Simpler times

•March 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Do ever think everything was simpler before the days when you had to sell cigarettes with pictures of emphysemic lungs and green stumps of teeth on them? When everyone lived in their own innocent world of nonchalance and silver tongues. When men put on white hats to go fishing in. And you could sell a bag of tobacco with the slogan:

I’m like Velvet Joe –
“When I go fishin’
I want fish that bite
and tobacco that don’t.

Stop smoking fish then.

This Velvet tobacco company, which seems to have existed in the States for an indefinable period in the middle of the twentieth century, looks to have been a positive virtuoso in selling  the Age of Innocence schtick. That guy looks like what would have happened if Ernest Hemingway had concentrated at school, passed all his exams, and always did as his Mother told him.

Here are two more Velvet ads on a similar theme. First, the ad that goes, “Buy Velvet: Men in hats find them cheering”.

What exactly’s happening in that picture? The man with the horse and cart seems to have met the man with the  broken-down car in a country lane, stopped, offered no assistance whatsoever, but waved a pack of tobacco in his face. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this may also be the only instance in history of the word “killer” being used to advertise cigarettes?

Lastly, we have:

They must do: he said that without stopping smoking. You may well pluck at your waistcoat with your thumbs Sir. You may well.

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The Beck Gospels

•March 17, 2011 • 1 Comment

Let’s start Thursday with a few words from Glenn Beck.

“What God does is God’s business, I have no idea. But I’ll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus — there’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.'”

Here we go again. Foaming idiot boy blames Japanese Tsunami on Bad Deeds by People, because he doesn’t know any better. As a piece of ethical philosophy its vying for position alongside “All Dogs Go to Heaven went too easy on rabid pit bulls” and “White Men Can’t Jump savagely neglected Jonathan Edwards“. But you have to admire his logic.

“What God does is God’s business.”

That’s brilliant. It’s the sort of thing Fox News used to say about gay people. “If God wants to be an arbitrary homicidal baby with a twitch, then as long as he does it behind closed doors and doesn’t hurt anyone, I ain’t got no problem with it.”

He’s a minority of one, Beck; but he’s got rights.

I feel like we’ve been given a little insight into Geoff Beck’s God. He’s one of those guys who sits on the porch stroking a shotgun. The kind of man who only has a single tooth but can still eat corn on the cob. One of those strange types that manage to be bald but still have long hair, and who lost a thumb in the ’70s to a riled prairie dog. Keeps himself to himself. Wears hobnail boots and two pairs of trousers. Once killed a tourist with a crossbow. Friends call him Trigger. But he hasn’t got any.

Well Glenn, it takes all sorts.

History as told by the paperweights

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Look it’s an acrylic paperweight enclosing signed photograph of Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon, and two of their grandchildren.

Let’s search the internet for the best piece of political memorabilia we can find.

The only rule is, it has to be contemporary to the heyday of the political figure in question. No arch, satirical nutcrackers or balloon pumps please.

So first up, it’s the Reagan and Gorbachev board game. A game for two players. Player one dresses as a cowboy; player two cuts out a map of South America and puts it on his head. They find a wall and sit either side of it until it falls down. If play goes on too long the players make go for a city break in Reykjavik.

Item two, a signed, limited edition bronze of Margaret Thatcher from 1991 (cheating slightly already, but we’ll allow it). It’s going  for £18.75 on Ebay at the moment, so if you had the 400-odd dollars the Nixon thing’s up for, you could get both, and pretend to polish Thatcher’s buttons with Nixon’s brillo-pad sideburns.

Third up. For only $40 a collection of photographs of Colonel Gaddafi looking like a cross between Imran Kahn and Leo Sayer, as well as a copy of his Green Book, which is the text in which he explained to everyone in Libya exactly why he was lording it over them dressed as the plasticine uncle of one of the A-Team.

Last of all, and I don’t think this’ll be beaten this morning, it’s a silk effect souvenir scarf to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s papal visit to Britain in 1982. Shroud yourself in this little number and you can imagine you’re playing Wembley. Then, go round pretending to forgive all sorts of relevant sins, like the election of Helmut Kohl, or Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2.

Songs in the key of Pi

•March 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“The following is a musical interpretation of Pi to 31 decimal places.”

Turns out Pi’s a pretty spooky number until you get your ukelele out. Then it’s a number that starts to sound like it should be accompanying speeded-up footage of people in dungarees doing something industrious on an educational TV programme.

Anyway, that was Pi performed on a piano, keyboard, guitar, accordion, autoharp, ukelele, woodblock, handclaps, saw tooth thing, banjo, and glockenspiel. He explains pretty reasonably his rationale for assigning notes and chords to decimals, but he doesn’t really tell us how he chose the instrumentation.

Which is kind of important.

There are plenty of other numbers he could represent in music, but would the speed of light sound right on a banjo?

I want the speed of light krumped out on the toyshop piano Tom Hanks played in Big.

And could you do absolute zero on a glockenspiel?

If I were composing a piece of music to represent absolute zero, I’d do it with a theremin, a choir of sperm whales (we know they can do it), and a pneumatic drill.

And, while we’re thinking about blogs past, there’s the length than which any length shorter makes no physical sense.

Try picking that out on a Jew’s harp and a triangle.

Cheer up: it might never happen

•March 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

If you teach a monkey that when you switch a light on, it has to press a lever ten times in order to get food, its Dopamine levels go shooting through the ceiling, not when it gets the food, but when the light goes on. The prospect of pleasure is more exciting than the pleasure itself.

Now, teach a monkey that when you switch a light on, it has to press a lever ten times, and it might get food about 50 per cent of the time. This time, when you turn the light on, its Dopamine levels go shooting through all 102 ceilings (assuming this monkey’s in the Empire State Building).

Bearded biologist Robert Sapolsky says this works in humans too, and that we’re so obsessed with the prospect of possible pleasure (and go binging drinking more copiously on Dopamine as the odds of actually getting the pleasure lengthen) that we no longer care about whether the reward ever comes. Religious people delay the reward until after they’ve died, he points out.

I don’t think monkeys do that, which is a different question but worth mentioning because it reminds my of this little poem by Stevie Smith.

Back at my point, it’s getting scary. You can make your Dopamine levels soar so high they start interfering with giants and golden geese, just by  being promised something sensational which you’re unlikely ever to get. And overactive Dopamine signalling can turn people schizophrenic.

I’m sure you can’t go insane just by betting on a hobbled schnauzer in the Grand National, or praying for heavenly salvation mid-way through a murderous coach tour of Britain’s orphanages (assuming you wre a perfectly sane and balanced child killer on a budget holiday to begin with).

But the principle must hold.

So, here is my Daily Mail-style list of things which probably give you schizophrenia:

Promise rings, Samuel Beckett, test match cricket, queuing, Agas, endangered-species hunting, baggage handlers’ strikes, algebra, barbecues, the post, doughnuts, sticker books, amnesia, space travel, puzzle books, burrowing, the flute, gobstoppers, and puberty.

What else?

This is your captain speaking

•March 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So NASA had William Shatner wake up the crew of Discovery as Captain Kirk

“Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her thirty-year mission, to seek out new science, to build  new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before.”

Bit risky wasn’t it? What if they weren’t asleep, but he just caught them in the middle of an Apollo 13-style crisis. “Captain Kirk’s talking to me, I must be dead already,” they’d have thought.

Or if the ship’s computer had gone bonkers, 2001-style, when the starfleet wunderkind piped up? “Don’t tell us they’ve got to earth too.” It might have ended up like Planet of the Apes.

There have however been less misguided celebrity’s speaking to those in unspeakable places stunts.

Like the time when Leslie Neilsen addressed the Uruguayan rugby team that fell out of a plane in the Andes mountains, affecting to be Dr Barry Rumack from Airplane! Or when Sean Connery spoke to the crew of the Kursk submarine pretending to be Marco Raimus out of The Hunt for Red October.

“I miss the peace of fishing like when I was a boy.”

They might have been better advised to get Marco Raimus to talk to the crew of Discovery. He at least might have some handy hints for them. Like this one:

“Be careful what you shoot at. Most things in here don’t react too well to bullets.”

Or this:

“It reminds me of the heady days of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin when the world trembled at the sound of our rockets. Now they will tremble again – at the sound of our silence. The order is: engage the silent drive.”

Or they could have got Leslie Neilsen to say:

“The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.”

You’ll never get to heaven on an internet board

•March 8, 2011 • 2 Comments

Yesterday two things happened. First, a group calling itself The Intercessors started following me on Twitter. The Intercessors I gather are a web based Christian prayer forum-cum-messageboard to God. People write up their complaints, ailments, tragedies, anxieties, sorrows and diseases, & either all the other Christians who use the site pray for them, or God reads it, or both. What they might hope to gain in following me I can’t imagine. Possibly they were confused my by unfunny but assonantal claim to be the Bishop of Gloucester in my biography. Though how credulous you have to be to imagine the Bishop Gloucester is also a crepuscular blogger, sometime news-flogger, Milton de-boggler, Stoke City ogler, kidney dislodger and delusional wombler, I shudder to think. They don’t seem to be extorting money from anyone though they don’t sound entirely pleasant either. They’re a touch fundamentalist (can you be a touch fundamentalist? is it like being a teenth genocidal?) and are altogether terrified of sex.

They say, “Prayers are only allowed to be made to the One and Only God, through his One and Only Son Jesus Christ” and “Please do not ask for prayer if you are living in fornication (having any type of sex with someone) outside of marriage unless the prayer is to stop doing that now. In a similar manner, do not post a request for a ‘life partner’ but rather a husband or wife.”

You can’t help feeling they’re trying very hard to tiptoe round gay issue can you? Incidentally, my favourite prayer is this one:

Will be checking my credit score soon…NEED a score above 680 to buy a home…….PLEASE pray my score is above 680……..THANKS and GOD bless you!

Why didn’t he just pray for the house?

Anyway, they may by now have realised their error in following me and excommunicated me: I haven’t checked. I was tempted to draw their attention to the fact that I wrote this a few months ago… All of which brings me to thing number two.

Christopher Hitchens (who prompted that other post by urging religious types not to pray for him) has been joking that the severity of his illness has made him a “member of a cancer elite” who finds himself “looking down on people with lesser cancers.”

Hitchens writes, says the interviewing guy, “through a haze of cigarette smoke and filtered through kettles of Johnny Walker Black.” I’ve heard from elsewhere that ‘he’s a bottle of whisky a day man.’ He even sips at a glass of sticky brownish stuff through the interview. There’s another glass of the same on the table when he’s signing books in some garish hotel conference room.

Anyway, let’s recap. The Intercessors are now apparently interested in the things I say (even if it is in the misguided belief that I’ve been ordained, consecrated and now preside over an old Roman settlement in the Cotswolds),  and Hitchen is still dying but with a tumbler in his hand not a prayer on his lips. And these things both happened yesterday, and reminded me about a blog post I once wrote about Hitchens and prayer.

But that’s all. Watch the Hitchens’ video though. Maybe don’t play any sort of Withnail or Mad Men style drinking game along to it though: that’d be a touch macabre.