April may be the cruelest month but January has to be the longest; I started back at work last Monday with great enthusiasm but somehow by the middle of this week I was thinking, ‘is it still January? Surely it must be nearly the end of the month!’ Nope, not even close. We’re only just in the middle of this interminable period and already we’ve had snow, sleet, ice, freezing winds and more bad news than any soul can reasonably be expected to bear. So today I shall be steering clear of all that; no politics or weather or political weather, no news or current affairs. This will be a virus-free zone. Vaccines will not come near, neither shall impeachments or inaugurations. Violent insurrections will not touch it…
You get the picture. I got slightly into Monty Python mode there like the sketch from The Holy Grail: ‘Three shall be the number thou shalt count. And the number of the counting shall be three. Five is right out…’ and so on; this was perhaps in my head because of last night’s TV, as Mark Kermode touched on the Python films in his whistle-stop tour of British comedy, one episode of the BBC Four series on British cinema. And very amusing it was too. If there was rather too much in the way of Carry Ons, there was also a gratifying amount of Withnail to balance it out, and what the programme lacked in critical analysis it made up for in sheer nostalgia value. I’m tempted to go into a rant about how much of current TV is banal waffle, but this is going to be a light-hearted post so I won’t. As well as this, OH and I have really enjoyed Staged, and I hope you’ve caught up with this as well. It’s a brilliant spoof reality show with David Tennant and Michael Sheen chatting on zoom and trying to score points as they compare their careers and lives in lockdown. Series two expands to bring in a number of guests as they explore the making of a US remake: David and Michael are most disgruntled not to be cast in this themselves but it means we get cameos from people like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Cate Blanchett, Whoopi Goldberg, Judi Dench and Samuel L Jackson. Staged reminded us of Episodes, which I’ve reviewed before, though there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between the two series, but is part of a common trope where actors play a supposed version of themselves, usually a much nastier version (or so we hope.) This is a total contrast to when I was younger when comedians such as Frankie Howerd and Leonard Rossiter who seemed so pleasant on screen were in fact utter rotters in real life.
As for me, what am I like in real life? Now that would be telling – but for the moment, as Charlie Brooker so endearingly says, go away.
I’ve just finished my daily dose of Hellenic hell. I jest, I’m actually really enjoying learning Ancient Greek (why else would I bother? It’s not like I have a Tardis) but some days have a steeper learning curve than others. Recently I’ve learned several new verbs, one of which changes its stem vowel half-way through which is not playing fair at all. To give you an idea, imagine the verb ‘to read’ going ‘I read, you read, she reads’, then changing to ‘we road, you road’ and finally going off on one with ‘they roaiaroud.’ It’s just not playing fair and I’m going to protest.
But mostly it’s fine, even if the sentences you translate end up a bit like a Janet and John book: I am reading. You are listening. Are they hearing? And then, since this is a book designed for philosophy students wanting to read Plato, you suddenly get ‘Socrates is corrupting the youth of the city.’ It’s all terrific fun…
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a Tardis, though, and go back to Ancient Greece? Except that knowing my luck instead of meeting Plato or sitting at the foot of Socrates I’d end up in a cheese shop in some bizarre Pythonesque situation trying to buy cheese with a vocabulary geared to classical philosophy. I’d stretch my hand towards the street and say ‘hoi polloi’ and that would be that.
Mind you, I’d have to change gender in order to do anything at all since life was pretty horrible for women in Ancient Greece. These heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey treated women and slaves abysmally; read The Silence of the Girls and weep: I did. It wasn’t much better in Rome but at least you could go out of the house; Greek women were only allowed out to go to the shops, otherwise they had to stay at home. I can’t imagine what that would be like…
Whatever happened to real spam? I mean the Monty Python variety?
We used to have spam fritters when I was a child; which are just about the only palatable way of consuming this horrid squashy mixture of ‘meats’; but I suppose nowadays if you were to Google ‘spam fritters’ your spell-checker would auto-correct it to ‘spam filters’. Still I guess a spam fritter could be a sort of upgraded spam filter – one which fries the spam and sends it out into the ether to be consumed. Very satisfying.
Real spam – proper Spam – used to come in an oblong tin shaped like a tiny mausoleum. Impenetrable to the ordinary tin-opener, they came with a miniature key stuck to the top which fitted into a tab and, when turned, slowly peeled off the lid. A bit like a password, I guess…
That gives you the idea, though it doesn’t appear to be a tin of spam, or at least not British spam.
We used to have spam a lot (ho ho) when I was growing up: my mother thought it was essential to have protein with every meal and so we had bacon for breakfast, meat and two veg for dinner and some lighter form of animal protein for lunch, such as tuna, corned beef, haslett or – of course – spam. I can’t look at corned beef now, but before I was veggie I loved it, especially mashed up and fried with ketchup.
But since I’ve gone veggie, I’ve been persuaded that non-animal sources of protein are lighter and more efficient. Beans and pulses are excellent. Mind you, I draw the line at tahini. I can’t stand tahini.
I can’t stand it atoll…
As I write for the first time in weeks (I’ve missed you!) I am anticipating the imminent arrival of son and partner in a taxi. Daniel is due to be discharged today at around seven; though having previous experience of discharges (no, not that kind) I am not holding my breath. He has been a lot better in recent days though: antibiotics seem to have sorted out his infection and resting, eating and drinking have done the rest. I have to pay tribute to the staff who looked after him: he has had the best care imaginable, from dedicated and professional staff who took time to explain everything to him (and us) and make sure they were treating him correctly. Nothing was too much trouble in Intensive Care, and even when he was moved onto the ward, staff were always available to talk through our concerns.
Nevertheless, it has been a terrible time. I am now exhausted from going backwards and forwards to the hospital every day, not to mention trying to get him to eat, drink and be mobile while I was there. Mark went away for the weekend, which didn’t help, though it was something that had been planned for weeks so I told him to go. I plan to have a couple of days away myself, hopefully at Jan’s flat in Barrow. He has lost 10 kilos (that’s a stone and a half in the old money) so he has been quite seriously ill and at one point looked positively cadaverous. Very disturbing and upsetting – in fact it wasn’t until he was moved from Intensive Care onto the wards that I realised just how keyed up I had been.
Of course I’ve not been sleeping well either – hopefully that will improve when he’s home. Humour helps, too, and at times I can understand the gallows humour doctors use to get through the night. So while Daniel’s liver was struggling to perform, Mark and I were devising a website based on Monty Python called ‘canweaveyourliver.com’. It would be a sort of liver-based organ donors website where people could exchange bits of liver, as in the Python sketch:
Incidentally, did you notice the correct pronunciation in the website address? As in ‘canweave’ rather than ‘canwehave’?
Talk more tomorrow.
I was thinking this morning, as you do when in the bath, about Homer. I was recalling the story of Troy and thinking that Homer is the father of all our stories, whether we know it or not. I will return to this in a moment…
I never thought I would utter these words, but I’m really impressed by the new Pope. Whereas every other Pope I can remember has trotted out the same old reactionary stuff about the rights of the unborn child and the fact that every sperm is sacred (or words to that effect):
and the impossibility of any rapprochement with the Anglican church and and and and – I have yet to hear this incumbent say any of that. In fact he seems a model of all the virtues a Pope ought to be modelling – compassion (he said that atheists could go to heaven, a statement that was promptly contradicted by the Cardinals – how dare they?) – he allowed a child to share his stage and sit in his chair during a recent conference:
it is hard to imagine him defending child abusers, as other Popes have done; he refuses to adopt a lavish lifestyle – in fact I can’t find a single thing wrong with him.
It gives me hope. Monty Python would have a hard time pillorying this Pope; not that they’d probably want to.
Whilst still in the bath, I was also wondering about whether ours can be an age of epics – at least, whether it can for adults. Children’s fiction has no shortage of epic tales – Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, to name two – but the assumption seems to be that once we reach adulthood we grow out of these tales.
I’m not sure we do. I’m not sure we should, either – I think we should all go Homeric…
Or else go home, Eric!
I had a day out in London on Saturday, going to the Left Unity meeting. There were about 30 of us there, half men and half women, and in general it was a good-humoured and productive meeting. In a packed programme bristling with amendments, motions, addenda and standing orders, it could easily have been a giant yawn, but the morning proceeded at a fair old lick and over lunch we discussed a split in one of the local groups. This is the sort of thing that makes my heart just fold up and go home and I was not looking forward to the afternoon’s discussion. But! Lo and behold the whole thing was settled by an eminently sensible woman who proposed the amalgamation of two motions. Thus everyone was relieved and the problem stands a good chance of being sorted. Terrific!
This experience caused me to ponder on the theme of conflict-resolution. The history of the Left has been fraught with splits, as parodied by Monty Python in “The Life of Brian”:
You don’t need me to go into it – we all know the issues back to front. But everyone in Left Unity, from the washiest liberal to the hardest-line Trot, understands that without resolving our differences we are going nowhere. Which is why the situation on Saturday gave me such heart – because it wasn’t just talking about conflict-resolution – it was putting it into practice, right then and there, when it was needed.
And here’s the thing. What often happens is that people start labelling each other. I once attended a local council meeting with my CND group, lobbying the council to declare itself a nuclear-free zone – and during that debate one of the Conservative councillors got up. Pointing a finger at us, she said, ‘I can spot a Trot at twenty paces.’ Hardly a helpful contribution to the debate. Labelling is far too easy: it sets your mind at rest but it closes down debate. We’ve all done it – ‘Tory bastards., .liberal wimps’, ‘hard-line Trots’, Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist etc etc etc: whatever you use, labels are damaging; but never more so than when used within a group who are aiming to be unified and to work together towards a particular goal. So as Gandhi said, let’s be the change we want to see, and affirm that whatever our disagreements we are all Left Unity.
Or whatever we end up calling ourselves. But that’s another argument…
For some reason I was thinking of the Liver Birds this morning, and that set us thinking about the history of the actual Liver birds. Apparently the concept dates from 1350 (didn’t know Carla Lane was that old, LOL) and was supposed to be an eagle but then became a cormorant (“many people feel the Liverpool cormorant does not play an important part in the life of the city, but I would remind you…”) In 1688 they were called The Leaver Birds, though the Liver Building wasn’t constructed until 1911. They are a pair of birds, the female looking out to sea and the male looking towards land. One of them has something in its mouth thought to be lava, so maybe that’s where the name originated.
It’s hard to imagine Liverpool without the Liver Birds: they seem to much the guardian spirits of the city. Of course if you type the words ‘Liver Birds’ into a search engine in the UK you’re quite likely to get this:
They’re not quite looking in different directions, but almost: here are Beryl and Sandra, the Liver Birds of the sitcom. Now, what I want to know is this: what does the little dialogue at the end of the theme tune mean? I can understand the rest – ‘what’s got four arms, loves to grab ya? answer is, two Liver Birds’. But what about this:
What does this mean? Does it mean, ‘yes I’ll dance with you’ or does it mean ‘I’m already dancing so no thanks’ or maybe ‘I’m dancing anyway so you can join in if you want’. Which is it? Or is it none of the above?
I think we should be told.
It’s at the end of this clip:
Btw the song was sung by the Scaffold and here’s the full version:
What I like about the world of computers is the way ideas and what I might call ‘memes’ if I were at all pretentious, are taken up and proliferate. Viz: spam. Now, we all know what spam is, but are you old enough to know what it was? And can you track its journey from potted ‘meat’ to scam email? Yes, Monty Python is the missing link. And here is the spam song:
Mark’s comment? ‘She could just leave the spam’. Mm.
I remember spam – it was was like luncheon meat without the flavour. You could have it cold in salads or fried with potatoes. It was horrid. What you couldn’t do was press a little button and delete it from your plate. That would have been good.
I am tempted here to ramble on about how much the world has changed since I was a girl, but I have sworn an oath not to be an Old Fart, so I won’t. Yesterday, though, I wrote a poem about the garden of the house I grew up in, called ‘Vicarage Garden’. I’m quote pleased with it.
Errata: that should read ‘quite pleased with it.’
Errata – in the world of Python that could be the wife of one of King Arthur’s knights. (‘Errata! Errata! Where’s my second-best sword?’) Etc.
(A pedant writes: since you had only one error, it should be ‘erratum’, not ‘errata’.)
Mark is now ranting about how Bristol University put a ‘corrigendum’ slip in its prospectus, where everyone else would have put ‘errata’. Mm – corrigendum. Sounds like something out of Coronation St.
OK that’s enough burbling. Today I shall be mostly – ringing the podiatrist and checking Daniel’s appointment.
I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK
You’re a lumberjack and you’re ok