Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ooh, Matron!

It's been a good few days, and I'm ready to post again. I was ready before, but other things have been occupying my time (like the car not starting) so for that, I apologise. Notice the usage of the English -ise there rather than the American English -ize. I have to try hard and really focus these days to emphasise my Englishness. Sorry. I digress. But as you well know, digressing is one of my strong points. As is rambling like a twit.

On to the main focus of today's instalment. That's instalment with only one 'l' rather than two, which is a complete waste of a perfectly good 'l', in my opinion.

I've had this germ of an idea for a while about hero worship. We humans all have a need at some level to worship or idolize someone or something that is better, cooler, smarter than ourselves, or at least something to look up to in some respect, whether it be rock stars, comic book heroes, actors, authors, God, football coaches, whatever...

What I want to do is an occasional post about who MY personal heroes are, people who have meant a lot to me in my development and helped to define me. So it is with great pleasure I present to you the first instalment of...


So the question is: how did I become me? Who are the people, places and things that made me what I am today? Etc., etc., blah-blah-blah. Well, we will have to think on this for a bit.

OK. Thinking done.

Let's start with one of my most noticeable qualities, my sense of humour. It all starts with my family.
My mother and father are funny people. Both blessed with good senses of humour, they had a liking for some of the greats, and so I was exposed to these from an early age. Brilliant comedians such as Anthony Aloysius Hancock, for example.

The Lad Himself.

Tony Hancock had a radio show in the '50s and later, a TV show based on the radio scripts in the '60s. My mother owned an LP of two of the radio shows "The Wild Man Of The Woods" (her favourite) in which Tony decides he's had enough of modern life and will become a hermit. "I shall journey to the Himalayas!", he proclaims. "Find a lonely peak - a blunt one - and sit on it for a few years!"

The other side of the LP had my favorite, "A Sunday Afternoon At Home." in which Tony and all the gang are bored to tears, having nothing to do and nowhere to go, on a Sunday (which, for the non-Brits among you, is boring because all the shops and pubs were closed). He had me in stitches with his bits about filling in all the O's and the P's and the D's in the newspaper, and the staring at the wall..."D'you know, if you look at that wallpaper long enough, you can see faces in it."

Sadly, Tony had a series of failures in the latter part of the '60s, and took his own life in 1968. In the words of Spike Milligan, another great comic, "Very difficult man to get on with. He used to drink excessively. You felt sorry for him. He ended up on his own. I thought, he's got rid of everybody else, he's going to get rid of himself. And he did."

In my house we always watched great sitcoms and comedy shows. Several in particular were: The Two Ronnies, which I have mentioned in a previous post, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, a comedy about the adventures of a Royal Artillery Concert Party in India towards the end of World War II ("Deolali, 1945"),

The Morecambe and Wise Show,
which was at times sheer genius,

and the misadventures of a hopeless twit named Frank Spencer (played by Michael Crawford - yes, that Michael Crawford) in the sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Every TV impressionist worth his salt had his Frank Spencer impression. That was part of the reason Lenny Henry became famous. A teenage black kid on a TV talent show (New Faces) doing Frank Spencer?! Surely not. But he did, and did it hilariously.

Oh, and don't forget Monty Python's Flying Circus!
My Grandad Len (another great natural comedian) shared my fondness for Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes, Droopy, Barney Bear and The Pink Panther Show, among others, but we seemed to be the only ones in our family to appreciate M*A*S*H, Last Of The Summer Wine, and a great movie entitled It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

He and I were also fond of Jacques Tati's bumbling idiot Monsieur Hulot, a kind of precursor to Mr. Bean, in M. Hulot's Holiday.

I also remember a well-made short movie with a lot of British comic acting talent in it entitled The Plank. If anyone ever asks you to define British humour, this is the one movie you should show them.

And, lest we forget - the Carry On series of films. These were a series of 29 films made between 1958 and 1978 at Pinewood Studios, usually starring the same basic ensemble cast - such notables as Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Peter Butterworth, Barbara Windsor and Jim Dale, with some great guest spots from Frankie Howerd, Lance Percival, Jack Douglas, Patsy Rowlands, Terry Scott, Jon Pertwee and even Phil Silvers in Carry On - Follow That Camel. The films usually spoofed the great British institutions such as the military (Carry On Sergeant), the Health Service (Carry On Doctor, Carry On Nurse etc.), the Empire (Carry On Up The Khyber) as well as movie genres (Carry On Screaming, Carry On Cowboy), and were all filled with saucy-postcard ribald humour. Here's a pic of Jim Dale as Dr. Nookey, accompanied by a nearly naked Babs Windsor and a stern Hattie Jacques as Matron in a scene from Carry On Again Doctor.

Well, that's me in a nutshell. Saucy humour.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Turn that crap off and play something with some words!"

Hi folks. In case you hadn't already guessed, today's post is somewhat music-related. It has to do with the fact that most of today's Top 40 music is complete and utter crap. Now I know what you're going to say. You'll say yeah, but that's just because you're getting old, Jeff. And you may have a point.

When I was in my teens my mother and grandparents would say the same thing about the music I liked. My mother would always try to dig it, though, and these days we can talk on more or less the same level about music from the '70s and '80s. I think that that has a lot to do with the fact that her music taste was pretty good, she liked Rod Stewart (early stuff with the Faces),

Neil Diamond, and Dave Brubeck (she had a double LP of the albums Time Out and Time Further Out which is still one of my favorites, and, to me, it's the best jazz ever. I could listen quite happily to her music collection (except Manilow, whichI still have a hard time listening to).

The reason for this post is my wife. Now, I love my wife, and I love her sense of humor and I admire her taste in a lot of things and her skill in everything she tries her hand at, but I question her taste in music, especially since she is such a talented singer.

Specifically, she is into a couple of genres of music which unfortunately fall into the "cure for insomnia" category.

Firstly, Contemporary Christian/Gospel. I am all for people singing about their beliefs. I have no problem with that. But does it have to be so BORING? My wife is particularly fond of both Steven Curtis Chapman and Selah, who, I'm sorry to say, bore the pants off me. Which takes some doing.

And secondly, and this is the one that I hate with a passion, WEENIE MUSIC.

What is weenie music?
Well, dear reader, let me tell you.

Overly sentimental love songs played out against swirling strings. Any song that starts with a Fender Rhodes electric piano and a bell tree. "Sometimes When We Touch" is weenie music. "Baby I'm-A Want You" is weenie music. Barry Manilow is the god of weenie music. The term itself was coined by Dave Barry in his book "Dave Barry's Book Of Bad Songs". An awesome book, by the way.

But recently my wife burned herself a couple of CDs of nothing but weenie music. And everytime we get in the car, it's in the CD player.

Here's a partial track listing:

Lionel Richie (himself a weenie music Zen Master): There are actually several Lionel tracks on here - "Stuck On You', 'Ballerina Girl', 'Hello', 'Say You Say Me', 'My Love' ... pass the bucket....

Snow Patrol: Chasing Cars. She actually has this one twice in a row on one CD. I used to like this song when I first heard it. But you hear something 5000 times and you can grow to loathe it.

Atlantic Starr: Always. Pass the bucket again.

Starship: Set The Night To Music. Hard to believe anyone from Jefferson Airplane had anything to do with this nonsense.

James Blunt: 'You're Beautiful' You're annoying, James.

Once in a while you hear a song that just doesn't make sense. From the Stevie-Nicks-sheep-like baa-ing of her voice to the trite lyrics, 'Something In Red' by Lorrie Morgan just makes me wanna hurl. She's no slouch in the looks department, though. Woof!

I'm sure there's some Styx, Foreigner, Air Supply and Journey on there too.

But the worst one.... the WORST one.... I can hardly bring myself to say it, since this guy is a musical genius...

Stevie Wonder: 'I Just Called To Say I Love You'. Firstly, let's get this straight. This is the same guy that gave us "Superstition", "Sir Duke" and "Master Blaster(Jammin')", right? This song sounds like Stevie was shopping for a new keyboard and wandered into a toy store by mistake. Got himself a brand new Casio with an auto-arpeggiator and recorded this trite gobbledegook in one take for a joke. Well, my opinion of Stevie changed when this came out. And I hear it often. My wife, bless her cotton socks, has a higher threshold of noise than I do. I like loud music, but she cranks this up so loud the speakers start to do that BLATT-BLATT-BLATT distortion on the bass notes. Let's just say the local Hispanic population in their lowriders and airbrushed Virgin Marys turn and look at her as if to say, "Damn, that's loud!"

I like a lot of music of different genres. But these ones, all compiled together...uh-oh, here it comes... BLOOAARGH!

Well, that's off my chest. Now I feel better. Thank you.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pismonunciation of Worms

Hello folks. Time for another instalment of word-related blatherings.
Those among you who lived in England in the 60s, 70s and 80s will doubtless remember the TV 'The Two Ronnies' and possibly remember that the title of today's blog is taken from one of the skits starring the silver-tongued Ronnie Barker, doing a PSA for a fictional charity for people who cannot 'spray their worms' correctly. Look it up on YouTube.

A while ago (about 15 years) I read a book called "There Is No ZOO In Zoology" by Charles Harrington Elster, who also wrote "Is There A Cow In Moscow?". I love books like this, full of trivial factoids about words. I thought today I would go over some of the words in our beloved shared language that are most often mispronounced or mangled. Let's start with some that set my teeth on edge.

Antarctic / Arctic. There's a 'c' in there: pronounce it! It's not 'Artic'!

Ask. This is not an instrument for chopping wood.

Business. A lot of folks, especially Southerners, like to pronounce this one 'bidness'. These are usually the same people who will order a Caesar salat and tell you to have a goot day. They're also likely to tell you it's a doggy-dog world and they've been shopping for some new close, which they will likely store in their chester drawers. They prolly say wadn't and volumptuous, too.

Suit. As in bedroom suit, living room suit. You don't wear it, so it's a suite. Pronounced 'sweet'. You don't see guys shopping for a new sweet and tie, do you?

Et cetera. The number of times I've heard this one said 'ick cetera'.

Even educators are not immune from this sort of stuff. I was shocked to see in my daughter's classroom at school, a list of class rules, which implores them at one point to mind their 'manors'. I felt like saying, these kids don't live in manors, because if they did, they'd probably go to private schools.

Feb-yu-ary. Ack. There's an 'R' in it. Feb-ru-ary.

Mauve. It's a French word, so no mawvs please. Mow-v. Like mow, as in mow the lawn. Mow-v.

Moot point, not mute point. If it was mute you wouldn't be able to hear it.

If you are sued for libel, you will be liable for the damages.

Mischievous. People tend to put the accent on the second syllable, as in mis-CHE-vous, or worse, they add an extra syllable, mis-CHEE-vi-ous. It's accented on the first syllable, MIS-che-vous.

And lastly, from one of my favourite scenes from the sitcom Friends, the old chestnut supposably. It's 'supposedly'.

Alright, rant over. Go about y'alls bidness. Have a goot one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I like fruit cake!

I am having an attack of Englishness right at this moment. I think it was brought on by my previous post about Chinese food. I know that sounds weird, but it's true. Anyway, while poking around this new-fangled compu-web-net thingy, I found a lovely link to a recipe that I want you all to try, for English Fruit Cake.

Now, here is my challenge. As you can see, English Fruit Cake is not like your typical American fruitcake. I have said this to many people on many an occasion, American Fruitcake is literally a cake o' fruit, like so:

Whereas English fruit cake is a cake... with some fruit in it. Like so.

So when I say I like fruitcake, I don't mean fruitcake, I mean fruit cake.

My challenge is this. I want you brave souls who actually read this steaming pile of wombat's do's to make this for yourselves and tell me what you think. Who will accept the challenge? Who among you is culinarily inclined? Mum, you need not apply. I know you can make this. I want some of our Yank brethren to try it.

The gauntlet has been thrown down.

09-09-09 reminds me of 7-7-77

And what, you may ask (you may not be asking... I don't know), was so important about 7-7-77? Aside from being the date with all the sevens in it?

Well, in the UK we break for summer vacation (or should I say 'summer holiday' or 'hols') later than here in the States. We return to school later too, in about the 2nd week of September. All my UK friends who have kids are going through this right now. My kids have been back in school for an entire month.

So on 7-7-77 I was sitting in Mrs. Boyland's classroom as usual. It was the last week of school, my 4th year in Junior School, and we were never coming back to this school again. We were all moving on to Secondary School. So it was not business as usual in class. We were doing fun stuff.

On this particular day Mrs. Boyland, a rather pretty olive-skinned woman who had a 'cosmic hippy star child' flag and liked to fly it, and who was fiercely interested in getting us kids to appreciate things from all cultures, decided that today would be a good day for us to get some genuine Chinese food from the Chinky up the road, the 'Loong Sing Chinese Restaurant'. It's not there anymore and that to me is rather sad. It changed hands a few years back but during my teens and early 20's it was a great place to go post-pub and grab a little takeout for the walk home. Spare ribs, fried rice, and chips were awesome as were the prawn crackers. But I digress. I like digressing. I do it all the time, so please try to follow the plot.

So we were sitting in class, all having chipped in a couple of quid the day before for this Chinese food fest. Mrs. Boyland (or Sandi as she was known) had requisitioned from the school lunchroom some plates and Siu Hang (for it was he) had gone to his family's restaurant with the order. We were happy when this boatload of food arrived, and we all eagerly sampled the stuff. The prawn crackers, the spring rolls, the egg foo yung, the fried rice. Mmmm. Of course, this was not my first taste of Chinese food, as my parents liked it and we'd been to that restaurant a few times. My mother can probably tell you some stories of times she and Dad went there without us kids, like the time Mick Sims set a tablecloth on fire... but there I go digressing again.
Some kids, however, had never tried Chinese food, and when they did, they liked it. This was what Sandi Boyland had been aiming for.

After we ate we sat and wrote a little essay titled Our Chinese Nosh, with the list of items included. If it hadn't been for the fact that this took place on 7-7-77, I probably wouldn't have remembered it as well as I do.
I wish more teachers were like Sandi. Willing to go above and beyond to expand the pupils' horizons, and especially to provide excellent food, and provide me with a story I can tell my Grandkids one day when I take them out for their first Chinese meal. I'll just be sorry that it won't be at the Loong Sing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Times etc... an addendum of sorts

In reference to yesterday's post, I went off to work, tra-la-la, dum-de-diddly-dee etc. And what do I hear on the muzak when I get there? Well you may ask.

The first thing I heard was another Clash classic, "Train In Vain". "Damn," I thought, "wasn't I just talking about hearing Clash songs as muzak?" I dismissed it as a coincidence.

But then things got spooky.

A few minutes later, I heard the familiar dulcet tones of El Fuss coming from the speaker. Now, the muzak has played a lot of late-era Costello, stuff like "Everyday I Write The Book", and "Veronica", but I was not anticipating hearing "Red Shoes" and then, about two hours later, the classic "Radio Radio" famous in America for the legendary SNL 'song-switch'!
From Wikipedia:
"The song made waves in the United States after Costello's appearance on Saturday Night Live. Originally, the Sex Pistols had been invited to perform on the December 17, 1977 broadcast (hosted by Miskel Spillman, an elderly woman who won SNL's "Anybody Can Host" contest), but problems with the Pistols' various criminal records made getting visas in time difficult, and so the invitation was extended to Costello and The Attractions, who were touring Canada and the U.S. at the time. Costello's album was only available on import (My Aim Is True, released in the UK in July).
Costello wanted to play "Radio Radio" on SNL. Columbia Records, Costello's US label, on the other hand, was interested in having an already-established song performed on SNL, to stoke the fires of interest in the band prior to the American release of My Aim Is True and This Year's Model. In the event, Costello began the SNL performance by playing "Less than Zero." However, after a few bars, he turned to the Attractions, waving his hand and yelling "Stop! Stop!," then said to the audience, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here," possibly referring to the fact "Less than Zero" was written as a reply to British fascist politician Oswald Mosley. However, SNL music director Howard Shore attributes the move to Costello's bucking pressure by his music company to play "Less than Zero" on the show. He then led the band in a performance of "Radio Radio." Costello did not appear on Saturday Night Live again until 1989. This version of "Radio Radio" (fading into the "false start") can be found (in monaural) on Saturday Night Live: 25 Years of Musical Performances, Vol. 1.
Costello said later that the inspiration for the last-minute song change came from a similar episode years earlier, concerning Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was on the BBC television show hosted by pop-star Lulu, and was supposed to play his hit, "Hey Joe." Hendrix started the song, stopped, said, "We’d like to stop playing this rubbish and dedicate a song to the Cream regardless of what kind of group they might be. I’d like to dedicate this to Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce." and then launched into a feedback-laden version of "Sunshine of Your Love" by the group Cream, which had just announced its break-up. The song ran far longer (and louder) than the show's producers had in mind, Hendrix said after a bit, "We’re being pulled off the air", and the BBC pulled the plug (literally) on Hendrix's performance.
On SNL's 25th anniversary show in 1999, Costello burst in on Beastie Boys — 'sabotaging' their performance of "Sabotage" — and they performed "Radio Radio" together.
Costello's own account of this performance appears in the sleeve notes for the 2002 reissue of This Year's Model.
Parody musician "Weird Al" Yankovic does a semi-tribute to the incident in his concerts. Whenever he and his band mess up a song, Al violently stops the show cold, says "I'm sorry, there's no reason to do this song here" and goes into a straight, non-parody cover of "Radio, Radio.""
Weird, huh?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Autumn in the air

I was taking the kids to school this morning and it really is the first day I've had to use the window heater to dispel the fog from the windshield. The sky was a uniform shade of grey and the rain was more like mist. As I was coming back, I saw a "V" formation of geese flying near the freeway. I came home and my wife had used an Apple Cinnamon air freshener. Add all those factors together, and instantly I am transported to visions of bobbing for apples, pumpkin pie, scarecrows, fall festivals, trick-or-treating and warm apple cider. I think Fall, or Autumn as we English folks call it, is tied with Winter for my favorite season. I like all the seasons, but those two make me feel human after the insufferable heat of summer.

I used to help my first wife run a preschool. It was in the lower floor of our house in Lake Stevens, WA. When fall came around we would organise a field trip to our favourite pumpkin patch, Swan's Trail Farm in Snohomish. Every spring we went there too, when the owner, 'Gentle' Ben would show the kids how to plant pumpkin seeds, and thus he would get his pumpkins planted for free. Then in the fall we would go there and pick pumpkins. It was a wonderful experience for all the kids. They would get to pet farm animals, there was a giant hay maze set up inside one of the barns, and they would have a hayride. After we got back, we would carve pumpkins with the kids and parents and generally have a blast.

I remember the first Halloween I spent in the United States.
My first wife Kristin's parents, Drs. Gordon and Joanne Odegaard, live in La Conner, WA in a house on the Swinomish Channel, a man-made 11-mile-long waterway that connects the deep waters of Saratoga Passage and Padilla Bay and separates Fidalgo Island from the mainland. It is a gorgeous area. But I digress.

Joanne had decided to make for dinner a Mexicali Beef Stew in a Pumpkin Tureen, a recipe that had been published in the Skagit Valley Herald. This sounded great to me, but Gordon had reservations.
Gordon's parents were Norwegians who had immigrated to Alaska, to a small town called Petersburg, known as Alaska's Little Norway, where Gordon was born and raised. He has mentioned to me on many occasions that his favorite things are what he calls 'basic boring'. He likes his food fairly plain, not too spicy, and he's not a big fan of garlic (despite loving pesto).
So there we were, sitting at the dinner table, anticipating the spectacular stew in a pumpkin shell, and when it came out, it looked fantastic and tasted great. However, after a few minutes, we look up to see Gordon adjusting his collar, and sweating bullets. OK, it was spicy, but I had never seen someone have to wipe their brow because of a stew! It was one of those unintentionally funny moments that you just have to witness to fully appreciate.

One of my other favorite things that would occur in fall was the annual extended-family Thanksgiving dinner which was usually held at Cousin Paula's house in Bellevue. All the cousins, uncles and aunts were there and everyone brought something to eat, so there was a TON of food. It was my first experience of sweet potato pie, too. I was hooked after that. After everyone had eaten we would all sit around rubbing our fat tums and groaning with pleasure, and Paula would sit at the grand piano in the living room and start cranking out Christmas tunes, which we would all join in with. They also had an old Victrola in the room and we would dig through the old 78's and play a few. The one I remember most was an old comic song called "Mrs. Murphy's Chowder."

Mrs. Murphy's Chowder

Written By: Unknown
Copyright Unknown
Won't you bring back,
Won't you bring back
Mrs. Murphy's chowder?
It was tuneful,
Every spoonful
Made you yodel louder

After dinner Uncle Ben
Used to fill his fountain pen
From a bowl of
Mrs. Murphy's chowder

There was ice cream, cold cream,
Benzine, gasoline
Soup beans, string beans,
Floating all around
Sponge cake, beef steak,
Mistake, stomach ache
Cream puffs, ear muffs,
Many to be found
Silk hats, door mats,
Bed slats, Democrats
Cow bells, door bells,
Beckon you to dine
Meat balls, fish balls,
Moth balls, cannon balls
Come on in, the chowder's fine!

Won't you bring back,
Won't you bring back
Mrs. Murphy's chowder
It was tuneful,
Every spoonful
Made you yodel louder

If they had it where you are,
You might find a motor car
In a bowl of
Mrs. Murphy's chowder

There was ice cream, cold cream,
Benzine, gasoline
Soup beans, string beans,
Floating all around
Sponge cake, beef steak,
Mistake, stomach ache
Cream puffs, ear muffs,
Many to be found
Silk hats, door mats,
Bed slats, Democrats
Cow bells, door bells,
Beckon you to dine
Meat balls, fish balls,
Moth balls, cannon balls
Come on in, the chowder's fine!
I am not sure who was singing the song, but it was a comedy duo who would banter between verses. I remember this part...
"Say, Cy, can you lend me five dollars?"
"I can't hear real good in that ear, come around to this side. Now, what did you say?"
"I said, can you lend me ten dollars?"
"Aw, why don't you come back to the five dollar ear?"
Another favorite place to go was Remlinger Farm in Carnation, WA. Hayrides, haunted house, pumpkins, u-pick etc., but also espresso and a restaurant, so you really could stay there all day and soak up some serious fall atmosphere. The town of Carnation itself is really pretty. It was originally called Tolt, but was renamed Carnation in honor of the Carnation dairy farm (yes, that Carnation of evaporated milk fame) where the famous 'contented cows' lived. I visited the farm and its beautiful gardens when my grandmother Elsie came for a visit in 1995 after my grandad had passed away. It was closed to the public in 1999 when it became a regional training center for Nestle Co. In 2005 it was purchased from Nestle using seed money from none other than Paul Newman, to become Camp Korey, one of Newman's Hole In The Wall Gang camps for sick children.
Well folks, I realize that this is a rambling post, but I'm in a fall-like mood, and I don't really care. I look out the window at the cool, breezy, overcast day and think, "Perfect. All it needs is some candles, something cinnamony in the oven, a mug of flavored coffee and good old movie on the box, and I'd be set." So, with that, I bid you good day until next time.

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