Category Archives: Philosophy

Why do people keep mis-reading me?

Sitting on a Scottish beach not so long ago

Yesterday afternoon, someone said to me: “You will miss not going to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

I said (I paraphrase myself): “No. I can walk away from anything. I spent 20+ years of my life saying Goodbye to people and not knowing if I would ever see them again.”

When I was working in TV, it was mostly on very short-term contracts – one week, three weeks, two weeks, one month, whatever. I once worked at Granada TV in Manchester for six months solid but I don’t think any individual contract I had during that solid six months was for more than three weeks.

When I left a company at the end of any of these short-term contracts, I said Goodbye to the people I worked with not knowing if I would ever see them again. Maybe I would be back in three months time; maybe in two weeks; maybe in four months; maybe in six weeks; maybe never. Some companies I worked at for over ten years, coming and going. But I spent my entire life saying Goodbye to people I might never meet again.

Last night, someone who does not really know me decided to describe my current lifestyle in less than 27 words. In fact, it only took 20:

Comedy, writing, observation, books, spontaneous, baths, London, culture, bad geography, sleep deprivation, rain, rough diamond, cinema and rain (not purple).

Not sure about the “rough diamond” and I bristled a bit at the “bad geography”. But this was put down to my thinking that Preston was North East of Manchester rather than North West. So I can’t really complain.

But I think throughout my life people have mis-read me. I have only ever really had two guiding thoughts in life. They are:

  • A) Never trust anyone.
  • B) Everything ends.

If I were being pretentious (perish the thought) I might add:

  • C) So it goes.

On the “Everything ends” front, here is a photo of the facade of the Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich, London, taken in 2009. It retained pretty much the same facade until yesterday.

Below is one taken last night (by MEU-NF).

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How to build a career in comedy (and other industries)… maybe or maybe not

Part of Tabula Peutingeriana, a Roman road map

Someone once said to me that he thought most criminals were doomed to fail and jail because they had no plan.

He was a criminal himself.

Had been.

He had stopped.

“If you gamble and flounder around and you have no plan,” he said, “you’re a mug.”

I paraphrase the words. But the thoughts are his.

“Most criminals,” he told me, “don’t have an aim. They don’t have a specific number they want to reach. If you want to make a million quid or half a million, you can very possibly do that. It’s like gambling. If you are determined and you take enough risks, you may well do it. But, once you get there, you should stop.

“There’s the risk of getting caught, the risk of going to prison, the risk of losing the gamble. And the longer you go on, the more the odds are against you. Most criminals don’t put a number on what they want, so they can never reach it.

“If you have no aim – if you just keep doing the same thing over and over again and don’t have no exit strategy, you’re a mug. You are treading water and you will run out of luck. It will all come crashing down on your head.”

I think you probably stand a greater chance of making a million from crime than from gambling with the odds in Las Vegas but, that aside, he has a point.

Without an aim, you go off in all directions and get nowhere.

And, of course, once you have achieved your aim, you need to know what your next aim is.

What brought this to mind was someone at The Grouchy Club this week who asked for tips about getting on in the comedy business.

I think one thing is to have a very specific three-year or five-year aim. And, indeed, ten and twenty year aim. Have a specific aim. You do not want to start by thinking about what your first Edinburgh Fringe show is going to be next year. You want to think where you want to be in three or five years time. And then in ten. And then in twenty. Then work backwards and figure out a roadmap for getting there, starting with wherever you are now.

Today is ground zero.

Whatever happened in the past has been passed. You can’t change the past.

Today is ground zero.

You do not just take a first step without knowing exactly where you want to end up.

If you want to get from London to Aberdeen, you should not just go into the first railway station you find and get onto the first train that leaves and focus your entire mind on which chocolate bar you are going to buy for the journey. You should be thinking about how to get to Aberdeen; not taking a random step and focusing on the detail without knowing where you are going.

If you don’t know the longer-term aims of your short-term actions, you risk just floundering around from random pillar to random post.

You have to be able to take advantage of accident and happenstance and side-turnings along the way of course but, again, without knowing the ultimate destination you want to reach in three, five, ten and twenty years, you risk not going or getting anywhere.

It is like writing a comedy show. If you don’t know what your show is about, you will be adrift in a sea of good ideas, unable to decide which ones to choose, unable to fit them all into an ever-changing shape that doesn’t exist. You should – in my easily-ignored opinion – not start with 1,001 amorphous good ideas and then try to figure out how to fit them all into some unknown shape illustrating nothing. You should start with the shape, then work back to the details you need to complete the shape.

You may have lots of colourful, differently-shaped pieces which individually look interesting but, if they don’t fit together, you ain’t got a jigsaw. You need to know the picture on the jigsaw you are making, then find the pieces that will fit together to create it.

With a show, in your own mind, you should have an elevator pitch. Decide what you want to create the show about. Then describe it in 10 or 12 words. Then, when writing the show, use only anecdotes, gags and thoughts that illustrate or illuminate those 10 or 12 words. Throw out anything else.

If you have some startlingly original, stunningly funny story – the most brilliant story or thought in the entire history of the world – which does not fit into that 10 or 12 word description, DO NOT use it. It will distract the audience, screw-up the flow and fuck-up your show. You can use this item of sheer genius on another occasion. The number of waffly, amorphous, don’t-hold-together hours of meandering shows I have sat through at the Edinburgh Fringe doesn’t bear thinking about.

If you cannot think of a 10 or 12 word description of the show you are obsessed by and keen to do, then you don’t have a show. You just want to be acclaimed for being yourself, not for creating something. DO NOT imagine you have a show. DO NOT throw your money away waffling at the Edinburgh Fringe. The funniest 3 or 6 minute story in the world, if irrelevant, will screw-up a show not make it better. Ten stories are not a show. Not ten random 6-minute unconnected shows with no flow. If it don’t flow, it ain’t a show. Ten stories all illustrating a single elevator pitch point ARE a show.

Of course – of course – of course – the irony is that I never had a plan in my career(s) or in my life. But that is because I am and always have been a nihilist. All of the above is just filling in time. It all ends when the Sun expands and explodes and takes everything with it – our long-forgotten skeletons or ashes or worm-excreta and everything else. It all becomes space dust floating in infinity.

So it goes.

When, at last, you are unable to close your eyes and all you hear is the sound of your own death rattle… all that matters is memories of love and/or genuine friendship.

But – hey! – if you are a performer, ego and acclaim are what really matter.

So have a plan for success. A very well-worked-out plan. Work out what you want in the long term, then work backwards to what you should be doing in the short and medium term to achieve that.

Have an elevator pitch of 10 or 12 words about what you want to achieve in life as well as what your show will be about. Don’t flounder. Follow the plan. Though allow for advantageous side roads.

Have a 10 or 12 word outline for your show.

Have a 10 or 12 word outline for your life.

And don’t blame me when it all goes arse-over-tits.

I know nothing.

I have never claimed I did.

I am just filling in time.

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It Might Get Ugly – Karl Schultz loves comic Janey Godley but not milk toast

Karl Schultz

Karl Schultz with his latest haircut & thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog chat with comics Karl Schultz and Joz Norris about their annual charity gig in aid of Karl’s charity. After Joz left, I kept on talking to Karl.

“You’re all about re-invention,” I said. “you’ve had a lot of different haircuts this year.”

“I get bored,” replied Karl. “I’m trying to think of different ways to change Matthew Kelly.”

“Are you still doing that Matthew Kelly character?” I asked. “I thought you had finished with it.”

“I’ve been doing it again recently, after a year of It Might Get Ugly.”

It Might Get Ugly was/is a series of comedy evenings organised by Karl in which performers have to go on stage and tell totally true 15-minute stories about themselves.

“You had Janey Godley on the show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“She,” said Karl, “was my favourite thing about Edinburgh. She’s got thousands of just amazing stories. What can you not like about her? I love Janey. She’s a comic who can handle anyone and she won’t be precious. She is so great. I can imagine her being an amazing actor. I fell in love with her the way I fell in love with David Mills when he first did it.”

“Very different comics,” I said. “What were you like when you started performing comedy?”

“When you start,” said Karl, “it comes as a shock. I was about 19 the first time I performed and you’re in this big nervous energetic space. It was like a heightened reality. I was thinking faster. I had different conversations going on in my head – what I was saying and what I was thinking – almost like Eskimo singers.”

“Eskimo singers?” I asked.

“Hitting different octaves,” replied Karl. “Then years go by and, even though you might be constantly surprised, shock doesn’t visit you as much. I believe shock is way more important to growth than something being ‘moving’. A moving gig is either good or bad, but a gig that shocks you has real impact.

“After four years of doing Matthew Kelly, I found that I wasn’t writing as much material as I should have. I had a bit of material but was improvising the whole time and Improv often stands for impoverished as much as improvised.”

“But you are continuing the character?” I asked.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“Yes,” said Karl. “What I’m enjoying with Matthew Kelly at the moment is playing with biographies. There is the character as himself. There’s Matthew Kelly telling stories about me when I was younger, almost as if Karl Schultz was the character. Then there’s me as Matthew Kelly, talking about experiences I have had as the Matthew Kelly character. And then there’s the sort of philosophy behind the whole thing. But it’s complicated to do that.

“I had this idea a couple of months ago… When you wake up, it takes you a couple of seconds to find yourself and I was obsessing over that and the idea that the day is a parasite and you, in that moment of awakening, are the host. So the parasite of the day lives through you as the host. It’s not comedic in itself, but I thought Matthew Kelly could be the day having fun on someone. It’s like a playful parasite. Even if I don’t communicate it to the audience, that can be what motivates the character.

“In a very American way, I subscribe to the idea of personal growth and the idea that a young artist should be trying to move his brain forward. That’s partly why I do all these different things: as a vehicle to move my personal philosophy forward.”

“What,” I asked, “helps you do that?”

“More than anything,” said Karl, “making mistakes and owning up to them. Nothing undermines something difficult to face up to more than accepting it. If you think: I am going to be visited-upon by dark clouds in my mind… If you can accept that, it completely undermines it.

Karl Schultz deep in thought

Karl Schultz is not going to Switzerland soon

“Two days ago, I had a dark night of the soul on the District Line between Temple and Bow stations and the way I got through that was just by accepting it. All the credence I wanted to give to those imaginings of trips to Switzerland… it was undermined.”

“Trips to Switzerland?” I asked.

“Well,” said Karl, “you know…”

“Oh,” I said, “Exit. So why did you start It Might Turn Ugly?”

“I wondered if I could create a performance space where you are watching someone do something that might move them forward and you are watching that play out. I told people: Fifteen minutes. No ‘material’. Try to be honest. The idea is that you should not be able to do it the next night.”

“What,” I asked, “did you want to be when you were aged 16? A novelist?”

“No. I wanted to be Nick Drake. If I hadn’t been a comedian, I would have been some jazz-inflected folk guitarist. I used to play guitar for about 8 or 10 hours a day.”

“Nick Drake is like Joe Meek,” I suggested. “More of a cult than generally famous.”

“Everyone wants to be a more famous version of their hero,” said Karl.

“So are you trying to fit musical styles into comedy?” I asked.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I think my thing is just the life I had. Being an only child, moving every three years.”

Karl’s father was a Salvation Army officer and moved location throughout the world every three years.

“Having different voices in different groups,” said Karl. “That’s my thing. Having an assimilative personality where I can change my accent. I’ve had many different accents. Negotiating and reconciling.”

“Fitting into things you don’t naturally fit into?” I asked.

“Trying to make things fit,” suggested Karl. “I’m obsessed with reconciliation. If you have an early life like I had, it can be very confusing, so you try to make sense of it, which might lead you towards philosophy, poetry and so on. What is very attractive about prosodic things is finding disparate meanings but bringing them together, making them work. Something like Matthew Kelly is synesthetic – it is supposed to be.”

“You want everything to be ordered?” I asked.

“No. Not at all.”

“You want everything to be ordered even though your act is surrealism and anarchy?” I tried.

“My act is not anarchic,” said Karl. “It’s surreal in the sense of being unreal. I take ‘surreal’ to mean dreamlike and what I’m really obsessed with is that type of hypnagogia.”

“Hypno-what?” I asked.

Karl Schultz tattoo

Karl’s tattoo – a hypnagogic fantasy of a dodo with flamingo’s wings and peacock’s feathers

Hypnagogia,” Karl explained, “is that state between wakefulness and being asleep where, as a child, you can just as easily be talking to your mother as a figure in a dream.”

“And,” I suggested, “you can know you’re dreaming yet think it might be real?”

“Yes. It’s a bizarre state. You only have to read anything Oliver Sacks has ever written about memory to know that you can appropriate memories, which is terrifying.”

“I remember,” I said, “being in a pram in Campbeltown where I was born, but I don’t know if I really remember it or if it’s something my mother told me about.”

“Everything for me,” said Karl, “is like a palette where you just play out ideas and let them run.

“What I’m obsessed with at the moment is neurophilosophy and the idea that, since the advent of cognitive science, our understanding of consciousness has moved on and so the language – the lexicon of philosophy – should catch up. What we know has moved on, but our language hasn’t. I think that’s exactly the same with comedy. It feels like we’re using Saxon language. We end up inventing words like dramady which is horrible.”

“What did you study at university?” I asked.

“Philosophy, but I was a real philosophy student in that I was a drop-out. I went off to become a comedian aged 20.”

“At least you didn’t study comedy,” I said. “I get twitchy when people think they can learn comedy.”

“Someone who’s a writer,” said Karl, “told me the other day: I knew more about writing before I started. Getting a degree in maths means that you are just as aware of how much you don’t know – and that’s the real education.

“When I came into comedy, I thought someone was going to go: Well done. Go to Level 2. I thought there were hierarchies and pyramids. But then you realise: Oh! It’s just a common room! You end up meeting the producers and commissioners and you can either have a really nice time with them or think they are milquetoast.”

“Milk toast?” I asked.

“Milquetoast. A bit cowardly. Not willing to take risks… But someone explained to me that is almost written into their job description.”

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Today I reveal THE MEANING OF LIFE and I don’t mean the Monty Python one

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

I have never taken recreational drugs. The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

They were not available to me when I might have taken them.

By the time they were available, I had seen and read too much about people damaged by them.

But, when I was in my late teens, I remember there was a day when – for maybe ten minutes – maybe five minutes – I felt I could feel my position within the air around me, could feel my physical position in 3D or 4D within the room I was in… and that room’s physical existence within the house, within the street on the surface of the earth and that I was standing on the surface of a planet floating and rotating in space and its place within the solar system and the universe. I could mentally comprehend and feel my relationship within all those inter-related elements.

And I also simultaneously felt I comprehended my position in time – how time only exists as a ‘moment’ that, in a sense, does not exist because, as soon as it happens it is over and it becomes an infinity of time stretching backwards while the next not-yet-existing moment is part of an infinity of time stretching forward and, as you can narrow the existence of the exact moment of ‘nowness’ more and more and more down to the non-existent point of infinity, time exists as an over-all concept but the exact moment of ‘now’ never exists. I felt how, at the instant I felt this I could understand where I was in infinity with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and a woman scratching her nose in 1171 and an insect crawling on the sand in 5,000 BC and something that had not yet happened in the year 2373.

In the 1960s or 1970s I was told a probably apocryphal story about the rock guitarist Eric Clapton. Those of advanced years will remember common graffiti around that time proclaiming:

CLAPTON IS GOD!

The story was that Eric Clapton had taken LSD and seen God who told him the Meaning of Life, but he (Clapton, not God) then forgot the details.

The next time Eric went on an acid trip, he had a pen and paper by him. This time, he wrote down what God told him.

When he came down from the trip, Eric looked at the piece of paper. On it were the words:

“THE SMELL OF METHYLATED SPIRITS PERMEATES THE AIR”

That, as told by God to Eric Clapton, was the Meaning of Life.

The reason I think this 1960s story might be apocryphal is that there are other versions of it.

In his 1945 book A History of Western Philosophy, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (very trendy in the 1960s) wrote:

William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was

“A SMELL OF PETROLEUM PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

Before that, on June 29, 1870, the American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University. An extended excerpt from the lecture was published in 1879. He said:

I once inhaled a pretty full dose of ether, with the determination to put on record, at the earliest moment of regaining consciousness, the thought I should find uppermost in my mind. 

The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed upon me in a sudden revelation. 

Henceforth all was clear: a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of the knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and, staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped, straggling characters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these: 

“A STRONG SMELL OF TURPENTINE PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

The other day, I was talking to someone about LSD.

He told me that, years ago, a girl he knew took LSD and, after the trip, she told her friends (who had also been tripping) that she had, during the trip, understood the nature of existence, the Meaning of Life and all the rest. But she could not remember what it was.

So they decided that, next time they went on an acid trip together, she would write down what she saw and felt. The next time they tripped out, there was a pen and a piece of paper. And, sure enough, again, she saw and understood the purpose and meaning of life.

She wrote it down.

When they came down from the trip, to keep it safe, they put the piece of paper in an envelope which they pinned to the ceiling for safety. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, of course, they forgot the envelope was there. They had been tripping.

A few hours or a few days later, someone spotted the envelope pinned to the ceiling and they remembered that the Meaning of Life was in the envelope.

They took the envelope off the ceiling and opened it.

The piece of paper said:

“IF YOU STAND ON THE CEILING, YOU CAN SEE THE FLOOR”

So there you are.

Life may mostly be methylated spirits, petroleum and turpentine but that could depend on your viewpoint.

And I would argue that taking LSD might be a confusing factor in thinking clearly.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Philosophy, Religion

My three golden rules of life

NUMBER 1

Never trust anyone. Even someone with your best interests at heart can unintentionally do something which will end up killing you.

NUMBER 2

Never let the bastards see they have hurt you.

NUMBER 3

Give people leeway.

The first time, it could be a mistake.

The second time, it could be coincidence.

The third time, it is enemy action and you are entitled to rip their throats out.

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Filed under Philosophy

Pretty soon, comedian Martin Soan will not be speaking to me. Lucky him…

Pretty soon, comedian Martin Soan will not be speaking to me. Lucky him, some might say.

Yesterday’s blog about things I cut out of my blogs reminded me of something else I had cut out but still had as an iPhone recording: a chat I had with Martin shortly after one of his several 60th birthday parties.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog in which Martin talked about spirituality.

When he read it, he told me he thought it made him sound like a drunken airhead. I think what he said was very interesting. Okay, he was drunk, but he can still say interesting things when he’s drunk.

He was slightly drunk in this conversation, too, recorded shortly afterwards. If he doesn’t like what is quoted, he can always claim he was drunk. I do not have that excuse.

A brick wall - or it could be anything you want

A brick wall – or maybe it could be anything you want it to be

“I read an article years ago,” I was saying to Martin, “which suggested that, in the future, you’ll be able to manipulate molecules. Everything we see is just molecules. The air, the stone walls, my hand: they’re all just molecules. So, if you can control the molecules, you don’t need to have walls for your house that are permanent brick walls. You can make them of anything you want. You could reconfigure the walls’ structure with the press of a button. You could have leaves or television screens instead of walls and change them in the click of a button if you have access to the right molecular structure.”

“But going back to my previous drunken blog with you,” interrupted Martin, “about spirituality.”

“Much appreciated,” I said.

“Fuck off,” laughed Martin. “Are you ever going to escape Man’s essential… How many millennia are we going to have to live into the future before we pass on to the next stage of evolution? That’s if Man’s even lucky enough to be included in the next stage of evolution. Manipulating molecules is just going along a linear line of technology and invention in such a small speck of evolution.”

I told Martin he should sell this ‘found art’ to Tate Modern

I told Martin he could sell this ‘found art’ to Tate Modern

“I think,” I said, “within a hundred years, we…”

Martin started laughing loudly: “You think you could go down Argos and get it?”

“Within 100 years, we could manipulate molecules,” I said.

“But that,” said Martin, “wouldn’t necessarily mean you had any more understanding, would it?”

“It would mean different ways of living,” I said. “I mean, Shakespeare was only 400 years ago. The Queen Mother lived to over 100. The distance between Shakespeare’s time and now is only the length of four people’s lives.”

“But,” argued Martin, “for several millennia, Man’s been exactly the same.”

“In Shakespeare’s time,” I said, “there were people living in wattle huts.”

“But is that the point?” asked Martin. “To be warm?”

“When I came down to London for the first time when I was a kid,” I said, “you walked along Whitehall or looked at St Pancras Station and there was no detailing on the buildings, because it was all totally caked in black soot and it smelled of soot.

Claude Monet’s view of London at the turn of the 20th century

Claude Monet’s view of London at the turn of the 20th century

“In the thick pea-souper smogs, we got let off school early, the air smelled of sulphur or something and, if you held your arm out in front of you, you couldn’t see your hand. You had to move carefully along the pavements step by step and pray when you crossed a road. If you walk around now, it’s a completely different world.”

“Certain things are better…” admitted Martin.

“Almost everything’s better,” I said.

“Ahhh, John,” said Martin, “I don’t think that’s true.”

“What’s got worse?” I asked. “I read old newspapers when I was researching a TV programme and, in 1780-odd and 1880-odd, you could not walk down Regent Street in the daylight in mid-afternoon without the risk of getting mugged. They were calling out the army every Friday and Saturday night to quell drunken riots in places like Woking. The army! The more the cameras look at us and the more GCHQ hacks into us, the safer it will be.”

There was a long, long pause.

“John…” said Martin. There was another long pause “…John…” he repeated.

“But really,” I said, “Just 400 years ago – which is nothing in time terms – people were living in mud huts in Britain. If you brought someone from 1613 to here, they’d have no idea what was going on.”

“But John,” argued Martin, “you’re just basing the next stage of Man’s evolution on sitting in a warm place with a computer and loads of puddings bought from Marks & Spencer… and without any walls. I don’t think that’s necessarily the next step in Man’s evolution. Molecular-manipulated houses and blogging and Marks & Spencer puddings – that’s your next step in evolution.”

“Yes,” I said. “Wasn’t it the US Agriculture Secretary who got sacked for saying people just want a tight pussy, loose shoes and a warm place to shit? There was some racism involved too but remove the racism and he has a point.”

“Will we live any longer?” asked Martin.

“Yes,” I said.

“But is living longer important?” asked Martin.

“It’s a bad thing living longer,” I agreed.

“I saw this TV programme by Kate Humble,” said Martin, “and she went to this part of Afghanistan where the average life expectancy is 35 years and, of course, their life is fucking hard. But that’s what I think life is. I mean, in Sex and The City, they’re moaning because they haven’t got the right boyfriend and can’t find the right shoes and they’ll live to 90 and they’ll spend the last part after they’re 60 bitter. Wouldn’t it just be better to burn out in glory and respect by the age of 35? It’s better to have a good life than a long life.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “There was that Greek myth about the wife who asked the Gods to give her husband eternal life and, of course, she found out that was the wrong thing to ask for. She actually wanted eternal youth, not eternal life. Eternal life would be appalling.”

“And that American sci-fi series,” said Martin. “The famous episode where there was a third-rate comedian who sold his soul to the Devil. He said I just want everyone to laugh at me all the time and, of course, he went out and someone was stabbed and he got blamed and everyone was laughing at him Oh! That’s so funny, man! and he got sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair and everyone was laughing Hahaha! What a way to go out! Now that’s what I call a funny man!”

“Life’s constantly getting better,” I said.

“Most of the guys who sell me my food,” said Martin, “are orphans from foreign countries.”

Downtown Fallujah, Iraq, 2003 - better than East Glasgow

Fallujah, Iraq, 2003 – more life-enhancing than East Glasgow

Janey Godley,” I said, “had a line in one of her shows that life expectancy in Fallujah, Iraq, is 65… In the East End of Glasgow, it’s 55.”

“Also,” said Martin “there was a line in The Wire – though all these things we quote we don’t know if they’re true – that literacy levels are worse in downtown Baltimore than in central Africa.”

“But centuries ago,” I said, “everywhere was shit. Now some places aren’t shit. I imagine the Central African Republic is as bad as it ever was, but Manhattan isn’t as bad as it was.”

Martin then opened the back window of his living room and pulled a beer from the refrigerator which he keeps outside.

“You leave me alone, John,” he said. “I’m drunk. Leave me alone.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “You got drunk and I got my blog and you’re sitting here accumulating money even as we speak…”

“Accumulating money?” Martin asked.

“The value of your house has probably gone up by £10,000 in the last ten minutes,” I said. “This is Peckham. Things are getting better all the time.”

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The line between being world famous and being forgotten is thin and random

Sir Keith Park defended London

I had never heard of Sir Keith Park, who saved London

Like most people, I know a lot about what happened during my parent’s generation’s time.

So I grew up knowing a lot about the Second World War.

But, until I visited the RAF Museum in Hendon yesterday, I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.

A New Zealander, he was in operational command of the defence of London during the Battle of Britain in World War Two and, later in the War, in charge of the defence of Malta.

I had, of course, heard of British national hero ‘Bomber’ Harris, who is now partially discredited because of his bombing of Dresden but I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.

The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history is thin and random.

When I woke up this morning, the Google.com homepage was celebrating the 197th birthday of Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace – aka Ada Lovelance.

I had never heard of her but, in 1843, she first published the idea of inputting punch cards to Charles Babbage’s ‘Analytic Machine’.

Charles Babbage, of whom I had heard, designed his Analytic Machine purely as a powerful calculator but is remembered as the father of computing. The less-remembered (and, by me, totally unknown) Ada is, according to Google, considered by some “the world’s first computer programmer, as well as a visionary of the computing age”.

The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history really is random.

John Logie Baird and his 'Televisor' c 1925

John Logie Baird and his misguided ‘Televisor’ in around 1925

Everyone knows John Logie Baird invented television.

Except, of course, he did not. He had the wrong system.

My favourite author, George Eliot, is usually credited with the quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been” and it sounds, indeed, very much like her. But it seems to have actually been an urban myth type variation on a quote from the novel John Halifax, Gentleman by the almost totally forgotten Dinah Mulock Craik.

The original quote is the unmemorable: “You mean, Mr. Halifax, what I might have been. Now it is too late.”

That has pretty much the opposite meaning to the more famous remembered quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” which seems to have been conjured out of nowhere by generations of misquotation.

Who is remembered and why and for what is fairly random.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Sic transit gloria. 

Ars longa vita brevis.

They all seem to cover it.

But I, perhaps not surprisingly, prefer to remember a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel set partly in the post-War US, partly during the bombing of Dresden by Bomber Harris’ planes and partly on the fictional planet of Tralfamadore:

“Now when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”

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Filed under Fame, Inventions, Philosophy