An old university friend once told me of an unusual habit his grandfather (an otherwise outwardly ordinary man) had when sitting down to Sunday lunch. If there was pork crackling in the offing, he would take a decent length of it, recline in his chair with head thrust back and, pinching the pigfat ‘twixt forefinger and thumb, repeatedly slide it up and down in his gullet. This faintly obscene practice he referred to as ‘greasing his throat’, and he claimed that it carried medicinal benefits. The image has stayed with me over the years, and popped into my head again when reading Gaw’s post about eccentricity and the difficulty of appearing nonconformist when the mainstream is so broad:
But if everything alternative ceases to be alternative, what’s next? How will those people who feel the need to establish that they’re different from everyone else manage to do so?
The key here is “those…who feel the need to establish they’re different.” The least interesting kind of eccentricity is the noisy, self-conscious kind. Sometimes it springs from a misconceived contempt for one’s fellow men – I’m not like all of you! - which is common in adolescence and is why we forgive twentysomething hipsters but not fortysomething ones.
Much more interesting are the quiet, unconscious madnesses that every ‘normal’ person has, and which reveal themselves slowly as you get to know them. The odd little conversational tics; the unpredictably miscellaneous tastes; the profound spiritual convictions suddenly revealed in a late night conversation or the sole radical political view amidst a bunch of common sense mainstream ones. Those habitual grooves that harden as people get into their thirties and ultimately turn into genuine eccentricities. I’ve long believed that there is no such thing as a normal person, and that everyone is mad (except, of course, me.)
Self-consciousness ruins Treme, which we gave up on after seven dull episodes. In every single scene every single character goes on and on about how awesome and ‘real’ New Orleans is, with its groovy vibe and musical heritage, compared to all the other US cities and States and their dumb-ass tourists. ‘I’m N’Orleanier-than thou’ was the constant refrain. I’ve always fancied going to New Orleans but Treme put me right off the place.
Richard Dawkins, now there’s an interesting madman, using rationality for irrational ends. When I saw that Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams were to engage in a theological debate, I initially wondered what the fuss was about. Surely they’ve done this before? Then I remembered that in fact I’d made it up, in a pastiche of a Radio 4 schedule which I wrote for Think of England a few years ago and repeat here…
Today on Radio 4: Brit’s Pick
Here are my recommended listens from today’s schedule…
10.00 – 10.45
Ball’s Favourite Balls
Michael Ball invites guests to share memories of the balls, shuttlecocks and pucks that have played pivotal roles in their lives.
First in the hot seat this week is Lembit Opik MP, who vividly recalls the “dog-chewed and half-bald tennis ball” that first inspired him to embark on a career in politics. Later in the programme Michael is joined by Joanna Lumley, who talks movingly of a cherished childhood squash ball – and how she and her friends would use it, along with Labradors and croquet mallets, to re-enact famous polo matches.
12.00 – 12.30
I’ve Read a Lot of Books, But Only Good Ones
Author Sebastian Faulks hosts the panel game in which contestants must demonstrate that they have read an awful lot of books, but only good ones. This week Tim Rice and David Mitchell argue that they have read both One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, but not Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Colin Sell is at the piano.
14.15 – 15.00
Woman’s Hour Drama
Death and Dundee Cakes (13/58)
Mary and Elspeth visit Beryl for coffee, while Daisy goes on a rampage and June wonders if she’ll ever find a suitable replacement for the au pair. Do the powers of Morianna Eagleclaw, ‘Princess of the Dead’, transcend mortal understanding?
18.30 – 19.30
Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns: the Radio Years (3/4)
Paul Merton shares his passion for early comedy in this four-part series on the Golden Age of silent radio. Using rare archived recordings and live reconstructions, Paul shows how pioneers such as Nobby Trumper and Stan ‘Spats’ McGinty developed ingenious and highly influential methods of making audiences laugh, without the benefit of modern special effects or any kind of sound or speech, and usually in a single take.
PICK OF THE DAY
21.00 – 22.00
You Say Potato, I Say Starchy, Tuberous Crop from the Perennial Solanum Tuberosum of the Solanaceae Family
New discussion show in which guests must choose to either grossly simplify or wildly complicate a controversial question. For the opening programme, Prof Richard Dawkins and Dr Rowan Williams respectively simplify and complicate the question: Does God exist? Kriss Akabusi facilitates.
I saw Gerald Scarfe’s Netanyahu cartoon in the Sunday Times, and thought it a pretty dismal effort, not least because a few days earlier – before the controversy – I’d read Charles Moore doing what the Spectator should do when it’s at its best: slaughtering a sacred cow…
Idly flicking through the latest Sunday Times, I notice the cartoon by Gerald Scarfe. It shows President Assad of Syria, covered with blood, picking the severed head of a child from a mound of corpses. ‘Syria,’ says the caption, ‘60,000 slaughtered and still counting’. It feels as if one has seen this Scarfe cartoon most weeks since the 1960s. Whether it was Biafra, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, or any other faraway conflict, Scarfe has always been fearlessly against tyrants killing the innocent, especially children, and his way of showing this is to depict the tyrants covered with blood and the children, heaps of them, dead. And that is it: no gloss, no wit, no political nuance, no juxtaposition that might tell you something, just an extremely well-paid half century drawing tyrants covered with blood, and a CBE too. We columnists, who have at least to pretend to think of something new each week, can only gasp with envy at the way Scarfe — by being against war, genocide etc — has escaped any editorial attention whatever.
Being an admirer of aggressive subversives, I’ve always vaguely thought of Scarfe as A Good Thing but when Moore came to mention it I realised that he doesn’t make me (a) laugh or (b) think differently about something, which are two basic functions of the cartoonist. A third is to ridicule the Establishment, but Gerald Scarfe CBE, RDI is part of that. Scarfe has a style, but not much else. Odd I’d never noticed before.
I was pleased to see that one of the stars of England’s entertaining victory over Scotland in the rugby Six Nations game is called Billy Twelvetrees – a name that would grace any of the greats in English sporting history. I was even more pleased to learn that his nickname amongst team-mates is ’36’.
To the capital for a Dabbler editorial micro-summit, and as has become traditional the next morning I find myself walking around a magnificent London art gallery with a sore head and unstable innards. This time it is the Wallace Collection, Manchester Square in which I am feeling sick. My delicate condition is not helped by a giant, garish Titian oil painting of Perseus and Andromeda in the dining room being followed swiftly by a giant, garish François Lemoyne oil painting of Perseus and Andromeda in the billiard room. A great family the Wallaces may have been, but two giant Perseus and Andromedas is surely rubbing it in a bit.
I decided that a visit to the lavatory was in order. And now here I can state that when it comes to lavatories the Wallace Collection really excels, with facilities second only, in my opinion, to those at the V&A. One has one’s own self-contained cubicle with washstand and cabinet: clean, obviously, plus exquisitely decorated porcelain and a sense of impenetrable privacy. I really could have stayed in there all day. I began to feel better immediately and in fact, so restoring was my visit to the Wallace Collection lavatory that I was able to achieve a new level of aesthetic appreciation when I ventured back into the house. I was profoundly moved by Rembrandt’s portrait of his son; enchanted by de Hooch’s A woman peeling apples; stirred by the tragic eroticism of Scheffer’s Francesca de Rimini. By the time I had chortled amiably along with The Laughing Cavalier I was firmly of the opinion that all was for the best in this best of all possible worlds and it was only after I had danced down the stairs, bought a few postcards in the shop, bid good day to the delightful girls at the cloakroom and strolled into the Spring-like sunshine in search of a taxi that I noticed my fly was undone.