Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Arse-crunching tedium

I once heard a definition of infinity as this: there is a steel sphere the size of the sun, and once every thousand years a butterfly flies past it, momentarily brushing its wings on its surface. Infinity is the time it takes for the steel ball to be finally ground down.

The person who said this has obviously never sat through half an hour of Emmerdale.

Crisps and council estates

There has been a trend in the crisp world in recent years to market more and more exotic sounding flavourings. Gone are 'salt & vinegar' and 'cheese & onion', in favour of 'sea-salt & balsamic' and 'mature cheddar & roasted shallot'. Their taste is, of course, identical to their more common-sounding predecessors, but the consumer is conned into thinking they're getting a better class of savoury snack.

It's a mentality not restricted to the world of the sliced potato. More and more working class families are labelling their kids with uncharacteristic monikers. There are less 'Waynes', 'Vickis' and 'Sharons' than ever before as parents opt for more and more 'non-standard' examples, possibly under the delusion that an exotic-sounding name will bump them up a rung or two on the social ladder.

The upshot is that there will soon be hooded delinquents called Tarquin hanging around street corners sporting those type of wispy bumfluff moustaches that seem unique to the juvenile criminal fraternity (getting mugged by someone called Sebastian would be far more humiliating than someone called Gary).

Is this the way the world is going? Yes. Does this make any sense? Not shallot.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Advertisers' lack of vision

There's an ad for something or other on TV at the moment, where a chap is walking through a forest dropping photos. The smug narration goes something like "In your lifetime, your eyes will capture 24 million different images…" which is obviously intended to make the viewer gasp in awe at the miracles the human body is capable of. I don’t know where the ad agency got their data from (though, at a guess, "24 million" sounds like one of those figures plucked casually out of the air by a goatee-bearded ad exec in between power lunches and odious backslapping), but it's clearly a load of old tosh.

Life expectancy in the UK is about 75 years (or 2,365,200,000 seconds). This means that for the eyes to capture only 24 million images you'd only glimpse what was going on around you around once every 49 seconds, even taking into account spending half your life asleep. This seems fairly unmiraculous. For instance, this would mean that you'd miss 98% of a film (or TV programme. In fact, the only instance where this would be of benefit, is if you were sat in front of an hour long ITV drama starring Caroline Quentin which might consequently seem only a merciful fraction of its 60 minute length).

In reality, the average number of images the eye is capable of capturing is far more than 24 million in a lifetime, or an hour or even a second, being, as it is, infinite. Because the eye continually streams images to the brain, the number of individual snapshots is incalculable, as it can always be subdivided again and again.

The average number of good ideas a typical ad exec is capable of producing however, is far less than 24 million. Around 24 million less so in fact.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Swearies - they're just words...

I like words. Swearing is words. Ergo, I like swearing.

Put simply, this is my attitute to profanities. I like all words, by virtue of the fact that they're words. There's something fantastic about the fact that a strategically arranged sequence of letters can make people feel shocked, elated, sad, joyous and, of course, offended.

Words are ace; ranging, as they do, from the outrageously general (such as "nice", "good" and "fine") to the oddly specific (such as "ucalegon", "scrumping" and "discombobulated") with an infinite variety of categories in between. They all mean something to more than one person or they wouldn't exist; ergo no word is more or less valid than the next. If it wasn't understood by more than one owner of the eardrums it beats on then that word wouldn't, by default, be a word.

Now that our house has smaller ears than it used to when it was just myself and my wonderwife, I tend to use swear words a little less freely than I used to (except if I'm engaged in DIY where anything goes language-wise as my other half will testify).

It would be exceedingly dull if there were no swearing and the world is a richer and healthier place for having colourful words that make old ladies scowl and cause children to be chastised. I'll cheerfully use them all, except the "c" word. It's the exception that proves the rule, though I'm happy for society to possess a word that is set on a frequency so high that it's beyond my comfort levels.

Just to completely contradict my argument though, there are some words I have no time for. Namely, those used by the texting generation who use single character abbreviations for words (such as "UR") or compound numbers and letters to save on space, like "gr8". This, to me, is a product of function alone, and is to the detriment of the language. Plus it looks a bit shit.

I can't really count text examples like the above as real words because they've got numbers in them, and phonetically sound just like their better-spelled counterparts. It grates me to see them written though, which probably makes me sound like a bit of a grandad. Or maybe a "gr8 grandad".

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Giants and Mammalia

On the CD player this morning was Apollo 18 by They Might Be Giants containing the excellent song "Mammal" - a tribute to the world's warm-blooded lactating vertebrates which include "...the fox, the ox, giraffe and shrew, echidna, caribou…" This is the only song I know to contain the word "monotreme".

Decisions for the portly gentleman

It seems there comes a time in every overweight elderly gent's life, where he has to decide whether to hoik the front of his trousers up over his expanding gut, or sling the belt-line underneath it. Both the ‘up-and-over’ and the ‘underslung’ options draw attention to whatever bellychunk he may be sporting and it seems to be a question of choosing to cover it either in strides or a button-popping shirt. The result is either ridiculous or unsightly respectively.

As a rule, the 'underslung' seems to be the more favoured option in this country, though I saw a spectacular example of the 'up-and-over' on the way to work this morning. He was one of those people who had to lean back when he walked to counter the excess weight at the front, and it was with a marked lack of equilibrium that he waddled wheezingly officeward looking like he was smuggling an over-pumped basketball (no doubt with a zip straining up the front of it like a disembowelment scar though I didn’t look too closely).

Fair play to him though, at least he was walking to work, whereas I was trundling past in my nice warm car. He probably thought exactly the same thing in the 1970s as he tootled past a gargantuan individual 30 years his senior, and thought similarly it would never happen to him.

For the record, I think I'd be an 'up-and-over'. Though this would only be for comedy value.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Babies, bears and bad poetry

Fascinating programme on Channel 4 last night, which followed three women through pregnancy and contained endoscopic images that were so awesomely good you could be forgiven for thinking they were the results of big-budget CGI.

The narration was, on the whole, informative, despite the occasional odd simile, such as: "At this stage of development, the foetus's head accounts for a third of its body length. That's like a fully grown human having a the head of a grizzly bear." I assume the intention was for this strange comparison to be illustrative of body proportions, rather than appearance, though it took a while to get the mental image out of my head.

The programme was ultimately ruined though, not by the narration but by the interspersion of Roger McGough's crap schoolboy-esque poetry which droned on about 'drifting through the amniotic universe of silent biological space... connecting to the mothership, etc.' and other such cliched toss, which just served to trivialise the whole escapade.

I like my poetry as it 'appens, but whatever awe you felt for the visuals was destroyed by lines like: "If eyes are the windows to the soul, then the eyelids must surely be the window cleaners." (I remember it only because it was so ridiculous) all intoned in a Beatley brogue.

Not really profound, more like profoundly shit.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Recent Purchase

I bought a large helium-filled balloon yesterday, which the assistant, after a brief struggle, managed to put into a bag for me. Not only were the handles on the bag redundant, but walking back to the car it looked like I'd been shopping for clouds.

Friday, February 09, 2007

If Flamingos Were Hell-Bent on World Domination...

There are three imponderable questions which I'd recommend to anyone having a bit of trub getting to sleep:

1. Are we alone in the universe?
2. What would chairs look like if our knees bent the other way?
3. Is human nature inherently good, or inherently bad?

The first, I expect science will be able to answer all in good time, though it makes for rich speculation. The second is deceptively complex - the longer you dwell on it, the more difficult it is to answer. The third however, is much more complicated.

It was a question posed in one of those psychometric tests at an interview once and I thought long and hard as to whether it was a yay or a nay, ultimately deciding it was a yay (though this may have been influenced by the fact I was trying to impress a prospective employer who I didn't want to think of me as a suspicious pessimist). Having since re-examined it though, I think I stand by this decision, though only just. I'm not entirely sure if makes me an optimist (not a label that's been often levelled my way), or just naive.

It obviously depends what you mean by "bad" as to strictly layer Darwin over the top would tip the scales in favour of us being inherently selfish given that natural selection demands a high capacity for self-preservation. Wildebeest for example will cheerfully amble around munching grass while their anguished (and less-fleet-footed) mate gets mangled by lions little more than a few feet away, in a kind of nonchalant "Phew, it wasn't me this time..." manner.

However, with the possible exception of Caroline Quentin, we are not wildebeest. Uncommonly high intelligence and millennia of 'civilisation' have seen the development of qualities such as compassion and kindness, and allowed the natural day-to-day survival requirements to be muted. Other qualities have come to the fore, like the ability to reason and to sit down and negotiate.

In fact, thinking about it, the reason we can sit down at all is due to evolution giving us knees which flex forwards, which brings me neatly back to Question 2. Thank God Flamingos aren't blessed with human intelligence and are more than happy to pootle around ankle deep in water eating mud. The world would quickly descend into anarchy.

Paul Merton's 'Comedy Bulldozer' Approach

I don't like Paul Merton. There are actually a few people I don't like including, in no particular order, Cher, Meatloaf, Michael Parkinson and Caroline Quentin (co-incidentally, for a short while, Mrs Paul Merton. If ever there was a need for a suicide bomber at a dinner party...) but unfunnyman extraordinaire Paul Merton deserves to be the pudgy recipient of many a verbal (if not physical) beating.

My reason for this is his spectacular mediocrity. I have nothing against mediocrity, but his comedy canoe often find itself so far up Shit Creek that he needs a paddle the size of his inflated ego to extricate himself. Given that there is nothing on earth bigger than Paul Merton's ego, not least a paddle, his means of tackling it is just to talk louder and louder, usually about having GCE in metalwork or some such kak, or ramble loudly on some tedious train of thought, ultimately steamrollering over individuals who might have something more amusing or erudite to contribute.

And yet he's hailed by other comics as some sort of God. Just don't get it...

Ostrich Testicles

“Let it snow” said the weatherman, and this morning it did. Not quite winter wonderland weather, unless you fancy sledging down a hill on freezing muddy slush or having an icy "gravelball" fight, but smashing to see a dusting nonetheless. Another benefit today, resulting from Britain's annual inability to cope with snow, was a minor traffic jam on the way to work, allowing me to listen to almost the whole of Arboresence by Ozric Tentacles.

Newcomers shouldn't be put off by the name, or by a swift glance at the group image on the inlay card which reveals them to be unwashed crusties sporting chunky-knit ethnic jumpers, a collective abundance of hair in desperate need of a dash of Timotei, congealed dirt under the fingernails and no doubt a penchant for nut roast - not the sort of people you want to be sitting next to on a long coach journey in a hot country.

Thankfully, we live in a cold country. And with their presence was restricted to 40 minutes of enjoyably-odd music and an unsightly band photo which could be easily hidden, they were excellent travelling companions as I inched slowly workward through the slush.

Also visiting the CD player lately has been Rhinoplasty by Primus, which is a bit samey compared to the brilliant Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, but does have a cracking live version of Tommy The Cat which should serve as a lesson to funk bassists everywhere. It's sadly let down by vocals though as frontman Les Claypool sounds (as my laughing wonderwife has pointed out) uncannily like Vic Reeves' pub singer. Reluctantly, and with dismay, I have to agree. Stick to the popping and slapping Lesley.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Now that's what I call hoarding Vol.1

We've moved house, and the house we've moved to is smaller than our last one. Instead of getting rid of any of our furniture though, we've elected to squeeze it all into the new house and position each item carefully where it'll have the least impact on walkways. This has, for the most part, been successful, though if you want to pop to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, you've got to move about the place like Wayne Sleep. It was either that though or construct our flat-pack Ikea specials in the garden and strategically bolt them all together to create some form of chipboard annex, though this would have been unlikely to have been weather-proof.

A bit of clutter is absolutely fine; not mental chaos like there's been an explosion at a car boot sale, but organised chaos with interesting stuff everywhere. Unpacking all the boxes however, we're astonished at the amount of junk we're hoarding - original Mario Bros LCD games, disco balls, rabbit skin Russian army hats and other such unthrowawayable gems.

The question is - what do/can you do with them? They can't be thrown away, that would be a Dave Lee Travesty of Justice. They can't be sold, as I doubt even the most drunken Ebay splurger would bid for any of it, and they can't be given away as to inflict their uselessness on anybody else is just cruel. It seems they're destined to never leave the sanctuary of their cardboard tombs, and are doomed to a life of boxed-up solitude in the shed until such time as they are unceremoniously skipped.

I watched one of those Life of Grime programmes once where a elderly gent had filled his sizeable house literally to bursting (the walls were bowing and cracking) due to the amount of shit he kept. Bizarrely, this literally included shit as he couldn't even bring himself to throw his own faeces away. Now that's hoarding. Whether he scooped it out of the bowl before it swam round the U-bend, defecated into a suitable container where it couldn't escape or slide away was never investigated.

I reckon though that underneath the rancid piles of festering excrement and filth-encrusted keepsakes, I bet you could have heard the unmistakable "dit-dit-dit" of the moustachioed Marios, slavishly working in their flat screen bottle factory until their batteries ran silent forever. Maybe that's how it all starts.

"Centrifugal" - Songwriters steer clear

When a word stubbornly refuses to fit a rhythm, irrespective of how you try and shoehorn it in, it's probably an indication it shouldn't be used. On the radio this morning, on the way to work, was a contender for the most contrived song lyric.

This Kiss by Faith Hill is as unremarkable a song as you could wish for, except for a bizarre use of the word "centrifugal". It's a smashing word, "centrifugal", but it's also a bit of an awkward one which doesn't exactly lend itself to popular songs. Faith, to her discredit, makes every effort to fit it to the metre, though the effect is like forcefully pushing a reluctant cat into a box.

Most songwriters would have given up at this point and found a synonym to use instead, but Faith ploughs on and elects to put the accent on the second syllable, the resulting word sounds something like "cenTRIFfugal", which just sounds shite.