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I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy ...

Saturday, 15 February 2014

About Time

You can find the original post which explains how this sketch came about, here: You've got to laugh...haven't you?

SCENE:  A Headmaster's study in a lesser known public school.  The Headmaster is seen sitting behind a large old-fashioned wooden desk which is liberally strewn with textbooks and papers.  He is busily writing when a knock is heard at the door.

H: (without looking up from his writing) Who is it?

P: (voice off) Perkins Minor, sir.

H: (still writing) Oh yes, come.

A tall, thick-set, man enters, dressed in an ill fitting schoolboy's uniform complete with cap and short trousers.  He walks slowly toward the desk.  The Headmaster remains engrossed in his writing.

P:  You sent for me, sir?

H:  (still writing) Yes Perkins, just a moment.  (He continues writing for a short time and then, with a flourish, finishes and puts his pen down.  He looks up and sees the man's midriff, then slowly, and with increasing astonishment, his eyes rise to the man's face)  Perkins Minor?

P:  Yes sir.

H:  Good Lord!  (regaining his composure, he continues) Perkins, I want to talk to you about your timekeeping.

P:  Oh dear, sir.

H:  Yes, it is "Oh dear, sir", Perkins.  It's just not good enough.  I know every boy here has a hobby.  Some keep bees, some keep mice, but you, Perkins, you...

P:  (helpfully) Keep time, sir?

H:  I know you do, Perkins, I know you do!  Just how much time have you got?

P:  I don't really know, sir, but it's all neatly catalogued.  (enthusiastically) There's bags of assorted seconds, minutes carefully minuted, hours with and without glasses, days in, days out (sings) 'that same old voodoo follows me about...'

H:  Perkins! (P stops singing) Have you any idea of the chaos that you are causing?

P:  Well sir...

H:  For example, what day is it today, as far as you're concerned, Perkins?

P:  Tuesday, sir.

H:  Which Tuesday?

P:  Tuesday, August 4th, sir.

H:  Is it, Perkins, is it really?  Well, it may interest you to know that to me, it is still last Wednesday, to Mr. Hoskins, the Sports Master, it is the start of the cricket season and the reason for Matron's absence is that she is currently celebrating Christmas.  What have you got to say to that, Perkins?

P: (quietly) Merry Christmas, Matron? (subdued) I'm sorry, sir.

H:  Sorry!  Sorry?  I should think you are, 'sorry' Perkins.  Good heavens, lad, er man, I don't mind you keeping your own time, but you've started keeping everyone else's as well.

P:  I do seem to have rather a lot of time on my hands at the moment, sir.

H:  Of course you do, Perkins, whilst we've hardly got a minute to ourselves.  Tell me, how old are you now?

P:  Thirty seven, sir.

H:  (incredulously)  Thirty seven!  And how old were you when you joined the school last term, eh?

P:  (very quietly) Nine, sir.

H:  Nine!  Heavens man, doesn't that tell you something?

P:  Time flies when you're having fun, sir?

H:  Don't try and be smart with me, Perkins.  Look, you must give this hobby up, it's putting years on you.

P:  True sir, but I do get more birthday presents this way.

H:  But at this rate, you'll be drawing your pension before you leave school, and then what do you propose to do?

P:  I thought I might become a school crossing warden, sir.

H:  You think you've got an answer for everything, don't you Perkins?  What about your classmates, what do they think of you?

P:  Oh they're quite happy enough, sir, as long as I bring them a drink and some crisps back from the pub.

H:  Ah yes, the pub (from the top of one of the piles of paper, he picks up a piece of notepaper).  I have here, Perkins, a letter from one Mr. Jenkinson, Landlord of The Frog and Pullet, Little Pairing, Surrey.  A letter, I may say, in which he complains bitterly (if you will excuse the expression) regarding your behaviour, Perkins.

P:  (indignantly) But...I'm his best customer, sir.

H:  From the sound of this letter, you will soon be his only customer.  He states that, on each occasion that he shouts "Time, Gentlemen Please!", you give him some.

P:  It's my generous nature, sir.

H:  As a result of which, he has been unable to close his premises for a month, he is suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation, five of his regulars are in hospital with alcoholic poisoning, and his wife has run off with a brewery drayman.

P:  He was doing a good trade though, sir.

H:  The level of trading is immaterial, Perkins, the man's health and family life have been ruined by your insane desire to meddle with the laws of nature.

P:  Perhaps I should spend less time there, sir?

H:  It's not the spending of time that's the problem, so much as the wholesale giving it away.

P:  I'll see what I can do, sir.

H:  Do Perkins, do!

P:  Will that be all, sir?

H:  No, Perkins, not quite.  The teachers tell me you have been taking time off school?

P:  Just a few hours, sir.

H:  Just a few hours?  Not a few years, perhaps?

P:  Oh no, sir, not that much, I'm sure.

H:  Not, 948 years to be precise?

P:  (despondently) Oh, you've heard, sir?

H:  Heard Perkins?  Of course I've heard.  Mr. Crossett, your History teacher is a nervous wreck.  When he said "Let's go back to the Battle of Hastings", he was speaking figuratively.

P:  I got carried away in the moment, sir.

H:  I only wish you had been, Perkins.  How I'm going to explain those arrow wounds to the parents, I do not know.  And as for poor little Harold...

P:  We tried to keep an eye out for him, sir.

H:  If that is supposed to be a joke, Perkins, it is in very poor taste.

P:  Yes sir, sorry sir.

H:  Perkins, Perkins, this hobby of's got to stop.  Why can't you do something else?  Why not try something constructive?  A lot of the boys make things, you know.  Model aeroplanes, railway engines, boats, that sort of thing.

P:  (enthusiastically) You're quite right, sir.  I'll give up keeping time and start making something right away.

H:  (with relief) Excellent, Perkins!  Good man!  What do you propose to make?

P:  I thought I might try love, sir.


If you enjoyed this blend of quirky humour and puns, you might just enjoy the inspired silliness of;

You've got to laugh...haven't you?

A few weeks ago I went, with my daughter, to a stand-up comedy gig featuring Stewart Lee at Derby Assembly Rooms.  I don't know if you recall who Stewart Lee is but this might help Stewart Lee Official Website  If you do get chance to see him at some point, I would encourage you to go because it will certainly give your brain cells a work-out.  There are no easy laughs in a Stewart Lee gig, you have to think!  What I really found intriguing was that he would frequently pause his discussion to examine why something he had just said was 'funny' (or not, as the case may be).  This is pretty daring for a stand-up comic.  By and large, the received wisdom for anyone connected with humour is not to try and work out what makes it happen.  Humour is seen as akin to one of those odd quantum particles which change their behaviour when observed (I may have got that wrong, but this is a piece on humour, not quantum physics).  Tony Hancock famously started to analyse what made him funny in a televised interview and never really recovered from the experience.

The point of all of this is that I came across a sketch that I had written back in the mid 1980s the other day, and it reminded me of an occasion when I had to examine what was funny and what was not.

I've mentioned before that, for a long time, I considered myself a writer but this was on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.  I had been an active writer in my late teens and had been quite involved in the local arts scene, but thereafter much of what I produced was simply doggerel for the birthday cards of friends and relatives and precious little else.  During the 1980s, I was recommended to join a local writers' group that met just up the road from where I then lived.  I went along to one of their meetings, with some trepidation, and found a really supportive and friendly group of people.  There was a smattering of poets but most of the group were engaged in producing novels of some form or other.  Remember, this was in those dark days before e-books when the lot of most writers was to travel hopefully, but never arrive.

When asked what sort of thing I wrote, I confidently stated that I produced short humorous articles and poems, because that is what I had done back in my teenage years.  Accordingly, I promised to bring an example of my work to the next meeting - which was going to be a bit of a challenge as I didn't have anything to share.  After a few beers (which was a mistake, as you'll see*) I settled down with a pen and a blank piece of paper and set about writing something funny.  The end result had me chuckling (the 'few beers' effect) and I put the article in my pocket to take to the next meeting.

The day of the meeting came, and I was asked if I would like to share my writing with the group.  I confidently retrieved my article from my pocket and began to read it.  I don't know if you've ever been in the situation where, as you read something you've written, it begins to dawn on you what a total load of rubbish it is?  Well, this was one of those occasions.  My mind has thankfully blanked out the content of this article but I do vaguely remember that it concerned our local Toyota factory and was a somewhat xenophobic attack on Japanese culture and habits.  I ploughed on with it, remorselessly but my heart wasn't in it.  My audience sat in front of me with fixed smiles and a growing degree of discomfort.  There were no laughs at all, not even a titter.  I finished my reading, folded the paper up, returned it to my pocket and sat scarlet-faced with embarrassment.  I think the host of the meeting thanked me for sharing and then the group moved swiftly on to something more entertaining.  We had a poet who specialised in impenetrable works of deep paranoia and it is a measure of the quality of my work that he seemed like a light-hearted interlude compared to what had gone before.

I spent the rest of the meeting covered in confusion, shame and embarrassment and was glad when it was all over and I could escape.  I determined that I would return the next week with something that was well-written and actually funny, or die in the attempt.

The next post on this blog, 'About Time' is what I came up with and it is the point at which, to my mind, I started to write properly again.  I came across the original of this whilst I was cleaning out some cupboards the other day, which prompted my memories of that fateful meeting and the awful feeling of 'dying a death' with some rubbish dreamed up in an alcoholic haze.  I  hope you like it.

*  Anything seems funny after a 'few beers', which is why comedy acts always do better in the second half, after the intermission.  By and large, they could probably get a standing ovation by banging two tin trays together if the intermission was sufficiently long.  Speaking of which, do you remember an act on 'Opportunity Knocks' some years ago which consisted of a bloke bashing himself over the head with a tin tray whilst singing 'Mule Train'?  And they say variety is dead!

Monday, 10 February 2014

A picture of the author anticipating the current weather conditions!

When you're up to your ankles in water, you might need CRUTCHES FOR DUCKS

Yes, yes, I know - how low will he sink in order to promote his books?  Well, not too low, obviously, otherwise I would get my ears wet ;-)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

You can dance...if you want to!

I’ve recently been on one of those adults-only holidays that are increasing in popularity.  For the more depraved amongst you, whose thoughts are now filled with visions of wild nights and rampant orgies, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you (and me).  These ‘adults-only’ vacations tend to be populated by those for whom a game of short-mat bowls and a flyer at Bingo represent the epitome of excitement.  As a relative youth, just in my middle age (I will have no sniggering at the back there, I fully intend to live to at least 98) I can watch events unfold with a certain detached (or perhaps semi-detached) air.  It was only whilst I was stomping about to the sounds of a Spanish band murdering Spencer Davies’ ‘Keep on Running’ and watching the convulsions of my fellow dancers that it occurred to me just how excruciating the scene must be for anyone aged under 30.

Its not that we dance any differently now than we did in our younger days, always allowing for a certain loss of flexibility (and, unaccountably, rhythm).  When we were young we had the arrogance of youth and the way we danced was one way of defining our independence from the embarrassing flailings or strict-tempo struttings of our parents.  Now, our children have redefined their dancing so as to be as far removed from our beat-driven twitchings as physically possible and we are now too ‘sad’ to be seen on the dance floor except at family events (where the embarrassment of one’s children is an important rite of passage) or on one of these holidays.

I can vividly remember the first time that I danced ‘in anger’ as it were.  It was an end of summer term school disco at Anglesey Secondary Modern in Clarence Street.  It was my first disco and I suppose I was about 13 or 14 (by which age it seems that most of our current generation have experienced just about everything that life has to offer).  I hung around with a group of similarly inept friends, enjoying the music and desperate to move to it but not really sure how to, or with whom.  Eventually, driven by the urge to dance, I commenced a sort of syncopated embarrassed foot shuffle (if you’ve ever had embarrassed feet, you’ll know what I mean), which, to my amazement, was seized on by my compatriots and we all shuffled, more or less in time to the music, in our boys-only grouping.  Dancing with girls was, of course, a hoped for but entirely unrealistic goal.  In case you think this a little odd, it may help to mention that Anglesey Secondary Modern had separate Boys and Girls entrances to the building (which were pretty rigidly adhered to) along with separate playgrounds for the sexes.  The genders only came together in class and then only to hurl insults at each other.  Any burgeoning relationships always consisted of girls in our class going out with boys from classes two or more years ahead of us.  We were condemned as immature, spotty herberts and consigned to our rhythmic shuffling in the corner of the dance floor.

For reasons that I will never quite understand, Anglesey decided to try to throw the genders together (in a civilised way, of course) by introducing ballroom dancing lessons in the lunch hour.  I find it even more difficult to understand why I attended them given that I was painfully shy and looked like what happens if you don’t eat your greens!  I can only blame raging hormones and an addiction to embarrassment.  As far as I can recall, the content of the session was usually a waltz, a St. Bernard’s Waltz and something energetic like the Gay Gordons.  As I shuffled around the Hall floor, sweaty palmed and heavy footed, my dragooned partner would stare stoically into the middle distance, hoping against hope that this misery would soon end.

So the origins of my dancing technique did not exactly scream of early promise.  Enthusiasm for the music tended to overcome any incipient talent.  Eventually, I decided that the answer might lie with the more professional acquisition of ballroom dancing skills.  I joined a beginners class at Roy and Dorothy Moxon’s School of Dance back in the days when it was situated on the top floor of what appeared to be an industrial building by the side of the old railway crossing in Uxbridge Street.  This unlikely venue was the scene of weekly humiliation for me as I crunched my way over the toes of the team of poor girls retained at the School to partner inept charlies like me.  I never really understood the meaning of ‘seeing fear in their eyes’ until I lurched toward this group of girls at the beginning of each dance like a particularly clumsy but well meaning rhinoceros approaching a herd of tethered gazelle.  Twenty-six weeks later, I could just about master the basics of the waltz, quickstep, cha-cha and jive without causing serious injury or permanent disfigurement, which is a pretty fair testament to the teaching skills of Roy and Dorothy.  Twenty-six plus years later, I’ve forgotten everything I ever knew and I’m back to the embarrassed shuffling in the corner.

I fear that my days as a ‘dancing fool’ will now be limited to venues such as this one where consenting adults can jerk around (and I use the term advisedly) in the company of like minded, and equally physically challenged, compatriots.  Of course, even here I’m frequently driven off the dance floor not only by an outbreak of sequence dancing (what the dickens is a ‘saunter together’?) but also by the now ubiquitous, and almost compulsory, line dancing.  This is a sort of aerobics for the frail and halt, combining the happy discovery that you can cram as many people as possible onto the dance floor (whilst avoiding any embarrassing physical proximity) with the complete removal of any spark of originality.  Believe me, once this well marshalled geriatric juggernaut takes over the area, any independent choreography is quickly stamped out.

At least our ageing antics are spared the pitying glances and scornful remarks of our younger brethren.  We can dance, if we want to, but we must try not to scare the children (or the horses).  If it’s any consolation, just imagine your children, now greying and growing in girth, lurching nostalgically to Fat Boy Slim or an essential mix from Pete Tong.  Revenge is sweet – put another record on the jukebox, feet don’t fail me now!

There's a lot more of this sort of nonsense in Steady Past Your Granny's available at just 99p or equivalent for your Kindle or kindle-friendly e-reader, now.