Archive for June 2007

Chuckles Vision

June 24, 2007

What’s the easiest way to invigorate a film, TV or literary franchise? You know the scenario: there comes a time when a good idea is strained to breaking point. For ideas that were initially mediocre, this point can arrive even sooner.  Thank you for bearing with me for the past six months, but I think the time is ripe for introducing a new character into this tragi-comic opera.

And so, without further ado, may I introduce you to Chuckles Hutchison?

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 A fine specimen, and one whom I hope will prove a worthy inheritor of The Hutchison Monologues, in time. And of course, you can expect that the latter days of my own tenure at the ‘Logues will be peppered with Chuckles’ nascent adventures.

Big Brotha

June 23, 2007

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 ‘Afternoon, honkies.

Hope you’re all well today. I wonder whether you might help me to resolve a confusion that has arisen in my mind of late. It’s been festering for quite a while. Not quite keeping me up at night or anything, but festering nonetheless.

I’m sure you’re not watching Big Brother at the moment. I’m not either. I used to be quite into it, back in its fifth iteration, but the novelty (such as it still retained on the 5th time around the track) has now vanished entirely. There’s something about watching roomfuls of people shouting at the same time that just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Which is sad, in a way.

Anyway, just because I’m not tuning in anymore doesn’t mean that I won’t give my tuppence worth when events in the BB house leak over into the news. Which they did, you will recall. Said events happened some time ago now, but are as yet unaddressed ‘Logueswise.

Before we begin in earnest, an experiment. I’d like you to think of the most offensive word you can. Got it? Don’t tell me what it is. Probably best not to say it out loud at all, actually.

As you grew up, you’ll have noticed that swear-words are arranged in an unspoken hierarchy. To the chagrin of the devout, religious swear-words tend to be quite near the bottom. Scatalogical ones come next, followed by the sexual ones at the top of the heap. The structure of this hierarchy has always intrigued me. Give a group of people some swear-words, and they’ll usually rank them in a similar order of offensiveness (seriously, try it) but how did this ever come to pass? Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Let’s think (as I’m sure we all do) about a certain enjoyable interpersonal activity. Why should one word for it be OK, whilst the use of another would lead to a swift ejection from any polite gathering?

The most offensive word I can think of is an anatomical reference. This anatomical portion, in itself, is not offensive (to me). Nor are the four letters that make up the word. I use them all the time. However, there is just something about seeing them altogether in the correct order that seems puts the wind up folks. Maybe that’s why people in Scunthorpe have a chip on their shoulder. When I was growing up, my friend told me that this word could never be broadcast on television, in any circumstances. I’m not sure where he was getting his information from, but it was clearly false.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. You’ll recall that a certain word passed the lips of art student and Big Brother contestant Emily Parr. The word was considered so offensive that not only did the addressees need to reflect upon the exchange into the wee hours, but poor old (racist?) Emily was booted out.

I think we all know the word I’m talking about here. That’s right. En eye gee gee ee argh.

Personally, I was surprised by the reaction that this utterance provoked. The sheer level of offence was staggering. I know that Big Brother has been known to turn a blind eye to the odd bit of racism in the past, and is obviously wanting to be seen as taking a firm stance now. But was all the furore justified? This is where I’m confused, and would welcome your thoughts. 

This word is everywhere. Watch Pulp Fiction. It is used by both black and white characters, to refer to both black and white characters. It is used to address people, and in conversation about people. I just choose this film as an example, as I’m sure there are loads of others. What about Amazing Grace? Can a word like this be used if it is being used in a historical context? I don’t see people campaigning for either film to be pulled from the shelves.

The same goes for music: isn’t this term common currency in certain genres such as rap? I was having a little look at The African American Registry, in which I found an interesting article about the history of this word. It talks about the increasing popularity of the word amongst young, urban black people, who use it as a pally way to greet each other (apparently). I seem to recall it popping up in a Michael Jackson song at some point in his extensive, accomplished canon. Is it OK for Michael to say it because he’s black? Of course, he’d be the first one to claim that it don’t matter if you’re black or white. Not if you’re thinking about being his baby, that is.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have very strong views about this. I have no particular urge to be allowed to use the word, in the same way that I don’t really wish to make regular use of words like quadragintesimal or galactophagist. They are of no use to me. But I do wonder:

If this word is so offensive, how can it be allowed to appear in films, music and books, but not on Big Brother? And does it stop being offensive when it is used by a black person to greet a black friend, or a white person to greet a white friend? If so, would it be OK for a white person to use it to greet a black friend? I wouldn’t mind if a black friend used it to address me, although I do not presume to speak for all those of paler complexion.

Sorry for the ramble. Best just not say it at all until we get all this sorted out.

Working On It

June 22, 2007

You join me as I try to drag myself out of an unprecedented hiatus in bloguing. Yes, the blogue’s been on hold for a little while, but the masses (as is their wont) have been clamouring. Truth be told, my mind has been awash with blogue-fodder recently. Yet, somehow, putting finger to key has been something of an effort.

I’ve lived my life on the computer recently. You see, I am in the final throes of a thesis, which needs to be submitted on the 1st of August. You’ll know all about this, if you’ve been keeping up. It’s not going too badly. Today I managed to address (i.e. better conceal) a few methodological concerns. Yesterday was spent trying to shoehorn some new findings into a pre-written discussion. You should try it sometime.

Anyway, all this thesis chat will be boring for the likes of you. I need something to snag your interest.

Nothing’s coming.

I’ve been spending a bit of time refurbishing the cupboard under the stairs. From here on in, this will be the place from which I will update the ‘logues. So you can picture me at it, if that’s your thing. I’ve been in here for most the past week.

the-epicentre.jpgI’ve been thinking (as I do whenever I have a lengthy break from work) what it would be like not to have a job at all. To be terminally and voluntarily unemployed. If your plodding imagination needs a hand with this, why not imagine that you’ve scooped a preposterous windfall. A lottery win perhaps. Or maybe you’ve found some treasure. Go with what works. Now, imagine that you are now possessed of a suitable amount of wealth to sustain you until the end of your days. What do you do?

People probably fall into a couple of different camps here. You get the idealistic chumps who say it wouldn’t change their life, and they’d carry on just like before. That’s because they’re not doing their job for the money, they’re doing it for the satisfaction of developing themselves or helping others, or because it’s a pleasant way to pass the time.

Then there are those who’d leave their jobs in a shot, probably taking a moment to moon their colleagues on the way out.

As a contrary sort, I tend to number myself amongst the latter group when I’m at work. There are times when I can imagine nothing better than to live a life of unfettered leisure. I’ve been reading some poems by Philip Larkin recently, courtesy of line manager, Larkin-enthusiast, and some-time ‘logues commentator Wee Gorbals. Larkin was of the view that work was like a toad squatting on his life, polluting six days a week with its sickening poison. His poem Toads perfectly encapsulates his distaste for occupational activity.

But what’s the alternative? All the time I’ve been off this week, I’ve been fairly busy with my thesis. But what would I do once it was done? I suspect that I lack the imagination and drive to lead an interesting life of unemployment. I’d probably get up most days. Read a book, maybe. Ah, lunchtime. A DVD for the afternoon, perchance, followed by a walk to Tesco’s? Maybe tidy up a bit. Of course, there’d be no one around to talk to, since they’d all be at work. There’d be no excuse for leaving the blogue to lie dormant, I suppose, but would it be the sort of life that might make for a happy death-bed reminiscence? Not that that’s the be all and end all either, I guess. No one stays on their death-bed for long, after all.

Where was all this going? Nowhere very significant, really. I was just thinking out loud. My conclusion? Work is probably a good thing for me, because the sort of life I would lead without it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

What are the Chances?

June 8, 2007

 

And those bizarre, one-in-a-million coincidences that seem impossible to explain are going to happen somewhere, to someone. Occasionally they’ll happen to you.

Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my life! I can’t seem to get that through to you! I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody! I’m talking about form, I’m talking about content, I’m talking about inter-relationships! I’m talking about God, the devil, hell, heaven! Do you understand, Finally?

Harding, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Greetings.

I anticipate that this post may be slightly longer than the average, so please bear with me. I’m not sure whether a point will become apparent as I write. At present, the point seems to hang slightly beyond the reach of my fumbling articulation. However, if it all ends up in a chaotic mess, then, well, maybe that’s important in itself.

Recently, I’ve been reading Tricks of the Mind by bearded mentalist Derren Brown. I’ve just finished it. It’s a fascinating, not to mention challenging, read. I was reading it on the bus home from work on Monday, and he was talking about the nature of coincidence. His thesis, essentially, is that coincidences are really just those chance events which stick in the memory and are ascribed greater significance than other chance events.

 This struck a chord with me: earlier that day, two (and only two) new patients had been referred to me, from separate sources. A quick perusal of their respective addresses revealed that they were next-door neighbours. This sort of thing tends to make one look twice. On one level, it seems remarkable. But of course, it isn’t any less likely than any other two addresses appearing on the respective referral forms. It’s just that the latter scenario would never make it into a blog post.

You see, stuff is happening all the time. Most of it is unremarkable. That which happens to be remarkable is remembered at the expense of that which isn’t. Therefore, we over-estimate the frequency of the remarkable, forgetting that nothing, like something, happens everywhere. As I sat there on the bus, I started thinking about whether Derren Brown had the right idea.

As I write, I seem to recall putting together a post on this very subject. What caused me to put finger to keyboard in that instance? The fact that every single one of my patients turned up that day, the first ‘full house’ in over a year. It hasn’t happened again since, until today. What a coincidence.

Anyway, I hopped off the bus at Lothian Road and made my way down to the Exchange to catch the next one. And as I was on my way, a cursory pat of my various pockets revealed that I was walletless. After a repeated check of all possible pockets, pouches and orifices, I realised that it might still be on the bus from which I had recently alighted.

I took a moment to set my face into the expression of steely determination which seems to benefit the sprinter, and took off. I eventually caught up with it at the Mound. I was very pleased with myself. I staggered on board, taking a moment to explain my predicament to the driver via the medium of flailing hand gestures and assorted panting. Truth be told, I rather expected that having managed to catch the bus again, the wallet would still be on it. It’s quite hard to explain, but I almost felt like having negotiated half the length of Princes Street, it was only right that it should be there. That I was somehow entitled to find it, and that this was the way it would all work out. Naturally, it wasn’t there.

It is an extremely long walk from the Lothian Road to where I live. You’ll remember the day I lost my bus card, and the consternation it caused? This time, I didn’t have the luxury of paying with money instead. All my cards, money and a little bit of my soul were in the wallet, see? 

Anyway, I began to trudge home. Knowing how long it was going to take, and imagining the usurper of my wallet was already making extravagant purchases on Amazon with my debit card, I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be excellent to find a pound on the ground, with which I could get a bus home?’. I prayed that I would find one, but find one I did not. It seems you just can’t get a coincidence when you really need one.

An hour-and-a-half later, I was home. Once I cancelled all my cards (enlisting the help of Mrs H whenever I was told I ‘didn’t have the authority’), I made a mental list of everything that would need to be sorted out if the wallet didn’t materialise. While I was doing so, Mrs H told me that she’d received a text from Arnold Clark (our mechanic of choice) reminding her that the car was due a service. Apparently, the text arrived as she was driving past that very branch of Arnold Clark on the way home from work.

Anyway, the next day, I got an email from the bank. Someone had handed the wallet in. I phoned the receptionist at the bank, who said that I could pop in to collect it at my convenience. So I did. And when I got there, I was greeted by a familiar face. The receptionist and I, it turned out, share the same bus back from work every day.

Now, all this is very strange. At the same time as I am pondering the nature of ‘coincidences’, they seem to be happening all the time. Is it just because I’m looking out for and remembering them? And if there really has been an increase in ‘coincidences’ (conjunctions of events that seem meaningful to me) what does that mean? Of all the people thinking these sort of thoughts, at least one of us is likely to perceive an increase in these ‘coincidences’ at the same time. Perhaps that’s what’s happened to me.

Or is Someone trying to tell me something?

The Public Life of Plants

June 6, 2007

I’m having another thesis day today. You’ll have guessed that the increased frequency of these indicates that I might need to be handing it in soon. This is indeed the case. I’m looking to get it in on the first of August. But let’s put all that to one side for the minute.

You’ll have heard me waxing lyrical about gardening in the past. I know what you’re thinking: what an unrewarding pastime. You’d be forgiven for jumping to this conclusion. The rewards of gardening, like the nutrients in a good John Innes compost, are decidedly slow-release.

Luckily (for you) all of this agonisingly-protracted joy can now be condensed into a few brief seconds. Observe:

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This is the hosta outside my kitchen window. I ask you: did ere you see an aureomarginata so gay? It certainly puts all that David Attenborough time-lapse guff in the shade (the ideal position, incidently, for hostas).

Truth be told, the long-planned animation is something of an anticlimax. But there’s something about the expended effort that makes it difficult not to make a blog post out of it.

More Zombies

June 5, 2007

still.jpg More film reviews, I think. Or rather, just the one. Shall we turn our attention to 28 Weeks Later? Yes, let’s. 

28 WL is the sequel to 28 Days Later. For those who haven’t seen either film, may I draw your attention to the plot keywords proffered by our friends at IMDB, just to give you a flavour?

The terms most pertinent to the plot of 28DL, apparently, are ‘Soft Drink’, ‘Zombie’, ‘Dress’, ‘London’, and ‘Vomiting’. Those phrases that lend themselves more to the sequel are ‘Torso Cut In Half’, ‘Shot To Death’, ‘Horror’, ‘Shot In The Chest’ and ‘Survival Horror’. Deary me.

The premise of both films is this: there’s a virus on the loose. If you catch it, it makes you extremely angry. In your anger, you will feel compelled to bring about the gory demise of those around you. And if, in the process, you manage to swap bodily fluids with someone, they catch the virus too, and will join you in your murderous rampage.

Oh, and once you’re infected, you’re seemingly safe from the unsavoury attentions of your zombie chums. In the midst of their gibbering fury, they’re still able to reliably distinguish their infected colleagues from the as-yet normal, and focus their blood-letting efforts squarely on the latter. So that’s super.

The real strength of these films is that they fly in the face of the standard zombie conventions. These critters have none of the lanquid perambulation we see in the early George Romero stuff (in theory, the zombies in Night of the Living Dead could be thwarted by walking briskly in the opposite direction). Nay, these ones are light of foot, red of eye, and tend to dribble a bit.

Memorable moments include the dramatic sweeping vistas of a deserted London (they’re all dead, you see). And I was rather taken with the vision of the Wembley pitch left untended for several months. It’s the little touches like this that make it stick in the mind somewhat.

For all of that, though, it’s perhaps a little bit too much like the first one. Albeit with an interesting conceit: semi-immunity. When Robert Carlyle leaves his wife in the care of the zombies in order to save himself, he never expects that he’ll see her again, alive and (sort of) well, and have to explain his selfish actions. Still, he gets his comeuppance.

I thought it was excellent, and will surely avail myself of the inevitable threequel. Without giving too much away, it’ll probably be subtitled.

Naked Ambition

June 1, 2007

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

gok.jpg I was doing a cursory channel hop the other night (how you must envy me) when I came across a programme called How to Look Good Naked. The premise (for those who have thus far forgotten to tune in) is simple: a somewhat dowdy but pleasant-enough lady is placed in the care of uber-effeminate stylist Gok Wan. His mission is to get said woman to overcome that ingrained impulse to remain clothed in public. And thus the stage is set.

I only caught the uplifting denouement of the last show, in which the fruit of Gok Wan’s latest labour was (quite literally) displayed for all to see. Being able to wear a bikini in the middle of a shopping centre is no doubt a useful skill, and I certainly don’t deny that the lady in question looked most appealing as she paraded around in the near-altogether. However, I would probably question whether this behaviour, in itself, proves that one Looks Good Naked. I doubt this would be the verdict of the majority (or indeed the police) were I to give it a go.

Compelling as these programs are, I can’t help thinking they promote a weird, confusing ideology. On the one hand, looks are seen as the most important thing in a person’s identity. So much so that a smug Sarth Efrickan might suggest that you undergo the sort of surgery that leaves you looking like the recently beaten up, in order that she can parade you up and down the beach getting the public to guess your age. Brrr.

On the other, we’re also told that what we look like doesn’t really matter, and it’s what’s inside that counts. As Trinny would say (whilst laying a patronising hand on the shoulder of her latest frumpy protégé), ‘I think that the clothes are just the surface of this problem, Suze’.

This tension is nicely embodied in the How to Look Good Naked Site. It starts off saying all the right things, like how the media sets us unrealistic standards for what we should look like, and how we should be confident with what we’ve got and learn to respect ourselves. All very sensible, I’m sure. Then it gives us a list of 8 rules (not recommendations, mind) on which to base a beauty regime, which, if carried out to the letter, would probably take the best part of a week. And since they’re rules to be followed on a ‘weekly basis’, the whole process becomes suspiciously like painting the Forth Bridge: once you’ve finished, it’s already time to start again.

Have a look at the rules if you’re worried you’re falling short of the minimum aesthetic standard. I won’t reproduce them all here, but will mention one particular maxim with which I was quite taken: ‘your muff area should always be maintained’. Only the effeminate could get away with it.

What a lot of pressure. We’ve got to be grounded, confident people, whilst also maintaining an A-list appearance. It isn’t easy. But here’s a good tip for all those (like me) who fail to find solace at the spectacle of their naked selves.

Wear clothes.