Monday, 26 April 2010

Cross Purposes

A genuinely odd conversation the other day. It was one of those situations I’ve never actually heard of in real life but which pops up now and again in rather forced ‘comic’ writing, you know, the sort of writing by people who you suspect got their sense of humour by attending an accredited course and will show you a certificate to prove it. Anyway, the set-up was as follows. I thought we were talking about my friend’s new hair style, she thought I was talking about the branch of Asda we happened to be outside of. This Asda is built on stilts so that cars can park under it.

Her: So what do you think?
Me: It looks great!
Her: Really? Everyone I know thinks its rubbish.
Me (genuinely startled by the forthrightness of her friends and her sang froid in the face of their disapproval): Really? Well, I like it.
Her (seemingly surprised): Well, I don't. It shakes in high winds, because it’s on pillars.
Me: Does it? Oh well in that case I suppose...

At this point I was at a total loss as to what to say other than a vague panic as I wondered when hairdressers starting using pillars and, indeed why, along with a slight sense of relief that this at least explained her remarkably laid back attitude. I mean no new hair cut is any good if it quivers in a breeze. Then at last, and a tad too late, the penny dropped which was just as well.

Oh, and the Asda was crap.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Cry God for England, Harry and St Chad

As usual yesterday, St George’s Day (23 April), saw a bit of chatter about how sad/bad/mad (political correctness for the use of) or indeed good it is that we don’t celebrate it which was odd because every year we do celebrate it with a plethora of articles etc whinging or cheering about how we don’t celebrate it. In a way I rather like that, it seems somehow English.

Now personally I’m all for having a bank holiday as

a)I think we need more public holidays, my understanding is that we have the least of all in all of Europe, and;

b) the 23rd of April is also, by tradition, Shakespeare’s birthday and the day of his death (there was a gap between the two) and this fits my secularist instincts.

Here’s a few clips to remind us why Shakespeare’s birth/deathday should be a national holiday:


I chose Mark Antony’s speech from Julius Caesar as we are in an election and Henry V’s speech as it does reference St Crispin and it might annoy the French.

Actually I think we should have a new patron saint. St Edmund, as in Bury St Edmunds, is sometimes mentioned in this context, though I would go for either the Venerable Bede or St Cuthbert, partly for reasons of regional pride, though St Cuthbert doesn’t come across as someone you’d like to have a drink with. Perhaps St Hilda then? Personally my favourite English saint is St Dunstan who was tempted by the devil in the form of a comely wench while he, St Dunstan, was working in a smithy’s forge. Noticing that goat’s hooves were peeking out from under said wench’s skirt, St Dunstan saw through the disguise and so grabbed the devil’s nose with some red hot tongs he had to hand. The devil ran off and cooled his nose in a nearby spring which tastes of brimstone to this day. Now there’s a saint I can do business with. Not sure what day is officially his. Just a sec…ah, May 19th (all hail Wikipedia).

But of course, the saint who really should be our patron saint is that old friend of me and mine, St Chad. So next year let’s all have a proper early spring holy day on the second of March, the day of St Chad.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Oh it's a luvlee 'oliday with Marry

Listening to a topical satire programme on the radio a couple of weeks back, I was surprised to hear a comedian doing a routine on Dick van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins.

Now I know what you’re expecting and doubtlessly a smile is reaching across your features as you prepare for the chucklesomeness that comes from observing the failure of an actor to master an accent. But first consider this. Mary Poppins was released in 1964, which means that we’ve been chortling over Dick van Dyke’s accent for 46 years. That’s close to half a century. People, I put it to you that this joke is old and maybe it’s time to move on. I know it’s a bad attempt at cockney and while I didn’t notice it when watching the film as a child, it was genuinely startling the first time I heard it as an adult.

And it’s not even as though it’s the only bad accent out there. James Doohan’s Scottish accent as Scotty in Star Trek springs to mind (a tradition kept alive by Simon Pegg in the latest film version) as does Sean Connery’s attempt at Irish/American in The Untouchables and there are others including, I’m told, some remarkably odd attempts at Mancunian in an episode of Frasier. Yet still it is almost impossible to talk or write about Mary Poppins without referencing the accent. The Times recently printed a list of top children’s films, and even though only fifty words were allotted to each one, the accent was commented on. When Mark Kermode discussed the film in an article a few Christmases back it was startlingly noticeable that he did not mention it at all.

So why this defensive kneejerkery whenever Mary Poppins is mentioned? We are all aware of van Dyke’s deficiency in the cockney accent department and it’s not as if a new adult British viewer is liable to miss it. There really is no longer a need to point it out and, quite frankly, riffing about it on a topical comedy programme is downright bizarre. Come on Marcus Brigstocke, why not really stick it to Palmerston while you're at it and Mitch Benn can do a funny song about the charge of the Light Brigade. This is moving away from being humorous and drifting into the realms of OCD. Are we so desperate to reserve our cool in the face of an openly sentimental children’s film? Is it because it is cockney he cocks (sorry) up? Had it been Somerset or Geordie would there be such a fuss? I suspect not.

So here is my clarion cry, and I’m surprised how nervous I am making it. As John Cleese once commented, an Englishman would rather be told that he is a bad lover than that he has no sense of humour, but I shall be bold. Leave it people. The joke’s old and obvious and it’s time to move on. Let’s laugh at James Cameron’s name for the ultra-rare substance the humans are looking for in Avatar, ‘unobtainium’. Now that really is funny.

Happy Easter