March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
What is it about newspapers that make them so attractive to purchase, and then unreadable when you get them home, only until they are headed for the recycling? I will occasionally buy a Saturday or Sunday newspaper, laden with magazine sections and supplements, but I rarely feel the compulsion to spend the full 24 hours of said day digesting all the information it contains. In fact, I rarely scratch the surface. Newspapers sit around my house for months in steadily increasing piles, making chairs unusable, or lining the floor by my bed, like I live in fear of stray Hamsters.
But as material for papier-mache, or as an expendable work surface for shoe polishing, they instantly grow new features: developing fresh pages with columns written about things I like by people I like. They are all of a sudden interesting in ways they weren’t when I first bought them. When the news is new, I feel anxious to evaluate and consume what is vital, to stay up to date. But when it is already old, I am comforted by it. This has happened. That has happened. I get a similar experience watching old television adverts or weather forecasts on VHS tapes from the 90s. I am unthreatened.
When I die I want to be dressed in a shell-suit, and then cremated at my funeral service. I will produce a green smoke. As the guests leave the venue, consoling each other for their terrible loss no doubt, I want a pre-recorded video of my face, under-lit for dramatic effect, laughing maniacally, to be projected into the smoke, as the sound of my voice, run through many echo effects, and maybe even a bit of light flange*, booms out of some disguised speakers.
(*From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Flanging (pronounced “flan-jing”) is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, with one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds.)
On sunny days like those we have enjoyed recently in the UK, I often wish I was Mike Tyson. Lying on the park I can excuse the foul-mouthed banter of the nearby rabble of teens, smoking “naughty cigarettes” and flirting loudly with each other. I can even forgive the annoying “cool tutor” from their college who turns up and mucks in with the banter, before demanding a toke from their “fun fag”. OMG grown-ups can be cool too!
But twats who just leave their cans and bags of trash on the grass, like the world was built for them: I have no time for them. Maybe their mums clear up for them at home, wipe their bums still, iron their socks. Maybe their mums also work as park cleaners when they’re not busy scouring congealed ignorance from the lining of their distressed jeans.
But maybe, just maybe, they need Mike Tyson, not even the real one, but a Mike Tyson-type, to once stick their trash in their faces, before politely, in Mike Tyson’s high, child-like voice, they are reminded that parks are for everyone. Even the yobbish teenagers collated their bits and got rid. But alas, in my straw hat, shop-bought lemonade in a leaky thermos, reading Sophocles in Boots sunglasses, such reprimands are naturally not advisable.
March 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
I have been lucky to experience comedian Jack Whitehall in action three times in the past week. The first was on a repeat of Have I Got News For You, the second on Radio 4 quiz Wordaholics, and then on Channel 5’s Comedy Kings (Still available for those in the UK here: http://www.channel5.com/shows/comedy-kings-best-of-just-for-laughs/episodes/episode-7-212), doing what he does.
I had not been a fan of his until now. For a while he has just been “the young one” on comedy panel shows and mainstream stand-up circuit, but now he really seems to be holding ground among esteemed company. My favourite Jack Whitehall joke from this week’s shows was this one from his position as panelist on word-play radio quiz Wordaholics. When asked what his favourite word was, he replied:
“I like the word Homophobic. Now wait, bear with me… Because I wouldn’t describe myself as being Homophobic, but then, I would say that I’m Homophobic like i’m Arachnophobic. I’m not scared of spiders, I’m not scared of gays, though I would probably scream if I saw one in my bath.”
Another stand-up who has surprised me recently was Noel Fielding. The Mighty Boosh commanded such a big, devoted following, and being the pretentious egotist that I am, it took me a while to actually get round to watching it. I can’t help it. I have “hype-filters”, wherby I hate anything too many people like, even if it is patently great: especially if I haven’t seen it.
“The Boosh” was like a moderate cult, amongst them real geeks -not trendies in buttoned up shirts and dark-frame glasses, but REAL geeks, who might, at any moment, bring a crossbow into school and end it all. People would tell me I should watch it, try to recreate sketches to “make me realise”, and use words like “quirky” and “surreal” as superlatives. I did eventually give in, though grudgingly, and actually enjoyed it enough to now own it on DVD. Towards the end of series two it did become a little jaded though, and consequently, when Noel Fielding’s new solo-series Luxury Comedy came out, I had mixed expectations.
The show, for me, is more hit than miss. I like his art-school approach to the comedy sketch: scrappy costumes, hand-made props, painted backdrops. Much of what made Mighty Boosh original is present again here, but the less-linear thrust of the show gives it a different feeling. His self-conscious naïveté can come across as a little smug at times on these shows, a little self-indulgent when the joke falls flat, but when it works, it works.
I hadn’t seen Noel Fielding as a stand-up until this week, but by Youtube “Exquisite Link Hopping” (watching a video of choice and then following a trail of suggested videos until you see something better than your original selection), I came across a short routine he did in 2008, or thereabouts. For nearly five minutes he did an impression of a Blue Bottle fly. There is something fantastic about the bravado of a performer who can sustain weird through a routine, and not rely on snappy punchlines. In his routine you could see the seeds of his Mighty Boosh and Luxury Comedy writing, the raw stage of sketches and characters. I kind of preferred it this way, stripped back and without the costumes. Though his technicolour poncho and heeled shoes might classify as costume to some, I believe these were his own clothes.
If you buy enough of your clothes from Primark you might be eligible for a discount, if you agree to work as mannequin in one of their window displays. If your friends with expensive organic Fairtrade clothes (god how pretentious of them) reprimand you for wearing cheap clothes, tell them that your clothes are actually hand-made by your grandma. When they point out the Primark label poking up from your collar, tell them that your grandma works in a Primark factory. If you want to look casual when out and about, why not sling your jacket over your shoulder? (Nb. make sure you are still holding the jacket when you do this, or you may lose your jacket) Some people will say this an unnatural position, reserved for older clothes-catalogue models, or politicians talking to normal people when in rolled-up shirt sleeves. Don’t listen to them. Let us claim ownership over these positions. These people always seem happier than the rest of us, in thrall to the wonder of existence, with well-conditioned hair. It is also a good way of covering stains on your back, like ingrained sweat discolouration.
And now a window into where I live.
Vignettes of Sneinton #1
A man in shorts and jumper out for a jog, wears trainers on his hands, as protection from the cold.
Vignettes of Sneinton #2
Two girls of ten/eleven/twelve years walk up my street shouting at each other. One is pretty fat with long hair that I think has been crimped. She walks ahead, being shouted at by, and shouting back to a friend, who is some distance behind. As her friend, a skinny girl in glasses, gets closer to my window, I see she has her shoes in her hands, and she is in tears. It seems the fat girl told the skinny one to take her shoes off in the street, or to give her her shoes, or something along these lines. They argue, the skinny girl sat on the edge of the pavement, struggling to put her shoes back on, the fat girl stood a little up the road, denying having threatened her friend. At times she seems like she is going to leave, then she doubles back in another fit of denial.
Skinny Girl: And your never coming round mine again!
Fat Girl: Good, I don’t want to. And don’t bother coming round mine neever. I’ve wanted to say that my whole life!
They seem unsure as to whether they are genuinely breaking up their friendship though, flitting between insult and apology, albeit through sweary, gritted teeth. For two kids, their vocabulary and grasp of the notion of consciousness of the self are quite sophisticated. The Fat Girl’s closing argument:
“I know what I said. Did I say take your shoes off, or I’ll rip yer to shreds? No I didn’t! I know my own mind. My head, my body, my mind! My arse, my tits, my FANNEEEHH!!”
noun ( pl. -nies)
1 informal a person’s buttocks.
2 Brit., vulgar slang a woman’s genitals.
March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
The idea of context is an elusive one. I have been thinking about this recently in terms of what we might say to a group of old friends, and what we can say to people we don’t know so well. An example would be a kind of joke that plays heavily on irony, which if construed incorrectly might be seen as offensive, or even prejudiced. Context is obviously key. If people know you, then they should know “where you are coming from” with a joke. So if it is out of character for you to say such and such a thing, then instantly, your friends know to put their “irony filters” on, and know to treat it as a joke. Whether it is funny or not is a different matter. Of course, we each have our own personal depth of irony-morality, something determined by our upbringings. (I say “depth”, because I often get told I have “brought the conversation down”.) But if we are spending time with some people regularly, we come to know what kind of thing you can and can’t say; what people will accept. The human mind is designed to evaluate danger in the face of another human at a moment’s notice, (will this person co-operate with my desire to live?) and beyond that initial “measuring” we continue to evaluate as we go along; as we get to know them. Often a joke can be an interesting test for another’s personality. I think you can tell a lot about someone by how they react to humour. At least, this is how I build my relationships: looking for friends who can sink to low lows.
But “where someone is coming from” in telling a joke is tricky territory. As I have said in recent posts, some comedians speak about some topics without any direct experiences of said subject matter, whilst others seem to profit from, at times, innocuous connections to said ideas. How can we claim privilege over any idea, be it racial, cultural, political, ideological, or whatever? There is no answer to that, other than to say all communication is appropriation. We are constantly borrowing and mutating ideas, and in our contemporary society, with its multitude of influences and confused moralities, can we actually take anything at face value? I realised today that I do not, and that this is a good thing. By adopting a kind of naive skepticism, I find that I rarely worry about things that aren’t worth worrying about. (I realise now that this sentence doesn’t make exact sense: of course we don’t worry about things we don’t worry about. But I think you should get what I mean; I have a low threshold)
Context is in many ways a form of measured public conscience. It isn’t the conscience of obvious rights and wrongs. In trying to construct a suitable simile for this idea, I realised that any definition of “right” and “wrong” is impossible. First I thought an obvious right would be keeping forks with forks, and knives with knives in their own compartments in the cutlery drawer. But then I realised that I was thinking only from the position of me and my relationship with cutlery. This is just my approach. Then I thought an obvious wrong would be to kill your own mother. But then, thinking again, I realised that I was thinking only from the position of me and my relationship with my mum. And not killing my mum is just my approach to the problem of her putting forks in the wrong compartment.
Here is a definitive definition of context in the everyday. My father-in-law is Japanese. (This will not come as a great shock to anyone who knows me.) Last week he came to stay with us, and on the morning he was leaving for London he insisted on hoovering the spare room, where he had been sleeping for the past five nights. Because he was Japanese, and because of my familiarity with Japanese culture and the Japanese “persona”, I didn’t give the act a second thought. But if it had been an English guest suggesting the same thing, I would have been extremely worried as to what they had got up to over the five nights. Nb. British law still applies to the Spare Room: it is not my house’s equivalent of international waters.
I joined my wife and father-in-law on Saturday evening in London for a meal and some light sight-seeing on Sunday. On the way back to Nottingham I took my first ever first-class train journey. It was only £1 more than a standard fare, so I thought it was an opportune treat. Imagine my outright disgust then, when the all-powerful train manager decided to declassify the first class carriages, as recompense for failing to print seat reservations for the journey… What kind of cruel justice is this? What can £1 buy you nowadays? Nothing. In times of economic hardship, surely economic boundaries should be reinforced, not collapsed? We don’t want people thinking they are better than they are. Aspiration= delusion=credit card debts=unemployment=aspiration=∞
I didn’t even go for the free tea, out of spite. If anyone could get one, I didn’t want it.
People often say they feel guilty if they ignore Big Issue sellers, or other homeless people. I don’t. I don’t apologise to Primark for not popping in on my way past, nor do I extract money from every ATM I pass. When I walk through the city centre of Nottingham I walk with my head down, and ignore everyone, everything. Often I receive texts from friends saying that I “blanked them” the other day when they saw me in town. When I am out and about, nothing exists. I am in a frosted bubble that protects me from everything. With my eyes pointed to the ground, I use the constellations of chewing gum that decorate the pavements as my visual guide from place to place, whilst tip-toeing around suspect sticky puddles.
I have been ill for almost two weeks now. And no, it is not “man flu”, because I have not been exchanging fluids with any men recently. Men have real flu too, ladies. Just because we don’t lose a load of blood every month, don’t belittle our pain.
I don’t mind getting ill so much. When I feel a sniffle building, I’m almost excited. “Lemsip!” There is a silver lining to every cloud. I love Lemsip. Foreign friends who have tried Lemsip when ill visiting the UK (which is everyone who normally lives in a warmer country. What a bunch of wooses) have come to know Lemsip as “that magic lemon potion”. It is indeed magic. And wonderful. It is sherbet for grown-ups.
March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Something I’ve learnt is to never text or email when angry or amorous… Those messages I have sent in haste, usually late at night. I can’t shake the profound lingering embarrassment. We are drunk in emotion and click send, when we really don’t need to. I doubt anyone receiving a treatise I have written at 2am demanding satisfaction (again, in war or love; satisfaction is flexible) has ever replied to said message. And I doubt the effect has ever approached what I imagined: “That is the most life-changing email I have ever read. I will change my ways now I have been set straight in such clear bullet points”/”That is the most romantic text message I have ever received. He really made the effort not to abbreviate any of the words into txt spk, so it must be true love”
I have learnt, through stupid mistakes. Type the email/type the text, then DELETE IT, or otherwise shout out the anger by yourself, much like you’re in a courtroom of war criminals. They won’t reply to your message, so don’t send it. If something is worth saying, say it to them, face-to-face. If you’re too scared, then leave them breathy messages from an anonymous phone, and post a letter written in letters cut out from their favourite magazines. This approach works in both love and war. In today’s age of Facebook chitter-chatter, they’ll appreciate the effort you’ve been through.
The other day I went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. It was a wild interpretation of the play, which added further complexities to Shakespeare’s original winding love-story and play within a play, with new layers of fiction. They start the show by announcing that Sir Ian McKellen will be guest starring as Bottom, but it is not long before we hear news that Sir Ian is trapped in the lift, and won’t be able to make it. Instead they decide to pick a “random” member of the audience out to complete the play. This “random” audience member is actor of television and screen, Mark Benton. It was not long before they abandoned the pretence that he was picked from the audience, and the players instead focused on trying to make as much mess and noise as they could, both on stage at each other and at us (during a highly enjoyable food fight). Never mind “breaking the fourth wall”, they had broken through pretty much every surface by the end of the night, including the floor and the ceiling. It was an action packed show, a lot of fun, but if you don’t already know the play then you probably will leave being none the wiser. As one reviewer put it, this production captures the chaos at the heart of the comedy, but for me, the timeless wit of Shakespeare’s writing was lost.
The week before I had seen Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors, which was performed at the National Theatre, and televised to several cinemas nationwide, including the Broadway in Nottingham. I have never liked Lenny Henry’s comedy. I find him immensely unfunny. But he was superb in a production that added spectacle to Shakespeare’s genius, without smothering it. They transported the story from ancient Greece to a modern city, and modernised some references and characters without tampering with the text. It worked. And it again showed (the somewhat obvious truism) that a good story is the basis of good theatre, and that the staging enhances if it is seen as just that: an addition.
It will be of little news to most people that Shakespeare is an amazing writer, but this show reminded me really how brilliant he is. We are saturated with his works as assignments at school (when we’re perhaps not ready to appreciate him), and as numerous film adaptations and stage performances throughout our lives. It’s easy to take him for granted. But he is incredible. This show reminded me of that.
In going to London to see the first play, I also arranged to meet a friend in a cafe.
In waiting for someone I haven’t seen in a while, I always go through the same obscure rigmarole. I stand somewhere visible at the meeting place, somewhere so obvious that I make my life and those of people around me awkward (in this case it was at the entrance to the cafe, where I stood like a lost child or fire hazard). I then survey the space for my friend (the cafe was busy, and its many tables were lively with chit-chat). Logic is tested in these circumstances, not in the sense that I test how sound my logic is, but more that I intuitively expand the boundaries of logic. Everyone could be the friend. I think about the last haircut I saw them sporting. Was it long, or short? It could be different now. They might have had it all shaven off. Or maybe they’d have dyed it? Perhaps that would be uncharacteristic to how you knew them, but you can’t rule out big unexpected changes. How well do you really know them? Maybe they’ve been in an accident. Maybe their face has changed. Or maybe their face is just different to how you thought it was, and you’ve been wrong all along. They might even have aged dramatically. It’s possible. It could be a degenerative disease. Or maybe their body was holding back for many years, that’s why they looked young when you knew them, and then in a sudden release the body over-stretched itself? Maybe they are now living proof that your face will “stay that way” if the wind changes. Could they have become shorter? Taller? Is that lady tanned, or asian? In my hovering, awkward surveying, anyone assumes at least one characteristic of my friend. One man has a coat like they might wear, another lady is drinking a coffee whilst reading a book by herself like they might do if waiting for me, someone else looks around as if meeting someone. I feel a tap on my shoulder.
“You called for a plumber?” she didn’t ask.
I’m not particularly a fan of Tina Fey. I haven’t seen anything she’s done that’s really made me laugh. But in the bookshop (in which was the cafe) I started reading her autobiography. I don’t think I have ever laughed out loud as much as I did reading the first few pages. I bought it. A book I didn’t buy was a book about a man who makes all his own clothes, right down to weaving and dying material. Wow. As a “journey away from consumerism” it was a pretty drastic lifestyle statement. Good luck to him. I often look at these outsider schemes for cutting oneself off from the shiny traps of our modern life, and while I admire their willingness to work, I can’t help but feel that the world wouldn’t survive everyone taking the same approach. Of course, it won’t survive the way things are being done now either, but at least our fat, chargrilled corpses will look beautiful in our luminous branded shell-suits. Who knows, they might even preserve the body like a time capsule, and present future sentient species with something to study when they’re not finding ways of fucking everything up again.
March 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
I don’t see the appeal of owning a MASSIVE dog or a tiny-weeny dog. Who would like to have a dog that always sounds like it is going to die of respiratory failure at any moment, or conversely a yapping, irritable rat on a string? I think tiny-dog owners must have some sublimated desire for a baby to look after, and big-dog owners want an older brother to walk around with, to scare off bullies. Really it’s a kind of extremism, and yes, I am calling these people sociopaths. I will stand by this judgement.
Nowadays, technology is entwined with every day life. Perhaps we are almost beginning to take this for granted, but it wasn’t long ago that the internet was a novelty. I feel very much like I am living in a time of change, of technological revolution, where the internet especially is becoming integral to so many aspects of life. We have seen social networking elevated from a position of irrelevance (or at least excess) to being a genuinely important tool for free speech, as was illustrated in Egypt last year during the riots. There has also been a streamlining of how we access bank accounts, pay bills, and so forth.
It is undeniably convenient. To be able to check your bank balance and pay your gas bill without waiting on hold on the phone -submitting your afternoon to Jack *vomit* Johnson on loop. (Whilst on hold for some time a couple of years ago, it struck me how much Jack Johnson sounds like Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords, and this song in particular: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uThoNieR_oY&feature=fvst)
But whilst computers and mobile phones are great, I have had to monitor my time using them. I rarely use a computer on weekends, and on the odd occasion I forget my mobile phone when I go out, I feel a lightness of relief; the simplicity of a life before the phone filled my pocket. People existed without mobile phones for many thousands of years, and I’m sure I speak for many sane people when I say that certain individuals fetishise their phones, in the same way as some saddos wash their sports car every sunday to get it on public view. There’s no doubt in mind that we have become disproportionately attached to our mobiles. For many years I undertook a process of downgrading my first phone by covering it with banana and apple stickers, and now a colour screen is just about the only “feature” of my current phone. Comedian Mark Watson once said he didn’t want to watch TV on his mobile phone for the same reason he didn’t want to watch it on his washing machine. People laughed, but are we really that far away from a washing machine with an in-built DVD player or internet connection?
With ever-integrated digital systems comes the burden of remembering ever-many passwords, security codes and cyphers. Remembering my debit card pin number was at one time enough. Nowadays I need to spout off the long number from my card, my telephone security code, my online security code, not to mention the many passwords I use for this and that.
You are always advised to keep you passwords abstract, and unique from account to account. I have around four passwords which I use for everything, and any code that requires numbers tends to resemble my old alarm code from the house I grew up in. I just don’t have the capacity to remember that many obscures names and numbers. It’s not solely the matter of remembering which password is for which site, but of “re-becoming” the you that concocted the ingenious password that no one could work out (or remember, so it seems); re-establishing the prosaic thought-process you adopted during your moment of creativity. In more adventurous password moments we adopt the eyes of a dada poet, subjecting our first pets and un-married mums to language games and a Freud-like stream of associations. If I did this freshly for every password I needed, then I think I might ruin my own existence, by unwittingly replacing all common sensory, interpretive and emotional processes with an assumed mentality of an abstract investigator: constantly analysing my environment for potential passwords.
I don’t try hard enough to come up with something original, I know this, and perhaps one day I will pay the price. I should know better. In Hulk Hogan movies of the nineties, even fat twelve-year-olds could crack into the CIA’s database through cheap stabs at passwords. And that was the CIA.
Another thing that amuses/infuriates in the same delicate balance as internet passwords, is the sheer ineffectiveness of predicitive texting. Perhaps this relates very much to the fact that my mobile phone is the technological equivalent of a toupee: you might be pleased with how good it looks, but only because you don’t know any better. Other people do know better, and they feel sorry for you. My phone is like a smart suit bought from Primark: all shine and no substance. After a week of use it will implode. I can’t complain, I know it’s crap. But it was supposedly a newer model of my last phone, which was immeasurably easier to use, and far more intuitive when texting. On my current phone, common words are sometimes not recognised and have to be typed in manually, with the phone’s own suggestions completely nonsensical. For example, I typed in “Sheffield”, which wasn’t recognised, with the phone’s own suggestion being “Sheddielf”. Also, according to my phone, “nun” is a more useful word than “mum”.