Monthly Archives: August 2006

The greatest chat show question ever?

On the chat show the, “Kumars at Number 42”, they had an interview with Alan Alda, and the father asked him:

“I understand you started smoking a pipe at the age of three years, was that to make you look older Alda?”

Astrologist – somebody who hates somebody based on their star sign?

Could Astrology actually be true? It seems awfully unlikely but it is – of course – possible.

There are a variety of systems which exist in the world which sound almost laughably silly but help because they make things easier to remember. For example Feng Shui is effectively the practice of furniture arranging viewed as “what would a dragon do”? You might not think that dragons know about the arrangement of furniture but think of it another way. When you sit in a space and you feel too cramped what the arranger has forgotten is that people need space around them, when you look at a room that seems to be broken up and bitty you have forgotten that the room needs a visual sweep and that if you put a lamp in a precarious position you have forgotten that a dragons tail needs space when it goes round tricky corners. In fact it’s much easier to remember the few key rules of dragons and how they work than all the specific rules of style. It’s a form of systemization. It’s kind of like not having to remember exactly how long an inch is but instead measuring the thing with the bit between your knuckle and the tip of your fattest finger – a kind of rule of thumb.

Astrology probably developed in a similar way. People for a variety of reasons will tend to be similar if similar things have happened to them, and similar things will tend to happen to them based on the times of the year that they are born. These could vary from temperature of the child in bed in the first few days of life to being one of the oldest or youngest in the school year. So the stars could have nothing to do with it working or not working they could just be the way that people identify which time of the year you were born.

Actually I’ve never read a horoscope and had it ever come true. I’ve never seen it and said, “oh yeah that’s incredibly spooky”. There is so much generalisation in there as to make it completely irrelevant and stupid. The part that is harder to throw away is the descriptions of your sign. Some descriptions of Aquarius, Taurus etc seem to be reasonably accurate of the kind of people who fit in that group. And I think that part of it is probably reasonably likely to be due to a combination of real world factors as described above (eg. temperature, age oldest to youngest in class, etc).

But I once suggested this to a keen astrologist and she said I was completely wrong. So I asked her for her “scientific” explanation of astrology. Her answer? She said that the human brain gets a real kick at the exact time of birth and that kick is incredibly subtly influenced by gravity. So that even the exact positions of far away stars can affect the way that the child’s brain will grow from that moment on. Sounds unlikely to me but then I suppose – you never know.

People say that being a hostage is really difficult…

…but I think I could do it with my hands tied behind my back.

Thanks to Phil Nicol who just won the if.comedies which is the new name for the Perrier award. They really do have to change that name again, the new name is rubbish.

Why different species can’t mate

Literally* the problem of the birds and the bees. I was asked the other day about why different kinds of birds can’t mate. And it’s a question that seems to divide people. Some people seem to think the answer is really obvious and others seem to think that they probably can.

This seems to all stem from a strange feeling that people have that birds might be a species rather than a class. So some people think that you can kind of go: cats, dogs, birds in a list and that this would be a sensible list. But it’s not really true. You would be able to go: cats, dogs, chickens. These are all animals or species of animals, but the first list contains a class. So you should go, mammals, birds.

In fact birds are more diverse a class than mammals and yet we wouldn’t think of cats and dogs mating (although I once met a person who thought that cats are female dogs but they were stupid). Compare a hummingbird to an emu would you think they could mate? (Although a lot of people think that emus and ostrich are closer to mammals than other birds they are still closer to dinosaurs than mammals actually.

*There was a story during the first world war of a village that wanted to show that it had more food and supplies than it actually had so that they enemy wouldn’t want to attack it. But all they really had was one cow so they painted the cow a different pattern every day. The first time I heard somebody talking about this story was when they were talking about a painting of this incident. And this they had to say was a painting of a person literally painting a cow. It’s a great example of somebody using literally correctly, because literally has become now an autoantoym which means that it means the opposite of itself. Other examples are dust. To dust can mean to remove particles from something and can also mean to add particles to something (first like cleaning, second like cooking). Literally means in actuality something and also can mean figuratively something. So you can use literally to say explain how when you translated something into English you translated it word for word, “he translated it from the Latin literally”. Or you can use literally to make a metaphor stronger, like “he was literally ready to explode”. The second meaning came about by accident and shouldn’t really be acceptable as far as I’m concerned.

There are more here:

I had a dream

That one day my four little children… whoops I don’t have any children.

But I did have a dream the other day which was pretty odd. I was dreaming about track racing, more specifically I was dreaming about the four hundred meters race. Now in Formula 1 racing there is a specific thing that happens if it rains, you still go out and race but you use different tires. Obviously this situation was weighing on my mind at the time of this dream, as I noticed that it was raining at the track. And just as I wondered what they do in the running races when there is a wet race then I heard the commentator explaining that exact thing. This is what I heard:

“Well the race has been declared officially wet. So we are expecting that all of the racers will have gone for their wet trainer. The wet training shoe has spikes in it and also has been warmed so that it displaces more water than a usual cross shoe. But what’s interesting today is that only three out of the four racers is using their allotted dog.”

Yes that’s right, “dog”. As I looked down at the track I could see a set of dogs lying on the blocks of three of the racers, but not the fourth. I carried on listening:

“Yes, three of the competitors are racing as usual with dogs on their stocks, but not the racer in lane four. There are obvious advantages to having a dog on a wet track, especially fluffy dogs like these, they tend to soak up all of the water on the start line. But of course there are disadvantages, first some runners prefer to not have to stand on either side of the dog as they feel this unduly slows them as they start running. And of course, as Kriss Akabusi found to his chagrin back in the late eighties your start dog can also bite”.

It was at this point I woke up. And the only thing that I can add right now is that I suddenly realised a few hours later that the dream didn’t make sense. I mean of course it doesn’t actually make sense, but it doesn’t even make sense in it’s own internal logic. If you were going to get a furry dog to lie on your starting blocks before the start of a race wouldn’t you get them to move out of the way just at the last minute? Rather than standing on either side of the dog when basically you’d still be standing on the wet?

A male rabbit walks up to a bar and says "I’m not moving"

The bartender says, “I see, the buck stops here”.

Simple changes

I was talking to a taxi driver the other day and he was telling me that he was going through a rough patch at home.

I like to get into conversations with taxi drivers about them rather than their political beliefs and so on. I think it’s kind of interesting to talk to them about what makes them tick because frankly it must be kind of boring being a taxi driver. And there are the main thing that everyone likes talking about is – themselves. So I imagine that it gives them some fun and is an interesting diversion in their day. Of course it might be that every other punter is doing the same. Or it might be that underneath their brusque exterior they are essentially very shy people and that is why they chose a job where they spend no time with anyone but also hopelessly close to them?

So anyway for whatever reason I do it I tend to talk to taxi drivers about their personal lives, and you get some very interesting stories. And this guy, Paul was his name, was going through a rough patch at home. He had done something he said, he didn’t want to say what it was, but he had done something a few years ago and his wife had never really forgiven him. And then his wife in retribution had cheated on him, which – he told me – had stretched things to breaking point. There had been a lot of rowing and shouting and this, he said, had been their way of things for the last few years. But a few months ago they had been on best behaviour as they had been called into the school of their child and had been told about how their child’s behaviour had been getting worse for the last two years and had suddenly got so bad that they had been called in. So, he said, he wasn’t now sure what it was that had caused it to happen but he thought it might have been because they were all dressed up to meet the headmaster, and had been on best behaviour themselves, but after the meeting they had sat in the car in the carpark and had a conversation.

The conversation, he said, had started because he had said to her, “You know how we’re always saying that we’re staying together for the kid? I’m starting to think that it might not be doing him much good”.

And ever since the conversation things had started to get better. Because while they still argued, there was more chance of a conversation now then their had been. Things still weren’t great though he said.

At this point I made a suggestion, it was just a little suggestion, but one that I’d been thinking about for a while. I suggested to him that he swap sides of the bed with his wife. I mean there’s no reason why you have one side or another, people just start on one side or the other and then stick with it forever. And really, in the end, you’re just getting stuck in a rut. And even though it seems such a small thing it does three things simultaneously. It literally gives you a new perspective, it moves you out of your comfort zone and if you argue with the idea then you know that there’s no hope. What I mean by the last point is that there is no real reason not to try it, it might help it might not. But the person who suggests it is at least trying to make things better, the person who says no has no leg to stand on if they aren’t even willing to change sides of the bed to save their relationship then the relationship is probably doomed.

He said he was going to try it.

Andrew Lloyd Webber walks into a Burger King

Andrew Lloyd Webber walks into a Burger King and says, “Give me two Whoppers”.
And the guy behind the counter says, “You’re good looking, and your musicals are great”.

A pint of lager please

I’ve always believed that nobody in the world goes into a pub and orders a “pint of lager”, but on soaps people do this all of the time. Surely the next question that the publican would have is “which lager would you like? We have several on”. In soap operas I can sort of understand it because they don’t want to be mentioning a brand all of the time. But I don’t see why they don’t do what Coronation Street does and invent a brewery that way people can simply order the imaginary beer from that place and not sound really silly.

The only time that I had seen people do something similar was when they would order a lager top (a ridiculous drink in my opinion which is simply beer with lemonade in the top). I have been told by some people that it is very refreshing drink, which may be true but I can’t imagine it, personally I find lager a refreshing alternative to bitter on a Summers day so I can’t see how making it even sweeter and fizzier is going to help the poor drink. But I do understand why if you’re ordering a lager top you are effectively planning on ruining the taste of whatever beer you’re ordering so you may as well have the cheapest one that there is, hence “lager top”, although I have increasingly heard “Fosters top” being used which presumably is because the lemonade doesn’t have enough sugar in it.

On a slight aside, I can understand the lager top thing being refreshing really, I know that other people have different tastes than me – so that’s fine. The thing that annoys me about them is that certain people seem to think that putting a small amount of lemonade in the top of their beer renders them alcohol free. I mean it will reduce the alcohol level slightly but only by the inch of beer that they didn’t put in. This is a big annoyance for me, and for a time when I would ask people why they were drinking a lager top and they told me that it was because they were driving I’d suggest to them that they should simply have an inch less than a pint in their beer – but somehow they felt that the dilutive effects were much stronger than they possibly could be. I think that the entire practice probably came from another horrible invention the lime top. This came from the Mexican beer trend of having lime in the neck of your beer (a very good thing) and applying it to regular beer by putting an inch of lime cordial in your pint of beer (a very bad thing).

But back to the main point of not ordering a specific beer. A few weeks ago I actually saw somebody do just this. They said, “a pint of lager please”. And I almost spilled my pint! The waitress (for it was a pub with waitress service – oh yes) started reeling off names, he said, “whatever’s cheapest luv”. Which reminded me of an ordering I’d seen years and years before (this time somebody I knew) which went, “Which beer do you serve which has the most alcohol in it? I’ll have that one”. Which is sort of the same but hadn’t triggered the concept in my mind because they didn’t use the magic phrase “a pint of lager please”.

There is an element of this conversation which revolves around the idea of beer as a “getting drunk delivery system”. Some people in certain situations just want to get drunk. They don’t care how they do it. But I’m not sure that’s what’s going on here. Because in that case they’d know what they were doing and sit outside with a can of Special Brew. Here they know they are in a pub and they know they want a lager but they haven’t ever even bothered to learn what they like.

I wonder particularly if it is something about beverages which is the thing, or rather a thing that bugs me. Because it also bugs me when people say, “a tin of pop” or a “can of drink” surely you know what kind of drink you want. But on the other hand I will ask for a pack of crisps. Because sometimes you know you want a packet of crisps but you don’t know which ones you want.

I have always explained this discrepancy by simply referring to the sheer number of crisps available and the fact that in pubs while they might have all the beers out on display for you to read out their names, the crisps are often hidden away.

It probably shouldn’t annoy me, but it does. Because I want to believe that people drink beer because it’s a nice drink, not just to get pissed. And if they don’t even care which of the beers they are drinking then its certainly not going to help.

I only popped next door for a bowl of sugar

“Hi, I’m your new next door neighbor,” I pointed to where next door was for dramatic effect.
It was only now that I looked up at my neighbor and realised what she looked like. She was young, blonde and pretty and was wearing a negligee* which left literally one thing to the imagination, her left arm. Her arm was bandaged, mummy style, from her nape to the tips of her fingers.
She saw me staring at her arm and seemed about to explain what had happened when I said, “please don’t explain it. Otherwise you really will leave nothing to the imagination”.
She looked back at me with that quizzical look that some people look at me with and said, “I bet you’re good with knobs”.
“I beg your pardon”, I seemed, suddenly, to say.
“Well,” she said coquettishly, “I didn’t answer the door, you opened it. And this door hasn’t opened by human force since the early eighties. We use the back for access”.
I realised she was playing with me, and I decided not to play along.
“Now look here”, I said, while I was pointing at a crack in the door, “I didn’t force entry”.
“I know,” she replied, “you look innocent enough”.
“I just wanted to borrow a bowl of sugar,” I had even brought the bowl, and as if to prove the point I brandished it at the appropriate moment in the sentence.
“Oh,” she said in that disappointed way that some people are terribly practiced at. It was as though, all of a sudden, I was the thirtieth person that day who had ambled past wanting sugar, when moments before she had genuinely thought it all a ruse.
“Do you have a picture of your wife on you?” she asked naturally.
Naturally, as an unmarried gentleman I did not, and I said so, “Sorry I don’t”.
“Who, may I ask bought you that china if not your wife?”
“Oh it was my mother, years ago, she’s dead now of course”.
“Oh a mothers boy, looking for a replacement”.

And with that she grabbed hold of my bowl and said, “well lets see where this take us”.

* negligently as it was pretty cold that morning.