Life in Pieces

I am way behind with posts and intend to quickly regain lost momentum. Lobbing the odd comment onto The Facebook is no substitute for my usual arcane and eclectic ramblings here which is far more satisfying for your correspondent if not for my Mum and my two other loyal readers. So let's get started.

I am one of those crusty curmudgeons who heartily resents paying the BBC licence fee. The apparent aim of the BBC is to, 'enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.' Radio 4 apart, it does none of those for me. I can muster no enthusiasm for it's lack of editorial independence and independent thinking. The utter bilge that the Corporation serves up labelled 'entertainment,' is nothing of the sort as it competes with ITV in a race to see who can sink to the lowest common denominator the fastest. I look to the US for my televisual down time. The quality of comedy and drama being pumped out is astonishing and represents a very real threat to the future of the BBC, ITV and indeed SKY. They deserve what's coming.

 

If you're wondering what I'm talking about then wonder no more. I've been a fan of the comedy, Modern Family since it's inception. The joy of Modern Family is that in each episode there is a piece of every family's experience. Crackling show though it is, it has been usurped by an upstart must-watch newcomer called Life in Pieces. The format is to tell four short stories about the same family in each episode and it's a winner. I download it on Amazon Prime, (from the office because those thieving bastards from Openreach still want thirty eight grand to reinstall a broadband line at home which used to be there until they took it away and gave it to a neighbour). You should download it too. You will also, (probably), see a slice of your own experience in each episode. These well written and acted comedies from the States are flawless in their execution and it is somewhat embarrassing to note the meagre fare on offer from this side of the Atlantic relative to our own Golden Age of comedy way back when. Anyway, I'm here to help; hope you enjoy it.

Mrs Flashbang; Trendsetter

So, still just the two of us holding the fort at home with the dogs. The girls are obviously missing us though..........

They sent some balloons. That's nice. Perhaps it will catch on. Perhaps Hollywood megastars when unavoidably denied the opportunity to grace the stage at the Oscars or BAFTA's to collect their shiny awards could send a balloon instead. Julia Roberts would look very fetching on a balloon and think of the nonsense it would save with the new frock and make up thing. Anyway girls, thanks for coming...........

High Horse; High Hopes

In an effort to feed my unceasing quest for cultural advancement and understanding, the Crumble Kids kindly gave me for Christmas, two tickets to see Billy Connolly tomorrow at the Apollo. I'm very excited. It's not the first time I've seen Mr Connolly live.

They changed the name but it'll take more than that to erase the memory of that place; I doubt Alzheimers could do that.

Back in the day, well way back when in the mid seventies, I held a temporary position of some responsibility as a spotty teenager working as a smartly dressed hall porter at the Caledonian Hotel in Inverness for a summer job. Yes, the white shirt, black tie and red nylon jacket were very fetching. It was run by a tyrannical ogre called Smart. He had an insufferable wife and his only redemption was his rather pretty daughter, the sight of whom in jodhpurs led to all sorts of unchristian thoughts crossing a spotty teenagers mind. In between all the fun jobs we got to do, mostly lugging 5 tons of antique cases for antique guests straight off convoys of Shearings holiday coaches, ('here's a shilling son, make sure you don't waste it'), I was sent down to the ballroom one day to lay out some chairs for an event that evening, all nine fxcking hundred of them. 

Later that evening, I stood at the back for ten minutes and watched this banjo playing beardy hippie in big banana boots come on the stage and to be fair, I and the other porters thought he wasn't too bad. How we would have laughed if someone had said we were watching someone who would become an international film and television star and only one wee notch down on the National Treasure ladder from the Duchess of Cambridge. 

 

 

I like to think that I was one small stepping stone on his giddy rise to stardom, not everyone has laid out 900 chairs for Billy Connolly you know. Anyway, we'll see how the Big Yin goes tomorrow, I hope he's really come on.

 

It's Hallowe'en Then....

no, she didn't knock on my door either....

So, it's Hallowe'en then. Lets see where we are...... old house in a remote location - check. Bats - check. Scary monster thing creeping out of the darkness................ now, I won't have anyone at the back making clever comments about Mrs Flashbang like that. That women does not creep anywhere; she comes at you in full frontal attack mode but sure, she scares the bejesus out of me. In fact, the whole Crumble Towers Zombie Apocalypse Defence Plan is orientated around them being more scared of Her than she will ever be of a bunch of staggering, wide eyed and incoherent individuals whose left legs go in a completely different direction to the right ones. Lets face it, she's seen that sketch so many times before watching me try to dance. 

In any event, the whole Halloween thing is totally owned by the Americans who take it above and beyond anything rational; I suppose that is partly the point. The effort and creativity they go to in scaring the living daylights out of one another is as amusing as it is somewhat worrying. I'm talking about clips like this one.......

These people are not funny people. I wonder what the attrition rate is of practical jokers dressed as scary clowns whose victims just turn round and slot them?

When exactly did clowns become scary? They used to be figures of fun and slapstick when I was little. Perhaps, well I'm just putting it out there, but I married one. Yep Laura the Clown, magician and children's entertainer. Was that when the dreams started..... or ended? They certainly gave the boys a shock and a surprise when they were little and at pre prep. Mr Henry, who had been doing the Christmas entertainment at school for the little people for longer than anyone could remember, sadly met an unfortunate and somewhat inconvenient demise just before the party one year. The call went out and the call was answered. Step forward Mum... to the mortification, and please-ground-open-up-and-swallow-me embarrassment of her two little soldiers. I thought she was pretty good actually but that by a country mile, isn't the worst example of out of context dressing up I can remember.

I was invited to my Godson's birthday party one year when his Dad was at the Staff College in Camberley. He would have been about five at the time, the boy not the Dad.  Pleased to be asked, I suggested that Dad and I dress in gorilla suits and scare the kids. It sounded like a good idea on the phone but I then promptly forgot about it. When I turned up at said kids birthday party Dad was somewhat put out that I'd let him down while he was revved up, costume rented and ready to go. 

What could possibly go wrong? Well, the party was going swimmingly with the kids playing nicely in the garden, right up to the point when an angry gorilla jumped over the fence and started chasing the children. One lad promptly emptied his bowels into his trousers and went into a sort of catatonic shock while a mass hysteria thing enveloped the rest. It took a while for the screaming to subside. Inviting the children to beat the gorilla with any implement to hand helped but for many, the innocence of childhood died that afternoon. Trying to persuade others that the foetal position and thumb sucking is no defence against wild animals and entreaties to play pass the parcel with untold riches as prizes fell on deaf ears. Mothers were called. Now adults, some of the kids are probably still in therapy I shouldn't wonder. All in all it wasn't quite the success that we'd hoped for but on the other hand, we're still talking about it. Richard of course, was banished to the spare room that night. Richard spent a lot of time there one way and another.

Go Graham!

Back in the day, television offered less choice but more spice. Sitting down on the sofa watching Pans People on TOTP was an unspoken  father and son bonding rite of passage that happened up and down the country in millions of households. Of course, in every household father and son would be too repressed and embarrassed to pass comment except perhaps for Dad to say, 'can't see what all the fuss is about myself.' Right, Dad. Legs & Co, who followed Pans People in 1976, and Hot Gossip on the Kenny Everett Show, pushed the temperature even higher and blew more than a few valves in television sets across the land. All that's gone now in our new and shiny PC world. Still,  as the Autumn days become shorter and grey the odd ray of sunshine peeks through to brighten our lives, as happened on Friday when my HD flat screen suddenly went super nova.

I was channel surfing after watching the All Blacks game and came across a talk show hosted by Graham Norton. I thought for a moment that someone had sprinkled fairy dust on the television, (with Mr Norton there, a man who carries the torch for the British tradition of camp comedy, that was in fact probably the case), for on the sofa, in one delicious 'I've died and gone to heaven,' line up, we had Nigella, Nicole and Carey. Merryll Streep joined the guests which was a bit like your big sister turning up at a teenage party to tell you, 'Mum sent me to keep an eye on you.'   Actually, she exudes charm, grace and poise; what is there not to love about her? Finally, a pretty wee thing, Gabrielle Aplan, glided onto the stage to sing. Now she can throw out a fair old catchy, foot tapping number I can tell you. 

I strongly suspect that only a camp talk show host could get away with inviting five pretty girls on the same show and for this we must thank Mr Norton for pushing the boundaries of modern post watershed viewing. In fact, I may become a regular viewer. As for Nigella, Nicole and Carey; girls, I've got 2 tickets for the Australia v Scotland quarter final next Sunday at Twickenham. Only one of you can come and it's strictly first come first served. Graham, you're not invited. 

So, for old times sake lets have a Sunday afternoon nostalgia hit and revisit the seventies with a PP clip. After all, they were about the only good and happy thing that happened in that utterly forgettable decade,

Pans People 1974. Watching the clip now, it seems incredible that the show went out at 7pm on Thurday evenings. No wonder it was required viewing.

Don't Be That Person

Britain used to lead the world in creative, inspired and often funny television commercials. Remember the Hamlet 'Booth,' ad, the Carling 'Dambuster,' ad or the Castlemaine 4X campaign? Where are we now? Not even in the same postcode as funny, that's where we are.

The ad campaign above for DirectTV, (it's American),  and apart from being bloody funny shows just how far they've come and how far we're lagging. To add insult to injury even the Canadians have discovered advertising comedy. Enjoy.....

Cilla or Cecil; You Decide

So it was Surprise! Surprise! at the weekend when we bade farewell to ‘our Cilla.’ I was never much of a devotee but I’d agree in her prime she could throw out a decent ballad. Still, amongst other none devotees are the worlds cabin crew who have had quite a bit to say about Cilla over the years. A bit of a diva apparently who earned herself legendary ‘oh no, SHE’s on the flight manifest ,’ status over the years.

Well I Never

Seriously?

I learned a few things over the weekend, none of which I really wanted to hear but by way of introduction I'll mention them anyway. First, it was good news following bad when I learned that my dear loyal friend Gurkha, (Black Lab), had suffered a mini stroke but nothing worse. Although a bit lopsided on his pins, (bit like his owner), he ought to be with us for another couple of months at least.

Second and obviously unconnected, a friend told me over dinner that he popped into the  lavatory in the Shangri-La Hotel in the Shard and chanced upon the shocking scene of two men engaged in what the broadsheet court reporters euphemistically term, "a sexual act." Apparently, that sort of thing is not uncommon in what is apparently an architectural gay icon. Mostly won't be going there then.

Third, in a "well I never," moment of disbelief I learned that all manner of drugs are now more freely available than ever and one of the common conduits for transactions are apparently car washes. The patron drives in with fifty quid under the seat and drives out with his cash replaced by the Eastern European car washers with a sachet of Columbian Marching Powder or whatever the required high of the day is. I'll be using the pressure washer at home then.

The Thug Life vid's make the news. Hilarious if Pretty lightweight compared to Spitting Image or Alison Jackson stuff.

You live and learn. Light relief cascaded down then when one of the kids introduced me to a Facebook page called Political Bible. Politicians as a breed have had rather an easy time of it from satirists in recent years, especially since the death of John Fortune in 2013 bringing an end to the Bremner, Bird & Fortune sketches and we haven't seen anything to match Spitting Image in years. Until now.

Pub scene from Bremner, Bird and Fortune's "Last Show before the Recovery". Two old blokes chatting about media trends.

The BBC report that the "Thug Life," videos of political put downs started life in the United States and were first published here on a Facebook page called Lad Bible. All I can tell you is that the thought of carefully orchestrated election spin campaigns careering off their axis and party media advisor's being driven to apoplexy because of some smart kids with a galloping sense of humour and total lack of deference cheers me up no end. Where there is despair, let there be hope.

 

Ms Karaki; Black Belt in Putting You In Your Place

This is a viral video of Rima Karaki, a Lebanese lady who specialises in putting opinionated and self absorbed men in their place. She's obviously been under instruction from Mrs Flashbang. Now, aren't the BBC looking for a new producer to keep you-know-who in his place if he returns from suspension? Don't thank me, I'm here to help.

Top Gear; Three Men & A Babe

Three middle aged blokes doing bloke things in a bloke manner

Back in the nineties I used to marvel at how sober suited American business on trips to the UK and Europe would immediately go “off piste,” when it came to the après. They drank, smoked and flirted way more than they would ever do at home. While that may be true of many men on business travel, as a group they simply seemed more enthusiastic than did any other because some said, “they got to be guys again.”

American Bloke

That is, at home under a suffocating thought police in the work place and tight domestic reins they could finally drink more than two beers and enjoy a packet of Malboro or a cigar without looking over their shoulder.

The suffocating  thought control has of course, over the years, infected our own society and this perhaps explains some of the joy and popularity of Top Gear. Three middle aged blokes doing bloke things in a bloke manner without regard to any pronouncements from health or transport Quango’s. The audience, from schoolboys to middle aged men take solace in life beyond their own and its become Sunday night escapism for many, most of whom have only a passing knowledge of cars and beyond a lottery win, no chance of driving most of those on the show.

British Bloke

After the latest storm in a teacup, (an apology, a handshake and a beer is all that was required to calm things down here), the shows future is in question. The odd thing is, most of the 700,000 who have now signed the petition to reinstate Clarkson would be include the many who have been complaining about the stale format and scripted and contrived adventures on the show in recent years.

Who is to say this situation isn't just as contrived? Are we seriously asking is Clarkson a bloke or a Diva? After all, the publicity is global and they've got every media organisation by the nose. Viewing numbers will rocket when they have milked this and finally do the apology, handshake and beer thing.

Jodie Kidd from the Classic Car Show and Sabine Schmitz from the German Top Gear

Competition of course is encroaching. Jodie Kidd on the Classic Car Show is somewhat easier on the eye than Big J so a media frenzy over a minor tiff is a cheap way of maintaining global dominance. In their shoes, I’d sort out the issue today, get Clarkson back on board while telling him not to be a big girl Diva, (if indeed he was), and just for extra spice hire Sabine Schmitz making a team of four........... Three Men & A Babe. Job jobbed, move on. Oh and Jeremy, or Punchy Clarkson as we affectionately know you, if you have to practise stick to Piers; no one complains when you do that.