Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Funny For Your Ear - On The Radio

Note:- This post flowed much better the first time I wrote it but, after a laptop crash, it's now something of a pale imitation of a post. Caveat emptor.

It's a hoary old cliche but things only become hoary old cliches because they're true - there's something about radio comedy that feels more imaginative, more unfettered, more abstract than that of TV or film. That's not to say that I don't adore film and TV comedy - it's just that I've always had a soft spot for comedy for the ear. And here's why...

The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy
After all, it began life as a BBC Radio 4 sitcom, after all. Douglas Adams has always been a big influence on me and this is where that influence began. It's that rarest of beasts - a sci-fi programme that's actually funny. But the emphasis is on the funny rather than the sci fi and it's a particularly understated British style of funny as typified by Arthur Dent's reaction to the destruction of his home planet ("Look, I'm a bit upset about that"). That said, it's combined with a wildly imaginative and inventive stream of ideas, from Babel Fish to Infinite Improbability Drives, all designed to drive the funny along.

The Goon Show
It's impossible to talk about audio comedy without discussing this. I was brought up on Spike Milligan books so it was only natural that I would graduate on to this. Radio was the perfect format for Spike Milligan, ideally suited to his surreal flights of fancy which would be impossible to realise in a visual medium.

I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue
Television currently seemed to be littered with a plethora of comedy panel shows (a lot which are very funny, to be fair) but, of course, radio got their first. This is one of the finest examples, keeping the tradition of British seaside silly, smutty innuendo going strong for nearly forty years. Sadly, original host Humphrey "Humph" Littleton passed away last year but, as with all showbiz, the show must go and has gone on.

The League Of Gentlemen / The Mighty Boosh
Another fine television tradition is that of plundering the ariwaves for the latest comedy and these are two of my favourite examples from the last ten years. The Mighty Boosh follow in the Goons tradition of the strange and the surreal which has surprisingly translated very well to the screen whereas the League Of Gentlemen obscured and suggested their cast of comedy grotesques on the radio before revealing them in their full gory glory on screen.

So there you have it, just a few examples as to why audio stuff is great. I could go on all day but we've all got other things to do. I mean, there's all that washing you've been putting off, isn't there? Just cause it's the holiday season...

Monday, 28 December 2009

Funny For Your Ear - On The Record

I was toying with the idea of going with a selection of "end of decade review" style blogs over the coming days in the lead up to the winding down of the year but, quite frankly, there are enough of those kind of lists floating about the interweb at the moment so let's just go with the usual random selection of blogging type stuff, shall we? Good, good.

So, over the Christmas period*, I listened to a two part radio documentary on Monty Python's comedy albums and it started me realising how much I adored the comedy album. Which means you are going to get a list after all but hopefully it's one which hasn't been repeated ad nauseum elsewhere in the last few days... Let's start with the ones which kicked off the train of thought.

Monty Python - Various albums
I was about 10 when I first started getting into Monty Python. A friend of my parents was round to visit and was a massive fan. He played a selection of the albums and I absolutely loved them - so much so that he ran me off copies on cassette of all of them. And boy, where those albums worn thin. I think what I really liked about was that not only did they often contain a lot of new material that you only could only get on the albums but they also reworked some of the old material in new ways (everything was re-recorded for the albums). This along with the Goon Show started a lifelong love of audio comedy.

Bill Hicks - Rant In E-Minor
Stand-up naturally lends itself to the audio medium (depending on the performer, of course - someone like Lee Evans might not translate) and, having died at a tragically young age with relatively few recordings of his work, Bill Hicks' audio recordings are that much more key to his body of work. Of the ones released, my favourite is Rant In E-Minor. Difficult to pinpoint exactly why but there's something about it that seems to that much more on the money than some of his other shows.

Derek And Clive Live
You can't really talk about comedy albums without mentioning this one. A bootleg recording of two comedians venting comedy spleen during a long run of a live show that found it's way into the public domain, it's a fascinating album. At times very funny, at other times filthy just for the sake of it and sometimes not particularly funny at all, I find it interesting because it's an insight into how two comedians work and begin to develop ideas into sketches.

The Secret Policeman's Ball
Now, this was a live show which was released theatrically and the album is effectively just the comedy sketches from the show but, it's such a great selection of sketches, that I'm going to include it in with the comedy albums. Any album that has Monty Python, Peter Cook, Billy Connolly and Rowan Atkinson all at the top of their game has to be worth a listen.

This is, of course, just a small selection - I could tediously drone on all day but let's come to a pause right about there. Comedy albums are only part of the wonder that is audio comedy so, next time, I shall take you through some of the radio programmes what are also great.

* I also toyed with giving you a Christmas themed blog but pretty much writing "ate too much, drank too much, got fab prezzies, played trivia based games til the wee small hours" nicely sums up the festive period in a lovely daze of food, booze and trivia, really.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Reality TV Drinking Bingo

Despite being involved with reality television in a professional capacity, I've never really been one to watch it (well, who wants to be reminded of work in their time off?). Until recently that is, when the Gorgeous Girlfriend and Stepson The Elder began my steady indoctrination on a Saturday and Sunday night.

In order to enliven procedings somewhat, I'm contemplating instituting a form of Reality TV Drinking Bingo. Whenever any of the following come up, you take a drink:-

- Contestant claims they've dreamed of this all their life.

- Contestant claims they don't want to go because they'd be letting everyone down.
- Judge claims this is their toughest week yet but they're up to the challenge
- Other judge claims contestant is just not up to it
- Contestant claims to have really learned something about themselves
- Contestant claims not to be interested in winning, just happy to be part of it (but is obviously lying)
- Token female judge cries at performance
- Grumpy older judge disagrees with everyone
- Contestant claims to have taken on board the judges scathing comments with good grace when inside a little part of them is dying

To be honest, that little lot should do the trick and get you well on the way to being nicely pissed...

Friday, 11 December 2009

City Life

Cities really are curious beasts. These sprawling entities that grow and change and adapt as the little creatures that inhabit them scurry about their daily business. It's not just the cities themselves that are unusual. No, those little city-dwelling creatures can be somewhat intriguing as well.

Case in point some weeks back:- As I left the office, it was fairly grey overhead (I know, nothing that unusual for an October afternoon; actually, the fact that it wasn't raining as well probably makes it a little unusual for London at this time of year). Everyone surrounding me seemed the same as always - the majority wore that standard city-like glaze of being locked in your own little personal bubble of private personal type none-of-your-business stuff.

As I made my way towards the station over Waterloo Bridge, the grey suddenly started to make way for bright sunshine flowing forth from a blue sky dotted with the occasional puff of cloud, which shone and reflected off the Thames and picked out the many riverside landmarks.

I felt that there seemed to be a communal lightening of the mood around me (that's not to say that the mood was particularly dark or depressing to begin with, just that the mood was noticeably lighter). There were smiles and a general sense of cheerfulness that hadn't seemed to be there before. All from a temporary shift in atmospherics.

Maybe it didn't overly shift, though. Maybe it was just me projecting my own shift in mood onto those around me. Maybe not, though because personally, when the grey gloom lifts and the sights of London are brought out blinking into the light once more, I suddenly remember why I love living in this city. I'm not just here because it's where I live and where I work. I'm here because it's my city. It's mine and I wouldn't change a thing.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Spanish Diaries - Part 3

Having already spent the best part of a week in Spanish Spain, we decided that it would be rude not to venture into Barcelona for the day. After what had become traditional navigational mishaps (including an inadvertent trip through a service station and a brief detour down a motorway turn-off which has no other function than to lead you back onto the motorway itself), we made it to the port and split up for a brief wander through the shopping district.

Weirdly, there seemed to be a theme to our ramblings and a weird theme it was, too. The theme itself? Creepy dolls. The beginnings of the motif were spotted on a small antique market outside the main entrance to Barcelona Cathedral. Every single stall there was seemed to have some form of creepy looking doll (along the apparently obligatory graphic-statuette-of-Christ-with-bleeding-stigmata-on-the-cross). The creepy icing on the freaky cake came, however, with the discovery on one stall of a basket full of dolls eyes (one Euro per eye. Needless to say, no purchases were made.

The theme was topped off later by the discovery of a small shop down one of the streets. Not so unusual, you may be thinking. The side street is the traditional domain of the small shop. Well, quite so. This small shop, however, was selling what they clearly believed to be realistic looking baby dolls but were, in fact, terrifying wizened troll-creatures of about ninety years of age. I can not even imagine who would find one of these horrifying monstrosities cute, let alone go so far as to make a purchase. Truly the stuff of which nightmares are made.

The afternoon was spent with a trip to Parc Guell - quite possibly the most insane place outside of a theme park that I've ever seen. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, it's rather like the resultant madness you would get if the imaginations of Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and Hans Christian Anderson made sweet, sweet love to each other and gave birth to a public park.

We came into the park at the Vallcarca side, meaning we were at the highest point to begin with and were afforded the best view possible out over Barcelona. Amazing though the height was, it didn't really do Barcelona any favours - the city was not pretty looking from up there, being grid-like and built-up in a way reminiscent of a shanty town.

Having finished surveying the views, we made our way down into the park proper and the Gaudi structures began to reveal themselves. We initially reached a wide platform which was edged and surrounded with the broken pottery effect beloved by Gaudi. It wasn't until we descended under the platform and out through towards the entrance that the true scope of the insanity begins to reveal itself. For there, just past a large multi-coloured lizard fountain and flanking the front entrance, lie two massive Hansel-and-Gretel-style gingerbread houses. It's really the only way to describe these architectural oddities.

Big lizard
Obviously, we'd walked through the park the opposite way and not got the full effect that a visitor arriving at the front gates would get but, in a way, there was something more satisfying about the slow reveal as opposed to the full assault on the senses. It's a prominent Barcelona landmark so I'm definitely glad we made the effort to get out and take a look round it.

Which witch lives here?
And that brings the Spanish recollections to a close. The trip ended as it began - with much drinking of the booze and playing of the games - and a good time was had by all. Your normal blogging service of random old mind tat will no doubt resume tomorrow...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Spanish Diaries - Part 2

I'm not a particularly active in a sporty sense. This should come as a surprise to roughly no one who's ever met me. I mean, I do a fair bit of walking every day - around 3 or so miles - but strenuous physical exertion is not really my cup of tea.* So it was pretty much to everyone's surprise when I not only joined in with doubles tennis but also demonstrated my prowess with a skipping rope and nearly won at darts. OK, so darts doesn't exactly count as a strenuous activity being mainly played by beer-sodden blokes who are somewhat rounder across the middle than any other sportsman but still...

Also, describing what we played as "doubles tennis" may well be something of a misnomer as well. There was very little in the way of actual "rules" and very definitely no scoring. It was more of a football-volleyball-keepie-uppie-tennis combo with the main seeming to be to just keep the ball in the air. Permissible methods included passing it your teammate, headers, playing rebounds off the wall or fence and occasionally nipping round to your opponents side of the net. This version of the game was concluded once we'd finally managed to twonk all seven balls out of the court.

The playing of games was a definite theme for the week. The Family Kirk has always been fond of a card game and a board game. There was much playing of whist and sevens and one game of kaluki (a particular family favourite) which unfortunately lasted so long, we were in danger of still playing it by the time Pa's next birthday rolled around. However, the less said about the game of Pictionary which involved Uncle Phil and I seeming to draw every abstract concept in the box, the better...

More Spain stuff later...

* I don't actually drink tea so technically tea's not really my cup of tea, either. But I digress...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Spanish Diaries - Part 1

Let us take a brief trip back in time to those halcyon days gone by of about six weeks ago with a selection of blogs what do detail moments from my recent family sojourn to a small town about 80km away from Barcelona.

The flight to Barcelona airport was blessedly uneventful - let's face, a trip in a metal container several thousand feet up is something that you really do want to be free from events (unless you count "mild surprise that even a cheese sandwich can be rendered inedible by airline chefs" to be an event). Upon arrival at the airport, however, there seemed to be a strange phenomenon in effect. For some inexplicable reason (presumably known only to the shadowy upper echelons of airport management), the preferred method of transport for airport staff seemed to be The Segway. Yes, one of the most ridiculous modes of transport known to man is somehow deemed appropriate for zipping about between crowds of holidaymakers and their bulky luggage.

This isn't to say that every member of staff who works there gets to use one. Oh no, far from it. It would appear from my limited observations that there is a definite hierarchy involved. The main official that we saw using one appeared to wield the mighty Segway as a weapon of seniority. She majestically hummed over to two members of staff who cringed slightly at the approach of the proud machine. Lady Segway then proceeded to imperiously circle her cowering minions whilst pointing and gesturing forth imperative decrees. Her important delegating done, Lady S then zoomed over to the information point, maintaining her position on the glorified unicycle the entire time she conversed by gently easing herself back and forth in a faintly foolish fashion. Wise words of information dispensed, she was then off, nipping forth to disseminate further instructions at an electric speed that only the near silent Segway can provide.

As is traditional for a holiday, the trip form the airport to the villa is marred by an expected amount of completely failing to follow the nearly useless directions. Fortunately, through a careful combination of zen navigation, going straight on, the occasional wrong way trip down a one-way street and a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned "we're pointing in pretty much the right direction" style navigating, we actually manged to find our way up a mountain in the dark and to the villa.

Villa might be a mild way of putting it. It's listed as a castle on the booking site (maybe slightly talking itself up a bit, although it does have a turret) and is divided into two sizeable apartments which sleep around twenty people overall (so a little under-utilised as there are seven of us). However, it's the grounds where it becomes really impressive. There's the swimming pool (pretty standard), the barbecue house with dart board (getting better), the long veranda with ping-pong table (nice) the full-size tennis court (yes, really) and vineyard area with sheep and chickens. Add to that the fact that the local bar/restaurant is next door (but that the place is big enough that you can't really hear it from the villa) and this might well have been one of the finest holiday residences ever.

More notes from Spain to follow...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Dusting Off The Cobwebs

He shuffled his way in, looking awkward, shifting from one foot to the other and avoiding eye contact. He mumbled some excuses about being busy and being sorry that you hadn't heard from him recently but it was too late for you. You'd moved on to other blogs, blogs that were updated with regular, original content and not just lazy video links posted about six weeks ago. He could see that it was fruitless, that you just didn't need him anymore. Shoulders slumped with sadness and despair, he sidled his way out the way he came in and switched off the lights behind. Which was pretty rude, really, as it was your place and that left you standing in the dark...

No, only joking, you haven't really got rid of me. I'm much harder to shift than that, a lot like a really old gravy stain. In fact, I'm back from the whirlwind of getting things done that we call "real life". So what have I been doing? Many and varied things. In order to make it seem more interesting, here is a list of what I have potentially been doing. Only three of these things are true.

1. Inventing time travel by coming back from the future with the designs for the time machine I'm about to build.

2. Moving house.

3. Designing a revolutionary new concept in footwear that renders the common shoe obsolete.

4. Jungle vote overseeing.

5. Spending two weeks on the run from an international consortium of shoe manufacturers who are trying to have me killed for my new design which threatens their very way of life.

6. Proudly best man-ing.

So fairly quiet all round, really. Time to get back into the swing of posting you some inane jabberings that have poured from my head and are now seeping in through your eyes. That's starting to sound rather unsavoury so I think I'll stop that there. What's to come? Well, probably the usual round of both stuff and things combined together in a wordy way. Exciting teaser to make you come back for more, isn't it? Yes, I thought so, too.