Tuesday 24 March 2020

Limericks and Non-Limericks 2

There was a young man with a beard
Who said "I aspire to be weird,
But we all look so samey,
Me, Tom, Dick and Jamie
Alas, it is just as I feared."

There was an old man in the dark
Who said, “What a night for a lark!”
So he got out of bed
And stood on his head
Till his toes were bit off by a shark.

May you purge all the lust from my soul, 
Give me continence and self-control,
Give me patience and love
From the heavens above
To obey your commands in their whole.
(Thomas Aquinas, possibly)

Second Year Student Nat.Sci., 
Wishes hereby to apply, 
To earn a few bob,
an interesting job,
Six weeks from the 
end of July.

The hamlets of East and West Wittering
Began a campaign against littering
They hoovered up bags,
Plastic sandals and fags -
And you at the back can stop tittering!

There was an old lady from Crewe
Who lived in an LCC loo.
When asked why it was
She said, “It’s because,
At a penny a day, wouldn’t you?”

If you imbibed too much tea
Relief used to cost thirty pee,
But Victoria Station
Has aided the nation
By making facilities free.
One Saturday morning at three,
A cheesemonger's shop in Paree.
Collapsed to the ground,
With a thunderous sound,
Leaving only a pile of debris.

My neighbour came over to say,
And not in a neighbourly way,
That he'd knock me around,
If he heard one more sound,
Of the classical music I play.

As a beauty I am not a star,
There are others more handsome by far.
But my face I don't mind it,
Cos I am behind it –
Though for you it's a bit of a jar.

Money, you hear people say,
Is the root of all evil today,
But if you ask for a rise
It is no surprise
They’re not giving any away.

There was an old man who averred
He had learned how to fly like a bird.
Cheered by thousands of people,
He leapt from the steeple –
His tomb states the date it occurred.

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for Customer Service,
Or eight to listen to these options again.

Come all you beach combers and list unto me
The species of plastic you find in the sea
The cup lids and condoms and driftwood and shoes
The toothbrushes, lighters you find in the ooze
The golf tees and curlers and nurdles and twine
The Lego and loom bands you find in the brine 
The coffee pods, cotton buds, endless teaspoons
The bits of rope, twine and net, grounded balloons
The fishing rope offcuts, smartie caps, dog poo bags
The Lego and crates, cable ties, little tags.
Do you find plastic bottles and lots of blue string?
Who knows what a beachcombing outing will bring!
LF/ Tracey Williams
Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific,
Fain would I fathom thy nature specific.
Loftily poised in the ether capacious,
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous.

Monday 23 March 2020

Irregular Verbs

Bernard Woolley in Yes Minister was fond of them: It’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I have an independent mind. You are eccentric. He is round the twist.

I am assertive, you are brusque, he is rude.
I am dominant, you are dominating, she is domineering.
I am determined, you are aggressive, he is bloody-minded.

I am indomitable, you are formidable, he is stubborn.
I am introspective, you are self-absorbed, he is an egomaniac.
I am firm, you are stubborn, he is pigheaded.

I am allusive, you are elliptical, he is unclear.
I am confident, you are forward, he is brash.
I am proactive, you are assertive, he is pushy.

I vent justified opinions, you backbite, she’s a terrible gossip.
I am thorough, you are verbose, he is a bore.
I am clear, you are firm, she is strident.

I am eloquent, you are glib, he soft-soaps.
I argue, you proselytise, he touts for converts.
I practise self-care, you are self-centred, they are pathologically selfish.

I am emotional, you are sensitive, he is sentimental.
I have legitimate concerns, you complain, she is always wailing about something.
I have concerns, you have worries, he has obsessions.

I have opinions, you are opinionated, he is prejudiced.
My design is an hommage, yours is derivative, his is pastiche.
I am influenced by, you take elements from, they plagiarise.
I have opinions, you are easily influenced, he has been brainwashed.

More here.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Bathos 7

Time to come down to earth.


The worst thing about WWI was the poetry.
He’s a legend in parts of Bicester. Eric Knowles

I must go down to the sea again
The lonely sea and the sky
I left my pants there and my vest
I wonder if they're dry

Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Stir halfway and leave for one minute before serving. (@dimwittedly)

On an inept portrait: His nose seems to follow you round the room.

Safety Warning! Opening this box will result in death by electrocution and a $50 fine.
Surely there must be less to life than this? (A weary reader on the perfumed prose of Angela Carter.)

What they actually meant by their statement “We thank the Otley Pub Club for their feedback on these investment plans. We always take the views of the local community into account when investing in a pub, and look forward to studiously ignoring them in the near future.” (Rory Whelan)

Not one redeeming defect. (Said who of whom?)

In the last century life expectancy has increased by thirty years, which we spend queuing nervously in airports. (@KarlreMarks)

My grandmother would be so happy and proud to see the way Ms. Phelps has brilliantly re-imagined her story - assuming of course that she recognised it in the first place. (Matthew Prichard – parody by Xavier Lechard)

Saul Bellow’s funeral in Vermont was “a good place to network”, the graveside thronging with publishers, agents, academics and other frightful literary hangers-on. (Times 2018)

It's past the stage where it looks revolting and has reached the stage where it looks merely unpleasant. (WS on tomato chutney)

Ratings for the current series of Dr Who have plummeted to their highest since 1982. (@NicholasPegg)

You all know in what high regard we hold this scumbag. 
I thought you didn’t care.
I don’t.
(The Fugitive)

I have the utmost disrespect for George Galloway. (via Twitter)

German never lets you down when you need a word that's both confusing and terrifying. (Amy Wilson @Vaxxish)

Boris Johnson - he's like a bull in a china shop, but not quite as graceful. (@bertothefirst)

There's nothing like fostering self respect, and that was nothing like it. (@volewriter)

If you had told me in about 1979 that when I was in my 50s I'd be watching pop videos based on Egyptian mythology on an electronic device and simultaneously having conversations with people thousands of miles away about durian fruit... I'd probably have been immensely relieved, actually. (LW)

Listeners really enjoyed the exchange between James and Paul, which started off bad-tempered and escalated quickly from there. (LBC)

I’m as pure as the driven slush. (Tallulah Bankhead)

Songs that remain as gorgeous as they were nearly three decades ago. (The Irish Times)

This is easily the best picture of snail duelling you will see today.

It is the greatest frog-worshipping zombie biker occult horror film ever made. (Pulp Librarian) (As somebody else said, "This is the most ludicrous psychedelic zombie biker movie that Beryl Reid ever starred in.")

Earlier, my unconditional love for what is surely the best music ever written in Stanmore, Middlesex had inclined me to give the production the benefit of the doubt. (A Handel opera, reviewed in the Times, 2018.)

BULLYou can fool some of the people all of the time. And those are the ones you need to concentrate on.

I never knew that! And I still don’t.

We do like the same things, don’t you?

He was a modest man.
He had a lot to be modest about.

Two men say they're Jesus/One of them must be wrong. (Dire Straits)

We should all do our bit towards climate change! (Bill Oddie in advert 2007)

He was Nero's right-hand man who managed to keep his head by being very diplomatic.

Anyone who knows the Leader of the House at all well will have not the slightest doubt about her political ability and her personal character. (Bercow on Leadsom)

As ever when I visit, I'm impressed at the extent to which the US is an efficient and functional society. (@johnb78)

In the dressing room after the show: Darling! You’ve done it again!

And at art shows you say “That’s my favourite”. (Philippa Perry)

I’ll tell all my friends about it!

This book cannot be praised too highly!

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Malaprops and Portmanteaus 9


Mrs Malaprop was a theatrical character who always got her worms in a twist – true malaprops improve on the original. Humpty Dumpty told Alice (when she went through the looking-glass) that a portmanteau was two meanings packed up in one word.

Wasn’t he seen with the jambon jaune? @Kaltenjay (The French protesters are gilets jaunes.)

Mildred Rogers is a morally loose and basically wicked farrago. (Imdb on Of Human Bondage, virago)

She thought I was bonkers for bringing the nit comb home from the beach but strange forces compulsed me to. (FB)

It’s lovely – all that hysteria growing up the walls. (Michael Caine’s mother admires the wistaria in Hollywood)

I’m a social piranha! (for pariah)

Panting professionally for over 15 years, the artist... (typo)

An interesting medieval item with a kartush of a face on it. (cartouche)

internicene strife (Nicene, internecine)

The shirt scraps pile is depleating! (Fabrications)

glacier cherries
Thyrsdu (Thursday – great typo.)
flopsam and jepson (flotsam and jetsam)
phoebia (phobia)
acousmatic (pretentious press release)
desserne (discern)
miniminism (minimalism)

The Germans spell cliché Klischee.
And for dessert, lemon posit. (posset)

@AdamRutherford: I forget who suggested this, but extended mansplaining can be referred to as willibustering.

@GaryNunn1: Apparently those opposing renewable energy policy are being called ‘Coalsheviks’. #auspol

That’s the dimocracy for you.

 (conspiracy and creationism)
luminal (luminous and liminal)
cosmic surgery


fancasting (ideal casting for your favourite stories)


cottontot (cotton king)
journicle (journal article)
forbearer of the TED talk (forebear crossed with forerunner)

carpool tunnel syndrome

punditocracy (They’re always opining.)
life-min (life admin)

(of Lord Sugar)
mothageddon (Caroline Criado Perez)
adminisphere (AJB)
probastibaking, procrasticleaning

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 9 March 2020

Literary Clichés Part Eight: Genres

The trouble with magical realism is that it's fantasy for people who don't read fantasy.

Rural pagan survival/revival has a dark side.
Old gods live on in modern times.
Old Dark House (popular in the 30s).

Americans have a kind of surreal shaggy dog “humour”. Twin Peaks, Garrison Keiller, Cabot Cove. It’s also about rustics with funny accents who call the sheriff “shurruf”.

Statistics show that you're most likely to get your own story in a girls' comic if you're a sporty, disabled, artistic Victorian orphan who lives with a violent aunt or uncle, having a hurt sister/brother/pet who you need to earn money for, but don't realise that your best friend secretly resents you, the snobs are plotting against you, and an evil mastermind is attempting to take over your school and you're the only one who can resist her powers. (bbc.co.uk on girls’ comics)

Girls' comics (50s, 60s) and girls' school stories (20s to 60s) were written as if the girl characters had no future. They weren’t training for a career. They never talked about boys. They had an exciting life at school, but never talked about having a more normal social life in the holidays. They never had boyfriends. The idea that they were going to leave school, go to university (or college), do a job and get married (most of them) is never even mentioned in passing. (The same thing happened in real life, too – yet there was tremendous pressure on women to get married.) Though apparently in Enid Blyton there IS talk of careers and a life beyond the hockey team. (How did you feel when you left school and your leadership qualities and skill at hockey were suddenly completely useless and you had to be feminine and charming? And you never picked up a hockey stick again.)

It’s a poor example of what I have elsewhere called the “brownstone mystery”, where the main function of the plot is to carry the reader through observations about how upper-class people live, complete with details of clothing, furniture and bitchiness. (Noah Stuart on Helen Reilly’s The Velvet Hand)

Novel about a painter who drinks a lot, talks a lot, has shabby girlfriends, sponges off everyone he knows (Joyce Cary's The Horse’s Mouth). There are endless descriptions of his work and how he (and it always is a he) works – lots of gesturing and thick impasto and mess. We are supposed to think he is a life-enhancing free spirit instead of a tedious PITA. Also he is far too obviously a stand-in for the writer and for us the readers – we are really a romantic genius who just wants to smear paint all over the bourgeois wallpaper. Nobody would write a novel about a meticulous, gentlemanly Victorian artist. And nobody would make a film about Millais. Also the Horse’s Mouth type of painter never went to art school, did life drawings, studied other artists, learned perspective or any technique, it’s all completely instinctive, you see. Segue to urban legends about dance routines being unrehearsed, speeches improvised by the actors etc.

During the war there was an “evacuee” genre in which a fastidious single middle-aged man finds himself looking after small children with runny noses, impetigo and adenoids. They speak a hilarious dialect full of dropped aitches and solve his problems and teach him humanity, or something.

Everything is exactly like real life apart from one fundamental detail that gradually becomes apparent (women are the dominant sex, 5% of the population are mutants/aliens from outer space, cannibalism is the latest fashion, your boyfriend is a vampire, everybody at your school is a clone being raised for future body parts etc.)

The killer has lifted a method from a (real or fictional) detective story. (Real-life converse: killer writes a novel revealing his/her crimes. Didn’t one of them write a book called How to Murder Your Husband, and then murder her husband?)

More here, and links to the rest. 

Friday 6 March 2020

Clichés about Agatha Christie 2

James Marriott in the Times, March 2020, celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the publication of Christie's debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He reveals that he "raced through the Poirot novels" aged 11. I wonder if he's read them since?

He's reread Styles, at least, and gives credit where it's due. But "this is not the world of Jo Nesbo or Ian Rankin". Perhaps because it was written just after World War One, when angst-ridden soul-searching and gruesome autopsies didn't sell? And now we've got Christie's first novel out of the way, how are we going to fill up the space?

With clichés!

"Christie had little talent for or interest in characterisation. Her memoirs are notable for their lack of introspection." Marriott claims that Christie "couldn't remember" the week of her disappearance. Perhaps he means that she fails to mention it in her memoirs. (She gave an interview shortly afterwards, showing that she remembered that week quite well.)

Christie’s thin characterisation is the aspect of her work that has attracted most hostility from critics. In his 1945 essay Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? Edmund Wilson complained that in Christie’s books “you cannot become interested in the characters, because they never can be allowed an existence of their own even in flat two dimensions”.

How about giving your own analysis, James, instead of quoting a 75-year-old essay? Especially one that gets quoted by every journalist assigned to write two broadsheet pages about Christie?

In his brilliant essay on Christie’s novels... John Lanchester provides a masterly deconstruction of the character of Poirot. He is, Lanchester contends, “the worst detective of all... [the] least likeable, most implausible, most annoying, vainest, and the one whose characterisation is most dependent on whimsical details that add nothing in terms of psychological insight”.

But what does James think? And Poirot's obsessive need for symmetry surely helps him unravel many a tangled tale?

"Christie's novels are puzzles." We are told. Oh, really? Styles is a "chessboard" or "game of Cluedo". Poirot is "clockwork".

Christie’s work has never gone out of fashion because puzzles don’t date the way novels do... The timeless appeal of her fiction meant Christie was able to go on writing well into old age.

On the contrary, Christie's novels are a gift to the social historian because they are rooted so firmly in the year in which they were written. She recorded the minutest change in fashions, manners, morals and fashionable ideas. From the cloche hats of the 20s (so useful for disguise) to the Sloppy Joe jumpers of the early 60s, from parlourmaids to "lady helps", from ouija boards to Freud – she missed nothing. And this is why I love her books.

More from the Times here.

Monday 2 March 2020

Art Shows in London and Beyond

Tate Britain
Aubrey Beardsley March 4 to May 25
The graphic artist was astoundingly prolific before dying young at 25. He invented a linear, black-and-white Art Nouveau style in which the 18th century met Japanese woodblock prints. Widely influential in his time, an exhibition in 1965 brought him back to popularity.

Sainsbury Centre, Norwich
Art Deco by the SeaTo 14 June
The 20s and 30s were great decades for the British seaside. Who wouldn't want to holiday in an Art Deco hotel and swim in a Cubist lido? The Sainsbury Centre is still futuristic after all these years, and now there is sculpture dotted around the grounds and the lake.

Pallant House, Chichester
To 14 June
Bawden, Marx, Ravilious and their Contemporaries. Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious were graphic artists of the 20s to the 40s who recorded the English landscape, country towns, shop fronts, markets and railway stations. When war broke out, they reflected the changing face of an island under siege, where Victorian ironwork was joined by barbed-wire entanglements, Nissen huts and gun emplacements. Sadly Ravilious never returned from a flight to Iceland.

Musée d'Orsay, Paris
James TissotTo 19 June
James Tissot loved to paint beautiful women in the elaborate, fashionable costumes of the late 19th century, often with a background of breakfast tables, rivers, yachts, parks and iron railings.

National Gallery
Titian: Love, Desire, Death
16 March – 14 June 2020

All six paintings in Titian's Metamorphoses are reunited – from Boston, Madrid and London – for the first time in over four centuries.

Chris Beetles Gallery, London
The Twentieth Century According to Heath Robinson and Ronald SearleTo 21 March 2020
Mad inventor meets anarchic schoolkids.