Monthly Archives: October 2003

We’re pumpkin eating pixies you see.

On the doorstep of a house in Dorset a jack-o-lantern sits. And in this lantern round the tea light two little people sit. It’s Halloween and the magical world is alive for one night of the year. Witches eat their packed sandwiches, goblins gobble them all up, ghost eat toast, ghouls eat gruel and Tom and Andy, the two little people in the particular jack-o-lantern we’re interested in, eat pumpkins.

“I’m sick of pumpkin Tom.”
“Oh shut your cake-hole Andy.”
“Cake. That would be nice. A great big slab of chocolate cake.”
“Yuk. Andy you’re putting me off my food. It’s just unnatural.”
“Well I could put some pumpkin in it.”
“Why do you have to do anything to the pumpkins? Greatest thing in the world is a pumpkin!”
“Now, I’ve had pumpkin pie before, but frankly the crust was take it or leave it and I left it. But that’s as far as it goes.”
“We’re pumpkin eating pixies you see. That’s all there is to it. Pixius pumpkinus is our Latin name and there’s a reason for that.”
“But it’s a bit boring isn’t it.”
“No it’s a fascinating history of our species.”
“No I don’t mean that how we got out Latin name is boring, although it is when you hear it for the millionth time. Bui what I meant was PUMPKIN IS BORING.”
“Don’t be so mean. It will hear you and it might turn bad.”
“Turn bad? It’s bad already!”
“Listen Andy. Just shut up, alright? How did I get stuck with a radical on a night like tonight? It just doesn’t bear thinking about. Your cousin vouched for you and all, but I thought there was something of a glint in his eye. And I bet he didn’t have an albatross to Barbados scheduled for this week with non-refundable tickets. He probably just wanted to get rid of you.”

Andy starts crying.

“Oh. Oh, I’m sorry mate. I didn’t mean it. Look cheer up. Have some ale. It’ll warm you up a bit.”

Andy take a mouthful and then spits it into Tom’s face. Tom’s taken aback but then he suddenly notices that Andy isn’t crying any more. He’s laughing.

“What,” says Tom, “are you laughing at?”
“You, of course. Oldest trick in the book and you fell for it. Remember three pumpkins back?”
“What at the Thompson’s?”
“Yeah. I asked you for a bite of the really juicy bit and you said ‘No’.”
“Well that juicy bit was a treat and this my friend was the trick. I so had you.”
“No you didn’t.”
“When you launched into that history speech I almost died.”
“Look shut up okay.”
“The guys at the patch are going to have a field day.”
“Oh no.”
“Oh yes.”

Bing bing bing bing Are you ready children?

I was in Belgium today to celebrate Christmaaasssss! Bing bing bing bing Are you ready children? Bing bing du du dah dum di dum.* Actually no, I wasn’t there to celebrate Christmas but in fact to celebrate my girlfriend’s and my anniversary. One thing that’s very strange about celebrating anniversaries in France is that it’s very easy to get confused between anniversaries and birthdays.** But luckily we didn’t have too much of a problem. I had all kinds of language barriers appearing before me as I struggled to differentiate between simple phrases that previously I had been quite confident with. I shall detail one of my conversations which has been translated back into English for your convenience.

Reception: Hello, Good Morning, Reception here.
Me: Hello. Er…
Reception: Yes.
Me: There is water in the shower which is not hot.
Reception: Yes, I’m terribly sorry about that, it is broken.
Me: Ah, later.***
Reception: No, an engineer will come and fix it today. I can do nothing but apologise with all my heart and offer you a free night at any Comfort Inn of your choice. Me: Thank you, please, goodbye later.

As you can tell, only by my dextrous use of French was a disaster avoided.

But, as they say, it’s all swings and roundabouts. Later on a long string of abuse came my way after I had accidentally knocked over a glass. Clearly the individual was being incredibly sarcastic in her delivery of her insults because I just assumed she was being nice. Well you hardly expect to be insulted for knocking over an innocent glass at another table. In Britain, it would have had nothing to do with her, in fact in Belgium it would have had nothing to do with her either, but in her mind it was a personal attack on everything she stood for (which was not much, given how drunk she was). At any rate she insulted me and I just assumed that she was being nice until it was handily pointed out by Katherine what had really happened.

Anyway another international incident was avoided by them leaving moments later. And some delicious Belgian beer arriving seconds later.

* I wish it could be Christmas every day – Slade
** Happy Birthday is Joyeux Anniversaire and Happy Anniversary is Anniversaire Heureux in French, but luckily we were in Belgium. Happy Birthday in Flemish is Gelukkige Verjaardag and Happy Anniversary is exactly the same. We should have been in a pickle but luckily we spoke to each other in English and avoided the problem entirely.
*** I had the words for of course and later confused. I kept saying A bientot instead of Bien Sur.

Peace reined and Rule Britannia was playing on his inner monologue.

Today more scenes from our intrepid debonair man that epitomises cool and dashing derring-do, last seen riding off into the sunset on his bicycle: (Apparently it tested well in a focus group).

He changed up a gear. He knew he was being followed. He could sense it.

He looked in his specially fitted wing mirrors and he could see him. His potential captor was riding a chopper. And it was fully loaded. It even had the bits of tinsel coming out of the handlebars.

He was gaining on him. He took evasive measures and changed gears again, but it was quite hard work on his thighs so he changed back.

Suddenly as if from nowhere the chopper overtook him and everything went quiet once again. Peace reined and Rule Britannia was playing on his inner monologue.

Apparently it tested well in a focus group.

There’s a beeping coming from somewhere in the room. And a low hum. Actually the hum is getting les low and more loud.

But the man at the centre of it all looks cool, he just does this automatically wherever he is. After a while of observing him in many different settings one begins to imagine that he’s had a panic bypass at some point. Or maybe he’s just very very stupid and at some point in his youth he decided that life wasn’t fragile after all and that he alone was indestructible.

He did, it appears, have a point. He’d been in more scrapes than I’d care to mention, and a fair few that I’m planning on mentioning in order to write his gripping autobiography.

The publishers have asked for this rather cumbersome title: “He’s no James Bond: The story of a real life James Bond.” Apparently it tested well in a focus group. Anyway that reminds me…

Our man focused on a group of objects in the corner of the room. It was a fridge that he had been edging towards. That would account for the humming. But… what… was… in… side… humming? It was his watch. He put it on, left his house and rode his bicycle to work.

Listen I need another hour’s sleep.

The alarm bell rings on the cooker clock. He jumps slightly but she just calmly walks over and makes it stop.

“I don’t think it was particularly necessary to set the alarm in the kitchen too,” he says and gives a slight shiver.
“I thought it would be good to…” she begins her sentence but doesn’t finish it. Whether she believes that he will instinctively infer the end of her thought or whether she instinctively realised that he didn’t care is unclear.

He stands up, “This is no good. I’m going back to bed.” “But…” “Listen I need another hour’s sleep. Without I’ll be no good. I’ll see you later.”

She sits and frets. At one point she thinks about making herself a cup of tea. She gets as far as filling the kettle and putting the bag in the cup, but she is sitting at the kitchen table when the kettle clicks off and she doesn’t even flinch.

Exactly one hour later she goes to wake him.

She walks in the room.

“What are you doing here?”
“You said an hour.”
“I said I needed to sleep for an hour. I haven’t been able to sleep yet. It will probably take five hours for me to get one hour’s sleep.”
“Please, leave me to sleep.”

Madonna! Pope Eugenius III.

The telephone rings and it’s Madonna on. I’ve got the Pope here he’d like to talk to you.

Ah yes, I thought, Madonna, and the Pope, I’d been wondering how they’d been getting on since my previous article: Britney, Beyonce, Christina? Madonna!.

The Pope comes on the phone, we speak to each other in Latin but I’ve translated for those readers who don’t speak-a-de-lingo.*

“Hey man”, the pope starts, “what’s all this about a new calendar?” “Well it’s better. The other one is rubbish and totally out of date.” “Look, it’s only going to confuse everyone. I can’t have that happening. People think I’m addled already, what are they going to think if I start modifying the calendar just on the Pope’s whim?” “Well it’s happened before. There were two Thursdays one week in 1147. Pope Eugenius III.” “You’re throwing Eugenius the third at me?” “Well, come on? He wanted a party on a Friday. And because it was a day of fast he decried the Friday a Thursday.” “So what?” “So there were two Thursday’s that week just to suit the whim of the Pope. Don’t you think that’s a little hypocritical?” “Hey if you’re looking for hypocrisy in the Catholic church you’ll find better examples of it than that.” “Like what?” “Well. I don’t know. Like the troubles in Ireland.” “Go on.” “Well back in the days of Alexander II he was having some terrible trouble with the crazy Celtic Christians over in Ireland. So he told Henry II of England that God said that Henry was the rightful ruler of Ireland and that he should go and invade them and convert them all to Catholicism.” “Right.” “Well think about it. Now Ireland is a Catholic country and the troubles are between the Catholics and the protestants.” “Yeah.” “Well the Catholics in Ireland are supporting us against England, despite the fact it was us who told England to invade in the first place.” “That isn’t hypocrisy it’s just plain lunacy.” “Well alright. I’ll give you an example of hypocrisy. You keep banging on about your fabulous new calendar, but you don’t even use it in your own archive.”

He had me fair and square. So I did the only thing left I could do. I hung up on him. Maybe he’ll call back next week?

* In fact I’ve speak-a-de-lingo since I was in France as a child. My father decided to take me along to the fishmongers to help out with a bit of translating between French and English. French being on of the languages I was studying at school. The other being Latin. While conversing with the fish man he could obviously tell that I was English. I personal don’t think this was a slur on my French skills which were tip top but more because while I was translating into English for the man standing next to me who only spoke English** I kept calling him “Dad”.

Anyway, the man as mightily impressed with my French and asked me which other languages I spoke. So I mentioned English to kill time and get my thoughts together and then added that I spoke Latin. Of course what I really meant was that I studied Latin but the fishmonger picked me up on it straight away. He fainted surprise and then said, “I didn’t realise anyone ever spoke Latin. And was all had a big chuckle. And he gave me some free monkfish because, as he put it, “it’s good for the brain”. But then afterwards I thought, hey the Pope speaks Latin, what ever happens if I need to speak to the Pope? And so I studied hard and now I’m fluent.

** He only spoke English in this conversation, and so the fish man was only aware that he spoke English. In fact my Father can speak at least a smattering of French, Dutch and Russian.

The book with the missing first page?

A tear leaked out of his eye, rolled off his nose and hit the title page of the book. That just made things worse so he placed the book back on the side table and looked forward and blinked a lot.

He took a sip of the wine and realised that it tasted salty. He wondered why, but then he felt another tear hit his top lip and he knew. He never usually cried, in fact he hadn’t for years, in fact he knew the exact date, or rather the last time he had cried. He started thinking about it, and then he stopped. He consciously thought, loud enough in his head as though he’d said it, “no point raking over old coals.” So he thought about other things. Like how lovely his setting was. He’d arranged it all so that he could be found properly. So somebody would walk in from the hallway and see this kindly old gentleman (which is how he viewed himself and was actually accurate) reclined in an armchair by the fireplace, with a glass of wine, a bottle and fresh glasses within reach. But they never did come in, they hung around in the hallway and in the kitchen and in the dining room. Blast them, blast them and their continuous music and standing up.

And anyway, he thought, who would talk to him now he’d been blubbing. He probably looked really drunk. And anyway he had this theory that young people thought he was dead most of the time. Why did he have to go and find that book? Out of all of the ones on the shelves. There were so many to choose from, but it was his memory. It was starting to confuse things. Why hadn’t he realised it was that book? The book with the missing first page?

Even now he hated that boy. It was a blank page of a book. Why should it have mattered so much? But it did. Now every time he reached for his wine glass he saw it again.

He contrived a move of his body in the chair that would absolutely ensure the book fell on the floor. And it did. But it fell open right in front of him, displaying its wound. Celebrating it almost.

It had been almost seventy years since it had been ripped out. But the scar was just as severe today as it had ever been. That boy had forced him to give up everything. His tuck, his magazines, a slingshot and a Dan Dare badge. It seemed like nothing now, but then those were all the things that were his, and he took them all. The boy had taken everything that defined him. And all he had saved was the rest of this book. It was the only thing the boy had allowed him to keep, and he hadn’t dared show it to anybody. Because the scar revealed far to much of him.

A man was very excitedly talking into his telephone.

A man was very excitedly talking into his telephone. He had just received a telephone call and was now telling everyone of his good fortune. He was about to become almost famous, his name would not be mentioned but his phrase would. That was the important part.

The night before he had been sitting at a bar in central London when two radio producers or a radio producer and an editor, he wasn’t sure happened to take the two seats next to him. They were chatting about an appearance that Pamela Stephenson was going to make on their show the next day.

But they had a problem. How should they introduce her? Should they say “former comedian”? Or should they say “wife of Billy Connolly”? Each was a suggestion from one of them and so they were keen to criticise the other suggestion. In the end however they concluded that both suggestions sounded a little negative. So instead they mulled over the possibility of using “clinical psychologist”. But they decided that that lacked a little impact.

Defeated they turned to their beers in silence, until much to their surprise our man piped up with a suggestion. “How about,” he had said, “best-selling biographer”.

They had been so pleased they had bought him a beer, and over the rest of the evening had become firm friends. In fact, in a move rare in the London drinking scene they had even exchanged telephone numbers.

It had been one of them calling him to tell him that they were going to use his line, to thank him again and to suggest that they meet up some time soon. So now he was calling everyone he knew and asking them to listen to the show and hear his five seconds of almost fame.

At the time I witnessed this scene I really did think it was that his line was being read out on radio that made him so excited. But maybe, I’m thinking now, he was excited because he had made important contacts in the world of Radio. We shall never know, but either way I was glad to witness someone else’s unashamed glee. And I say “good luck to him”.

Apparently Tony Blair drank too much coffee.

So apparently Tony Blair drank too much coffee and suffered from heart palpitations.

I don’t buy it. It happened on the same day as David Blane was suffering from heart palpitations of his own and I think this is no coincidence.

Imagine the scenario, young hack phones in his report on his way home from the David “I didn’t eat nuffink” Blane event. He has heard the news that Blane is suffering from heart palpitations so he drunkenly phones in his report to the news desk. A minor glitch in communications and the rest is history.

The press have a headline so they phone up Downing Street for a comment. A quick decision is made while the news desk is only hold. If they deny it they look like they are covering something up, something that they can in no way afford to do.

So a story is concocted. A press conference is held and Tony suddenly has to take a little break.

So with this in mind I think it’s possible that you could suggest anything to Downing street and they will bend over backwards to not deny it.

Watch out for this headline later in the week. “Blair admits being Blane double in starvation stunt.”

He was seeing this anthropologist, but…

Ambiguity in screen comedy:

In film ambiguity is something that happens in acting not in dialogue. They say things that are lies but they are at least direct while they are doing it. They will tell you that they did not kill the man, but their eyes will tell you otherwise. This is not ambiguous, you are told what to think. Even the supposed sexual ambiguity of many characters in films is not that ambiguous. It does occasionally happen that characters in film are played in a camp manner and no direct dialogue suggests their sexuality either way but this is generally less about ambiguity and more about deniability. This occurs when a nervous director wants to introduce a moderately gay character but be able to deny it if the studios call him up.

Occasionally there are genuine cases of ambiguity of this nature, the two leading men in Hitchcock’s Rope are supposedly bi-sexual, although there is no evidence in the dialogue to support this. These supposed ambiguities are hard to pinpoint because they are all in the acting style and therefore totally dependant on interpretation. Hence the claim that this is all about deniability. But very rarely do you find true ambiguity in film; dialogue that is vague in its meaning. Here is an example of it from Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s comedy When Harry Met Sally.

Sally Albright (Meg Ryan): Is Harry bringing anybody to the wedding?
Marie (Carrie Fisher): I don’t think so.
Sally Albright: Is he seeing anybody?
Marie: He was seeing this anthropologist, but…
Sally Albright: What’s she look like?
Marie: Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.

There may appear to you to be no ambiguity here, and the reason you may think this is behind why dialogue ambiguity is so hard to spot. If something is ambiguous then it naturally causes people to understand one of the various meanings. People naturally see one meaning and ignore the alternative.

The ambiguity comes in the last line, “Your basic nightmare”. To understand this you have to understand what has happened during the film up until this point. Harry and Sally have argued and have been unable to remain good friends. They are both seeing different people and Sally appears not to mind. Marie probably doesn’t believe that Sally is really over Harry. The ambiguity lies in whether Marie is confronting Sally over this denial or not. If she is confronting her then she is saying that this is your nightmare because he is seeing somebody who is attractive. But she could just as easily be saying that women who are thin, pretty and who have big tits are a nightmare; perhaps because they are so vain. The ambiguity which is neither addressed in the dialogue or the direction is over the possibility of confrontation.

Of course this is a very obscure and unimportant case of ambiguity, but I believe that this is because dialogue ambiguity is so very rare. I challenge you to find a better case.

Anyway, here for your entertainment is one more quote from the film:

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal): The fact that you’re not answering leads me to believe that (a) You’re not home, (b) You’re home but you don’t want to talk to me, or (c) You’re home, desperately want to talk to me, but you’re trapped under something heavy. If it’s either (a) or (c), please give me a call.

Perhaps this too is ambiguous, the question is, what could be the heavy object to which he’s referring? Perhaps it is the wagon wheel.

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal look on while Bruno Kirby drags out his wagon wheel.