Those very nice people at Seesmic dropped by this morning and organised a Q&A session with their highly intelligent and interesting community. Thanks so much to everyone who took part and sorry I didn’t have time to answer all your questions. Hopefully we’ll get another chance to run a similar session.
It is the season for democracy once again, and I don’t mean that charming American trillion-dollar deficit version of our gloriously imperfect system of governance – I mean ME!
Some bright spark has entered me for the European Podcast Awards. I don’t need the prize, obviously, but I do want the glory.
So, my virtual friends and neighbours please, help to get me to the top of whatever category they have inserted me just to assist an old man’s terribly frail ego.
Oh, and get all your friends to do the same. Thank you!
au·gust /ɔˈgʌst/ [aw-guhst]
1. inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic: an august performance of a religious drama.
2. venerable; eminent: an august personage.
[Origin: 1655–65; < L augustus sacred, grand, akin to augére to increase. See eke]
Not that I am any of these things, of course, but being in the month of August means that BBC Radio 4 have given me the honour (spelled with a “u”) of allowing me to waffle on about my favourite (spelled with a “u”) websites. My bit is about ten minutes in, but the entire show is worth a listen.
Click to play the programme, or download the iPM podcast here from the BBC. It will be available for the next week or so.
Here’s the unedited section, stolen from here.
Very sad to learn that the 104 year old Weston-super-Mare pier burned down yesterday. It’s a very small town, Weston – not much to it except the pier, the promenade, and the beach.
I get interviewed a fair bit, and sometimes it’s genuinely interesting – normally when the interviewers are interesting people themselves. But of course, most of the time, it’s interviews of a pretty predictable kind. Professional writers often attempt the kind of provocative, illuminating, searching questions they could ask if they were really good at their jobs, instead of just in it for the money. To achieve this, they glue something they read somewhere to something they have seen on television or in films, and just sort of clash them together in a way which is supposed to be stimulating and creative, but which actually turns out to be rather bizarre and mostly unfunny, except occasionally in retrospect, and not at all in the way they intended.
The truly most bizarre of such questions was once asked by a slightly disconnected but physically stunning young female journalist from Los Angeles, who had obviously read about my interest in psychology, but whose sense of humour was clearly based on puerile scatalogy. She was probably in therapy herself – not a bad idea, everyone should try it at least once – and seemed rather fixated on matters of the body. “Nipples,” I said in context. She giggled. A while later, “fell flat on my bum”. She wriggled and giggled. Anything that could be phallic symbol, was a phallic symbol. In twenty minutes, we veered from Freudian analyses of Python films – were the coconuts in Holy Grail replacements for breasts? – to her laughing insanely, practically falling off her chair, pouting mouth covered by manicured hand, at the fact that I had been the first person to say the word “shit” on British television.
Finally, she girded her loins, leaned forward in a haze of pheremones and Chanel, and purred,
“So, what exactly do you think of when you answer the call of nature?”
It took a few seconds to work out what she meant, and I decided the only fair response was to respond with perfect media- trained skill to which I felt sure she could relate – I answered her question with a question.
“Sitting, or standing?”
At which, she suddenly became confused, blushed, started to stammer, gathered her audio recording device and hurriedly left.
Since then, whenever I commune with mother earth in the smallest room in the mansion, if my mind wanders from more lowly considerations, it thinks of her.
“When a man is tired of London, he goes and lives in California,” quoth the grand old mephitic philsopher Sir Jack “Boswell” Jimbobberty of Hull, quite wrongly in my opinion. No, it’s not tiredness which drives anyone from London, or boredom, dullness, doldrums, weariness, apathy, or any lacking of interest. There’s usually just the one thing that does it, and that’s as predictable a thing as you might expect: the weather.
I’m perfectly happy with London aside from that one issue of the inevitable unpredictable clouds. If you could transport Californian sunshine to London, I’d leave the surfboards, the canyons and the orthodontically perfect smiles behind in a jiffy, lovely though they are, and return to the teeming complexity of this wonderful capital city more often that the few months a year my aching body can stand.
London is genuinely one of the world’s great cities; all complexions, nationalities, languages, attitudes, shades of skin, types of intelligence and senses of humour (spelled with a “u”) are to be found (also spelled with a “u”) in this two thousand-year-old metropolis. Just as you’re sure you’ve understood it, it reveals another aspect of itself, it reinvents itself. At the moment you’re sure it’s dating rather well, it capriciously modernises (spelled with an “s”). As soon as it seems parochially subservient, it usurps its place in the order of things and gets uppity with you. It refuses to lie down, and yet it is a city, unlike most American cities, which does get regular, healthy, refreshing sleep.
Wandering through the centre (spelled “re”) of London on a Sunday morning in the summer sunshine, one can almost imagine that down the piss-stained alleys lie secret orange groves and vineyards, that in the vast and manicured parks, the great London planes might harbour (spelled with a “u”) rainforest fauna, that walking on the south bank of the Thames (pronounced “Temz”) one might stumble upon a secret beach, a bunch of hippies having an arty party which everyone can join in…
If only the weather was like California.
Firemen quite understandably get a lot of good press, what with saving lives by rescuing people from burning buildings, their great capacity to remain taciturn in the face of adversity and bad pay, pumping gallons of water whilst man-handling all kinds of modern technical equipment, and the admirable practice of retrieving the cat/dog/horse from the top of the tree/bottom of the well/wrong bedroom.
But it’s not just the rippling muscles and the courage in adversity that causes us to find them so heroic and attractive. For every hero there is an anti-hero; for every Clarisse there is a Hannibal; and it is the shady figure of the arsonist, whose flickering light throws the fireman’s darkest shadows, which gives us to this day our modern figure of comforting authority.
Now, this is not some kind of apology for fraudsters and murderers, but the fireman’s lot would be more humdrum if the kinds of problems he encountered were just dumb, by which I mean, the mundane occurrence of the conflagration of the toaster. That kind of randomly chaotic event seems comprehensible to us, on whatever scale it happens, whether it be the end of the match flying off and burning a small hole in an expensive item of clothing, or a meteorite colliding with the earth. Despite the fact that we cannot actually explain them, our minds seem to accept them. “Oh dear, there’s a hole in my best frock” – “Oh well, that’s the end of life on earth as we know it.”
However, the concept of some malign intelligence with evil purpose actually weakening a matchstick in every box fills us with dread and a terrible sense of threat, and the idea that the meteorite that is coming our way was thrown at us like a cricket ball from a planetary system several universes away gives us nightmares, even though the outcome is exactly the same.
The reason for this of course is that evil is a human attribute. Though we know there is a gulf between us, we consider the arsonist as one of us, and we comprehend that we could potentially be the arsonist ourselves “gone bad”.
Being consciously aware of this tendency is extremely difficult for most people, as we find the concept of firemen arsonists or murdering nurses almost impossible to digest, or to forgive. But, in our secret hearts, we identify as much with the villain as the hero, and it is this which causes us to be so scared. This is a useful piece of knowledge for novelists, authors, screenwriters, detectives, judges, politicians, parents and comedians to have, but it’s also a mindful position to occupy as we aspire and seek to emulate anyone’s heroics.
Now, pass me the hose would you, I’m going to put the cat out.
The Swiss are often unfairly characterised as being obsessed with minutiae, yodelling, cuckoo clocks and having no sense of humour. Switzerland, one of the most beautiful and democratic countries in the world, actually contains a generously mixed, warm, modern, cosmopolitan society which knows how to enjoy itself. The cuckoo clock is in fact a Bavarian invention. The Swiss did however invent velcro, LSD and the standardised dustbin.
Swiss citizens, despite being painted as conservatives with both a large and a small “C”, whilst struggling with the burden of actually having to vote themselves on key issues, seem to make carefully liberal choices on the whole. Voters have backed joining a European passport-free zone and increasing rights for same-sex couples, and recently threw out secret ballots for immigrants seeking Swiss nationality, thus dealing racism a serious blow.
To say the Swiss have no sense of humour is to imply that they are not aware of their own foibles which they clearly are. During their otherwise excellent co-hosting of the Euro 2008 football competition, suffering the most dreadful weather conditions, coping with electrical storms and blackouts, SBC the Swiss national broadcaster managed to offend the entire German nation by by using long since abandoned verse “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” as sub-titles during the German national anthem. Cue red faces, and sincere apologies all round.
A couple of comedic phrases the more daring among you might find useful in Switzerland, which should work well so long as you’re in the German-speaking parts of the country, and which will do much illustrate the admirable self-deprecating and honest Swiss sense of humour:
“Wer hat das ganzes Nazigold gestohlen?” – who stole all the Nazi gold? This is always a good one to trot out if you’re lost for a witty remark and among civilised company – especially to the older Swiss who know more about these things and understand the tortuous processes by which their forebears avoided occupation and remained neutral during WW2.
Younger comedians, especially if you’re at the cup final and close enough to the touchline, why not shout at the referee or either of his well-fed assistants, “Wer aß das ganzes muesli?” – who ate all the muesli? – this popular breakfast being something the healthy Swiss did invent, and of which they are rightly proud, down to the very last piece of dried fruit.
I am fascinated by the way nobody assumed the Russian football team were going very far in the Euro 2008 competition, until their spectacular annihilation a couple of days ago of the rather good Dutch side.
It made me consider two things:
Firstly, that the media pundits, so-called experts who sit around filling in the TV pauses with strategic analyses illustrated by endless slow-motion, graphically-adorned replays, all immediately said, once Russian supremacy was an established fact, how very good the entire Russian team was with their star player Andrei Arshavin in place. It seemed as if the Russian football team had moved miraculously, along with the entire Russian nation, from being ex-communist, broke no-hopers, to resurgent, gas-and-oil producing, cash-rich global contenders.
Secondly, that the bookmakers knew exactly what they were doing encouraging us all to bet on Holland, by shortening the odds and making them favourites, just before they played the disastrous match that sent them home.
I wonder how many of the bookmakers were Russian…
Just casting an eye over the fabulously fun football fiesta that’s happening in that new country, Austria’n’Switzerland, and noting the shock defeat of Germany this afternoon of the marvellously skillful and doughty Croatia – who let’s not forget are the reason why England are not in the European Cup this time around.
This really was a good game of pace and skill, and with a splendid surprise at the end of it, the favourites defeated, not too nasty with the last minute exception of a red card for a push which was followed by some excessive dramatics produced for the referee’s benefit – really not cricket.
Germany are talented and strong and will probably go through, but they have taken a serious knock. This will give hope to Portugal and Holland who are both in form – good news for sports fans everywhere. Much as I admire Germany the nation, the better team won. At the end of the day, it was a result which set the cat among the punditry pigeons. Feathers flapping, it has set the tournament alight.