I am a worm, and not a man…

13 08 2011

Yesterday I learnt a sad, hard lesson: I am inept at barbecuing.

Well, that’s not strictly true… I didn’t get far enough to test my skills at the actual cooking. I suppose what I mean to say is that I am inept at lighting barbecues.

There are many factors I could blame for my failure:

  • The charcoal was old, and perhaps a little damp
  • I didn’t have the right equipment
  • It was too windy
  • Once the coals started to get warm, the rain began to fall

But as they say, ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I know if I’m honest that the failure was not due to any implement, but to an individual. There is one person to blame for my incompetence, and one person alone: my father.

You see, nobody ever taught me to light a barbecue. Surely that was his job! I was taught to tell the time, swim, ride a bike, and spit cherry stones with laser-like precision… but nobody ever taught me how to get little blocks of charcoal hot enough to burn a burger! Why this omission from my otherwise adequate education?

The art of barbecuing is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. People seem strangely cagey about their methodology, and there is something unnervingly ‘cloak and dagger’ (or rather ‘apron and tongs’) about the way in which the secrets are guarded.

It has been this way since primeval man first learnt to burn things and eat them. For many thousands of years, women and children have been banished from the grill, lest they discover the techniques behind the wizardry of the embers. Women were told ‘this is a man’s job’. Or perhaps if he were feeling a little more devious the male in question would adopt a tone of faux-chivalry and say, ‘put your feet up love and let me serve you’, whilst children were scared with stories of explosions, scorchings, and facial-scarring.

But presumably there would be some point at which the child would be taught the methodology of barbecuing? Just the male children, of course. Stone-age fathers who gave birth only to daughters would have been scorned, or considered cursed, for having not produced an heir to the grill.

At some point in time, the young boy would come of age and be allowed into the circle of trust – perhaps once he had undergone a right of passage, such as slaughtering a wild boar with his bare hands, or spending a night in a snake infested cave – only then earning the right to learn the secrets of the cinders. At that point, and not a moment before, would a father take his child to a remote forest, and teach him the ways of barbecuing. And as they left the village, the other stone-age fathers would exchange knowing looks; today is the day a child becomes a man.

Somehow I missed out on this experience.

At some point in the early ‘90s, the father to son transmission of the secrets was interrupted, and I was never inducted into the order of the embers. I feel that perhaps I was the only one. Did I not prove myself? If there was some kind of task I was meant to complete in order to ‘come of age’, nobody ever told me! I would happily have wrestled a bear, or drunk the blood of a goat, or whatever it took to earn the right to learn this precious skill.

And so, alas, last night I spent hours standing before a pile of frigid coals, using an entire box of matches, googling many tips and techniques, writing the majority of them off as old wives’ tales, and finally retreating inside to the hob and the electric grill. I smelt of smoke and had nothing to show for it.

I can’t help but wonder if Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, felt the same sense of shame and bewilderment as I did? Was King Louie some self-referential device, used to vent the author’s personal angst at his inability to barbecue?

What I desire is man’s red fire, to make my dreams come true.’

All this is to say that I am not to blame for my failure. I am the victim of inadequate parenting! I have been overlooked and under-taught and I protest that my inability to light a barbecue in no way diminishes my masculinity.

That’s my excuse, and I’m clinging to it ‘til I die.

p.s. Dad… I’m only joking; I don’t blame you. But seriously…

Give me the power of man’s red flower, so I can be like you!

Give yourself a pat on the back

1 08 2011

I have a theory which I suspect it will be of great interest to budding writers. I’m no mindreader. Nor am I adept in the art of suggestion and mental manipulation, but still, I believe it is possible for authors to write their own reviews through the hands of others.

You heard me right. I believe it is possible to embed within your work subliminal messages which will find their way onto the pages of the broadsheets. All you need to do is place within your work a witty, well-crafted, single sentence, which accurately sums up the entire piece, and which you would happily see at the top of a review.

There’s quite an art to it. It needs to be long enough into the work for the reviewer to have formed at least some basic conclusions, but not so far in that their minds are set already. It needs to be amusing and gripping; a fun, funny, or poignant aphorism that is so memorable that every reviewer will wish they had penned it.

Typically this phenomenon exhibits itself in negative ways; an angry reviewer picks up on a critical or deeply ironic phrase with which to lambast its author. For example, Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, which opened to mixed reviews. Some loved it, many more hated it. They felt it was abstruse, convoluted and monotonous. And many reviewers found in the mouth of Estragon the perfect line with which to begin their scathing reviews:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”

I wonder if Beckett knew that line would be used against him. I suspect not, otherwise he might have said:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s deep!”

Just the other week I went to see a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. I dislike Chekhov intensely, and am not overly keen on Andrew Upton’s translations either (he has lulled me to sleep in public on two occasions now), so I was amused to spot the standout line which summed it up for me, when Ranyevskaya declares boldly:

“Don’t waste your time watching plays – I bet it wasn’t funny at all”

Correct. And I needn’t give any more of my time to reviewing it…

Next time you go to the theatre, watch a film, or read a book, ask yourself the question “If I had to extract one line which accurately summarises the whole, what would it be?” It will produce some surprising, profound or at least very amusing results.

My theory is this: If it works on a negative level, why should it not work on a positive one? Why should an author not be able to implant a positive statement, a glowing report, a witticism so clever and flattering that it sways the opinions of the reviewer and makes it into print?

I shall put this theory to test and report back to you after the publication of my forthcoming book Five Stars and a Well Deserved Booker Prize.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

2 07 2011

Yesterday we went to see Trevor Nunn’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Nunn has recently taken over as Artistic Director at The Theatre Royal Haymarket, and this is one of three plays he’s directing there this year (we’ve also got tickets for his production of The Tempest with Ralph Fiennes in September.) If this production was anything to go by, his appointment could be a great asset for the theatre.

The play focuses on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but transposes them into a typically absurdist ‘wasteland’ setting, where normal elements such as time, memory, chance and logic are suspended. It is an hilarious, whimsical, beautiful, existential piece of theatre playing with all sorts of lofty themes like death, art, reality, madness, determinism and language.

This production was, simply, faultless. In fact all told I enjoyed it more than the production of Waiting for Godot I saw there last year – which I wasn’t expecting. The two main characters were brilliantly portrayed by Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker; their timing and intonation were flawless, and they really brought out the humour of the play superbly. The ‘question game’ was executed brilliantly and had me in stitches. In fact, I’ve read the play three or four times and hadn’t quite appreciated how consistently humorous it was.

Chris Andrew Mellon did an outstanding job as The Player (replacing Tim Curry, who was originally meant to lend his malleable, creepy face to the role). He looked like a peculiar concoction of Jeremy Beadle, Ross Noble, Matthew Kelly and Beetlejuice… but if you could see past that, his performance was incredibly strong.

I could rave about almost every element… I’ve not been so enthusiastic about a piece of theatre in quite a while. It’s not ‘fresh’ in the sense that it’s a classic piece of absurd theatre (if you’re ever seen any Stoppard, Beckett or Ionesco you’ll know what to expect) but it is absurdism done to perfection. I do on occasion feel that absurd plays can come across as a little tired, with their torrents of futile dialogue and typically minimalist sets, but this had enough energy and focus to keep you rapt in expectation and intrigue.

And to make it better, we had amazing seats in the stalls, and for some unfathomable reason, the people in front of us didn’t return after the interval…

So if you can, you really should go. It runs until 20 August and if you shop around, I’m sure you’ll find some decent offers. I’m sure it’s not everybody’s cup of tea… but you can’t drink tea all your life! Branch out. A splendid time is (almost) guaranteed for all!

The Octopus

16 06 2011

A whimsical poem on octopus shoe-shopping…

Polvo Niquel Moedas

The Octopus (16/06/11)

An octopus I can excuse,
For owning quite so many shoes,
But still I cannot fathom why,
Some women act like octopi!

To mock or not to mock

21 05 2011

So today is judgment day, and I have mixed feelings. Not about whether the Rapture might happen or not, but about how I should conduct myself in the run up to 6pm, and what I should do and say at 6.01.

To Mock

I truly think that the guys who think they’ve calculated the rapture, and the thousands who have given up their homes, jobs, and wasted thousands of dollars on this are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. And I very much want myself, my church, my faith and my Lord to be disassociated from their fruitloop theology!

So on the one hand, I think mild mockery is probably the best way. I’ve enjoyed reading some of the #rapture tweets, particularly by some Christian friends. I’ve laughed at a bit of satire and have joked about it a little. I’ll be at a wedding this evening, and think it might be kind of amusing to leave little piles of clothes and shoes out in the corridors for people to stumble across… or play a trumpet fanfare from my iPhone in the middle of the speeches. (Of course, I won’t do either…)

And I hope that my friends who aren’t Christians will look at those things and realise that Mr Camping does not speak for all Christians. I hope that they will appreciate that many Christians think this is as silly as they do, and I hope that as a result they will be able to differentiate between oddball fanatics and the real deal.


Not to Mock

… I do wonder if mockery may do more harm than good. In passing Camping and his theories off as a laughable fiction, we may well give people the impression we don’t take the second coming seriously. And that could be a serious hindrance for the gospel.

Already I’ve noticed that early comments on the Camping phenomenon labelled May 21st ‘Judgment Day’ whereas more recent ones tend to say ‘Rapture Day.’ In creating a mockery of it, have we removed the fear of judgment? By mocking and joking, I do hope that we can strip away some of the nonsense, but in so doing, I hope we don’t cause people to take judgment less seriously.

Paul’s words to the Athenians are still as true and urgent as ever:

‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
(Acts 17:30-31)

I do slightly fear that in telling people it’s not going to happen at 6pm we may end up making them think it’s not going to happen at all. In so caricaturing Camping’s vision of judgment day so as to seem unthinkably foolish, do we run the risk of making judgment itself seem unbelievable?

Tomorrow I shall, God willing (!), be preaching on Ephesians 2:1-10. It’s a bold and striking passage with some hard truths to hear. I shall make no mention of the rapture, Harold, or the end of the world, but I hope to preach a message that is faithful to the difficult truths, and yet still full of hope, inviting and urging people to make a decision…

Judgment is coming. Probably not at 6pm this evening. It could happen sooner… Either way, are you ready?

Brand on Dawkins

14 04 2011

This morning i enjoyed reading an article in the New Statesman by Russell Brand entitled ‘Why Richard Dawkins is the best argument for the existence of God.’


Leaving aside the transcendental meditation stuff, it’s worth a read. It’s typical Brand: verbose, sesquipedalian, witty, not thoroughly watertight, but amusing nonetheless. Enjoy!


The Royal Wedding: A nude, 3D dance-fest?

10 03 2011

One of the top trends on Twitter today notes the fact that the date of the Royal Wedding is the 66th anniversary of Hilter and Eva Braun’s wedding. Incidentally, people point out, they went on to kill themselves the next day… Spooky huh?

I find it peculiar the way people latch onto stats like this. They spot omens and tell-tale signs in the most trivial of coincidences. Football commentators are the worst. How many times have you heard some ridiculous stat like…

‘The last six times x team have played in red against a team in blue, having scored in the first 7 minutes, with their goalkeeper using black gloves, and only one English player in their squad, they have always gone on to lose the game and the league!’

…as if that means anything?!

Can’t we let a coincidence be a coincidence without attaching meanings, symbolism, suppositions, superstitions (and typology?!) to it? It’s not spooky, it’s not mysterious. They just have a limited number of dates to choose from!

Well, just to add fuel to the fire, here are a few more thoughts about the royal wedding. In case you weren’t aware, April 29th is:

  • The 65th anniversary of Father Divine, a religious leader who claimed to be god, marrying Edna Rose Ritchings
  • The 58th anniversary of the first 3D-TV broadcast in the USA
  • The 43rd anniversary of the Broadway opening of the musical ‘Hair’ in which the cast stripped entirely naked
  • The 29th anniversary of International Dance Day
  • The 25th anniversary of a fire in the Los Angeles Public Library, which destroyed over 400,000 books

By my reckoning, we can expect that the Royal Wedding will be quite an occasion: The entire thing will be conducted in dance, fully in the nude, broadcast on TV in 3D, culminating in a colossal fire, and William declaring himself to be divine!

Just imagine what other amazing insights we could discover if we applied the principles of the Bible Code to the wedding invites!!