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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Genius? That’ll Be Everything You’ve Got, Madam

The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever.  Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon.  It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.

If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art.  There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.

But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it).  I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy.  Plus, I have children – and children interrupt.  It is inevitable.

Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home.  Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently.  It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.

So what to do?

I would like to suggest a different model of genius.  I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration.  But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding.  To put it epigrammatically:

Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on.  That is her tragedy.

No man does: that is his.

I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can.  This is due to a lack of balance.  Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.

I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea.  But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…

Kirk out

PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in.  That is not the case

 

 

 

 

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Murder Most Florid

Ken Branagh is rapidly turning in my mind into a combination of Busby Berkeley and Ken Russell, what with the extravaganza of his ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (which I watched last week) and now this week the latest incarnation of Agatha Christie which was the Ken vehicle of 2017.

I wouldn’t have bothered, not being a fan of either Christie or Branagh – but I had heard good reports of this film.  Besides, I wanted something to do on a Friday night.  So off we went.

As is usual with these things, the cast featured the brightest and best – it was, however, often cast against type with Johnny Depp as a scarred villain, Judi Dench as a spoilt aristocrat and Olivia Coleman as her dour, repressed lady’s companion.  Brannagh was pretty good as Poirot; better than David Suchet and throwing all his florid tendencies into portraying a controlled, thoughtful man with OCD.  But what really lifted this above the run-of-the-mill was the cinematography; and here I am aware of lacking a vocabulary with which to describe it.

To start with there were crowd scenes; panoramic establishing shots and hurried sweeps through crowded kitchens and railway stations – these scenes basically propel Poirot from hotel room to train carriage – and off they go.  The problem with filming these things is that although the train is moving, the location is static; the characters are in a train carriage and there’s nowhere to go.  Brannagh solves this problem by going Big: the camera sweeps up and down, going up to the sky to film from above and sweeping under the carriages and bridges like a refugee trying to find a home.  In the climactic scene where the train breaks down and the murderer is revealed, the humans are dwarfed surreally not only by the mountains around but by the vast mechanical bulk of the still-steaming engine: there was something in all this that reminded me of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  So all in all, I would say it’s worth seeing and worth going to see, as not much of this would come across on a DVD.

Kirk out

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Oh, So We’re All Americans Now? Not This Baby!

So today is Black Friday.  What?  What the hell is that?  I’ve heard of Good Friday and Friday the Thirteenth Parts One to Ten-and-a-half but I absolutely refuse to know anything What So Ever about Black Friday.  It has no meaning here.  It is a hollow import which some traders have latched onto to sell Even More Stuff because, let’s face it, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night just ain’t enough to fill the gap between holidays and Christmas.  I’m daily expecting some marketing whizz to come up with a selling point for Michaelmas (29th September) so that once the stocks of school uniforms (pens, pads, textbooks) are exhausted we can all buy – well, whatever it is they might come up with.  I mean, why should September miss out when January has holidays, February Valentine’s, March and April Easter eggs, May and June gardening and July and August family holidays?  October has Hallowe’en and November Guy Fawkes, after (or during) which Christmas begins.  And what has September got?

It’s just not right.

But in spite of everyone in the world wanting to be American (according to my friend in Iowa anyway) many of us resist these imports.  It is not part of our culture; it has no relevance to our habits and my hope is that like a Bonfire Night sparkler, it will have but a short time to live before it withers and dies.

In my youth it was fashionable to look to America for a lead: it was still a young country (or we thought of it as such) and in the vanguard of popular culture.  But now many of us regard Uncle Sam as a bloated, overindulged, gas-guzzling, obese, intolerant figure – and don’t even get me started on Trump.  Sorry guys but I’d prefer Tierra del Fuego or the Isle of Lewis to most parts of the US.  I mean, you have no publicly funded health system (and what little Obama managed to scrape through is rapidly being dismantled) you have far too many guns and no BBC.  So thanks, but no thanks.

(On the other hand, you do have some stonking literature: see previous post –

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/i-went-to-the-library-because-i-wanted-to-read-deliberately/)

Kirk out

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