Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Genial

I have a keen interest in researching the history of people researching my family history.

I don't care about the family history itself. I can't imagine anything less interesting. If you show me a family tree, I will yawn - I promise you that.

But finding out about the people who have found out about my family history is utterly fascinating.

Who were they? What resources did they use? How successful was their search?

Once we get to their actual findings, I start to tune out.

It's humbling to investigate just who the people interested in my ancestors were, and what lessons they have to teach us in the modern day. It really gives you a sense of perspective to think about our forefathers' passion for genealogy, even though we may find genealogy dull as ditch-water and we couldn't give two hoots whether or not they are our biological forefathers.

Admittedly, those people investigating my family history are often members of my family. But that's just an unfortunate coincidence.

I first fostered my interest in researching people researching my family history whilst watching the television programme Who Do You Think The People Who Wonder Who You Are Are? There was a celebrity on there - I think it was Paul McGann - and he went on an amazing journey of discovery. He found out about someone who had been on Ancestry.com to track down other McGanns a few years previously. Also, his grandfather (or someone - I wasn't paying attention to that bit) had looked at a census in 1970 to discover some familial connection to philosopher David Hume. The programme wisely didn't go into any details about that connection. It would be outside its remit.

I was so inspired after watching this, that I started to conduct my own, limited, investigation into whether people had investigated my family history in the past. It turned out that there had been several such investigations. Unfortunately, they all seemed to have been undertaken by my own family, about whom - as I've stated many times - I have zero interest.

I don't care about my family tree. I never want to know what objects hang on the branches. But I'm fervently intoxicated by the people who have looked at those objects in the past. Don't tell me what they are, for God's sake. But tell me that you know what they are. That's all I need.

Do you get it?

It's just a weird thing that would be funny because it doesn't make any sense.

I was going to write something stupid about fencing instead, but the accents on 'épée' are too confusing.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Rank

I was at the pub yesterday (which practically never happens) and I was asked what my favourite film was.

I couldn't answer. I'm not opposed to ranking art in order of preference, even though doing so runs counter to the whole purpose of art. I even recently tried to rank my favourite albums.

And I could probably come up with a rough top ten favourite films that would be generally representative.

But I couldn't choose just one.

I don't know the people I was with very well, and my choice of a single favourite film might have suggested something about myself that isn't true. For the sake of getting the conversation over (which is always my main goal), I wanted to just pick one anyway. But in my head, each choice seemed like it would create an inaccurate impression.

If I'd have said The Graduate, they might have thought I was a pretentious entry-level film nerd with no imagination.

If I'd have said Back to the Future II, they might have thought I was a simpleton, who only liked mainstream Hollywood (even though it's a great film).

If I'd have said The Apartment, they might have thought I was old-fashioned.

If I'd have said The Big Lebowski, they might have thought I was one of those awful people whose favourite film is The Big Lebowski.

My brain raced through films that I liked, but that would also create exactly the right impression of myself. I want to be knowledgeable, but not snobbish; not too obscure, but not too mainstream; no established classics, but no ridiculous novelty choices.

In the end, I didn't say anything. But did make several comments, which were at points snobbish, pretentious, infantile and ridiculous.

All of the good work I'd done in my head was undone as soon as I opened my mouth.

That's why I don't like socialising. Nobody holds me in high regard anyway, but even from that low base level, my conversation can only ever send their opinion plummeting. Every syllable that passes my list takes a percentage off my "probably an OK guy" score.

If I was mute, this would never happen.

I realise, of course, that my choice of film doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't even matter in an extremely localised scheme of things, sketched on the back of a napkin.

No-one else cared about their choice of film. What makes me an idiot isn't my choice of film, but the fact that I went through a torturous brain panic trying to justify my decision. I have problems.

I need to stop thinking about things so much.

...

Maybe I should have said Duck, You Sucker! (aka A Fistful of Dynamite). That's fairly obscure, but it's directed by someone quite famous. I have only seen it once, though.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I should have said that. That's definitely one of my favourite films. I should have said that. Damn. It would show that I have imagination, that I'm a romantic, that I dig Mark Ruffalo. I would have been king of the room. I should have said that.

Once again, my wish to be original completely paralysed me. Which is doubly disappointing because being paralysed is itself very unoriginal. Loads of people have done it.

At least they didn't ask me what my favourite animal was. That's even harder.

Bear? Duck? Griffin?

I think every human is a complicated cocktail of the stuff they like, the stuff they think, and the stuff they do. Trying to judge someone on their favourite film would be like judging a book on the curl of the lower-case 'a's. No-one would do that.

No-one did do that.

I practice a special alchemy, transforming nothing into problems.

***

This song was someone's jam recently, and it has been stuck in my head. It's a bit difficult to get a handle on what it's supposed to be. It makes me feel like a have the flu, but in a good way.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Scope

This post might seem a bit downbeat. The trouble is, I don't have many thoughts, so my options for blog content are limited. If I had something more upbeat to offer, I would. But my hands are tied by my brain.

It's not that downbeat, anyway. I'm sure you've heard worse. I just want you all to know that I'm not being gleefully, intentionally depressing. I'm just giving you some insight into how I think. I feel that great art - and this blog certainly is art - should say something about the human condition, even if the human in question is a bit of an idiot.

Integrity is the watchword. Integrity and truth. And if we have a few laughs along the way... well, that's just a happy bonus!

Enough with the preamble - onto the main bulk of the amble.

I often fantasise about being killed by a sniper.

It's usually when I'm walking somewhere - often to or from a meeting at work. It happens when my mind is at rest. Or not at rest. I just imagine that I'm shot through the head, and that's the end of the story.

I used the word 'fantasise' on purpose. I don't worry that it will happen. It's not just an idle thought experiment. It's a fantasy. I yearn for it. I fantasise about being killed by a sniper in the same way as another person might fantasise about winning the lottery. It's just a nice place to be for a while, in that warm, comfortable, imaginary world. It won't happen, but it's satisfying to imagine that it will.

It's not a suicidal thought, though. It's specific to being shot by a sniper. It must belong to the same family of thoughts as when I wanted to drill a hole in my head.

I should say that I don't think about who would be shooting me. That's not important. I think that's why it needs to be a sniper, rather than a face-to-face assassin. The sniper is quick, clean and anonymous.

Equally, I don't consider the consequences of the act; how people would react, who would have to clean the carpet, etc.

The shot is the end.

No, hang on - I also imagine myself crumpling to the floor. That's it. It ends with the crumpling.

We have a big glass roof in the middle portion of the building, so it would be quite easy for someone to get the shot. We also have big windows on the side of our open-plan section, which would also enable a clear sight-line.

I said it was comforting to imagine being shot by a sniper, but it's not something that fills me with happiness. My overwhelming emotion when considering this scenario is one of relief.

Just imagine how relieved I'd be! (I wouldn't actually have time to be relieved, but this is just a fantasy.)

It's a bit like being really thirsty and imagining a tall glass of water. Imaginary quenching isn't as good as real-life quenching, but it's still pretty great.

Being shot by a sniper would be such a relief.

It's like if you've been asked to look after a cat, but just before the owner sets off on holiday, the cat dies. Phew! I really dodged that bullet.

With a sniper, you dodge a bullet by failing to dodge a bullet.

You get hit by that little metal one, but it means you avoid the massive, overwhelming life-shaped bullets that are fired at you all day, every day.

This is quite downbeat, isn't it? I haven't really lightened the tone as much as I'd have liked to.

Look! Here's a bear having a nice sit down:


That will cheer everyone up!

I wonder how many people get killed by snipers' bullets each year? Probably not a huge amount. Especially in British publishing houses.

It's probably about the same odds as a lottery win.

I think if I genuinely did get shot by a sniper, it wouldn't be as freeing as I imagine. Someone really would have to clean the carpet. There would be an investigation.

If it does happen, after I've posted this, my blog readers will surely become the main suspects. You all have the motive, which is making my fantasy a reality and therefore making me happy. Just as my blog has made you happy these many years. And you own a sniper rifle, don't you?

I don't envy the police detective tasked with interviewing EVERY SINGLE reader of this blog! It will take weeks to go through them all! Weeks!

But there's no harm in fantasising, is there? I not hurting anyone (except for that stupid cat, but he had it coming).

My only real concern is whether to spell 'fantasise' with an 's' or a 'z'. Somehow, the 'z' spelling seems a lot dirtier. Fantasize. It's probably because Americans are so depraved.

***

Just a few things to clear up:

1) This talk of sniping doesn't mean that I want to be a hitman. I definitely don't, as I've made clear in the past.

2) I'm probably not as miserable as this makes me sound.

3) I have a massive head. So if you're an amateur looking for an entry-level opportunity, this might be something to consider.

4) I won the lottery this morning. I will use the prize money to purchase ZERO HELMETS.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A Positive Contribution

I've been exposed to a lot of fictional violence recently. I watched the original RoboCop, and The Raid. Both of them include a lot of shooting, stabbing and dismemberment. I've also been playing Tomb Raider on the PS4, which has involved a similar array of brutal acts, many of them performed by my own hand (or thumb, anyway).

Does exposure to violent imagery have a detrimental impact on the viewer/player? Are we being desensitised to violent imagery? Does the relative consequencelessness of horrific acts trivialise real suffering?  Does having imaginary death and torture as major components of our cultural diet cause a disconnect between ourselves and real-life tragedy? Are we harming our children by allowing them access to violent content?

No, we're not.

No, we're not.

No, it doesn't.

That sentence is clumsy.

No, we're not.

There. We can consider the matter settled.

I should decide everything. I deserve to be the ultimate arbitrator.

I can wear a polo shirt that has the word 'arbitrator' embroidered on it.

The word arbitrator derives from the original French, where it literally meant 'betrayer of trees'. It was believed that only those with the clarity of thought to renounce the seductive barkéd evil could be truly impartial.

I'm happy to arbitrate. If I could do it professionally, I would. I'm the most qualified person for the job, because I am always right about everything and I also hate trees.

I don't want to have to come up with any kind of policy, or any arguments. But if faced with a binary choice, I'm happy to choose one of the options.

Yes or no.

Wise or unwise.

Left or right.

Up or down.

Shopping centre renovation or no shopping centre renovation.

Chas or Dave.

I won't just keep listing things - you all know what a choice is.

I can choose our way to a better world.

Vote Paul in some kind of election or something.

Like a hornless horse, this blog post hasn't developed in the way that I'd hoped at the outset.

I need to go home soon. I need to find a better time to write. Perhaps I'll become really disciplined and wake up early. Perhaps I'll put everything on the back burner, and bring my creative wok to the forefront.

Perhaps I'll really turn things around this time.

Here's a song that's been in my head all day. It's good.



You see? I can make a positive contribution. I just need to work out how to make my way in the world. Every time I think I have it figured out, I get a year older and the paradigm shifts. It's a wonder I'm still upright.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Smogs of Time

Five years ago today, I wrote a blog post about the "impending disaster" of Southampton Football Club. At the time, I wondered if the club would even continue to exist.

Just look at us now! We do exist (and how)!

Five years is a long time.

***

Four years ago today, I wrote a blog post about a problem with our "washing machine". It was really quite good. I used to have talent.

It includes this sentence:

Time passes slowly when you're staring down the spinning barrel of a gun, especially if it's got pants in it.

Just look at us now! We live in a whole new flat, with a whole new washing machine! And the washing machine is pretty much the only thing about the new place that hasn't gone wrong!

Shoelaces? That was the past. The past was all shoelaces and standard definition television. How did we live like that?

Four years is a long time.

***

One year ago today, I wrote a sketch about the inventor of the "world's softest barbecue".

One year isn't much, really.

***

Zero years ago today, I wrote this. It was identical to the blog post I will write zero years hence.

It's one on top of the other. That's why the lettering is so thick.

The third of April.

Phew. That's better. I just set my blog text to temporal mono. It makes it easier to read.

There's something in the air, and it has irritated my eyes.

The news wasn't lying. Neither was the weather. Pollution is very real.

I walked into work this morning. I'd forgotten about the poisoned sky, so I thought nothing of it. Forty-five minutes exposed to the filthy elements.

I didn't feel too bad until I got into work and read an article suggesting that I did feel too bad. My eyes immediately began to water.

I don't know if it was psychosomatic, or if it was a sudden awareness of my genuinely sore sight organs.

Oh, also I hadn't blinked at any point prior to 10am. That might have been a contributing factor. I forget to blink sometimes, if I'm wrapped up in my thoughts.

I might get the bus home, just in case.

To help with the eye pain, I've set a blink reminder on my phone. It goes off every two seconds. I think my colleagues applaud my commitment to freshness.

I've also been looking at pictures of moisturiser online, which should help. They're on a web page specifically designed for relieving ocular irritation.

I cant find the URL at the moment, but it's a site for sore eyes.


...




...





Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Laughtermath



The Oxford Comedy Festival was on Saturday.

But I'm really, really tired. Do I have the energy to launch into a full breakdown of the event; the highs and lows; an analysis of the acts; a prolonged self-assessment?

Do I?

I don't think so. But let's see what I can manage.

There were two shows; one in the afternoon and one in the evening. I was the compere for the first one, and did stand-up at the second one.

It took place at the Old Fire Station in Oxford, which is a really nice theatre venue and seems very well-suited for comedy.

The standard of the acts was very high. There was sketch, improv and stand-up, and I laughed many a big laugh. The shows were possibly a bit long. I was certainly very tired by the end of it, but that might be because I'm thirty-one.

Many of the other performers were young and full of vitality. I remember when I was young and vital. Actually, that's not true. I've never been vital. Even as a young man, I was strictly optional. I think the best I ever got was that one year when I was ancillary, but that seems like a long time ago now.

I won't write about the other acts individually, because I'd worry about leaving people out. They were all excellent.

(But if you contact me privately, I'm happy to give you a full list from best to worst, including snide, unprofessional barbs and a reductive analysis on which of the performers was the most attractive. [Untrue.])

I really am tired. Luckily, I wrote a long email about the gigs to my friend and occasional writing partner Alex 'Dice Cricket' Clissold-Jones, so I can chop out some bits of it.

It will also create the impression that there's a certain level of journalism going on here, even though I'm only quoting my own sloppily-written correspondence.

Here is local comedian Paul Fung with his take on his compering performance in the afternoon:

I compered the afternoon. I was just OK. The crowd was pretty small, but loud enough, and seemed to enjoy the acts. My audience chat was variable, as were my little bits. As I said, there wasn't much time to spare, so a lot of it was rattling through the acts. It was pretty tiring having to be 'on' for that long. At one point I did a bad joke, that got an audible 'Jesus...' from the audience, which was nice. I would describe my overall performance as 'acceptable'.

In the evening, I was doing a ten-minute slot towards the end of the show. Here's bearded misanthropist Paul Fung with his take on the events leading up to my performance:


So anyway, I was scheduled to go on as the penultimate act, with the Dead Secrets closing. But as time went on (and on and on), it was clear that we were running out of time. Prior acts were asked to shorten their stuff, as was I.

My prepared stuff was all new and was mainly one big bit, so I struggled to think of what to cut. As the act before me was on, I decided that I'd cut a whole massive chunk from the middle and just do a couple of short bits, and spent a while panicking about which I should do.

Then, seconds before going on stage, The Dead Secrets (amusingly dejected, already in their elaborate costumes) said that they'd decided not to perform because it was so late, so I was the last act.

I didn't know what to do. I'd reconciled myself to my really short set (which I'd also decided would build up to the Dead Secrets), and now had to stick some stuff back in.

I ended up doing most of my prepared material.

It included the scariest stretch of performance I've ever done. I have a whole bit where I make fun of racists who have protested about a film version of the musical Annie with a black cast. I jokingly express my support for their views in a way which is supposed to satirise what they're saying (in a winking "isn't this ridiculous?" kind of way), and I'd tried to make it clear that I was making fun of them. Obviously it wasn't clear enough.

Silence. Intakes of breaths. Disapproving noises. Basically, they just thought I was doing racist material. And there I was, the last act of a long show, destroying all of the good will in the room.

But luckily - LUCKILY - I'd begun the whole thing by saying that this topical material was my audition for Mock the Week as an off-hand comment. And I ended with a callback saying "It's not clear who the victim of that joke is  - it seems like it's satirising bigots, but is still attempting to get laughs from bigotry... and that's why that's my audition for Mock the Week" (in a slightly hacky "and then I got OFF the bus" kind of way). And to my huge relief, it got a laugh, and I think everyone realised what I'd been trying to do. It was all delivered as written, but I didn't think I'd have to wait until the last line for people to understand my point.

If I had been being racist, the Mock the Week framework would have been a pretty shitty cop-out (and it probably was anyway), but it saved my bacon.

The stuff before that was pretty good, and I ended on my LSD/LEDs joke, to make sure I got an actual laugh. Then I got the fuck out of there.

Scary. I'd rather die on stage than have everyone think I was a racist, or even a Ricky Gervais-style ironic racist.

There you have it - right from the horse's face.

(By the way, I didn't mean to make fun of The Dead Secrets there. They brilliantly organised the event - and it was a real shame that they didn't get to perform in the evening. It's just that there's something quite funny about disappointment in costume.)

Anyway, I was generally quite pleased with my evening performance. The event as a whole was really good, with enthusiastic, supportive audiences (including the smaller one in the afternoon, and the sell-out in the evening). I'm really grateful to have been invited to take part, and I'd definitely recommend going along if they do another one in the future.

And it was all for charity. I'm going to pat myself on the back as soon as I can. Maybe I'll go and do it in the toilet cubicle. For half an hour. And if anyone knocks on the door, I can bellow: "Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like! I'm proud of the selfless work I've done!"

I should write reviews for a living. Look, I've even formatted my comments as block quotes! I can do anything. I'd be happy to review comedy, or even write serious political think-pieces, for The Guardian or any other left-leaning publication. My only requirement is that I will only ever quote myself. Even if it's about the Euro, which I know nothing about.

The money that people in Europe use is the Euro, when it used to be all francs and the German ones (in Germany), but it was hard and now things make people think they should have not have done that please and pounds is better?

Can British people win the Pulitzer Prize? The only winner I know about is Lois Lane, and she's from Metropolis, USA.

Oh dear. The quoting and colours seem to have interfered with my formatting. It looks a bit messy now. Also, I used a split infinitive earlier on that I'm reluctant to change.

But that's not really my job, is it? Leave it to the subs.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wax

I've got the theme to Rosemary's Baby in my head. Is that a good sign of mental wellbeing?



I'd like to do this song at a karaoke night. I think it would be a real crowd-pleaser. Especially if I turned up dressed as Mia Farrow, and there wasn't even a karaoke night planned. It would just be me, in a dress, playing the song on my ghetto blaster and belting out the "la"s. In a Wetherspoon's. With a baby.

A real crowd pleaser.

But I'll probably never get around to it. 80% of ambitions are never fulfilled. That's a national average. I don't know which nation, but it is definitely the average there.

Which do you think is the most ambitious country? Mauritius rhymes with ambitious (sort of), so that's one indicator. Turkey can be abbreviated as 'TRY' - that's another.

I think the least ambitious country is probably Neptune. It doesn't even have its own flag.


I try to deal with potential failure by micro-managing my ambitions. I have them, but I almost immediately snuff them out. I vow to achieve something and then decide against it before I've even had time to complete the thought. Whilst writing the last sentence, I passionately strove to swim the channel and then tore my wetsuit to ribbons.

During Lent, I fluctuate between action and inaction at such a frequency that I become invisible.

Ambition can be useful. It can make people improve themselves and the world. But it can also cause people to inflict terrible atrocities on others, under the guise of progress.

For me, the main benefit of ambition is that it rhymes with lots of things, and so is of great use in a freestyle rap battle.

Just think about it.

Ambition
Tradition
Mission
Wishin'
Chicken
Kitchen
Bitterne
Fish un (French for 'fish one')
Leon Britton
Mitten

You can arrange those in any order, and you're liable to come away with some kind of commemorative turntable.

In conclusion, remember the lesson of Icarus:

Visit Crete.