Friday, 28 July 2006

Calls cost no more than 55c; please ask the bill payer first

I'd like a community consensus on this one please. Yesterday morning we had run out of milk and I contemplated putting cheese in my tea. Is this wrong of me?

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Just below a triangle and slightly above the kazoo

For some reason I’d always thought that the bagpipes were a difficult instrument to play. There seemed to be more pipes than a tweed convention and some sort of circular breathing that needed to be mastered. What I worked out today is that it’s all complete bollocks. It turns out that the noble Scottish instrument is just a recorder with a hopper. Take a look at the picture.

If you ignore the Renaissance fair reject you can see it’s just a big balloon with a pair of pipes out the top to allow air in and out, a lengthened neck for the ‘musician’ to blow into (no tricky didgeridoo type breathing needed there Angus), and a stem out the bottom to play the different notes on.

Zooming in, you can even see that this final part is just the bottom of a recorder. No wonder it always sounds like a bunch of cats sliding down a blackboard; the whole thing is just a child’s instrument played loudly. The recorder is a terrible instrument to start with so quite why anyone would want to stick an inflatable amp on to it is completely beyond me.

I’ll acknowledge the historical worth of the bagpipe but my cousin Cressy at age 8 could master the tune from Eastenders on her recorder so how hard can it be to combine this with squeezing a big bladder at the some time?

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

It's not a joke if you have to explain it

It was 1991 and the sports shoe stood alone as the most important fashion accessory (at least to the 14 year-old boys in my year). One kid was strides ahead of anyone else I went to school with – Sloth. It wasn’t that he had amazing fashion sense or a gay uncle in the clothing trade, he just had a truck-tonne of the things. I don’t remember exactly how many he had but the bottom of his cupboard was… well, you know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indy drops the burning torch to the floor of the hidden chamber and a writhing fury of snakes is revealed? It was like that but instead of venom and scales and fangs think white faux leather, multicoloured laces and names like Jordan, Pump and All-Star.

In prep one evening (20 boys all sharing the same room for two hours every night to prep-are their homework for the next day) the sixth-former who was supervising us (I don’t remember his name but he was a lanky wanna-be English surfer type) got bored and started making the rounds. He wandered around the room looking in people’s lockers and tuck boxes (yes, some people still had tuck boxes; no, we didn’t use words like ‘what-o’, ‘gosh’ or ‘spiffing’) for food to borrow. When Surfer-boy got to Sloth’s he let out a “Fuckin’ Hell” when he saw how many trainers were in there. The older boy then proceeded to empty the locker of shoes into a pile on the floor counting off as he did so. I forget how high he got but I imagine it was somewhere in the mid-twenties. “Why the fuck do you need so many shoes?” the pseudo-slacker asked. Sloth just shrugged and said that he liked them.

For no reason at all I decided to chip in with “Yeah, his mum’s Imelda Marcos.”

The sixth-former looked confused and turned to Sloth, “Is your mum someone famous?”

I should have realised that my attempt at a joke had been pitched at the wrong audience. Instead of walking away from the microphone and working on my material some more, I decided to try and clarify matters, “She was this wife of the leader in the Philippines and when they kicked her out they found thousands of shoes that she didn’t even wear.”

I had made the cardinal adolescent mistake of making the biggest guy in the playground look stupid. For the remainder of prep he made sure that I was mocked as much as possible. He went through all my stuff, pointing fun at my Dungeons and Dragons dice (RPGs are never cool), the Chelsea magazine I was reading (we didn’t start playing well until the mid-nineties) and the picture of Niki Taylor I had on my notice board (“That your girlfriend?”). I didn’t enjoy the experience but it wasn’t actually that bad as the idiot never came up with anything more witty than “Ohh, say something clever now Clever-boy”. The thing that hurt the most was that as if by magic all my food was missing by the time the teenage Nazi had left the building. He even took the packet of emergency Chedders that lurked at the bottom of every tuck box, only to be opened if you’d eaten every other source of food including (non-chocolate) Hob-Nobs, black jellybeans and toothpaste.

Afterwards Sloth gave me a dead arm. I don’t think he had a specific reason but somewhere in his Neanderthal brain he’d picked up that I’d made fun of him. He wasn’t exactly sure how but it was easier for him to hit me than to try and defend the Marcos government’s footwear purchase policy.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Or if we break the word down, Damage-Joy; ‘Schaden' meaning damage and ‘Freude’ meaning joy.

The reason Laurell & Hardy, Itchy & Scratchy and (insert country here)’s Funniest Home Videos are so popular is that it’s enjoyable to watch someone other than you take a pie to the face or getting hit in the groin with a football. There is research to show that this is the most universal, and therefore it's theorized, oldest type of humour. If this is the case, if laughing at others really is that basic why do we still use an obviously Kraut word to describe this phenomenon? Why hasn’t a shorter and easier to spell version of the word entered common usage? The closest English word we have is slapstick but that is the type of comedy rather than the actual act of “Ha! Rupert just slipped on a banana skin.”

There is a touch of shame associated with laughing at other people’s misfortune so perhaps by keeping the Germanic moniker it somehow allows us to blame them for this theater of the macabre in much the same way as we blame the French for rudeness, Americans for obesity and the Canadians for Tom Green.

The problem with comics

I remember reading a comic when I was little (not sure when exactly but definitely younger than ten) that had a story about the Beagle Boys breaking out of prison but the Moon was so bright that they almost got caught. It all gets a bit hazy at this point but for some reason they decide to get back at the Moon by blacking it out, thus making any future night time heists more likely to succeed. They some how jump-started a rocket, landed on the moon and then proceed to colour the lunar surface with black paint. I don’t know how it ended but I’m sure Scrooge McDuck turned up, foiled their plan and made some quip about how they should "Look on the BRIGHT side!".

Ignoring the whole viscosity of house paint in the frozen waste of space issue, the point is that I grew up reading about scenarios where best practice was to dye Tranquility Base rather than, oh, I don’t know, cutting the alarm system or drugging the guards. No wonder my decision-making is a bit flawed at times.