Sunday, 30 May 2010

I'm a prima donna

dying in the mmmmm
waiting for the mamma
coming with her vest

I am hopeless at remembering song lyrics. The above is my version of Food For Thought by UB40. It was the first single I ever bought and I played it until the grooves on the vinyl were rubbed smooth.

It doesn't help that every singer since Vera Lynn has mumbled into their microphones. I used to put subtitles on when watching Top of the Pops, but the banal lyrical content was ever so depressing. Anyway, I was never sure if UB40's song began with a marina donna, I'm a prima donna, or I'm a green banana. Or - most likely - none of the above.

This mishearing of a phrase is called a mondegreen. Banshee told me this only an hour ago after a vociferous misunderstanding about the whereabouts of an absent bicycle. It was a mystery worthy of the attentions of Poirot and involved a tennis coach, broken brakes, a twisted ankle and TWOCKING (taking without consent). It wasn't my bicycle so I didn't care. I slid beneath the bath water so that all the vociferation was dulled into quite pleasant gobbets of sound. I couldn't tell what anyone was saying - it was like Top of the Pops all over again.

I missed my vocation in life ...

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Cross Stitch Cannibal

A 76 year old pensioner has claimed to be the 'Cross Stitch Cannibal'. Appearing in Bradford Magistrates' Court on charges of affray, Mrs Agnes Stamps shouted abuse at court officials, witnesses, and said she'd "kebab" the stenographer for being a "snotty cow".

Outside the court, her son James Stamps, 54, said, "My mother has never killed anyone, let alone eaten them. She hasn't got the brains or the guts. I lay blame for this uncharacteristic behaviour firmly at the door of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. They gave Mum the oxygen of publicity and now she is excited and showing off."

Earlier in the month, the local paper had run a series of front page scoops detailing a long-running dispute between the Committee and Members of St. Margaret-Mary's Cassock Club. Police had been summoned repeatedly to the club to investigate the decapitation of the priest's prize-winning dahlias; claims of a butchered Ave Maria; a Victoria sponge, donated to the Union of Catholic Mothers' Annual Tea, which had been minced beyond recognition; and a mobility scooter found dissected on the steps of the Church Hall. It has not been established if Mrs Stamps was involved in any of these actions.

Father Vernon O'Dee, in a written statement said: "The Cassock Club was formed to preserve the tradition of needlework in the Parish. Once my cassocks had been restored to their former glory, the ladies did seventy kneelers with full hanging rings. I'd prefer not to discuss the nature of the disagreement until I've taken advice from the Bishop. I've advised all members to remain tight-lipped."

Mrs Stamps's close friend and neighbour, Ethel Smalley, 68, said "Of course Doris is not studying criminology at university. I've no idea where you got that from. Is she violent? Well, I wouldn't trust her with a hamster - she's a bit slapdash with the Ewbank - and her close stitchwork is unrestrained to say the least. But as for being a cannibal, her dentures wouldn't take the strain."

Mrs Stamps has been remanded until 30th May.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Who's a pretty boy, then?

Since the new coalition government seized power, a sharp rise in parrot jokes has been recorded.

"It's odd," said Mimi Ditto, spokesperson for the Endangered Jokes Association (EJA), "and we can't quite put our finger on the exact cause, but jokes that haven't seen the light of day since Bernard Manning fell off his perch are making a comeback in a big way."

The EJA monitors and logs jokes told in comedy clubs, theatres, on television, radio and in print.

According to the EJA's records, this week alone has seen Barry Cryer dusting off an old joke about parrots and root vegetables on Radio 3; Andy Hamilton riffing about a lovebird in a brothel on Channel 4; Cristiano Ronaldo finally admitting he'd had a cockatoo; George Osborne denying any responsibility for an ailing budgie and Lembit Opik plugging his new comedy career in the Daily Mail by mentioning a singer in 'Wings' called Paul Macaw's knee feathering his nest with remixes."

"That last one wasn't funny - Lembit never is - but we logged it all the same," said Mimi. "We haven't seen such a flock of parrot jokes for many a year."

We asked the heads of the ConDem Alliance if they had a favourite joke to share with the members of Newsbiscuit.

"I was only joking when I said Mick was a big joke," said David Cameroon.

"He was only joking when he said I was a big joke," repeated Mick Clegg.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

National European Obesity Day

 Aujourd'hui est un grand succès. That celebratory menu in full:

Camembert Debonnaire et pomme frites (Super-size!)
Wiener Schnitzel au Pretzel et pomme frites (Super-size!)
Frikadeller Mozzarella et pomme frites (Super-size!)
Coq au vin et jus d'Spam et pomme frites (Super-size!)
Risi e bisi et pomme frites (Super-size!)

Les Desserts

Mais oui!


Non, non, non! Encore les desserts! Plus fromage! Et beaucoup de chocolat!

Garcon, ou est le club amaigrissement? Le Poids Observateur?

(More on how to speak fluent European tomorrow)

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Best Before

When I was a mere chit of a girl, I jetted off to Switzerland to work as a ragazza alla pari (which was gainful employment; nothing at all like this). I planned to stay away for a year at least so consequently began to pack thirty minutes before I was due to leave for the airport.

The only book I took was a slimline edition of The Bero Cookbook. A classic, if I say so myself though I suspect if La Famiglia Lotti never again see ruff-puff pastry it will be too soon.

At the airport I suddenly realised that I'd have nothing to read on the plane, so I bought the fattest book I could see in John Menzies: The World According to Garp by John Irving.

It was an eye-opener. As an ex-Sunday school teacher, I had thought - for several years - that an orgasm was a collection of cells. (Yes, of course I know what one is now. It's food that's been grown without pesticide.)

I read and re-read The World According once a month whilst I was away, alternating it with a battered copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge (which had been left by a previous ragazza).

It's a miracle, all things considered, that I've turned out so well.

During the Borders Closing Down Sale (of which we can only speak in hushed tones as I am drip-feeding my purchases into the common areas of the house and saying with all honesty "What? This old thing? No, I've had it for ages.") I bought a fancy-pants edition of TWATG - gosh! what an unfortunate acronym - and I'm wondering how I managed to read it once, let alone fourteen times.

Do books have a read-by date? Have I missed my window for Jane Austen? Will I ever again enjoy The Women's Room? Shall Martial's Epigrams continue to comfort me in old age?

Have you delighted in a book, gone back to it years later and muttered a disappointed or exasperated  Pshaw!? And if so, which books have never passed their read by date? Similarly, which books would simply be wasted on the young and have a do not read until date? (Most of Chekhov, I suspect.)

The Mayor of Casterbridge pleading with a local Ponte Capriascan for Moptop's Ruff Puff Pastry recipe

Caprice & Whimsy: Episode 1

"Do you think it was all just an unfortunate mistake?" Caprice gestured at the corpse on the sofa.

"How?" Whimsy folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. "How," he repeated, "does a man lose his penis by mistake?"

They both looked doubtfully at Gerald. He was in his Police Inspector's uniform, still recognisable from the case meeting that morning except that now his trousers, once so sharply pressed, rested crumpled around his ankles. A pair of comedy boxer shorts - some cartoon character that neither Whimsy nor Caprice recognised - had been pushed down to his knees. The elastic waistband had left deep striations on his skin. Gerald's fat thighs were sticky with blood. His lap was shadowed by a dark claret space where no dark claret space should be.

Caprice took a deep breath. "I've thought this through carefully, Guv, and there can be only one solution."

"Be my guest." Whimsy smiled, encouragingly.

Caprice was on her knees now by a blood-spattered skirting board. She pointed to a large bluebottle, also deceased. "Having invested in a a Rent-o-Kill franchise, our perp promised to dispose of the locust of shame - well, you would be shamed, wouldn't you? It's one thing having the occasional moth infestation, but locusts?"

She looked up at Whimsy waiting for permission to continue. He nodded.

"She dispatched most of the termites using conventional methods - gas, industrial strength vacuum cleaners, sticky fly-paper, killing off some houseflies in the process - but the final locust settled in the victim's lap. The Bug Disposal Expert, forgetting she had a bread knife in her hand - she was making a round of ham salad sandwiches at the time -" Caprice pointed up towards the crumbs on the kitchen counter. "Lunged at the locust and the rest, as we say, is in the lap of history. Or was it the gods? Or Gerald? I forget which, but I doubt it much matters."

Whimsy sucked his teeth in that annoying way that expensive plumbers and senior detectives have. "As a theoretical motive for murder, it stands up. Well argued, Caprice. Just one tiny flaw in this scenario ..."

"What?" Caprice sat back on her heels, whipped out her notebook and plucked the pencil from behind her ear.

"This letter -" Whimsy tapped the epistolatory evidence that he had found pinned to the fridge door by a magnet that bore the legend Present from Rhyll.


"Our suspect states that she cut off the Chief Inspector's penis because it was a locus of shame."

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Banned List # 5

An occasional list of things that should be banned in writing

1. The word 'then'. I was chatting about this with my Wicked Friend the other day. He had sharpened up his latest manuscript by deleting every then. He said it had made all the difference. Then is a lazy word. Writers use it because they can't work out how to travel through a scene.

"Then the mysterious jewel thief climbed down the cathedral. Then he passed some stained glass windows of Jesus and then he was was struck by romantic thoughts."* (Jesus does that to me too.)

2. Attributing lack of sound and motion to dumb, motionless objects.

"Notre Dame stood silent and still in the moonlight."*

Did it really? You mean it wasn't engaged in a Breton folk dance whilst singing La Marseillaise as is its usual wont when the moon is bright?

With several hundred thousand words to go, I have already been acquainted with motionless armchairs, tables, wardrobes, cottages, rocks, mountains and teapots. None of them are singing, whispering, shouting, chortling or burping. Their unnatural silence is unnerving.

3. Characters who behave out of character. For example, a 'well-respected psychiatrist' who says (at the first appointment) to the disturbed patient who is having 'visions':

"It's probably your guardian angel. Have you tried speaking to her?"*

These days, medics only have to suggest that you can catch chlamydia from an unwashed turnip to be struck off. Surely Guardian Angels are also beyond the pale?

4. Spell check. I hate spellcheck. It has turned far too many brains to mush.

"He [The mysterious jewel thief] was hair to the thrown. Then he gained access to the Presidential Sweets in the Paris Ritz Hotel."*

But then, as my Wicked Friend suggested: "Perhaps, after all the romantic thoughts - thank you Jesus! - the jewel thief was actually sucking Sarkozy's bonbons?"

* I am not making this stuff up.

Flipping Hell

The Demon Aunt's been on a training course. She was away from home for two days and spent the night in a hotel. Dinner, breakfast, lunch, travel: it all adds up. (Meanwhile, nationwide company accountants are weeping over their balance sheets.)

One day was spent writing down morning routines on a flip chart. The trainer gave an example:

I get out of bed.
I turn on the shower.
I get in the shower.
I pick up the shampoo and squirt some in my hand.
I lather my hair.
I get dressed.

AHA! said Demon Aunt, You forgot to rinse your hair.

This, apparently, is not entering into the spirit of things. (Clearly, it runs in the family.)

Everyone wrote their morning routines onto flip charts and then wandered around the room admiring everyone else's morning routines. Demon Aunt invented a dog, some chickens, a goat, highly efficient bowels, a solicitous husband who roasts and grinds his own coffee beans, and an ability to complete the Glasgow Herald crossword in under two minutes.

The point of this exercise - it was revealed - was to show that everyone has a different morning routine. Therefore, you should ask any elderly person in your care whether they would like their face washed before or after their breakfast.

I'll pause for a moment as I'm sure you will want to make a note of this startling piece of information.

I have a thing about training courses. In fact, if I had my time again I'd come back as a trainer and only accept Government contracts.

Most of the courses I've ever been sent on  attended begin with the trainer splitting people into groups, giving us a topic to discuss, getting us to feed back our findings and then summing up with: "Well, there are no right or wrong answers".

In recent years, I've been sent on attended courses called Making Work Fun! and Making Work Safe!

In MWF!, we watched a DVD of fish merchants in a Seattle fish market juggling with sprats and slapping each other around the chops with a wet haddock. O! Those Seattle fish merchants were having such fun skidding on sides of salmon - shouldn't it have been skate? - and using Atlantic Cod as ventriloquists' dummies.

Wouldn't you like to have similar fun at your desk?

Yes, but I would only feel qualified to enjoy myself quite so freely once I had completed the Handling Wet Fish At Work: Health & Safety Level III Training Course.

That DVD had cost my employer over TEN THOUSAND POUNDS. I would have dressed in a clown suit and got a toy poodle to do tricks for a fifth of that amount.

The second course, Making Work Safe!, was clearly bought from WeSawYouComingTraining.PLC.

Here are five photographs of complete strangers. Now arrange them in order of the threat you think they pose to you. The most dangerous will be first; the least dangerous last.

Isn't it rather stupid to judge solely* on appearances?

Just engage with the process, please. (The trainer smiled like a QVC saleswoman but her jaw was tight.)

Now, here is some more information about the photographs. Person A has recently been made redundant and has a grudge against the Dean. Person B has a shotgun licence and a manual on plastic explosives and a grudge against the Dean. Person C does Latin-American dancing and wants to display her Shitzu at Crufts. Person D likes choral music, solitude, monochrome clothing and the Pope. And so on.

Information was fed in miserly gobbets. We arranged and rearranged the photographs until ultimately the nun was deemed to be the biggest threat not only to us personally, but to Society as a whole.

Then the trainer announced: "This exercise proves that one cannot judge on appearances."

Three hours to get to the point we'd originally identified

So if anyone ever asks me to write my morning routine onto a flip chart, I shall claim a libidinous lover who's a whizz at the Times Cryptic, likes to be beaten on the bottom with The New Statesman and does me four times before the alarm goes off.

* impossible to avoid the puns once the subject of fish has been mentioned.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Labour's Dirty Tricks Campaign

Danny Alexander, son of the famous pipe band duo, today accused Labour of "laying stinkbombs around Whitehall."

Mr Alexander, sporting a sopping shirt and wet hair said, "And it didn't stop there. Harriet Harman asked me to smell the plastic carnation in her lapel."

Mick Clegg denied that his black eye was due to 'political differences' but blamed a small telescope loaned to him by Ed Balls. "He said it would give me an intimate view of the Horse Guards and I took him at his word."

Teresa May, sneezing and scratching wildly, said that several colleagues were nursing bruised fingers after accepting offers of chewing gum from the Miliband brothers. "I've been most shocked," she said, "by the biro they left on my desk."

The first cabinet meeting was disrupted by a series of loud farts. Several plastic skeletons have been found in cupboards. The chocolate dog turd left left in the Foreign Office was in particularly poor taste said an anonymous source, "Especially as everyone knows William holds Belgian chocolate in low regard."

An internal memo sent to all coalition MPs has advised against accepting humbugs or cigars from any Shadow Cabinet member. It ends with the message: "If Peter Mandleson invites you to inspect his ring, decline firmly but politely."

Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, Alistair Darling chuckled, "It's just a bit of fun. David's already demonstrated he can take a joke, hasn't he?"

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Dearly Beloved

Having identified gay marriage and abortion as currently among the most insidious and dangerous challenges to society, Pope Benedict will expand on this theme during his weekly sermon in St. Peter's Square.

Referencing various verses in the Bible, he will preach against other ominous behavioural trends which threaten to hurtle us into the apocalypse/abomination/desolation quicker than the bidding at a Princess Diana frock auction in Brighton.

These include:

Sitting on damp grass, swallowing chewing gum, pulling faces during windy conditions, standing on the cracks in the pavement, and not picking pennies up.

Amen and please shake hands with the person next to you - a brief, strong MANLY handshake, nothing else.

P.S. Do those plastic grooms remind you of anyone?

Artistically speaking ...

I've been swanning round all evening engaged in artistic pursuits, one of which involved four exploding cannons (note the precise spelling of this artillery considerately ensures no confusion within the Church of England which has enough problems thank you very much) that showered the very select (hem, hem) crowd in golden confetti and vanilla-scented fog. It passes for fun in this neck of the woods and all miles better than the whippet-whittling and cheese-rolling of my youth.

I intend to cram as many cannons into my social life as possible before the austerity measures kick in and museums have to start charging an arm and a leg (or, in the case of the Chapmans, a penis and a pudenda) for entrance. Who knows when you'll next be able to afford to view Napoleon's bed chamber or a head made of frozen human blood? Never mind the Minton tile collection.

Still, in our make-do-and-mend political agenda, I expect this Yorkshire-heavy cabinet (Eric-been-at-the-Pickles, Hague et al) with their flat feet and vowels  will insist on the reinstatement of whippet-whittling in the National Curriculum. And if whippets are whittled even just a little bit, they'll resemble Giacomettis and have some artistic merit so it doesn't do to be too pessimistic about the future. I've often heard it said (mainly in The Mirror) that the new cabinet are a bunch of artists.

Back to my Night of Art. Toulouse-Lautrec - now there was a man who knew a floozy or two (or forty-four). Yet he was ever so kind to them in his drawings and prints. (Not like Klimt with his less than quaint queynte complex. Did you know Adele Bloch-Bauer is in a state of rudity under her golden frock?) High kicks, opera glasses and flophouses; dashing lines, splashed reds and yellows, a thick swirl of black ink. Only a few hours have passed and already I am eager to revisit the exhibition; absinthe makes the heart - No! I cannot do it to you! Forgive me.

There's money in Art. In 2005, a Lautrec painting sold for £12.6 million. That would plug a few holes in the deficit so, as they appear to be on a winning streak, is it too late for Camclegg to enter The Turner Prize? Forty grand would be a sure start - especially as they are guaranteed first and third prize.

Why stop at art? Perhaps they could co-write a book? A heart-warming tale of triumph over adversity. Proof that it doesn't matter what unlucky hand life deals you: where there's a will - and a large inheritance - there's a way. Published by Faker & Faker, it will be a shoo-in for The Booker, T.S.Eliot, Costa and Nobel. The prize-money (they'll walk it) will go some way to addressing the pot plant and paperclip bill of the Cabinet Office. What have they - or we - got Toulouse?

Friday, 14 May 2010

More Breaking News

Chris Grayling has this morning been appointed Special Advisor to the Bed & Breakfast industry.

Chris Grayling clarified his new role in Government: "For far too long the British Bed & Breakfast industry has been the laughing stock of Europe. I've been appointed at the cost of £137,691 p.a. to bring some much-needed rigour into standards."

He admitted that he had thought long and hard before accepting this difficult position. "I have slept in my fair share of strange beds over the years," he said, "and there have been a number of times when I've been roughly woken in the night by a sudden protuberance."

Any B&B reaching chartermark status (The Golden Banger) will be inspected on a number of levels: mattress quality, quilted toilet tissue, potpourri and provision of Candlewick bedspreads.

Mr Grayling continued: "In some establishments, they're clearly playing hide the sausage. One flabby egg, some greasy fried bread and the chipolata's nowhere to be seen. Following the example of my great leader and his close friend's relentless internal probes into other governmental departments, I will be engaging in a series of intimate inspections to ensure that B&Bs across Britain can raise their flagpoles with pride!"

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Overheard Conversation #19

Queen: So you're - ?
Aide (WHISPERS): The new Prime Minister.
Queen: Is he?
Aide (WHISPERS): Yes, Ma'am.
Queen: He's awfully pink. (LOUDLY) Wear a hat, young man, and avoid direct sunlight.
Cameron: Yes, Ma'am.
Queen: One bought ones wallpaper from your grandfather's shop. Excellent quality.
Cameron: With the greatest respect, Ma'am, I believe you're referring to George.
Queen: George?
Cameron: Osborne. He's the new Chancellor.
Queen: Chancellor?
Aide (WHISPERS): The Country's banker.
Queen: I hope he's washed his hands. So you can't give one a good deal on Lincrusta? The morning room is looking a little tired.
Cameron: I'll see what I can do, Ma'am.
Queen: Well, Mr. Clegg, one is awfully pleased that you're the Prime Minister. One wasn't terribly keen on that Cameron chap.
Aide (WHISPERS): Ma'am -
Queen: His mouth's far too small. Shifty eyes.
Queen: And his wife's in Trade, you know.
Aide (SHOUTS): Ma'am!
Queen: Will you please stop interrupting - Mr. Clegg, one would be most pleased if you could sort out the fox-hunting. Philip's been dreadfully restless since that silly Mr. Blair banned it.
Cameron: I'll add it to the list, Ma'am.
Queen (MUSING): When one heard there was a Hung Parliament, ones heart leapt.
Cameron: It did, Ma'am?
Queen: For one glorious moment one thought horrid Dennis Skinner had finally been suspended. Literally.
Aide: Ma'am -
Queen: The man's a menace. Each time one opens Parliament, he's chancing his arm as a comedian - you're not funny, are you Mr. Clegg?
Cameron: Frankly, I'm  Dav-
Queen: Yes, well first name terms will suffice, Frankly, but you'll still need to call one Your Royal Highness.
Aide (WHISPERS): Eastenders in five minutes.
Queen: Off you trot, Mr. Clegg, and try not to break anything.

Roll credits

The Victorian Bride

Catherine - Mick Clogg
Linton - Rabid Cameroon
Heathcliff - Gorgon Brain

The story so far ...

Catherine wishes to marry Linton as the match will give her status despite her innate attraction to the dark and brooding Heathcliff. Mrs Linton (Margaret Thatcher in a rare cameo appearance) teaches Catherine how to be a 'proper lady'.

 Heathcliff (dark and brooding) seeks revenge on all those who have wronged him.

Location - the cellars and corridors of Westminster, behind doors with an inordinate amount of Noises Off ...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Breaking News

Talks between the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Parties have resulted in an historic settlement.

"We are pleased to announce that we will be working together," said William Vague, the one with the deepest and most serious voice. "The Liberal Democrats have accepted our unbelievably sincere offer of three Government positions and we look forward to future Cabinet meetings."

Mick Clegg said, "Both the Conservative Party and I want what's best for the Country. It is in my, I mean, our interest to work together. I am delighted to accept the post of Head of Paperclips."

Vince (Legs) Grable, the new Cabinet Minister for Teaspoons said, "I feel strangely stirred by this moment. We have made history. Oi! I've counted them so put that back."

Charles Kennedy, newly-appointed (Drinks) Cabinet Secretary said, "David's also put me in charge of desks and bookshelves and understair cupboards. Therefore, I am still more important than Mick Cleggover which is all that really matters."

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Anarchy in the UK?

I met an anarchist tonight - which was preferable to the Antichrist. (His table manners are dreadful.) The anarchist said that she hadn't voted since 1983 and didn't intend to now.

I said, "But what about the drains?"*

I quite like anarchists. I used to have them in my basement. They could never agree on anything and were forever running out of milk.

Above them was a Women's Cooperative Independent Bookshop. They once refused to sell a copy of the Lesbian Kama Sutra to a boy whose parents owned the Greek Restaurant (Eureka!) further up the road. They said he was being sexist. (Which, of course, he was.)

Above them was me, and above me was a small Methodist Chapel whose members organised breadmaking with the homeless three times a week. One of their regular breadmakers, a Big Issue seller called Dave, became the building's unofficial doorman. After a year of guarding the door, he had a heart attack and died. I felt very sad about this. I liked Dave and had bought him a bacon, egg and sausage sandwich most mornings. At his funeral, I found out that the hairdresser next door, the newsagent across the road, and the local greengrocer had also bought him a bacon, egg and sausage sandwich most mornings. He'd been larded, but at the wake he was lauded.

The most memorable moment in this most memorable of buildings was the time the poet Michael Horowitz gave a performance in the office. He was playing his anglosaxophone (a Lenor bottle with a mouthpiece) and was yodelling a selection of his poems. Outside, the street ran scarlet with hundreds of football fans chanting for their team (about to lose in a European final). Meanwhile, I was trying to explain to a young and very confused policeman how a co-worker had come to be injured by an intruder who had stolen her handbag. (She'd tripped over when she was chasing him and hurt her leg.)

"Who else was in the building?" he asked.

"Anarchists, Feminists, Homeless Bakers, Christians, a few Poets and a Priest."

It sounded like the opener to a very dodgy joke. The PC closed his notebook, made his excuses and left.

But if that was the joke, what was the punchline? Answers on a postcard - and if you can sort out the drains to the satisfaction of anarchists everywhere, you'll earn an extra ten points.

* I didn't actually say this; a friend did. But as he was quoting Joyce Grenfell, I feel quite at liberty to steal it from him.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Clat? Well fancy that!

In my previous post - borrowing heavily from the first chapter of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man - I used the word clat. Wells used it in his chapter and I liked the sound of it. I didn't actually know what it meant.

That'll teach me.

Last time I used a word I didn't know the meaning of, I was twelve and used begotten in a poem as I thought it sounded much more poetic than forgotten. The Begotten Doll was quickly forgotten - thankfully, no trace exists of this juvenilia. (And this admission won't stand up in Court, so sue me.)

(Apologies - it's been a lifelong ambition to say so sue me to someone. I saw the chance and took it.)

The Urban Dictionary has lots of meanings for the word clat - none of them suitable for sensitive souls. If you are a sensitive soul, don't click here.

I imagined that when Wells used it, it was intended as a derivation of éclat meaning a brilliant display or effect. So I checked other texts and - stone me! - he had written éclat in the first place.

Still, suggesting that Mrs Hall carried the cloth, plates, and glasses into the parlour and began to lay them with a group of promiscuous men shows a certain éclat, no?

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Invisible Man

The stranger came early in May one cold spring day, through a biting wind and a unseasonal hail, chaffeur driven as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station. He carried a little black Smythson portmanteau in his thickly Smythson leather-gloved hand.

"I get discount," he said to the driver when he noticed his envious stare.

He (the stranger) was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his Panama hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny aristocratically pink tip of his nose. He staggered into the Coach and Horses, more dead than alive as it seemed, and flung his portmanteau down.

"A fire," he cried, "in the name of Big Society! A room and a fire!"

He stamped and shook the dandruff from his shoulders in the bar, and followed Mrs. Hall into her guest parlour to strike his bargain. And with that much introduction, that and a ready (and unexpected) acquiescence to terms and a couple of used fivers flung upon the table, he took up his quarters in the inn.

Mrs. Hall lit the fire and left him there while she went to prepare him a meal with her own hands (which weren't gloved in latex as they should have been after handling cash).  A guest to stop at Iping in the spring-time was an unheard-of piece of luck, let alone a guest who was no "haggler" with little obvious experience of handling finances.

As soon as the chops were well under way, she carried the cloth, plates, and glasses into the parlour and began to lay them with the utmost clat. Although the fire was burning up briskly, she was surprised to see that her visitor still wore his hat and coat, standing with his back to her and staring at the wallpaper on the chimney breast. His beautifully leather gloved hands were clasped behind him, and he seemed to be lost in thought, muttering to himself.

"I never thought Anaglypta would make a comeback ... Is it time to revisit flock? What about Lincrusta?"

She noticed that the dandruff that still sprinkled his shoulders was drifting upon her Axminster. "Can I take your hat and coat, sir," she said, "and give them a good brush in the kitchen?"

"No," he said without turning.

She was not sure she had heard him, and was about to repeat her question.

He turned his large, aristocratic head and looked at her over his shoulder. "I prefer to keep them on," he said with emphasis, and she noticed that he wore big blue wrap-around shades. Bushy side-whiskers, a curly beard and an extravagant moustache spilled, erm, extravagantly over his coat-collar conspiring to completely hide his face. They were joined in this conspiracy by a heavy 'death metal' fringe, the Panama hat and a creased copy of the Daily Telegraph which he fluttered in front of where his facial features should have been like a fan.

To Be Continued ...

With apologies to H.G. Wells

But a bit of better butter makes better batter

I like butter - not in a Last Tango way - but I cannot think of a single dish that wouldn't be improved by some lovely butteriness. I could quite happily eat buttered toast without the toast. But I don't because - unlike Marlon Brando - I try to keep my less attractive urges in check.

I blame my mother for this. (The butter, not the less attractive urges which are entirely my own responsibility.) There was something going on with the milkman when I young. Something that involved exchanging washed milk bottle tops for a Milk Marketing Board Cookbook. Each recipe in that book began: Take 1lb of dairy butter, 2 pints of dairy cream, and add 15 pints of full fat milk. We lived on a Sixties housing estate filled with young wives who engaged in competitive coffee mornings. The milkman retired at thirty-five and went to live in Spain.

My granny talked about best butter - as if there were any other kind. 'I made this cake with best butter,' she'd say. I was confused: how many grades of butter were there? Of course, I know better now. Pale Normandy butter glistening with crystals of sea salt is the best butter; Anchor, over-salted and artificially yellow is probably the worst.

My father's been diagnosed with high cholesterol (not to be confused with that pungent aftershave Hai Karate). Consequently, the butter addiction which has characterised my parents' forty-eight year discord, sorry, marriage has been abandoned. Margarine - some sort of cholesterol-lowering plant extract spread - now sits unloved and untouched in the cow-shaped butter dish. 'I only want a little bit of butter for my bread,' Pa whimpers - fruitlessly as there's not a Dairymaid or Alderney in sight.

Margarine is a travesty of the highest order. Not only does it taste nothing like butter, but it has ruined a perfectly beautiful word. Margarine, with a hard 'g' like Margaret, means pearl or pearly. And then some chemist created oléomargarine from rendered beef fat and that luscent, nacreous, iridescent pearl of a word became forever linked with synthetic spread.

Poets have long known the real value of margarine.For example:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Margarine that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade.

(The Tempest - William Shakespeare)

And here's Robert Frost musing on his morning toast:

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like margarine, and now a silver blade.

Even St. Matthew urged us not to throw our margarine before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. (Matthew 7:6)

Utterly Butterly? Utterly rancid. Give it to the pigs.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Out, damned Sloth! out I say!

Further updates on My Brilliant Career

For reasons beyond my ken(nel), the Pet Psychic business has not been as successful as I'd anticipated so I've decided to diversify. Diversification is quite the thing. On The Archers, no-one just trundles round on a tractor vaguely ploughing any more. Instead they make cheese, yoghurt, icecream, and breed lamb-burgers (mint optional), venison chops and someone knits mittens out of llamas.

So, from today I am happy to be able to offer you a bespoke Demon Casting Out Service. I've seen a gap in the market as once Philippa Stroud is elected to Parliament as the MP for Sutton and Cheam, it is unlikely that she'll be able to meet her Demon Quota.

She's a high-flyer (which I think means she catches the demons in a large butterfly net) but I've never been one for aerial acrobatics, so will take a much more earthbound approach. That will be my USP: a practical and pragmatic approach to demon discharge.

Executive Service (The Big Seven with free complementary hot towels and aromatherapy foot rub)

Lucifer: pride
Mammon: greed
Asmodeus: lust
Leviathan: envy
Beelzebub: gluttony
Satan/Amon: wrath
Belphegor: sloth

(This is in line with Peter Binsfeld's classification of 1589. Keep an eye on The Stockmarket as once I go live, shares in Weightwatchers will tumble. )

European Service (All of the above but with added siesta)

Carreau: hardness of heart
Carnivean: obscenity and shamelessness
Oeillet: breaking vows
Rosier: sexual impurity
Verrier: disobedience

( Francesco Maria Guazzo was Italian so his obsession with sex shouldn't come as much of a surprise - although I don't think Philippa is Italian so that stereotype doesn't translate as well as I thought. No matter - keep a weather eye on British Rubber.)

Parliamentarian Service (All of the above but with added expenses)

Pythius: liars
Belial: vessels of iniquity
Merihem: pestilences
Abaddon: wars and devastation
Astaroth: inquisitors and accusers

(Sell! Sell! Sell!)

I'll also be offering a Demon of the Month service on B.O.G.O.F. which is unbeatable value (though I say it myself).
May sees Lucifer in the hot seat but after the 6th, I foresee considerable demand for this option and so bookings will be honoured strictly on a first-come basis.

Usual Terms & Conditions apply

Overheard Conversation #18

Location: an office
Characters: Tutor, a Young Scholar

YS: That essay I've got to hand in tomorrow?
Tutor (WARILY): Yes...?
YS: I thought I'd look at Animal Farm.
Tutor: Why?
YS: I like pigs.
Tutor: The assignment asks you to look at a short story.
YS: Animal Farm's not very long.
Tutor: It's a novel.
YS: Yes, it is very original.
Tutor: It's not a story.
YS: It's a very good story!
Tutor: You can't do Animal Farm.
YS: Oh. (BEAT.) Okay, I'll look at the religious symbolism in James Joyce's Eveline.
Tutor: The assignment brief asks you to look at a story in the context of your own writing.
YS: I know that.
Tutor: Is there much religious symbolism in your own story?
YS: My story hasn't got any religious symbolism.
Tutor: Hmmm...
YS: Although it could be converted into a story from the Bible.
Tutor (SHUFFLING THROUGH SOME PAPERS): It's about a boy setting fire to a dustbin.
YS: Yes, but the character does a bad thing and the person he hurts forgives him and saves him from punishment for his sins.
Tutor: You really shouldn't force a fit ...
YS: If I make the binman Spanish?
Tutor: Spanish?
YS: Give him a beard and sandals?
Tutor: Why?
YS: Because then my story would be full of religious symbolism.
Tutor: Does Eveline have a beard and wear sandals?
YS: I think the beard is implied rather than realised.
Tutor: You haven't read it, have you?
YS: Not exactly, but the notes on Wikipedia are very good.

Roll credits as tutor curls up in the foetal position under her desk

Browned Off

This post was due to be entitled Whither Phyllis? which is completely different from Wither Phyllis! It is imperative that I point this out. (There's a pun in there somewhere if you look hard enough.) Still, having formed the title, I swiftly realised that I would spend half the post explaining its significance which would have you summoning the usherettes and demanding an immediate refund.

Tangent: Did I tell you I was once employed as an usherette? Once as in forever ago, not as in a singular act of working - if only! I fell asleep in the second act of thirty-three performances of John Arden's The Happy Haven and sold more ices in the interval of Marat/Sade than anyone else. (It was Hot Stuff.)

Ooh, it wasn't a tangent. I've found a way to make a connection.

The reason I fell asleep during thirty-three performances of The Happy Haven was because it was such an unrelentingly dull play, directed in the dullest possible manner, with a cast of dull actors: altogether so very dull that I became browned off and eventually nodded off.

I always thought browned off meant fdup - sorry, slipped into Tyke there - fed up or annoyed. But according to Ivor Brown (get used to this; I shall be quoting from him a lot) browned off means bored and was the Service slang of the Greater War. (That Greater War is heart-wrenching, considering that Mr Brown penned these words in 1942 ...)

Why don't we like brown? We fall into brown studies. Certain toadies (see below) brown-nose. Electricity shortages lead to brown outs*. All right, we may become as brown as a berry but this is a fruit with which I am unfamiliar as, not being partial to acorns, all the berries I eat are either red or purple. In 1942 to do brown meant to cheat. I expect a certain gammon-pink someone will resurrect that expression in the near future and flog it to death over the next five years ...

* There are no subliminal messages in this post, except the one concerning Phyllis.