Sunday 29 November 2009

One Man's Meat. What makes You Laugh?

Having done a couple of rather heavy blogs I decided to lighten the mood. And I got to thinking, what makes me laugh.
I looked up the word laughter in the dictionary. 'The experience or appearance of joy, merriment, amusement, or the like.' (Something amusing, improbable or ridiculous; a joke or absurdity.) Plenty of scope there, then.
In a way its a personal thing, also an age thing. I was brought up in the heyday of the radio. (wireless to us geriatrics.) Loved to hear Arthur English, Vic Oliver, Rob Wilton, yet seldom personally found ITMA funny, very highly rated by a humour starved population after the war.
The word ridiculous figures in the definitions. What could be more ridiculous than a ventriloquist on the wireless. (Educating Archie) But the fifties and to a lesser extent the sixties tended to be unsophisticated times and boy, did it show. I suspect Mr Pastry (Richard Hearn) would not be highly rated today, Harry Worth I could take or leave, Benny Hill is now decidedly non PC.
Life has become far more complex, sophisticated and modern humour reflects these trends. The Ben Eltons of this world are clever but not to everyones taste. I recently attended a live performance of Al Murray, the Pub Landlord.' Brilliant but I can well appreciate not everyone would find him funny. But he's not compulsory either. Whatever turns you on, so to speak, enjoy, but enjoy being different without necessarily being critical of the choice of others. For no one loves a clever clogs, we all have different tastes in all things.
Times inevitably change, new trends appear, old ideas are discarded. But not everything that we laughed at all those years ago has been confined to the scrap heap. How many remember Freddie Frinton, who amused mainly in the forties and fifties but never really reached the heights. And how many realise that his masterpiece, 'Dinner for One' (recorded in 1963 with May Warden) is still played on television all over Germany on New Years Eve, on some channels five separate times. (Norddeutscher Rundfuuk NDR) Plus the habit of 'Freddie at New Years Eve' has evidently now spread to Estonia, and has been popular in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faroes and Austria for many years. (The New Year connection is misleading, it was never intended as a New Year offering.) Go on, treat yourself, make a cup of tea and watch a master at work. And if Freddie doesn't make you smile, I'd love to know who does.
Freddie Frinton, born Frederick Bittiner Coo, illegitimate son of a seamstress, born in Grimsby in 1909. Worked in a fish processing plant but sacked for telling jokes and performing paradies instead of working. Worked as a comedian on the Music Hall stage in England for many years with only moderate success. His 'Dinner for One' (recorded in 1963 but first performed by Freddie in 1945) is the most frequently recorded TV programme ever. Freddie died in 1968.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

On Being Easily Moved

I happened to catch the end of 'Goodbye Mr Chips' recently. (The 1969 version starring Peter O'Toole.) I found the closing speech where the socially inept Mr Chips puts into words his feelings for the boys surprisingly moving. Maybe it struck a cord, me being a schoolmaster for a considerable number of years. If nothing else it made me examine aspects of my being that seldom surface in the busy, brusque, often insensitive world we live in.
I was brought up in a time after the war where the term 'cry baby' often figured. A 'cry baby' was dismissed as inferior, weak and certainly unmanly. Which is probably why on at least two occasions I limped home, metaphorically and literally with broken bones. My efforts at competing with the 'bigger boys' might well often end in failure but, good heavens, you didn't let it show, broken bones or no broken bones. And I remember arriving home at the age of thirteen to be told my mother had died. Then, amazingly, I went out and did my paper round. I report this merely as fact, not a matter of pride. No tears, nothing but unbridled sorrow and bewilderment.
Experiences in life teach us, mould us, change us, for better or worse and make the finished article, however flawed. Girls cry, boys have a stiff upper lip, or so we were taught. (The British Empire and all that.) Fortunately times change, thank goodness.
I once saw an elderly male teacher cry with the frustrations of the job. I was embarrassed to see a man crying; I was wrong. But bit by bit the joys of marriage, children softened me and the steely male front has slipped away. Not totally, but at least to a degree. I know this must be so. I would never at one time been moved by Mr Chips, never mind a celluloid version of life's sensibilities.
I cry nowadays, not too often but enough. I howled as I watched both the Liverpool Heysel (1985) and Hillsborough (1989) tragedies unfold on the television. In frustration, sympathy. (I am an ardent football fan) Similarly the Bradford City fire (1985) brought my to tears as I watched the tragedy unfold, again on the television. Indeed, you would have to be a strangely unemotional individual not to be moved by such tragic events. I am not a 'touchy feely' sort of person and that is not particularly good. My daughters are into 'hugs' (many of the younger generation tend to be so and I am mightily impressed.) But I can be moved nowadays and I am pleased. The feeling experienced at Wembley Stadium when Derby County won an important match had to be experienced to be believed. (play off versus WBA 2007.) That something as unimportant as a football match could move me so much is amazing in a way. But only a football fan could experience the elation involved.
Emotional development is important. What is a person without emotional development. You tell me. A psychopath, perhaps? And I believe at least in part it is taught by example.
I have read John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' many, many times. It was a regular choice of mine when teaching English literature to adolescents. We would read it out loud together, no looking at a film and pretending we had read the book. (How old fashioned it all sounds now.)
You would have to be bereft of any feeling whatsoever not to be moved by the end of the tragic giant Lennie at the hand of his friend George. But to see teenagers, sometimes hardened teenagers with tears in their eyes shows the power of the written word. It also suggests there is perhaps hope for all. (Two teenagers were sentenced this week for the shotgun murder of another teenager in a park less than a mile from my home. The victims offence, he 'dissed' the mother of one of the assailants. Perhaps I am totally wrong and there is no hope. My lovely grandchildren suggest otherwise.)
I had not intended this piece of writing to go in the direction it has. But the murder on my doorstep makes me wonder at the emotional development or otherwise of some of today's more deprived youngsters. Where is it all going wrong, a world where a teenager will dispatch a fellow being to eternity with little thought or compulsion. Surely a person without feelings is a person without hope.
A non too serious test of my readers emotional development. My favourite recording is 'Old Shep' by Walter Brennan. Trite, sentimental it still moves me on a good day. What do you reckon. And what brings a lump to your throat in this hard, often unsentimental world? Plus a promise, my next blog will be cheerful in the extreme. Now there's a thought!

Thursday 19 November 2009

Now What Year was That

I have been consistently writing on the period 1945-59 for some considerable time. I have also lived for over 25,000 days. I can recall in some detail events from as far back as 1945. Not bad, except that it has dawned on me that my memories are mainly concerned with events rather than specific years. There are huge gaps concerning years, inevitable I suppose but alarming.
I remember in some detail VE Day (8th May 1945), and a teacher in class announcing that a good man called Gandhi had been murdered. (Jan 30th 1948) Coronation Day made an impression (June 2nd 1953). The day I arrived from school to be told that my mother had died will inevitably stay forever in my mind. (Tuesday September 8th 1953) On a damp February day in 1958 the sensational news came in that the plane carrying Manchester United footballers had crashed. I was working for Woolworths at the time. And how could I ever forget finishing under a lorry on Tuesday March 10th 1959.
I started teaching in 1974 and officially retired in 1990. Dare I admit I have been known to forget the exact date of my Wedding Day (April 4th 1970) and on occasion the exact year the children were born. ( July 30th 1971 and June 8th 1973) The days, weeks, months, years roll by, of no consequence outside our immediate friends and family. Unsurprising so but in a way sad. Probably the reason why so many strive to leave something behind for which they will be remembered. (Not the main gist of this particular blog but what are YOU going to leave behind, besides memories of course.)
Whilst I have recall of many events over the years I seem to be unable to place many other such occurrences in the exact year they were experienced. And as more years pass the more difficult recall becomes. For instance, I cannot recall a single event that belongs specifically to 1952, 1954, 1955 or 1957. More surprising, virtually the whole of the 1980's is shrouded in the mist and the 1990's are no better.
The only exception to my inability to recall years is 1985. For the only time in my life I kept a comprehensive diary. Two brief entries go a long way to showing why we can recall so little of our lives.
Wednesday 20th November 1985
Another of those frequent days where nothing happens but life is by no means unpleasant, an observation that many in this troubled world would love to make.
Thursday 21st November 1985
Paulette goes out for the evening with Kay. Alison retires to bed. Sarah, who has no lessons first thing in the morning, watches television with me. We watch a programme concerned with the topless young ladies who adorn page three of some of our national newspapers. We watch without embarrassment. I am quietly pleased at Sarah's maturity. Going fast is the child, appearing as the young adult. Of the programme itself, I am saddened by a mere fifteen year old seeking stardom, adulthood and heaven knows what else. How foolish to seek adulthood when it comes all too soon without our searching.
Two entries which confirm life for many of us, though enjoyable, has little of real substance. Understandable, but again the question, how can a year, never mind a day have no lasting impact.
Have you blank years, or even blank decades. A little test. Pick a decade, ideally way back in time. Recall as many as ten events, that you specifically relate to. Anniversaries are out and no looking up information. Or am I alone in losing it, god forbid!

Saturday 14 November 2009

Heartiest Congratulations.

Monday was my birthday although we celebrated with a party on Saturday (7th Nov) Quiet day, Monday, after hectic Saturday, including a visit to the chiropodist. (What, on your birthday!)
Which is probably why I found myself wide awake, at three in the morning thinking about toes, or one toe in particular. My big toe, the left one if you're interested. No, oh please yourself! Evidently the joint is showing signs of wear. Now this is a nuisance but hardly terminal. And after all, it's rather an old toe when all is said and done.
Now I've reached seventy, that means my toe, my original and only left toe is around 25,567 days old. If my maths are right, that would come to well over half a million hours. And where else in my life am I going to achieve a figure of half a million plus of anything. (Answers on a postcard please.) So the old toe has not worn too badly by my reckoning. So I lay there and metaphorically contemplated my naval.
By now going back to sleep was out of the question. Then it got real deep and interesting. My knees are in a right state but they've done some work over the years. Plus they've had bits and pieces done to them to keep them going. My left hip joint has long since gone, replaced by modern ceramics. Gone too, my tonsils, no ceramic replacement necessary. (With it has gone some, go on then, most of my hair.) One eye never did work properly, the other is backed up by modern technology, £3oo spectacles for long distance from the opticians, reading glasses, £0.99 from Home Bargains. My joints in general are passable if arthritic, my lungs work within reason and my brain is almost completely intact in spite of the old TGA. Plus one or two other items have dwindling powers but we won't go into that! All this relying from day one, minute one on that wonder of science, the old ticker called the heart.
We seldom think of hearts until they go wrong; its bumping along as I write this. Unnoticed, no attention since that day in 1939 when first required to power this other wonder of science christened Kenneth Allan. Think about it. If we had been given a battery instead of a heart, what number battery would we be on by now?
A few 'heartfelt' observations. Your system of blood vessels concerned with the heart (arteries, veins and capillaries) is over 60,000 miles long. Long enough to go round the world more than twice. An adult heart pumps more than five quarts of blood each minute. That's around 2,000 gallons of blood each day. Plus it beats around 100,000 times each day. For a seventy year old that means it's done around 2.5 billion beats so far. And it weighs around ten ounces. A female adult heart only weighs around eight ounces but there again it doesn't have so much work to do. (Only kidding, ladies, honest, only kidding!) Every minute, every second, thump, thump, thump, amazing! Asleep, awake, its all the same to 'old faithful' 'cos if it doesn't, that's it, end, of story, end of Kenneth, 'Goodnight Vienna'.
So from now on, when you wake in the morning, and last thing at night, say 'thank you, heart, you unsung hero, you.' (But not too loud, eh, you don't want the neighbours talking.) I never did get back to sleep, instead I just got up and had a cup of tea. I'm sure old ticker approved.

Monday 9 November 2009

One Heck of a Journey

On the 9th of November 1939 a child was born to Mary Elizabeth Hudston. Mary, unmarried, had concealed the fact that she was pregnant, the doctor was called to deal with suspected gallstones when she was in fact in labour. The birth was a surprise to most, probably not to Mary. She took the secret of the father of the child to her grave. The child, underweight partially due to lack of prenatal attention and wartime austerity was named Kenneth Allan. Kenneth was quickly christened as his future, already dubious was further complicated due to a life threatening condition, almost certainly pyloric stenosis. Operated on immediately the child, it is said, spent some of its early days snugly wrapped in a shoebox by the fire.
Kenneth survived, just, a spell of eighteen months in Bretby Hospital due to rickets unusual but not unknown in wartime Britain. Mary married Ernest Stevens, had a daughter Jean and time passed by. Ernest died in tragic circumstances in 1942 and life was never easy for Mary, Jean and Kenneth.
Kenneth, small of stature, continued to thrive despite frequent broken limbs, often through competing with 'the bigger boys'. Mary died in 1953, aged forty six. Jean was adopted by an aunt and Kenneth allowed his name to be changed by deed poll to Kenneth Allan Stevens. (to mask the stigma of illegitimacy) It was probably the last time in his life Kenneth allowed someone else to make a decision on his behalf.
Life never stands still. A serious motorcycle accident almost cost Kenneth his life. But broken bones and almost a year off work, though painful are seldom terminal. Near misses in canals and rivers are just that, merely near misses. And life is full of near misses. An internal hemorrhage, serious at the time but survivable. Skin cancer, worrying but surely sent to remind that we are mortal. TGA, eerie but again survivable and one hell of a talking point when the conversation flags at cocktail parties.
Tablets for this, tablets for that, no wonder our ancestors had a shorter life span, it's only the tablets that keep us going. But its been fun and its not over yet. And boy, does it seem strange to be seventy years of age!

Saturday 7 November 2009

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

One of my public speaking 'spiels' is tongue in cheek entitled' Is the Whole World going Mad or is it Me.' And you don't have to go far for material. The worry is it may be getting worse. October for instance was brilliant, not counting my alternative news material. (2nd November)
A prisoner from a New York jail, in court, therefore dressed in a suit asked the way out; and a security guard showed him the exit.
Paul Bint, a confidence trickster was convicted at Southwark Crown Court for the 155th time.He has pretended to be, over a long career, A hotelier, aristocrat, banker, doctor, playboy and property magnate. He has also impersonated the Director of Public Prosecutions.
What wonderful imaginations people have. Like the woman who walked into the Ohio shop and said she would pay for customers purchases as she had won the lottery. Fifteen hundred people took advantage of her generosity. Which was unfortunate for the shop as she had done no such thing. Ah well, you can't win them all. Perhaps she was just trying to make new friends. Talking of friends, choose them carefully. A group of men from a martial arts club in Coventry were carrying a wheel-chair bound friend up Snowdon in a charity event. A pity they abandoned him halfway up. He was later rescued by a mountain rescue team.
Yes, I'm sure the world is going mad. In America a six year old is suspended from school for forty five days and ordered to attend an establishment for wayward children. His offence, taking to school his camping utensils, a folding knife, fork and spoon. Classed evidently as a Level 3 violation concerning the possession, concealment or sale of dangerous instruments. I know it was later rescinded but that's not the point. How could anyone in the first place go down this route. The same mentality I suppose who decided that Humpty Dumpty is, contrary to common rumour, capable of being put back together. (A BBC programme for children decided that Humpty 'should be made happy again'.) Who needs the king's men when we have the BBC!
I feel my life ebbing away as I contemplate such things. I peer out of the window looking for the men in the white coats. A surreal feeling reinforced by reading that calling cows by individual names, Buttercup, Daisybell or Norma increases their milk yields. That is, according to the scientists at Newcastle University who are apparently experts in bovine motivational psychology. Who pays for such research I wonder. Recession, what recession? There is a recession of course, McDonald's have closed both their restaurants in Iceland due to the country's economic collapse. All say aahh on behalf of those who had money in Icelandic Banks. Talking of fast food, a man charged with criminal damage to two beefburgers in Swansea was found not guilty. (He rejected them when they were delivered late.)
And this is the real world. Are you sure? a flock of sheep burst into flames when methane escaping from a waste plant caught fire in northern Jordan. The locals thought it was the start of a volcanic eruption. That's the real world. A supermarket cancels an order and 1,090,000 puff pastry pies filled with mixed fruit finish up on e-bay.That too is the real world, 2009 style. We are also perhaps in danger of becoming fools led by fools. Officials (how I hate that word) on an Olympic Committee in Dorset could not differentiate between Lawrence of Arabia and Laurence Olivier when compiling facts about Dorset. And I'll bet they don't earn the minimum wage!
I soldier on regardless. Evidently Britain is ranked 12th in a list of the world's most prosperous countries (measured by wealth and happiness.) (Finland is listed as the happiest place to live.) Me, I know nought. Though a 100 year old Somalian in Mogadishu seems to have the right idea. He's married a seventeen year old girl. He said he had wanted to marry her for years but waited until she was older! She is incidentally his sixth wife. It's all a change from that idiot Home Secretary Alan Johnson trying to tell scientists he's the expert on cannabis, not them. Come to think of it, who the hell needs cannabis in the mad world we live in!

Monday 2 November 2009

Bye Bye October. Grumpy's Alternative News.

October, politicians still whingeing, banks still raking it in, and times are still hard; but who cares. There was enough to distract from the humdrum if you looked closely.
People never cease to amaze. Plenty of idiots for a start. The young woman driving on the M4 at ninety miles an hour and trying to inject heroin at the same time. Evidently she is studying four A levels to gain entrance to university. I wonder what subjects!
The comedian Jimmy Carr, cleared of driving whilst using his phone as he was only using it to record a joke. A pathetic response, Mr Carr.
Harriet Harman, alleged to have been involved in a car accident, witnessed, whilst on her mobile. Plus not stopping to exchange insurance details . (She was banned in 2003 for driving at 99mph on the M4.)
Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man has capped his wages this year 'to set a personal example'. He 's only drawing £2.3 million instead of £6 million. That's all right then.
Plus Andrew Robathan, Tory MP who bleats 'I could lose my second home' if the rules on MP's allowances are changed. (He has a £2,000,000 townhouse plus a farmhouse in the country.) Are these people real? Do the people at the top ever think before speaking. In fact do they ever think.
David Blunkett is donating his brain to medical research. I have a better idea. Compulsory purchase the brains of the five people mentioned. You will then be guaranteed brains that have never been used.
Who else made the news. I see a man was jailed after claiming £75,000 in Manchester for severe back and leg pain. (He was seen break-dancing at a work event.) And his job? Benefits Officer!
Likewise the pensioner claiming disability who was spotted break-dancing on 'Britain's Got Talent'.
Misguided, the teacher who was turned in by his own pupils when he rewrote their essays in a school in Tamworth. The pupils objected to the changes even though they got higher marks.
Unlucky, the pensioner in Berlin whose £16,000 blew from his car. The police helped him recover it. Including the receipt that indicated it was smuggled money. Unlucky also the family locked in the Nat West Bank in Fulwood when the staff locked up and went home. One way to keep customers I suppose. The same goes for the man in Plymouth whose wife ordered him to sell his collection of 7,500 Happy Meal Toys. Only he was doubly unlucky in that they did not attract a single bid and he had to take them all back home again!
Anyone who follows my blog will know of my doubts concerning flying. One day I must get round to trying it. But is it any wonder I have grave misgivings.
There was a brawl on an Air India Airbus at 30,000 feet. Passengers you might expect but it was in fact the aircrew. Evidently they came to blows over a claim of sexual harassment. It is alleged that at one stage the plane was left unmanned during the scuffle. This sort of thing does not exactly impress. And it has been denied that the reason a Northwest Airlines flight overshot its destination by 150 miles was because the pilots had been taking a nap at the controls. The pilots claimed they were not asleep, 'merely having a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness'.
I also noticed an 86, yes 86 year old man from Ohio who crashed a plane killing himself and his five passengers had been warned by his doctor not to even drive a car! (He had been treated for macular degeneration.) And you wonder why I'm not a fan. If I ever do get round to flying I know exactly where I'm going to sit. I'm going to sit on the black box, at least that's always recovered.
Having got a bit morbid, lets finish on a more amusing note. (Though not everyone shares my dubious sense of humour!) A young man on a train mooning at railway staff got his trousers caught in a door and was dragged half naked off the platform. Fortunately only his pride was hurt. And finally a woman gave her husband a potion and dragged him off to the woods, thence to attack him with a knife before running off to a prearranged lover. Very serious, I admit, but I bet it's the last time he takes horny goat weed, even for a bet!