Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Let us pay...

In Durham the other day for reasons that need not worry you I found myself next to the cathedral, world heritage site that it is. So I thought I might pop in until my companion informed me that there’s a £5.00 entrance fee.

Chester Cathedral does the same, and the entranceway there, which takes you past a souvenir shop before you arrive at the cathedral proper, is appropriately situated next to a branch of Barclays Bank which is actually part of the fabric of the cathedral structure. Talk about God and Mammon.

I mean, all right. It’s very expensive to maintain a cathedral and visitors can cause inadvertent damage. I once read that the moisture from the breath of the millions who visit Notre Dame annually is the single biggest threat to its interior. All this is taken on board, but I don't remember Jesus saying 'Where two or three are gathered in my name there shall be a small charge because of inevitable overheads'.

Everyone I’ve mentioned this too asks the same question. What happens during a service? I assume they don’t charge so how is it policed? You inevitably start thinking: bouncers! Or at least I do. This of course leads to the possibility of being turned away from evensong because you’re not wearing a tie, or a mitre or whatever.

Now I’m not a churchgoer, I’ve never been baptised or entered into any faith and I’m with the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman character who avoided going to church and the church he avoided going to was the good old CofE. I therefore accept that it is arguably none of my business whether Durham, Chester or my parish church decide to charge entry. If I’m using them as museums then I should pay accordingly.

But that feels wrong. A place of worship surely must be open to all or open to none. And the Church of England is the established church of this country and so has a duty towards every British subject regardless of their beliefs. So I think it would be good if they cut the admission fee and make up the shortfall by, oh I don’t know, selling a couple of bishops.

Oh and my companion assured me that we would see Bill Bryson and we didn’t so I’m sulking.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

I was walking in the park one day...

Odd experience in a city greenspace yesterday. I was sitting in the sun with a lady of my acquaintance when we were approached by a man who commented on the rabbits he had seen. We agreed that there were a good few around. He then informed us that he had lent his belt to a friend and as a result his trousers were very loose. He continued to comment on this fact for a half minute or so while fiddling with his waistband before being called away by someone else. At this point the lady enquired if I agreed that for a moment there it looked as though we were going to be flashed at and I was obliged to agree that it had looked that way.

Now I am of the male persuasion and therefore enjoy many of the perks of living in a patriarchy. One of these perks, quite frankly, is not being flashed at in parks. I hasten to add that I do not think that women should have to put up with it either. When it comes to the indecent exposure debate, I am firmly in the ‘no’ camp. It’s just that a man does not expect it to happen to him in the same way that he does not expect ever to have to have a bra fitted or have to respond to an unexpected proposal of marriage. Actually, that last has happened to me twice so bad example. And another story.

Anyway, it turned out, and an excellent thing too, that my companion had never been flashed at either. Therefore, neither of us had the slightest idea what we would do in the circumstances. I said something solemn about how I would have told him to put it away or I would call the police which made me sound as if I was channelling Joyce Grenfell, but I really don’t know.

The odd thing is that as a society we are a touch confused about male nudity. I imagine that the majority of people would agree that this man’s behaviour was not acceptable. Yet there was a huge amount of support for the naked rambler. Remember him? He kept being sent to prison for breaking court orders not to walk around the countryside naked and a fair number of commentators stated that that this was ridiculous and how they do these things differently in the continent (and indeed in the barking mad TV series Spartacus: Blood & Sand, about which more later) and how uptight we all are. Maybe so. My attitude to public nudity is a matter of record* and I think that what is really sad is that it is necessary to say that a person, either female or male, should be able to sit in the sun without being flashed at.

Oh, and if you don't know Joyce Grenfell, enjoy:

*see Oh Matron No post, October 2009

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A total fallacy

A few weekends back I found myself looking around the Vindolanda site. I was last there about fifteen years ago when it was basically just a lumpy field with a few information boards saying that there was probably some great stuff underneath. I preferred Housesteads.

Well, things have changed. The Vindolanda site is incredible. We spent about three hours there and I could easily have spent at least another, if not more. The museum contains the only surviving legionary’s crest, which I found strangely touching, along with a mildly startling display of phallic good luck charms. Not so much phallic, actually, as phalluses. There was one small discreet one that was worn round the neck but sadly the gift shop were not selling replicas. A missed opportunity there I feel. But also, in the site itself, an information board told us that a keen observer might discern a phallic good luck charm scratched into the stonework of one of the drains. Sure enough one of my companions found it with suspicious ease:

There’s one at Housesteads as well apparently. The scholars tell us that Roman soldiers scratched them into stones as good luck symbols. Well, the past is a foreign country and all that, but I can’t help but feel that whenever a large number of men are gathered together in one spot for any period of time it is inevitable that one of them will draw a phallus on a nearby surface for a laugh. It’s one of those laws of nature that David Attenborough keeps using as an excuse to show us antelopes being eaten alive by alligators or whatever.

In York these graffiti are called wooglies, or so I’ve been told by a native of that city. Now it may be the company I keep and the circles I move in, but I have rarely discovered a new word that I have found so useful.

And I bet you will too.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lampshading the idiot ball

Now this is a fun site, though I warn you it’s easy to lose an afternoon exploring it:


Hit the random item button for best results.

Some of these tropes are well known, Jumping The Shark is in fairly common usage these days. If you’re mystified it refers to the moment in a long-running TV series when the makers try to liven it up with a ridiculous stunt/event. This is a sign that the series has lost its way and will never be as good again. So a show that has jumped the shark is in terminal decline. It refers to the startlingly popular ‘70s US sitcom Happy Days and an episode when the main character (the Fonz) did actually jump over a shark while water-skiing. While the show continued to run for at least two more series, it was generally agreed that it had lost its way. There have been recent attempts to replace the phrase with nuking the fridge, a reference to the most recent Indiana Jones film, but I think the shark is here to stay. Meanwhile, the trope Chekov’s Gun (if a gun is mentioned in Act 1 it must be fired by Act 5) is well known in theatre.

Other tropes I found on this site and liked included The Queen’s Latin which references the fact that historical characters nearly always speak with an English accent, and holding the idiot ball which is when an established and normally intelligent character suddenly becomes very stupid for no other reason than to keep the plot going. The Archers seems to be currently going for a complete, never before attempted, 100% of characters holding the idiot ball. One assumes they’re being sponsored. A-Team Shooting refers to the situation where, presumably for ratings reasons, a vast number of shots are fired but no one is ever hit. It refers of course to The A-Team where our heroes were particularly adept at this. Aesops are characters who turn up once solely to make a moral point (the old college roommate who’s now a raging alcoholic for example) and genre blindness is when characters do something the viewers know they should not because of the conventions of the genre they are in. This is not so common now since the Scream films highlighted it. Meanwhile, lamp shading is when the writers get over a major cliché or coincidence in the script by drawing attention to it, sometimes in an ironic post-modern way (‘Well constable, you wouldn’t get away with it in a book, but coincidences do happen in real life you know’).

Watch your favourite programmes with a fresh eye and start collecting them now.