Friday, 25 April 2008

Tube Fauna

Spring is finally here, and with its arrival the hedgerows and fields leap into life with an abundance of wildlife. But benighted dwellers of central London, who foolishly chose to swap an idyllic life of cuckoo-accompanied romping in haylofts for a bleak routine of flopping about on concrete floors, may feel they're missing out on this natural beauty. But there's plenty of fascinating wildlife to be found on the average underground carriage, if you know where to look...

1) The Swinging Chad

Size: Human

Found: Central, Northern, Circle lines

Breeding times: 8-11AM, 5-7PM weekdays

Behaviour: The Swinging Chad is a much-misunderstood creature. Locating itself firmly in the doorway of a half-crowded carriage, it then remains rooted to the spot, no matter how many people subsequently try to embark or disembark past them. As a result, Swinging Chads are generally mistaken by the ignorant for rude, arrogant tossers who feel it beneath themselves to get out of other peoples' way. But nothing could be further from the truth, as these limpet-like animals are as much a part of the underground system as a broken 'service update' board or posters of MacKenzie Crook's knackered face.

Life Cycle: Swinging Chads have a short lifespan. Hatching from eggs laid down the backs of carriage seats, they first emerge about 4AM and have reached full maturity by the time the train comes into service. After mating with another of the species (who is then devoured) they enter incubation stage, fusing an arm-like tendril to the ceiling rail of the carriage, and on foot-like appendage to the floor. The location commonly chosen - right in front of the doors - is hazardous, but necessary to provide adequate cooling. By 11 o'clock the eggs are ready to be laid in the approved manner, and after this the Chad crumbles away to nothing. The eggs will either hatch next morning, or occasionally in time for the afternoon rush hour. Chads are edible, chickeny, and high in Omega 3 oils.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Idiot Weekly, Price £100,000

It's not in my nature to blog about the other night's reality telly, but The Apprentice - which surely should be categorised as something else, it's miles ahead of any of the other stuff in this Angus Steakhouse of a TV genre - is an exception.

This week the task was doing food for a pub. The boys' team (and it feels so right to call them 'boys' and 'girls', they're like an overgrown Why Don't You? gang at all times) got that pub in Islington that appears on the Beeb almost every night, presumably because half the nation's TV producers live above it. Italian food was chosen as the theme, because one of them had eaten some once and thought it was quite good.

Disaster - of course! - came about, no doubt heavily edited to make it look worse but - note to the tabloids - it's the telly, that's what they do. A quick survival tactic was dreamt up - customers ordered a whole pizza? Give them half and cover the gaps with lollo rosso! The perfect crime you might think, but they were quickly rumbled. There followed an exchange worthy of Spike Milligan himself.

'Is this a whole pizza?'


'This looks like half a pizza.'

'Well.. our kitchen's run out of whole pizzas.'

Consider the logic of that last sentence for a moment. Then go and have a lie down. I know The Apprentice is nothing more than a cheap laugh at the dregs of the business world to make us feel a little better about being roundly clouted by the rest of them, but it's still the only comedy worth Bollywood dancing out of bed for right now.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

She'd come in at a quarter to six with her carrier bulging - and it wasn’t with Arctic Roll

For some reason - energy conservation, probably - I rarely laugh out loud at the telly. With just about anything else, I do a fair impersonation of Stuart Hall commentating on gladiatorial Bavarians dressed as pantomime ducks, but it takes a great deal to have me honking over the box. A notable exception to this rule is Kitty, the anarchic old ratbag from Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV.

As with all Victoria Wood's best '80s characters, there's no attempt made to keep Kitty sympathetic. The Continuity Announcer (the excellent Susie Blake in a mauve ruched nylon blouse complete with Princess Di-style hideous outsize bow) is a despicable snob. Julie Walters's more demented characters were surreally vulgar. Kitty is both simultaneously.

Like all good pop songs, these monologues rarely creep over three minutes in length, but pack more wonders into that infinitesimal space than is physically possible. With a delicately balanced mix of ebullience and spite, this weird, domineering WI refugee, who appears to have let herself into the studio, rattles on about the mundane minutiae of her week to a suddenly captive audience.

Her week is invariably strange, but in a workaday sort of way. Wood's usual lower middle class reference points are thrown up in the air and scattered in bizarre patterns. There are a few recurring characters - the lesbian producer, 'the boys from flat five' and Kitty's assorted fellow rummy club members - but most of the action takes place inside Kitty's disturbed chintzy brain. She's Alan Bennett's psychedelic auntie, and could clearly keep up this prattle of unconsciousness all day, despite her repeated insistence she's 'not stopping long'.

Here are a few refresher quotes:

  • The first day I met her she said, ‘I’m a radical feminist lesbian’; I thought what would the Queen Mum do? So I just smiled and said, ‘We shall have fog by tea-time!’
  • Fortunately, I’ve just had my TV mended. I say mended – a shifty young man in plimsolls waggled my aerial and wolfed my Gipsy Creams, but that’s the comprehensive system for you.
  • I don’t drink as a rule, not wishing to have a liver the size of a hot-water bottle. If I need a ‘buzz’, as I call it, I have a piccalilli sandwich with Worcester sauce. That takes your mind off your bunions, believe me.

There are dozens just as good. In fact, there's nothing in these sketches that isn't. It's amazing how much Wood crammed into every bit of As Seen On TV (though I still find some of the songs hard going). One episode contains enough good jokes to sustain a ten-year career by modern standards, though a modern career would have trouble yielding even one line to match it.

And Routledge is brilliant, of course. It's a grotesque performance - her mouth chews the air around the words and contorts itself into all sorts of manic shapes in between them - but that doesn't mean it's not full of little subtle touches, like an intricately carved bust of Stan Boardman. I won't succumb to prattishness by comparing her mastery of Wood's rolling verbal rhythms to the knack of speaking Shakespearean blank verse, but you get the idea - this is poetry, and wonderful it is, too.

Seriously, does anyone not like this?