Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Limericks for no reason

There was a young actor from Tarsus
Who starred in some popular farces.
In his favourite scene
He portayed an old queen
Who went round feeling young fellows' arses.


I once met a gal named Melissa.
She's know as a wonderful kisser.
But treat her much nicer
And you might entice her
To show off her skills as a pisser.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bashing

The Bible is a recipe for human misery. And yet in amongst all those dreadful tales, the one that strikes me as the most insidious, the most subversive, the most evil, is one that could seem at first blush to be relatively innocuous, at least compared to some of the stories.

Incidentally, I initially wrote "has always struck me". I changed it, because that was inaccurate. It hasn't always struck me so. There was a time when I thought it was a marvellous, inspiring story, back in those days of long ago when I was studying to be a priest. Oh, how times have changed.

It's the story of Doubting Thomas. The moral of the story is that belief in the absence of any supporting evidence whatsoever is something laudable. Sneaky. But completely evil.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dream

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a magic gig at the weekend. What I didn't mention is that it was in Liverpool. But rather than have a weekend in Liverpool, we drove up on Saturday morning to Manchester, checked in to the place we were staying, and then I left my Lovely Husband™ to his own devices and drove on to Liverpool to perform.

On my way along the M62, I spotted what looked like a giant, white phallus poking through a neatly clippered pubic forest of fir trees. It turned out to be Dream, a big piece of sculpture only recently erected. And I really mean erected. The sculpture is of a young woman with her eyes closed, but the whole thing is elongated, and the hair has a very symmetrical parting which makes the whole thing look remarkably like a penis - at least when driving past it.

I thought it might have been an image of John Lennon or some other local big name, but it turns out not to be so. Also, it's a relatively recent addition to the landscape. And it turns out to have cost a huge amount of public money. This seems to be the in thing, now. Ever since the Angel Of The North, huge big statues seem to be the order of the day. Apparently, there are plans for a giant white horse somewhere in Kent. Is this how it's going to be - huge pieces of public "art" turning up all over the place?

Personally, I'd much rather the money was spent on things that are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct springs to mind, not that I'm suggesting for a second that we build aqueducts just for the sake of it, although I do think the Falkirk Wheel is a good example of the kind of thing I mean - beautiful, elegant, amazing, yet imbued with purpose.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gigs and giggling

I did a magic gig at the weekend. It had been a while. I've been more focussed on the stand-up comedy in the last few months. Interestingly, I found that my comfort and confidence levels have soared since my last magic gig, and I am now much better at controlling attention, and being completely on top of the pace at which I present my magic, not dragging or milking anything, but really getting the most from it, and maximising the entertainment value, the magical impact and the comedy. What has changed? It must be the stand-up.

Quite a few of my stand-up chums have suggested that I ought to use magic. I've largely resisted, apart from once when I was doing the compere role at Rye Wit (Wednesday nights, Catcher In The Rye, Finchley). It can make sense as a compere piece to do a big of magic. For me, it doesn't make sense within the context of a normal stand-up set.

What I love about performing magic is almost exactly the opposite of what I love about performing comedy. With magic, I have a fixed set of physical actions that I must perform to make the magic happen. Although there is some flexibility about the things that I say and the interactions that I have with the audience during such a performance, the tricks themselves provide a fairly rigid performance framework, and more or less dictate the trajectory of the entire act. There is less flexibilty, but on the other hand, having to work through the physical actions is almost like having script in front of me, and that can be a great comfort. In contrast, stand-up is much freer. I do try to have a decent narrative arc or at least to sequence the material in a way that makes sense, but I'm completely at liberty to talk about anything, with no bits of rope or cards to worry about. On the other hand, this liberty comes at the cost of flying without the safety net provided by the "script" of physical actions.

Besides, most of my magic is close-up and doesn't work on stage.

I'm on the very lowest rung of the stand-up ladder - the free or pay-to-play open-mike gigs, usually in pubs, often with an audience comprised of at least 50% comedians. At this level - and to be fair, even a rung or two above this level - it is not uncommon for acts to write cue words on themselves, usually on their palm, back of the hand, or wrist. I've done that once or twice, but I've stopped. I never really wanted to do it, and would prefer not to have to. And at the longest (and most important) gig I've had to date, I was a bit too concerned, and wrote a lot ... then ended up looking at my hand far too much. And that looks bad. That reminds the audience that you're not really sharing your extemporaneous thoughts, you're actually delivering material. It shatters the illusion a little. So these days, I don't write anything, I just make sure that I've rehearsed what I'm going to say. It's better discipline anyway, I think.

In my head, these days when I have a magic gig, I think of it as a gig. When I have a comedy gig, I think of it as a giggle.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My life according to Pet Shop Boys

My thanks to fellow comedian John Grindrod for this meme, the results of which he posted on his Facebook page. (He also writes the excellent Shouting At The Telly blog.)

Here are the rules:
Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. Try not to use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. Repost as "My life according to (band name)"

I'm skipping the "pass it on" bit, mostly because I'm no longer at primary school. You're all grown ups. If any of you fancy doing it, go ahead. I must confess, it was a toss-up between Pet Shop Boys and Madonna. No, I'm not an obvious, classic nelly-woofter at all, am I?

Are you a male or female:
Did you see me coming?

Describe yourself:
Losing my mind

How do you feel:
Numb

Describe where you currently live:
London

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Where the streets have no name

Your favourite form of transportation:
The Truck Driver & His Mate

You and your friends are:
Miracles

Favourite time of day:
Yesterday when I was mad

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
How can you expect to be taken seriously?

What is life to you:
A Red Letter Day

Your relationship:
Home & Dry

Your fear:
It's a sin

What is the best advice you have to give:
Was it worth it?

Thought for the Day:
I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing

How I would like to die:
So hard

My soul's present condition:
It's alright

Friday, August 07, 2009

Age and the perception of beauty

I find that as I get older, the world becomes increasingly populated with people I find attractive. With a few exceptions (Sean Connery, and my old friend IM spring to mind), the age group of men I find attractive tends to extend no more than about 5-10 years more than I am at any given age. However, there are often younger chaps who are pleasant to look at (although only to look). And as I get older, that means that an increasing number of the population falls within the range of what I generally find attractive. It's great. The world just keeps getting more beautiful. Not necessarily by proportion, but definitely by raw numbers.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Age and the perception of time

Over the last few years, as the perceived pace of life has quickened around me, I have developed the notion that the illusion of years passing more quickly as we get older is all about proportion.

When I was 4, it seemed like forever before I got to be 5. But then, the year from 4 to 5 added another 25% onto my entire lifespan. When I considered all my experience - which was even less than the starting 4 year point because my earliest conscious memories are from when I was about 3 - that year from 4 to 5 was a very substantial part of it. In contrast, I will soon be 39, and the time to get from 38 to 39 seems to have flown past at a rate of knots. But then, the year from 38 to 39 represents only 2.6% of my entire life experience.

I think because we hold memories of what has gone before, our experience is always diluted depending on how much is in that store. With only a little in the store, between 4 and 5, another year is a significant contribution. With a lot already in the store, one more year makes little difference.

Another way of looking at it is to compare one's life experience to a pie that gets cut up into slices, one for each year. When you're 4, those are big slices. By the time you're 38 or 39, the slices are getting pretty thin. Each year, individual slices become less significant, just as each year, the year itself becomes less significant in the scheme of things, and seems to go by very quickly because, hey, it's just another year.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lyin' Air

Some time between when I moved to NZ at the arse end of 2000 and when I came back in the summer of 2005, something went wrong with travel within the UK.

Before I left, there was good competition between the airlines, good prices, lots of flights, etc. It was also possible to pick up decent prices on train fares, too, making them another good option. Since I came back, I've been consistently appalled at some of the prices I've had to pay, especially on the trains. It's shockingly expensive, but apart from punctuality, which has generally improved, the actual journey has become much less pleasant.

Virgin Pendolino trains are the worst offenders. They seem to take their lead from airlines in terms of depriving folks of leg-room. I wouldn't be surprised if we start hearing tales of deep-vein thrombosis affecting regular long-distance rail travellers. And they are wont to induce travel sickness with their lurching around from side to side thing. And don't even talk about luggage space. Well, there's very little to talk about - it bearly exists. And for all this nastiness, they charge a king's ransom.

The previous healthy competition that existed between the budget airlines seems to have disappeared, and at the same time, the service from those airlines has become even more shit that it was before. But way out in front in terms of the barefaced, unashamed misleading information about prices and everything else, is RyanAir. Or as I call them these days, LyinAir.

They advertise flights for "£1". Except, that doesn't include the substantial taxes, which are not optional, and should therefore be reflected in the price. Nor does the advertised fare include any baggage fees. And since all checked in bags must be paid for at a rate of £20 per 15Kg, it's not exactly chicken-feed. The in-flight food is overpriced and not great.

Bizarrely, there is also a "check-in fee" that is not included in the fare. If you do on-line check-in, it's usually a little cheaper than if you do it in person at the check-in desk. Either way, you have to pay. Checking in is not an optional extra, and so any charges associated with checking in should be included in the fare. Failure to include that cost in the fare is blatantly dishonest.

Thing is, I already knew about all of that, after previous very unpleasant experiences. Today revealed another shocker. I thought I was getting a decent price for some flights to Scotland. Then at the last minute, the website slaps on a "card handling fee" of £10 per person! With one exception (Visa Electron), this fee applies. If it were a genuine card handling fee, it would be a flat payment rather than a per-person payment. It's just another blatant bit of thievery.

But now, because RyanAir and EasyJet managed, pretty much, to squeeze the other operators out of business, they can get away with just about anything. There are few, if any, alternatives. I hate having to use them, but there are times when I have no choice. But I am not a happy customer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Innoculating truth

Yesterday I caught up with the latest developments in the absurd case against Simon Singh. If you haven't already signed the associated petition, I urge you strongly to do so, and to encourage your friends and acquaintances to do so, too.

It got me thinking. One of the problems that science faces is that it deals with often complex situations, situations that have no simple, single yes/no, black/white outcome.

In contrast, the entire collection of made-up baloney on the unscientific side of the fence is very clear-cut and simple: all human ills are caused by subluxations (chiropractic), energy imbalances (reiki and similar nonsense), toxins (a whole host of bollocks non-therapies), and so on and on; your personality is determined less by a combination of genes and social environment, and more by the random positions of a collection of stars and planets at the time of your birth; and lets not forget the absolute certainty with which people assert the existence of their gods.

Science struggles because it doesn't fit so well into such absolutist frameworks. That's why the ignorant think they have scored a great intellectual victory when they spout such tripe as "remember, the theory of evolution is just a theory". They seem incapable of understanding the power of the scientific position. Scientists don't often say "This is absolutely true". They tend to say "This is the best model that we have developed so far". Idiots take this to mean that the current scientific model is therefore worthless, ignoring the fact that many scientific theories allow incredibly accurate predictions to be made, despite only being our "best approximation to date".

When scientific news is announced in the press, the truth is often lost because the detail gets squished in a black/white framework for which it is ill-suited. Journalists aren't interested in understanding the complexity. They don't want to know the details. They just want to be able to report that a new drug has been developed that will cure cancer, AIDS, obesity, or whatever else they think will sell the paper.

I've been pondering whether there is any way that scientific information can be innoculated so that it can survive exposure to the media without having its core message corrupted. Sadly, new age bullshit and religions all seem capable of surviving such exposure. So how can science be handled so that it becomes immune to corruption by the agendas of those reporting on it?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twits

Like many, many people, I just don't get Twitter. Nor do I want to. For the record, I am also not a fan of instant messaging, and tend to turn it off from gmail, Facebook, and other sites where it rears its ugly, unwelcome, interrupting head.

A few of my chums seem quite taken with Twitter, and there does seem to be an overlap between those who provide too much detail about their daily doings and those who use iPhones. I'm sure these things feed into each other. And some of them seem to have hooked up their twitterings to their Facebook account, meaning that I get that absurd level of detail turning up on my Facebook feed. It's really irritating, and I've resorted to hiding updates from friends who do this.

It got me thinking that the only way this technology is going to be acceptable to me is when it allows some sort of metadata that indicates how important the update is. That way, I can stay in the loop about important things that my friends are up to (e.g. if one of them is doing a show I might want to attend), but don't need to hear the trivial stuff ("going to the toilet", "in the toilet", "wiping" ...)

Of course, there's a lot more overhead involved, because I would have to specify what level of update was acceptable to me, and they would have to set the level each time they posted an update. Would it ever work? Or will we have to wait until the software is clever enough to understand whether a tweet is really significant (my gran has just died - she's gone for ever) or not (my gran has just dyed - she's gone for burnished beech-nut).

Not surprisingly, given the confusion of terms around twitter - tweets, tweetings, twittering - it is very tempting to call those who use it either twits or twats. Not that I ever would, of course.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shoe / Lace / Blue

Is it my imagination, or have shoelaces become shit over the last few
years? The number of times I have started tying my shoes in the
morning, only to have the laces break on me is going up and up all the
time.

Is it one of those things that happens as you get older but no-one
tells you about, and you are left to discover it for yourself?

Are there environmental factors at play? Does living next to a
forest, and walking through the forest expose the laces to something
in nature which attacks the fibres in the lace?

The problem doesn't seem to be limited to one brand or one style of
lace. I've tried both the nice cotton variety, and the
plastic-feeling but "stronger" type (it may well be Mercerised
cotton). They both fail. And it just keeps happening.

Have I become much stronger? Or more inclined to tie my shoes aggressively?

So many questions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paper Boy

I'm in the paper. It's exciting.

(The Times, 23rd June 2009, times2, page 15)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Freezing in the light

Well, I've had a good run, but it had to happen some time ...

On Saturday, I was doing my dozenth stand-up comedy gig, and I had a bit of brain freeze, and couldn't remember what I was going to say next.  I managed to pick it up again, and got going.  Then I hit another freeze point, talked about it for a wee bit, and got back on track.  Unfortunately, the two freezes meant that I had less time available to me, so I had to drop some of the material that I had intended to perform.  Hey ho.  It was a learning experience.  I'm going to get my hands on a video of the performance so that I can analyse it a bit, but I think it was a combination of a big meal beforehand, and a lot of socialising, rather than hiding away and going over my stuff.  Once I got back on track, I got the audience on-side big time and got some huge laughs, so it could have been much, much worse.  So I'm not especially daunted or worried about my next performance.  As always, I'm just looking forward to it.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Bogus Osteopaths

The ever delightful Purps is encouraging folks to sign a petition supporting Dr Simon Singh in his efforts to avoid being sued for libel by the blinkered, fraudulent idiots of the British Chiropractic Association. I signed it. I hope lots of other people do, too.

The Telegraph have an article about it, as do most of the other papers, I'm sure.

I was especially taken with this Telegraph paragraph:
The BCA represents a quasi-scientific group of medical practitioners who believe that manipulating the spine can treat or cure a range of other conditions not normally associated with a bad back.
Such deliciously understated mockery. I love it.

There have been a great number of celebrity endorsements, including a very eloquent summary from Sir Steven Fry (okay, I know he's not been knighted yet, but it's surely only a matter of time). Funny man and husband to a doctor, Dara O'Briain also chipped in with this memorable comment:
The preliminary ruling is a worrying development for comedians as well, a number of whom have been ridiculing the world of dubious medicinal and scientific practices for some time. For example, I may now have to reconsider my routine about homeopathy being a 300 year old con trick.
I do hope the courts see sense on this matter, and I'm very grateful to see that James Randi has voiced his committment to back Dr. Singh in any way that he can.

We should enjoy it while we can. We can't know how many years the Queen has left in her, but when that gloved hand has waved its last wave, we're going to be lumbered with a King as in thrall to the looney new age horse-shit spreaders as it is possible to be. Okay, his mum her has own homeopath, but Charlie boy, with his Duchy product range is much more open and outspoken about it. Despite the recent setback of being accused of defrauding the public with his "detox tincture".

Incidentally, I recently read a few very interesting books on CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine), as a result of which I will never have chiropractic again. Some of the manipulations they do can cause stroke! I don't want to be having one of those any time soon. Besides, the whole theory is based on "subluxations" which are made up nonsense. You might as well base a theory on naughty pixies wiggling your vertebrae during the night. I'll stick to regular massage from now on.

Amongst the other claims in one of the books I read, which was backed up with a lot of evidence, were:
  • Chinese herbal medicine was more or less made up in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution
  • Commonly used homeopathic remedies are so dilute that you would only get one molecule of active ingredient in a sphere of water with a radius greater than the distance from the earth to the sun
  • The so-called Detox Foot Bath, or Ionic Detoxification relies on a standard electrochemical reaction
And what on earth are the so-called toxins that build up and need to be flushed from our bodies? Our organs do a very good job of that already, thank you very much. If they didn't, we'd all be dead.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Getting good limeage

When we lived in New Zealand, we bought a kaffir lime bush to provide us with those wonderful, aromatic leaves so essential to Thai cooking. They aren't so easy to come by in the UK, but after our trip to Thailand earlier in the year, and the very pleasant hours we spent at a cookery school learning how to do everything from scratch, we felt the need to get one. So we did. I found a place online that would sell them and ship them to you, and in due course, the plant turned up.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to get my hands on fresh kaffir limes. They're essential to making the pastes which form the basis of Thai curries. We spent quite a long time sweating over a pestle and mortar bashing bits of rind from one of those babies down into its constituent atoms. However, having scoured the Asian food shops with a fine-toothed comb (which I had sterilised first, because I was using it on foodstuffs), I came up empty-handed. I have heard you can buy bits of rind fresh-frozen, but I didn't find any.

We've had the new kaffir lime bush for a while now, and I've plucked a few leaves for immediate use, and harvested a load to go in the freezer (they freeze very well). To my surprise and delight, a couple of weeks ago, the plant started flowering. That hadn't happened to the one in New Zealand, which we'd had for much longer. The flower opened, and it became obvious that it was going to fruit and produce a little kaffir lime. Yay! Then a couple more flowers appeared, one of which is now also turning into fruit. And suddenly, the whole thing is bursting into flower all over. Between last night and this morning, another dozen or so buds had appeared, along with dozens of new leaves. It looks like we're going to have a bumper crop - so far I've counted about forty buds. I'm so happy! And I'm sure the curries will be wonderful.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Poor little acai berries!

I've been working behind a big corporate firewall that blocks a lot of sites. I can't get to Facebook, or to gmail, frustratingly. Fortunately, there are usually ways around these things. In this case, I can still log on to the webmail interface provided by my hosting service, completely flouting the rules of the organisation I'm working for, but hey, you can't keep a fellow from his email all day.

Thing is, my email is normally forwarded from my hosting service automatically and deleted, and I then pick it up in gmail. I hadn't realised just how much spam I get which is so obviously spam that gmail doesn't even bother putting it in the spam folder - it just trashes it.

And because of that, I have only now become aware of how much abuse the poor acai berry is getting from spammers. These tasty little buds are great in homemade bread, and they have been touted by lots of folks despite the many studies that challenge or at least weaken the entire antioxidant model of ageing. But will they really lengthen my shaft, prolong my climax, enhance my "holding off" power, and make me live considerably longer, and with a considerably higher quality of life, free from cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers, Parkinsons and incontinence?

Actually, I suspect if I were regularly having the kind of sex life that these spammers seem to think is the norm, that level of physical exercise on its own would be enough to increase my lifespan and decrease my risk of heart disease, never mind the berries.