Monthly Archives: December 2017

It’s All In The -rist

I have made mention of this little gem of a sitcom in the past:

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/8343

and as all the world surely knows by now, a metal detector is the piece of kit but the person operating it is called a detectorist.

Detectorists is now back for a third series and though it’s still consigned to the relative backwaters of BBC 4, the Beeb is finally promoting it.  I wasn’t quite sure about this series at first: Andy and Becky are back from Botswana where Andy was working on a dig; they have no money and are living with her mother whilst saving for a house.  Andy ends up quitting his job on a local dig because his boss doesn’t give a toss about Roman floors; meanwhile the field where they have been detecting for years, is under threat of development.

But from a rather slow start the series has built to last week’s stonking episode.  I won’t give it all away since it may still be languishing on your ‘downloads’ list or you may yet have to catch up on the series as a whole: suffice it to say that everything comes together and rather than the gentle comedy which usually prevails, this episode is a firecracker.  There’s one brilliant joke after another; the best one being when the pals decide to save a tree by putting a bat box in it.  For more information they phone the Bat Action Line which turns out to be staffed by none other than their arch-rivals, the Dirt-Sharks (aka Simon and Garfunkel) who happen to be in a nearby field.  The dialogue goes like this:

Phil:  could you turn off your phone please?  It’s interfering with my detector.

Paul:  I’ve had a call.

Phil:  So?  Just turn it off

Paul:  But it’s on the bat-phone!

Sheer genius.  Much more than this is afoot and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds next week.  In the meantime, here’s the episode in question:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09hgdx2/detectorists-series-3-episode-5

Kirk out

 

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That Thought Would Never Have Occurred to Me

Occasionally you meet with an opinion on some everyday phenomenon which rocks you back on your heels, not necessarily because it’s controversial but because it’s so totally out there: it’s a thought that would never, in a million years, have occurred to you.  The latest example of this meme (if you can call it that, which you can’t) happened the other evening.  I was at a meeting in a room with an artwork on the wall, showing Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.  It was a 3-D effigy and the flames were very colourful; I smiled at it once or twice, thought how unusual it was to see Guy Fawkes rather than a bonfire plus fireworks and set off on a nostalgic journey to a childhood where groups of kids wandered the streets with a stuffed suit in a wheelbarrow shouting ‘penny for the guy!’  We were never allowed to walk the streets, but we did make a guy every year by stuffing some old clothes of my Dad’s with newspaper.  This guy went on the bonfire and was a central part of the festivities, along with hand-held sparklers, wall-mounted Catherine wheels and distant rockets whose failure to explode would be investigated by a torch-wielding parent.  I loved Bonfire Night and have regretted that of late it has been superseded by Hallowe’en: it does seem to be making a comeback, though, possibly connected in some vague way to Brexit.

But in all these years it never occurred to me to think of the burning of Guy Fawkes as anti-Catholic.  Sure, I knew the story, but as far as I was concerned these religious divisions were buried deep in the past.  Bonfire Night was an anti-authoritarian night of fun; nothing more.  So I was quite taken aback to hear someone say, after the meeting, that she was shocked by the picture on the wall.

‘Shocked?’ we asked.  ‘How so?’

‘It’s so anti-Catholic,’ she affirmed.

I think we were all taken aback by this view of things.  Most others took my view of things, that the 5th of November has been so long divorced from those political acts that inspired it, as to have no relevance.  If it inspires any feelings nowadays beyond family fun, it is a general antipathy to politicians: I don’t think it would occur to anybody to associate it with anti-Catholicism.  After all, nobody thinks about the torture of St Catherine when they look at a Catherine wheel, do they?

Am I wrong?  Am I living in an Anglican bubble?  Do Catholics still take offence at Bonfire Night?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

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For The Love of Money

Recently my OH has got a bee in his bonnet about bitcoin.  In my mind bitcoin is a sort of gold-coloured object like the new pound coins which you bite on to see if it’s real.  But although OH has tried several times to explain what bitcoin actually is, I have no concept of it.  Apparently it’s a thing you make yourself, though what manner of thing I don’t know.  Maybe you need a 3-D printer?

One thing I do understand – bitcoin is an alternative to money which can make money.  At the moment, anyway, until everyone gets into it.

All of this reminds me somewhat of the Leaf.  The Leaf was an alternative currency used by Leicester LETS (Local Exchange and Trading Scheme) a group who offered skills and goods without the use of LSD.  By which I mean pounds, shillings and pence (hang on, that ought to be LP now…) anyway, the idea was to use skills and to exchange goods which would otherwise not be saleable in the mainstream economy.  Hence if you were good at gardening but without qualifications or experience, you could offer your skills, get paid in Leaves and then use those Leaves to buy, say, an old bike or some window-cleaning.

In theory it was great.  What led to its eventual demise was that people got just as hung up on the value of their leaves as they did about cash.  People ended up with leaves they couldn’t spend because either they couldn’t find what they wanted or there was a gap in the economy.  It was like having vouchers for McDonalds…

But my take on it was, it ought not to matter.  The point was not the Leaf per se; the point was to do things for each other which otherwise wouldn’t have got done, and to recycle things which would otherwise have gone to landfill (though Freecycle has now taken over this role.)

LETS groups tended to work best in smaller, contained communities where people already knew each other.  In a large city such as Leicester there were sadly too many people prepared to take without giving.

But I’ve strayed from my point, which was going to be this: in the end, no matter what currency you have, whether it’s bitcoin or Leaves or pounds sterling, none of it is real.  It is merely a system which everyone has agreed to treat as if it were real.  On the back of a fiver it says (I’m working from memory here since I don’t have any actual notes to look at) ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds.’  In other words, it’s a promissory note.  It ain’t real.

And these days when we’re more likely to see figures on a screen than notes and coins, it becomes less real by the day.

It’s true – I’ve bitten it.

Which brings me  finally to the most often misquoted passage of the Bible.  It isn’t money that’s the root of all evil: it’s the love of money:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

I think we can see this every day.

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Are Facebook Friends Funny?

If Quakers have a fault, it’s that they tend to be a Bit Serious.  There’s a Puritan streak in there somewhere, what with the teetotalism and all, and even though there are at least two jokes about Quakers (I’ve told them before but I’ll tell them again in a minute) they – or we – don’t tend to be great comedians (Stephen Fry excepted, but then he’s not actually a practising Friend.)

So it was with immense joy that I pounced on a new Friends Facebook group.  In addition to my ‘Withnail and I Appreciation Group’ which keeps me mentally healthy (see https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/hamlet-is-not-quite-as-funny/) the Quaker groups I belong to are all relatively respectful and calm, considering it’s Facebook, and people post lengthy screeds on subjects such as renewal and worship.  But it’s not a bundle of laughs.  Enter the Association of Bad Friends.  I have high hopes that this will be a great source of merriment since it is a requirement of membership that you Be Funny – and if, as I hope, my membership is approved, I will tell them this story:

Once upon a time a local meeting decided to have a weekend away.  They went to Woodbrooke and held lots of sessions on different subjects; then on the Saturday evening they decided to put on an entertainment.  Part of this entertainment was a skit called ‘The Worst Meeting’ during which people arrived late (and noisily) a mobile went off and was answered, and I got up and told this joke:

Three pieces of string walk into a bar.  The first piece of string walks up to the bar: the barman says, ‘Are you a piece of string?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t serve pieces of string in here – get out.’

The second piece of string walks up to the bar.  The barman repeats the question: the string admits to being a piece of string, whereupon he says, ‘I told your friend.  We don’t serve pieces of string.  Get out.’

The third piece of string is somewhat the worse for wear, all ragged at the edges and bulky in the middle.  He waddles up to the bar.  The barman sighs.  ‘Are you a piece of string, too?’

‘No,’ he answers.  ‘I’m a frayed knot.’

Such was the unusualness of this joke that some members of that meeting still call me ‘String.’

OK so here are the jokes about Quakers:

Q:  Why are Quakers like economists?

A:  Because when you ask three Quakers a question you get four different answers.

Q:  Why do Quakers sing hymns so slowly?

A:  Because they’re reading the next verse to see if they agree with it

I’ll let you know about the Facebook group.

Kirk out

 

 

 

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The Selfish Genius

I’m becoming obsessed by this theme right now.  I wake in the early dawn and try to figure it out: what is the best way to live if you have an all-consuming talent?  I am not content with the traditional models of ‘selfish genius’ which dictate that in order to follow your inner voice you have to ignore everything – and more crucially everyone – else.  This is what male writers have traditionally done; and recently women are going there too: there’s a whole plethora of articles exhorting women writers to be selfish, to put themselves first, to ignore the children and carve out writing time.

Now, this needs a little deconstruction in the context of households where women have traditionally put themselves last.  We were conditioned to ignore our own needs, or at best put them on the back burner.  When everyone else’s needs have been satisfied, then it’s your turn.  Trouble is, that turn never arrives; you catch your breath for a moment  before realising, like poor old Barbara in The Royle Family, that having cooked, served and eaten Christmas dinner you are now faced with a kitchen full of washing-up.  I have to admit when I watched this episode I had an overwhelming urge to kick Jim out of his chair and into some good quality rubber gloves (sorry a bit of Withnail got in there by mistake)  (oh no, another bit!)

Deep breath.  So, in that context yes, it is entirely in order that Barbara should boot Jim into the kitchen to do his bit while she goes upstairs to write something sensational.  However it’s not only in the carving out of time that the selfish genius rears its head.  Write what you know is the advice – and it’s good advice – the trouble is that you also end up writing who you know.  Literary history is littered with friends of the writer who have recognised themselves in print and decided that since the passages can’t be deleted, they’ll delete the friendship instead.  This is not to mention the wives, ex-wives, lovers and partners of authors who can find themselves writ large in two hundred sizzling pages.  Not unnaturally, these people feel betrayed.

And of course the third thing that writers always do is steal.

So here’s the thing: how does one become a great writer without being a total sh*t?

That’s not a rhetorical question.  I actually want to know.

Kirk out

PS: what do you think of the title?  It came to me in the night and I thought it was pure ge…

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Hamlet is not Quite as Funny…

Image result for withnail and I open source images

I take as my text today the script of Withnail and I: yes, all of it – for as I have so consistently pointed out the entire film is basically a collection of quotes linked by a somewhat haphazard plot.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094336/?ref_=nv_sr_1

But my subject this morning is not the film per se, but the Facebook group.  It is my contention that The Withnail and I Appreciation Society is one of the healthiest groups on social media.  Why?  Because it allows people to hurl the most terrible insults at each other with impunity.  When someone calls me a terrible c**t, I chuckle; when a man declares that he means to have me even if it must be burglary, I laugh uproariously and when people ‘feel unusual’ I’m not a bit spooked.   Because the film licences this rudeness, which is not about the person you’re talking to but about your shared enjoyment of the film.  And this is very healthy I think.

This is what happens: people post pictures, memes and links to news stories on which to hang their references to the film.  And because the film has a thousand and one quotable bits, it just keeps on going.  As a youth I used to weep in butcher’s shops.  I’ve only just begun to grow last year.  The joint I am about to roll can utilise up to twelve skins.  It is called the Camberwell Carrot.  This will tend to make you very high.  Bollocks, I’ll swallow it and run a mile.  That wouldn’t wash with Geoff.  Imagine getting into a fight with the f***er.

It’s not all insults: you can offer sherry, fulminate about cats or eulogise root vegetables.  You can talk about garlic, rosemary and salt or good quality rubber boots; you can tell Miss Blennerhasset to call the police or demand the finest wines known to humanity.  You can even go on holiday by mistake.

The film ends with a soliloquy from hamlet, another play that’s full of quotable bits.  Though Hamlet isn’t quite as funny…

Marwood out.

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Evolving a Theory of Genius

And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but  the mathematician Gauss:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Friedrich_Gauss

He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating.  He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke.  So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly,  when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’  This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it.  I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse.  I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:

genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.

The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument.  Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration.  Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it?  Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them?  Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.

So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question.  It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true.  It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year.  I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna.  It is not in me to do this.  Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.

So, to summarise my calculations:

genius ≠ being an arse

10,000 hours ≠ genius

genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration

So there you have it.  Now go forth and multiply.

(In a good way.)

And here’s the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09gbnfj

Kirk out

 

 

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