Thursday, 29 June 2006

two soviet jokes

Two Soviet jokes - one old, one new - from an interview with Martin Sixsmith in the Guardian. I've heard both before: the first one's beautifully elegant, the second is accurately ugly.

One secret policeman asks another: "What do you think about the government?" The other replies: "Same as you." "In that case," says the first, "it is my duty to arrest you."

One millionaire says to another: 'I paid $5,000 for a Cartier watch.' The other says: 'That's nothing. I paid $8,000 for the same thing.'

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

ian mayes on the swearing rate in the guardian

Interesting article in the Guardian by the readers editor Ian Mayes on the amount of swearing in the paper.

'What remains clear is that the f- and c-words occur much more frequently in the Guardian than in any other serious newspaper on earth, and that this causes some readers real distress to the point where they consider abandoning the paper altogether and leaving it to curse to itself unheard. Several readers, the last time I mentioned the Guardian's position as a world leader in this respect, wrongly inferred that I did so with approval or even pride. Not at all.
'The guidelines have not changed. I point them out, increasingly wearily, from time to time. You can read them at, then go to Swearwords. They begin with the following caution which I cannot endorse too strongly: "First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend." I hear a hollow laugh.

'They go on: "Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes."

'... the Guardian seems to have reached a high plateau with a total over the past three years of 700 to 770 articles a year containing the F word at least once (one article alone used it no fewer than 13 times). That means it occurs in an average 2.5 articles per issue. The c-word occurs on average in one article a week and it has been at that level for a couple of years.

'This proliferation makes rather risible the Guardian's expressions of expletive fatigue in relation to Gordon Ramsay's television appearances. And as the NB column in the TLS noted recently, they rather detract from the Guardian's laudable pleas for moderation in the language used by the anonymous posters on its Comment is free blog. The principle is well expressed somewhere. How does it go? Let him who is without sin etc.'

roy hattersley on abortion

Interesting article in the Guardian by Roy Hattersley on abortion, 'Questions of life and death: The rational approach to the abortion debate starts by asking when independent life begins'.

'The rules that should govern an ethically acceptable policy on abortion are not difficult to define. Metaphysics aside, it is reasonable to conclude that the new human being begins when the foetus is capable of independent life. Before that, an abortion is undesirable but tolerable. After that, it is only acceptable in the most extreme cases. They do not include the psychological trauma of the expectant mother. A civilised society does not kill one person in order to alleviate the distress of another, no matter how traumatic it may be.'

the jerusalem chapel

Part II came to an end for Henry IV when he died of a stroke, prematurely old at the age of forty-six. He’d had at least one stroke before and was thought to have been suffering from leprosy. To ease his conscience over his usurping of the throne from his cousin Richard I, he wanted to lead a crusade, and thus it was prophesied that he’d die in Jerusalem - a thought that gave him a sort of morbid pleasure. He never did make the crusade, but instead was visiting St Edward’s shrine in Westminster Abbey when the fatal seizure took him and he was taken into a nearby room where he died. The room was called the Jerusalem Chapel.
- March 20th, 1413, Today's The Day

(The Jerusalem Chapel is also where the Westminster Divines met to work on the Westminster Confession of Faith and associated documents. It’s not part of the Abbey that’s open to the public, which is a shame.)

michelangelo the fortress-builder

The money to be made [in designing and building fortresses in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries] invited envy and drew all sorts of unlikely practitioners into the market, including both Leonardo da Vinci, who was inspector of fortresses for Cesare Borgia, and Michelangelo, who in the course of an argument with Antonio de Sangallo in 1545 announced, ‘I don’t know much about painting and sculpture, but I have gained great experience of fortifications, and I have already proved that I know more about them than the whole tribe of the Sangallos.’ Michelangelo equipped his native Florence with new defences between 1527 and 1529 but, fortunately for art, thereafter found fewer commissions for his fortification skills.
p325, A History of Warfare, John Keegan

Tuesday, 27 June 2006


I'm reading Moondust by Andrew Smith just now, a book based around interviewing the remaining few men who walked on the moon; an interesting and well-written companion to The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, which I read long ago and really enjoyed, which covered more of the earlier days. I liked Alan Bean, particularly laid back astronaut, starting his public speaking by saying 'Hello earthlings!'. The tinyness of the computer technology never ceases to amaze, however often you hear it: 'There's [a photo] of the computer room at Mission Control, which contains all the computing power of several modern mobile phones (the onboard LM [Lunar Module] computer had a memory of 36k)'. I find it hard to believe that they could send a man to the moon now, let alone almost forty years ago (more than one interviewee suggests they wouldn't do it today because it wouldn't be sufficiently safe).

An interesting quote from Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips (Andrew Smith is also a music journalist): 'That part of outer space, I *love* that, the way it's full of mysteries. It seems to encapsulate the way that the more you understand, the less meaning things have. One of the things that happens as you get older is that you realises that things don't have to have any reason or meaning. The more knowledge and understanding you have, the more you see how random and meaningless everything is. People die and people are born and some wonderful people die when they're twenty and some horrible ones will live to 110. . . no one is sorting this stuff out.' Then Coyne drew a surprising conclusion, saying: 'But that's the way it should be. Goodness is not something that exists in the Universe and that's why, when it happens, when someone comes up to you and they love you and care for you, you can say, 'F! That's a big deal.' If it was the natural order to love and care, as the hippies would have you believe, then what would there be to celebrate?' (p233)

He mentioned an exhibition of Apollo photos at the Hayward Gallery in 1999, Full Moon, which we had been to with Naomi. (Here's the site.)

He also took me by surprise by mentioning Jumpers, by Tom Stoppard, which I'd forgotten contained material relating to the moon landings. Not only mentioned Jumpers, but specifically the 2003 revival at the National Theatre. Bethan and I were watching that play at the National Theatre when - as - my father died in Inverness.

Sunday, 25 June 2006

shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah!

I picked up a Rush compilation cheap in Top Floor CDs (now gone, sadly) earlier this year. I've got a feeling it was part of a box set (it's called Retrospective II: 1981-1987). It covered five albums, three tracks from each, from Moving Pictures to Hold Your Fire. To me the tracks from Moving Pictures were easily the best. But I'm not sure how much of that is because I'd put the hours into listening to that album in years gone by; I wasn't as big a fan as some of my friends were, but I did like Moving Pictures. Maybe I'd like the other album tracks more if I'd put in the hours; although I'd certainly heard Signals before.

I remember reading someone quoting Nick Hornby reviewing a Radiohead album, saying that if he was a teenager he'd devote hours to it and get into it, but now he didn't have the time to devote to records like that - things had to make a quicker impression, there was so much more music that had to be heard. I can relate to that.

Also, I guess some records you have to get at the right age.

The title is a line from Spirit of Radio which I've always liked.

Friday, 23 June 2006

the rutles

The version of Lord Gregory at Sharp's Folk Club might have been the best thing I heard live last year, but the most notable was gig by The Rutles (supported by Neil Innes & Friends) at the 100 Club on 9 June.

I'd been to the 100 Club before, to see Echoes of Ellington, when Tom was playing with them. Not exactly The Sex Pistols, either time.

I'd also seen Neil Innes before, at recordings of the R4 sketch comedy series The Right Time, in which he acted as well as did musical numbers (also featured Eleanor Bron - who was in Help!, if I remember rightly - , Andrew Sachs, Paula Wilcox, Ronnie Golden, and the guy who used to play the Duke of Edinburgh in the Alistair McGowan sketch version of the Royal Family as the Royle Family).

The Rutles and I go back a long way. I must have seen the film on telly and then got the tape at Woolies. It was one of the first tapes I ever had, when there were sufficiently few that they fitted in one stack in one of the units in the back of the sitting room. It's still one of my favourite albums (and I reckon is better than many Beatles albums). I've got an expanded version on CD now, but the best tracks were certainly on the original version.

It was billed as the Rutles farewell tour, but I'm not sure anyone really believed that, and he did say it didn't mean he wouldn't play the songs again.

The support was a three-piece, and I was surprised to find that I had heard most of the songs before, not least because of that R4 series.

I really enjoyed the concert; the audience was full of true believers (although there was a lot of noise from the bar end, especially during the support section), and there was much singing along. I was quite near the front, not far from where those photos in the blog were taken. When he got ready for the encores I shouted for 'Nevertheless', which someone near me laughed at and which made him raise his eyebrows and go 'Oh!' - obviously nobody had ever shouted out for it before. He didn't do it, though. He did do a lovely version of Isn't It A Pity, which made up for it. He fluffed one of the first chords, and stopped to point out that you could see Eric Clapton struggling with the same tricky chord at Concert For George. Nevertheless and Love Life were, I worked out after I got home, the only songs off the original album he didn't do.

Afterwards a big guy, slightly drunk, came up to me with his girlfriend and said something to me about a penguin, which I didn't understand; I had to get him to repeat it a few times, until he pulled the book out of my back pocket, which I'd forgotten was there, and said 'What's the Penguin in your back pocket?' It was a Raymond Chandler, old green penguin; he was a big fan but had never seen this one, and was offering to buy it off me, but I hadn't read it. We had a fine chat. I should have got him to write his address in it and I'd have sent it to him. Ah well. The bus stop for home is just outside the venue; very civilised.

A fistful of links: The 100 Club. Neil Innes. Neil Innes's wife's diary of that tour. Echoes of Ellington. Someone else's blog review of the gig.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006


Saturday's Guardian's list of things we've learnt this week included the fact that there are more female millionaires in the UK than male millionaires.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

take off your trousers, they're offending our sponsor

Also in yesterday's Guardian, this article about the scarcely-believable things official sponsors are able to do under the terms of their agreements - 'Fifa bans shorts bearing logo of Budweiser's rival: Dutch supporters forced to watch game in pants'. There are other examples at the end of the article, including one I remember about a school pupil suspended for wearing a Pepsi t-shirt on a Coke-sponsored school day.

The London 2012 Olympics people are brutally defining how you can use things like the Olympic symbol and words like 'Olympics' and 'London 2012'. Happily, 'The words protected by OSPA can, however, be used in editorial news pieces without our authorisation. And, for example, businesses which have traded under an "Olympic" name for many years may also benefit from an exception to the rules which will allow them to continue to do this.' May!

super caley go ballistic, celtic are atrocious

This article in yesterday's Guardian suggests that the days of clever or punning article headlines in newspapers are numbered, because they don't lend themselves to being found on a search engine. The article includes a few punny headlines, though not the one which in an article some time ago was considered by journalists to be the best ever: Book Lack In Ongar. I also remember reading of 'Foot heads arms body'.

(Here is the New York Times article referred to.)


Edinburgh is further west than Birmingham, as far west as Liverpool. Elephant & Castle is further north than Sloane Square.

Monday, 19 June 2006

original sin

They [at the convent] had prepared her for Oxford, which she supposed she ought to consider a bonus since Mother Bridget had frequently impressed on her that the intention of a true Catholic education was to prepare her for death. They had done that too, but she was less sure that they had prepared her for life.
- p100

'There were a dozen different religions among the children at Ancroft Comprehensive. We seemed always to be celebrating some kind of feast or ceremony. Usually it required making a noise and dressing up. The official line was that all religions were equally important. I must say that the result was to leave me with the conviction that they were equally unimportant. I suppose if you don't teach religion with conviction it becomes just one more boring subject.
- p306
- PD James, Original Sin; Penguin, 1994.

I think the only people happy with the 'equality' introduced by multifaith principles and services are those who believe none of the faiths to be true.

funniest joke in the world

The joke that some research found to be the funniest joke ever, has now been traced back to Spike Milligan in 1951. I'd have thought it could be older still, though - it's pretty straightforward language play.

The joke?

The version in the research went: "Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps: 'My friend is dead! What can I do?' The operator says: 'Calm down, I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.' There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: 'OK, now what?'"

The Milligan version: Bentine: I just came in and found him lying on the carpet there.
Sellers: Oh, is he dead? Bentine: I think so.
Sellers: Hadn't you better make sure? Bentine: Alright. Just a minute.
Sound of two gun shots.
Bentine: He's dead.

abba karenina

Tipped off by The Rocking Vicar, one of my favourite emailing lists, here's a splendid list of band and book names mashed up.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

the displacement of australians

The R4 comedy panel show Heresy, chaired by David Baddiel, is usually good value. There's audience interaction, and on the one I heard on holiday, they were talking to an Australian audience member, and one of the panel asked them, 'What do you think of all these South Africans coming over here and taking your jobs?'.

Friday, 16 June 2006

sean lock's world cup goals programme

Saw a world cup goals programme on holiday, narrated very amusingly by Sean Lock. Among other things, he described Roberto Baggio's haircut as being five haircuts in one, 'like he's won a trolley dash in Toni and Guy's', and pointed out that the strain of managing Germany was causing Jurgen Klinsmann to turn into Carol Thatcher. Jurgen, Carol: it's scary but true.

the patience of a saint

I have the patience of a saint. This is so, of course, because all Christians are saints and I am a Christian. Unfortunately, the saint whose patience I have is me, rather than Saint Patience, the patron saint of patience.

modern art is rubbish part 66

I saw this splendid story in the Evening Standard; here's the BBC version: 'An artist's sculpture has been rejected by the Royal Academy of Arts which has instead opted to display the wooden support it was put on. David Hensel, 64, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, was told the laughing head would be part of the summer exhibition. But at a preview he found that just a piece of wood intended to support the head was on display on the plinth. The Academy said the judging panel assumed the two pieces were separate and decided the support was better.' The link has the full story and photos. The ES version said it was a mistake and they'd forgotten about the head, the BBC and other accounts had the 'separate submissions' explanation, which is worse. Mark Lawson in the Guardian defended it, but his defence - 'Mistaking a plinth for the artwork just proves that art is what we see, not what the artist makes' - doesn't hold water, because what was seen wasn't what the artist made. If anything, the 'artist' in this case is the Royal Academy selectors: it's their piece of found art. They should have signed it.

Monday, 12 June 2006

sealions on my chest

jules rimet still gleaming.

Another good thing about London is that at World Cup time every team is supported by some people here. We only came back on Saturday evening, and have hardly been out, but already we've seen individual flags on cars or houses for Trinidad & Tobago, Brazil, Portugal, Ghana, Spain and Ecuador. And of course England - many more than last time, I think. It's a growth industry, making English flags.

(There was an interesting snippet in Private Eye, I think, about a flag-making company in Wales whose business is booming thanks to people buying flags, of various countries of which they disapprove, in order to burn them.)

'Sealions on my chest' is what I tediously sing instead of the first line of the chorus of Three Lions. Tiny things amuse tiny minds.