Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Comedy

Friday July 24 2015

I have been reading Richard J. Evans’s account of the libel trial which took place at the High Court in 2000, in which David Irving sued the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, and her publisher Penguin Books.  In one of her books, Lipstadt had called Irving a bad and dishonest non-historian, and Irving was trying to suppress this opinion.  Irving lost.

Richard J. Evans was the expert witness who did most to blow Irving’s claims to be an honest and effective historian out of the water.

The Evans book is entitled Telling Lies About Hitler.  At the end of the chapter in it entitled “In The Witness Box” (p. 231), Evans recounts a truly extraordinary moment, right at the end of the court proceedings:

And when it came to rebutting the defence charge of consorting with neo-Nazis in Germany, Irving’s habit of improvising from his prepared text led him into a fatal slip of the tongue, as he inadvertently addressed the judge as ‘Mein Fuhrer’.  Everyone in court knew that he was referring to the judge as ‘Mein Fuhrer’ from the tone of voice in which he said it.  The court dissolved into laughter.  ‘No one could believe what just happened,’ wrote one spectator.  ‘Had we imagined it? Could he have addressed the judge as “Mein Fuhrer”?’ Irving himself denied having made the slip.  But amid the laughter in court, he could be seen mumbling an apology to the judge for having addressed him in this way.  Perhaps the slip was a consequence of Irving’s unconscious identification of the judge as a benign authority figure.  Whatever the reason for it, with the laughter still ringing in its ears, the court adjourned on 15 March 2000 as the judge prepared the final version of his judgment on the case.

Bizarre.

Tuesday July 14 2015

Another of those Wicked Camper vans, from the same fleet as this one:

image

It was never a totally White Van, but someone has painted some white on it.

I recently saw another of these vans with something like “Chuck Norris is the only person who can slam a revolving door”, but my photoing reflexes were too slow to capture it.  When I do photo this, I’ll try to remember that I said I might put the picture up here.

I agree with you.  Yes, it is a good marketing strategy.  Both of us are right about that.  And I see that these arseholes have been helping.

Thursday June 11 2015

I love learning about two-man teams, and in Paul Johnson’s short, excellent biography of Mozart (see also this earlier bit) I have been learning more about just such a team, although a very temporary and unequal one:

In the meantime, Mozart had met his great partner, the Abate Lorenzo Da Ponte.  The letter (May 7, 1783) in which he tells his father, “I have looked through at least a hundred libretti and more, but I have hardly found a single one with which I am satisfied,” also says he has met the new fashionable poet in Vienna, Da Ponte, who “has promised ... to write a new libretto for me.” The emperor had decided to abandon singspiel in 1783 and embrace Italian opera again, and he put Da Ponte in charge of the words.  Da Ponte was a converted Jew, the son of a tanner, who had embraced Christianity in 1763.  He had led a bohemian life, as a teacher, a priest, a lascivious escort of married women in the Venetian fashion, a friend of Casanova, expelled from Venice for sexual depravity, and thereafter making his living as a translator and writer in the theatrical world.  He had an extraordinary gift for languages, rather like Mozart himself but on a much more comprehensive scale, and seemed to think multilingually.

Da Ponte wrote the librettos for three Mozart operas, The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492, presented May 1,1786), Don Giovanni (K. 527, October 29, 1787), and Cosi fan tutte (K. 588, January 26, 1790), and the collaboration between the two men must be accounted one of the most successful in the history of opera.  By almost universal agreement, Figaro and Giovanni are Mozart’s two best operas, though a small minority argues that Cosi contains the best music and superb staging and that a first-class production can make it the best evening’s entertainment.

The two men worked successfuly together for two reasons. First, they both understood that creating an opera was collaboration and that composer and librettist both had to know when to give way; sometimes words must yield and sometimes notes. The truth is, of course, that Mozart was extremely adept at words as well as music, and often he took over as librettist, Da Ponte acquiescing. This raises the second point: Both men were good tempered, used to hard knocks, nasty words, and intense arguments.  They had the admirable habit, essential to success in the theater, of drawing a firm line over a disagreement, once it was resolved, and moving on quickly to the next problem.  Mozart’s good nature was absolutely genuine and went to the root of his being.  He was incapable of real malice or the desire to wound (the one exception was the archbishop, and there, too, hatred was expressed in words rather than deeds). Da Ponte was a much more flawed creature.  He was a fearful liar, to begin with, and his various volumes of memories are not to be trusted at all. His subsequent career after he left Vienna and went to New York, becoming a trader, a bookseller, a bankrupt, a poet, and other things, shows that his commitment to the stage and to music - drama, particularly - was not total.

Moreover, it is not clear that he recognized quality in opera. He thought the best composer he worked with was Vicente Martin y Soler, and he had the most fulsome praise for Antonio Salieri.  The implication was that both were Mozart’s superiors as musicians.  Both were more successful commercially at the time, and their operas were performed more frequently than Mozart’s - so were those of many other composers, at least eleven by my reckoning.  But both were so inferior to Mozart by any conceivable artistic criteria as to cast doubt on Da Ponte’s musical understanding.  And it is a significant fact that his three Mozart operas are the only ones whose libretto he wrote that have remained in the repertoire or that anyone has heard of today.

Hence the inescapable conclusion is that Mozart was the dominant figure in the collaboration.  Da Ponte understood or learned from Mozart the need to keep the drama moving by varying the musical encounters and groupings, by altering the rhythms of vocal speech, and by switching the moods.  He may even have understood the great discovery in the writing of opera that we owe to Mozart - the way in which character can be created, transformed, altered, and emphasized by entirely musical means taking possession of the sense of words.  But the magic touch is always provided by Mozart as music dramatist.

Wednesday May 20 2015

Goddaughter 2 recently suggested I read this.  I now suggest that you read it:

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.

You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex.  You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes.  For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.  You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it.  Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant.  You spend six days clipping your nails.  Fifteen months looking for lost items.  Eighteen months waiting in line.  Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal.  One year reading books.  Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower.  Two weeks wondering what happens when you die.  One minute realizing your body is falling.  Seventy-seven hours of confusion.  One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name.  Three weeks realizing you are wrong.  Two days lying.  Six weeks waiting for a green light.  Seven hours vomiting.  Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy.  Three months doing laundry.  Fifteen hours writing your signature.  Two days tying shoelaces.  Sixty-seven days of heartbreak.  Five weeks driving lost.  Three days calculating restaurant tips.  Fifty-one days deciding what to wear.  Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about.  Two weeks counting money.  Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator.  Thirty-four days longing.  Six months watching commercials.  Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time.  Three years swallowing food.  Five days working buttons and zippers.  Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events.  In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.

This is from Sum, by David Eagleman, which is subtitled “Forty tales from the afterlives”, the above being the first of them, also entitled “Sum”.

I sum- (hah!) -marised this tale as best I could to another friend, who immediately got the point that Eagleman makes at the end, that the mere fact of the variety of life becomes a source of joy, if you compare it with a life from which variety has been drained away.  This alone turns humdrumness into hell, and contemplating that hell turns the humdrumness into a kind of heaven.

Count your blessings, but not the same blessings all at the same time.

Monday April 20 2015

It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed.  So, another sign:

image

But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.

Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.

Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.

Thursday March 19 2015

Following on from yesterday’s White Van, here is another White Van, which marks the moment when I first started really noticing these things.  It was parked outside an office just round the corner from my front door:

image

Let’s take a closer look at the driver’s door of this White Van.  Because the exact moment when the whole White Van thing clicked inside my head was when I saw, and photoed, this:

image

There you go.  They’re having a laugh about White Van Man.  I told you it was a thing.

This happened on December 17th of last year, which was about a month after the Shadow Ministress did her tweet that cost her her shadow job.  But they’ve been driving around in that joke since well before all that, as this blog posting from April of last year proves.

And I know this got me thinking about White Vans, because the very next photos I took were of this:

image

I had been noticing this other White Van hanging around near my home, but until that moment I had not considered it something worth photoing.  Then, I did.  And, off an on, I’ve been photoing such vans ever since, although few of them as lavishly decorated as that one.

Thursday January 15 2015

Here’s a nice coincidence.  There I was writing about how I went from being, in my teens, a bad pen-and-ink picture-maker to, from around 2000 onwards, a far happier digital-photographic picture maker.  And here is a picture that captures that kind of metamorphosis perfectly:

image

It’s one of these pictures by Christoph Niemann.  Niemann’s pictures bring to mind that phrase used by one of the alter egos of Barry Humphries, Barry McKenzie, who described paintings as “hand done photos”.  These pictures really do only work as photos.  Until they are photoed, the job is not done.  But the hand-done bit is essential to what they are.

One thing about these pictures that I particularly like, apart from the basic fact that I like them, is their very favourable effort-to-impact ratio.  For my taste, too much of the picture-making displayed at Colossal consists of stuff that is quite nice to look at, but which took an absurdly huge amount of time and effort to contrive.  Also, there is often no logical or even meaningful connection between how the pictures are contrived and how they end up looking.  So, you’ve made a table cloth out of seeds.  Clever you.  But, why?  Niemann’s pictures answer this question perfectly.

But then again, the internet being the internet, if your elaborately pointless pictures catch people’s fancy and thousands glance at them, then I guess that, if you put in a lot of time and effort, you may well reckon than all the time and effort was worth it, especially if you had fun spending it and doing it.  And of course it is digital photography that transforms a laboriously produced one-off item of visual art that took far too much time and effort to do, into a mass experience that it made sense to spend a lot of time and effort doing.  But, most of these intricate sculptures and pictures at Colossal are just sculptures and pictures that were then photographed.  Niemann’s pictures are real Hand Done Photos.

As for me, between being a bad pen-and-ink picture maker and an okay-to-good digital photographer, I endured a big interval during which I made hardly any pictures of any kind.  My pictorial enthusiasm expressed itself in the design of pamphlets, and graphic design generally.  Basically I became a desktop publisher.  (I even earned money doing this.) First I just did publishing, on a desktop, paper-scissors-glue-photocopier.  Then computers arrived, and I was an early adopter of “desktop publishing”.  Then the internet arrived, and drew a big line under all that stuff.  I shovelled all my pamphlets onto the internet, and became a blogger.  And, I bought my first digital camera.  At first, blogging and digital photography did not mix very well.  Now, they mix very well indeed.

Monday January 12 2015

Here, as promised, is a big clutch of photos of signs that I took at the Trafalgar Square demo yesterday.  If you want to, click on a square to get the original photo.  The squares have, in quite a few cases been fiddled out with to make them a bit clearer, but the originals you’ll get to with clicking are exactly as taken.

There were, of course, lots of signs (including many mobile phones and at least one tablet) saying “I AM CHARLIE”, in fact you can see quite a few such if you do some clicking.  But, here are all the signs I photographed that said something else as well, or instead:

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Of all of these, my two favourites are “Team Civilization”, and “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended” (in French).  But demos are at least as much about quantity as quality, and I trust the sheer number of signs shown here (there were plenty more that I didn’t get to photo) makes the bigger point.  There were a lot of people turning out to denounce these horrible attacks.

Even the rather or almost completely illegible signs are an encouragement, I think, because what these signs tell us is that quite a few people were present, and feeling strongly enough about it to want to wave a sign, who had never been anywhere near such a demo ever before.

Feel free to reproduce any of these images at will, with or without attribution.  If you’d like bigger versions of any of the pictures, my email can be found here, top left, where it says “Contact”.

Sixty Charlie Hebdo demo signs that say something other than “Je Suis Charlie”
Tower Bridge glass shattered by beer bottle
Fuck the duck until exploded
Letterz
Happy Friday (eventually)
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom musical quote of the day
Confirming my String prejudices
A Sunday ramble
Why you are wrong
Brian Micklethwait dot com quote of the day
Why aren’t people happier about amazing new stuff?
The joyful excitement of the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer
Big Things on a better day
Mash cats
Tube interrupted
Friend on telly
Quota videos
A Strutton Ground shop and a Strutton Ground pub
Rothko Toast
A Fleet Street lunch
Funniest run out ever?
XXL?
Monkey Toast at the Leicester Square Theatre
Kissa yrittää mennä laatikkoon
This is transport
Jobs
BMdotCOM Headline of the week
Fate
I’m Charia Hebdo!
Adam Curtis skewered
Lion steals camera
Quota hedgehog sculpture
Does Kevin Pietersen have a weakness against bowlers?
Gordon Brown curses the United Kingdom
Collision photo
The politics of humour in the USA and in Britain
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom spam comment spelling mistake of the day
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom mixed metaphor of the day
Cricketology
Poetry
The Green alliance
A blog posting linking to a science article
Woody Allen on media lies and on not learning as he gets older
Christianity defined
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
Frank J random thought for the day
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom twitter of the day before the day before yesterday
Robert Chambers
“I can’t respond to any e-mails today …”
You had a hard disc?  Luxury!
Unravelling the puzzle – and making it into a movie
Laughing gas
Correction
Barney Stinson on how gay marriage will encourage regular marriage
Johanna Kaschke versus the Deluded Leftwinger
Prize idiots
What Bercow does next
Another politician who looks like a noted comedy actor of yesteryear
Labour down – silly parties up
TARP stuff - and a trip to Sheffield
Excellent mixed metaphor
“… the idea is to remain ignorant of how dumb you look …”
Quota quotes from Wodehouse
There’s only one way to find out!  Fight!
Gordon Brown to guarantee everything
Not the same thing
Mockery
Jellennium Bridge
“It’s only a parable!”
Never mind the telly
Portable copiers and copying jokes
Today I have been blogging elsewhere and also doing other things
Printer with face - eating children
The Rite of Spring sounds to me like technology rather than nature
God explained
Cats etc.
Probably not right - but definitely written
At the dogs
Heh indeed
Irrelevant heart attack adverts
Indexed - blogrolled
Not everything means anything
Spreading the word for free
Oscar Wilde defends society
Top tips from Viz
You can have everything
Very amusing person alert
Boo hoo
Genius
Pie error
Comedians and a picture of a lady comedian
More about rhetoric
More comedy and a Piccadilly Circus Billion Monkey!
On stand-up comedy and politics
I won’t be doing any television myself in the near future but in the meantime have a watch of this
Those little big things that you hate
“And also our sensitivity to our office being firebombed”
More IP violating: Barry Beelzebub on Freepost bricks and a still-legal wild boar hunt
The return of the prodigal
It went fine
Comedy tonight and another car headlight today
Comedy on Thursday and rehearsing for it
Gay marriage
The moles of Wycombe
Is sit-down comedy the new rock and roll?
“Jeepers Professor!”
Ha!
Get back
Bromwell High is very good
Douglas Jardine and Spike Milligan