Monday, 24 October 2011

Sunken Foal

A Sea Shanty

We are sailing on the Sunken Foal,
Washed-up men with shrunken souls.
The ship, in truth, is very, very old
And its ghosts have long deserted.

But what's this creeping about the nest?
A ghost in the making, body soon to rest.
But no-one knows what's about to manifest
Except for Constable Bursted.

Gentlemen, please stop what you're doing. A crime is about to be committed on this vessel.

(Disquiet, hubbub, mutter mutter)

I realise this may sound peculiar, but I assure you gents that all shall become clear momentarily, for if you would just raise your eyes up to the crow's nest, you shall see... in just a second... your fellow crewman Crod Popples toppling over the side of the nest, then falling wordlessly to the deck (note that he's not mobile, his body is completely limp), where he shall land head-first, just a few feet to my left. On impact, the top of his skull will crumple, leading to a severe trauma with intercranial bleeding (you may have noticed part of his brain splattering the deck in a wide arc, some of which is about to land on my shoe - there!). At the same time, the force of the impact has pushed his head up into his ribcage, causing the neck, spine and ribs to fracture in several places. Subsequently, the body comes to rest on the deck. Not a pretty sight, I'm sure you'll agree.

Gentlemen, I have come aboard - I do hope you'll forgive the intrusion, I boarded without invitation, though as you will no doubt appreciate, purely out of necessity - to solve this crime. But how could I possibly know that this man's death was the direct result of a malicious act on the part of another, as yet unidentified?

Well, the textbook response would be to say that in my line of work, it would be more appropriate to ask whether I can be at all certain that this man was not murdered. For instance - why did he not flail or struggle on the way down? We must be open to the possibility that he was either unconscious or unliving before he went over the side of the nest. Secondly, he received injuries on impact which we cannot automatically ascribe to the impact itself (for example, a broken neck may also be consistent with strangulation; the investigator must keep his mind open, never drawing conclusions where questions might remain).

That would be the textbook response. In this case, however, I can tell you that I do indeed know that this was a murder, and furthermore know who the murderer is. And I know all this because I solved the crime before it happened.

(Disquiet, hubbub, mutter mutter)

Quite so. And I understand your confusion. I shall reveal my methods in due course. But first, a word about death.

What is death? This is a nonsense question and you should be ashamed for asking it, even though it was me. You see, death is nothing. It is a state of nothingness. And how can nothing be anything? Hahaha! Fools. A more instructive line of inquiry would be to ponder, instead, the nature of life. For many have argued - and I am inclined to agree - that death is merely the negation of whatever it is that that is.

But it has meaning beyond this, does it not, for the negation of a life does not simply render void the entire existence of the life in question. Indeed, death has far greater and more troubling implications for the living, those left behind. But I mean no slander against death. It is a beautiful thing, and why should it spare a thought for those of us caught in its wake? Death deals in the infinite. On such a scale, hahahwhy, we are utterly meaningless! Death need not be aware of any of us until such time as it comes for us.

And it is coming for us all, whether by accident or by design. Yea, we spend more time dead than we do alive. Is life, therefore, not the aberration? The error which must be corrected? And is death not the stabilising force, the restorer of equilibrium?

Death came for Crod Popples just minutes ago. But I have already concluded, you may remember, that death's visitation was not unsolicited. I promised to explain my method, and I am a man of my word.

My conclusion was already reached a long time ago. Long before any of us came into being - even the ship, ancient though it is. And just why do I employ this method? Theatre, gentlemen, I am not ashamed to admit. For the tawdry thrill of spectacle, I solve crimes in this manner. Some of my colleagues insist that spectacle has no place in the fight against crime. I disagree quite strongly. Spectacle, theatre, they have a place in all things. For what is the world of men without poetry?

But my modus operandi is not mere poetry alone, for as you will all no doubt attest in light of today's events, there is also the benefit of efficiency. Poetry and efficiency, fractious gods whose warring scars and shapes the landscape of history.

But I digress! We have established that Crod Popples was murdered. I have announced that I know who the murderer is. I shall now reveal to you my findings.

Crod Popples, good sirs, was murdered by... Crod Popples!

It is true, your colleague took his own life by diving head-first from his post. If he did not appear to struggle - well, there was the serenity of the man who has chosen his fate (if, that is, any of us could ever really be said to have a choice). He too understood that death is not the destroyer that we, fearful and ignorant, consider it to be. Rather, it is the maintainer, the keeper of a grand cosmic order that none of us could ever comprehend.

I know that he knew these things, because I learnt these things from him, in the minutes before he died. I learnt them by being him during those minutes, or at least a part of him.

Gentlemen, I have not been clear about this up until now, and I hope you will soon understand why that is so, but now is the time for me to confess that my purpose in joining you today has been twofold.

Number the one! Solve the mystery of Crod Popples' death. That can now be put to bed.

Number the two! I have come also to introduce myself to you, and to humbly beg that you will welcome me into the crew of the Sunken Foal, for I am, sirs... the ghost of Crod Popples!

Let's have a party!

(Cheers, merriment, mutter mutter)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Lewis Carroll

In this fifth and final part of my thesis, I'd like to focus on my good friend and mentor, the musical comedian Lewis Carroll.

When I first met Lewis in 1970, he was a cheeky, voyeuristic window cleaner, and the wit for which he became famous was apparent even then. With his repertoire of delicious bon mots - such as, "oi-oi!" and, "come on, luv, show us your knockers!" - he delighted all who were fortunate enough to have made his acquaintance.

Lewis loved his work, so it came as rather a blow to him when, in 1977, second-wave feminism took a huge bite out of the voyeuristic window cleaner market. All of a sudden, young ladies were no longer content to lounge around in see-through nighties as gentlemen in jaunty-angled caps leered at them through their bedroom windows. (Some had even installed extra-large windows to accommodate more of them. You could sometimes look up and see as many as seven window cleaners peering into a single bedroom.)

Lewis fell into a deep depression for five days before deciding to enter the world of showbusiness. The transition from sexist window cleaner to entertainer didn't come naturally to him, and for years he struggled to develop an act with draw before he finally broke through to the theatre circuit in the early 1980s alongside the likes of Dermot O'Leary and Slavoj Žižek, as well as the two boys from Arab Strap (who, you may remember, were accomplished magicians before stadium rock and roll fame beckoned). It wasn't long before Lewis' famous salt song brought him to the attention of the televisual producers...

Keep the salt flowin', m'boys -
Lovely, brown salt.
It's warm and smooth,
And it keeps me satisfied.

(Pop quiz, hotshot! What do you think 'salt' is a euphemism for in this song? Answer at the bottom of the page...)

But Lewis, accustomed to the autonomy and artistic control he enjoyed in the theatre, quickly became disillusioned by the strictures of the televisual programming industry. In revolt, he drastically changed his act once more. He became edgy. This, of course, was a ratings disaster, and the show was cancelled in 1987 after just eight series. But he was simply ahead of his time. Lewis spoke truths that contemporary audiences just weren't ready to hear...

Jazz, please. 
Slipping on pizza in a busy street. Chewing gum stuck to the arse of your pants. Getting confused as you greet an acquaintance: "hi, how does it?" Saying 'expresso' for three years before learning your mistake. Splashback from a poorly-designed urinal. "Look, he's pissed himself!" No, I haven't! Well okay, yes, in a sense, I have - but not directly!

His career flatlined, and in June 1988, Lewis Carroll collapsed and died onstage at Sandbach services. He was survived by his wife, Carol, and a sort of giant maggot called Keru-Gwa.

(Salt Euphemism Quiz: Well done if you spotted the trick in the question! The word 'salt' is really a recursive meta-euphemism, itself representing chocolate pudding, which is in turn a euphemism for salt!)

Monday, 10 October 2011


I would like, if I may, to present the next part of this thesis loosely in the form of a treatment, for a film, perhaps, or televisual play. But why? I can only answer, why not? Because I felt like it. You might think this answer insufficient. To that, I say, pah! Embrace insufficiency. Make a friend of it. For like it or not, it will be your constant companion through life. You will then look sad and I will tell you to stop being so pathetic, then get up and walk away. Close up on your stupid face as a door slams somewhere out of shot. Fade to me talking about this treatment.

This film or televisual play should be viewed as a question. Far too much emphasis is placed, these days, on answers, particularly in cinema and television. We have so little tolerance for ambiguity. Viewers go in with questions, expecting them to have been answered by the end credits. Critics demand resolution. They want narrative sense. Why does this woman resent her own children? What relevance does this detail have to her story? How is she going to deal with this?

But why do we insist that this aspect of her experience be relevant to whatever slither of her existence on which the storyteller has chosen to focus? And why on earth do we expect her to resolve it? Maybe she never will. Perhaps it's just there, and will remain so, for the rest of hers and her children's lives. Perhaps their children will feel the ripples, too. Fate is cold and arbitrary.

Look at scene 2, 4'09" in - she's eating granola. I think we can say, therefore, fairly safely, that this woman likes granola. But why does she like granola? What has happened in her life to bring about this attraction? How will this inform the choices she will make throughout the rest of the film? Is this why she put on her dressing gown at 0'42"?

Do you see now how foolish such questions are? The world does not work this way. Reality does not demand conflict and resolution, jeopardy or tension. It does not insist that, for example, a person's extraordinary skateboarding abilities play any part in their existence beyond the skating arena...

When I skate, I am very good at it. People watch and they say things like, "warm!" and, "carefully executed!" or even, "dickhouse!" (Author's note: these are examples of youth slang)

When I'm not skating, I do things such as online banking, smashing windows, eating granola. I once chased down and accosted a mugger, but I did it on foot. My skateboard has no significant function or meaning in these other areas of my life. Now, leave me alone.

So why do you bring your questions to me? What do you think qualifies me to answer them? I have no interest in doing so, nor do I have any interest in you. I am interested only in those with answers. I want my audience to walk into the cinema auditorium, or turn on their television sets with heads full of answers, and I want to present them with questions. I want to shatter their certainty. As the closing music plays out, I want them to leave their seats and go away, blinking, into a world shrouded in ambiguity and confusion. Some of them may be crying. I hope so.

I think this film or televisual play will never end. We will film and release it as the audience watches it, continuously, and our children will take over its production as we all wither and die, and their children after them, and their children, etc. I shall be aiming it at the date movie market. We have a PR firm with exciting ideas for 360-degree promotion, deals with the likes of McDonald's, a series on the Disney Channel, an album, action figures, branded erotic playwear...