Paul, and meeting her for the first time brought back plenty of adolescent memories.

Pegg reveals he was so smitten with Weaver, he once wrote a sexy poem about her.

He says, "I’ve fancied her since I was 10. I actually wrote a poem about her at university. She found out about it. She asked me if I could remember it and I pretended I didn't. I rhymed Sigourney with horny."

- IMDB.com, 9 February 2011

03 February 2011

Insert Coin

Impressive stop-motion animation of coins on a black backdrop in a retro-gaming stylee; includes a brief explanation of how they did it at the end.

[Via Geekosystem]

28 January 2011

Moleskine notebooks

From the excellent BBC2 rambling sitcom The Great Outdoors, Bob (Mark Heap) puts the world to rights in this outburst:

Ooh look everybody, a red kite! Yeah, they've made a real comeback, like Moleskine notebooks. Except that red kites aren't bought by idiots with too much money.

n.b. I own a Moleskine notebook.

- The Great Outdoors, s.1 e.3, broadcast 28 January 2011

24 January 2011

Kermode on The Dilemma

The BBC's Mark Kermode reviews Ron Howard's The Dilemma, which I saw in a pre-release audience appraisal preview back in October. Unsurprisingly, he likes it even less than I did, saying that it's '...not so much filtered by as infested by Vince Vaughn'.

22 January 2011

Morbid Curiosity Leading Many Voters To Support Palin

'Having Palin in office would be like a four-year-long white water rafting trip - it might kill us, but if it doesn't we'll end up with a lot of crazy-ass photos' - Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Morbid Curiosity Leading Many Voters To Support Palin

13 January 2011

Fearne Cotton's death challenge

As imagined by Channel 4's The Morgana Show (Morgana Robinson): 'Skillz!' Embedding disabled, so you'll have to make do with a link.

Death Challenge

08 January 2011

Butterfly chair

Folds up into a briefcase lickety split, for all your on-the-go seating needs. I want one!

Magic chair

04 January 2011

A metaphor for commuting

A flock of sheep mill around Wellington station in a 2009 TV ad for UK train fare website Thetrainline.com, featuring a voiceover by comedian Rob Brydon.

How to drink cognac

Charles de Talleyrand-PĂ©rigord was an enduring French diplomat of the 18th and 19th centuries who once reprimanded an English visitor for gulping down a glass of cognac. "The first thing you should do," explained Talleyrand, "is take your glass in the palms of your hands and warm it. Then shake it gently, with a circular movement, so that the liquid's perfume is released. Then, raise the glass to the nose and breathe deeply." "And then, my lord?" his visitor asked. "And then, sir," continued Talleyrand, "you replace the glass on the table and talk about it." But, the visitor didn't reply, how will that get me drunk?

- Stuart Jeffries, Guardian, 3 January 2011

03 January 2011

The least plausible science fiction movie of all time

Nasa scientists have named John Cusack's blockbuster 2012 as the most "absurd" sci-fi film of all time.

Experts at America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and Science and Entertainment Exchange have put together a list of the least plausible science fiction movies ever made, and the big budget 2009 picture came top.

The film, which depicted Earth besieged by natural disasters, featured ahead of two more 'end-of-the-world' movies - 2003's The Core and 1998's Armageddon.

Donald Yeomans, head of Nasa's Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, says of 2012, "It's absurd. The film-makers took advantage of public worries about the so-called end of the world as apparently predicted by the Mayans of Central America, whose calendar ends on December 21, 2012.

"The agency is getting so many questions from people terrified that the world is going to end in 2012 that we have had to put up a special website to challenge the myths. We have never had to do this before."

Staff at the organisation also compiled a list of the top 10 most realistic sci-fi films, with 1997's Gattaca, starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman as space agency workers, winning the highest praise from the scientists. Nasa experts also named dinosaur movie Jurassic Park and Jodie Foster's Contact among the most realistic sci-fi films.

- Imdb.com, 3 January 2011