“Context,” Richard Neville once informed me over the phone,
“is everything.” It was back in 1994, before I even knew how email worked, let
alone had an address. And I hadn’t googled him – had no idea how the internet
worked – rather I’d found his number in the phone book and had been chasing him
by phone and fax for an interview. “If I hadn’t returned your call, would you
have continued to destroy rain forests to get in touch with me?” he’d asked when
he finally phoned me back. I’ve no idea at which point during the ensuing
interview he’d pointed out the necessity of context, to render a thing
But you know what? Apart from the quote itself – “context is
everything” – Richard Neville has nothing to do with this blog post.Context and relevancy does, however.
Note the lovely image above. I saw the top of a page of the Daily Telegraph out the corner of my
eye in the local café as I bought a coffee to take back to the office. And I
couldn’t work out what the picture had to do with the headline.
Turns out to be nothing.
It’s just that, that’s exactly what Obama appears to be
whispering into the woman’s ear: sweet nothings. Is she a prime examples of one
of the things he’s getting ‘done’?
In the digital age, it seems we’ve forgotten how to
construct a page of information so that it makes logical sense. Proximity
between two elements suggests a relationship where there is none. Particularly
when they are positioned next to each other – since we still read
left-to-right, even if virtually every portable source of information requires
that we scroll down.
Irrespective, it made me laugh.
"Sexy Pills for Women: Viagra Trials a Success". Meanwhile, in other news: page design not as simple as it seems.
Possibly NSFW since some of the lavatory designs depicted are of questionable taste. But what with the Aegis Australia call centre of Werribee in the news for docking workers' pay for loo breaks lasting over 90 seconds, here's my sustained loo break - a piece on toilets that appears in Issue 21 Apr / May 2013 of What Tradies Want in a slightly different (ie less whimsical and indulgent) form. It was sponsored by SaniFlo (in the magazine, not on this blog). The Zappa image was not part of it.
Though essential to life, the act of ‘going to the toilet’ tends to be a taboo topic in polite society, so we sanitise it with euphemisms and silly humour.
You might ‘powder your nose’, ‘see a man about a dog’, ‘drop the kids off at the pool’, ‘strain the potatoes’ or ‘splash your boots’. And you’ll do it in a ‘washroom’, ‘restroom’ or ‘water closet’ when it’s not a ‘thunder box’ or ‘stinkpot’. As for ‘loo’, from the French word lieu, it means ‘place’. Hence the folk song ‘skip to my loo, my darling’ actually means ‘stand by my side’ rather than ‘proceed in a rather flamboyant though seemingly carefree manner to the toilet’. Although, when it comes to toilets, ‘flamboyant’ is certainly making a comeback.
Since civilization has progressed enough to enable us to discuss a lot of things we never used to, we’re able to – ahem – ‘take the piss’ when it comes to making toilets. Vulgar and distasteful – but funny – urinals are a particular favourite, the bowl or trough frequently replaced with anatomy and religious iconography. Open mouths and the Virgin Mary/nuns appear to be particularly popular.
So are women, either watching from the wall, or as part of the structure.
But beware – going to the toilet should never result in getting the horn.
Not even if you’re an über-nerd and your favourite fictional characters have been incorporated in the design.
The ‘Harry Potty’ is tacky, but the bathroom in the Hang Fung Gold Technology showroom in Hong Kong has a greater inherent value. It’s solid gold.
As is the one located on the aeroplane owned by the Saudi Prince: it’s worth about US$2.88 million.
The ladies’ toilets in the Lemina Building in Shinjuki, Tokyo, aren’t made of gold, but they are certainly priceless. You sit on them, opposite giant carved heads.
That begin to sing. And start moving towards you. Good thing you’re on the loo – it’s so unnerving, there’s a chance you’d… well anyway, they stop when they’re close enough to just about kiss your knees:
If the experience is so scary as to cause an unfortunate ‘accident’, Swedish company CWS has devised the perfect solution: the toilet with the self-cleaning seat. Once you’ve finished, a small, self-contained unit automatically moves forward to cover a small section of the circular seat, rotating and cleaning it. CWS came up with a particularly ingenious ad for it, too, in which a young model attempts to ‘powder her nose’:
Another excellent application of technology is the built-for-comfort Washlet, manufactured by Toto. Its built-in bidet enables you to wash your nether regions at the touch of a button, without having to move off the seat, thus doing away with the need for toilet paper. It would be a welcome addition in those countries like Greece, where the plumbing isn’t quite suited to flushing toilet paper. That’s right – you have to place it in the bin provided; a sad irony given the ancient Minoans, on the isle of Crete, may well have invented the first flush toilet by having the loo at ground level and a reservoir of water above.
The traditional bidet – a cross between a toilet and a sink – began, in France, as a basin in which you could ‘wash yourself’. Intime, nozzles and hoses were added. But some cultures never required the bidet or lavatory paper, choosing instead to clean oneself by hand. Left hand, of course. Which is why all dining and greeting must be done with the right: it may sound poetically symbolic to be ‘unclean’ when ‘removing the body’s impurities’ with the same hand you touch your food, but in an age before antibacterial soaps, illness and death would be a likely result of such poor hygiene.
And it still is. In 2000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that almost half the world’s population – mostly situated in Africa and Asia – did not have access to “good” toilet facilities: they had no suitable way of getting rid of excrement. The WHO solution is the implementation of simple ‘squat toilets’ – basically a hole in the ground with a plastic seat above.
Grateful as we are that such issues don’t affect our quality of life, it’s good to know we also have convenient, flexible and affordable means to place a toilet - or bathroom - virtually anywhere. Consider Saniflo’s range of macerator pump units: by grinding waste into small particles, a 20mm pipe, rather than the customary 100mm, can be used to transport waste. Which means, if you’re renovating and want an en suite in your bedroom, you can have one, no matter how far away from – or how far above – your room the sewer happens to be. It’s so cost effective, in fact, that you you’ll be able to afford the solid gold toilet (or scary giant singing head) a lot sooner.
I mean, seriously. Bucks Fizz. Look how silly the choreography is… particularly at 2:15 into the clip… Apparently three different bandmembers and a choreographer all claim credit for the 'skirt rip'. That's nothing compared to the cheesy actions accompanying the 'from behind' lyric soon after. In fact, the whole song is ordinary. Cretinously repetitive. The only way it can keep your interest is by modulating to yet another key at the end of each chorus. This was the winning performance. Of the winning song. In 1981. Courtesy of the United Kingdom. And then it was a massive hit around the world. Hard to believe, I know.
One thing you can say is that in the two decades since the Bucks Fizz win, the filming and production values have improved massively - even if the songs haven't.
Although, I shouldn't generalise. Some have been quite impressive indeed: Serge Gainsbourg's 'Poupée de cire, poupée de son' - performed by French yé-yé singer France Gall as Luxembourg's winning entry in 1965 - was a postmodern piece of dramatic self-referential artistry. It sold some 14,000 copies as a 7-inch single in France the day after the broadcast, going on to sell half a million in a short period of time. (I was unable to embed the clip, but watch it here. And then watch her controversial and ambiguous follow-up single, also written by Gainsbourg though not a Eurovision entry, 'Lollipops'.)
What I love most about Eurovision is the paradox it embodies. It's a competition designed to unify the disperate nations of the European Union with the so-called 'universal language' of music. Impossible! Mostly impossible... that's why the winning song is frequently seemingly nonsensical.
Spain's 1968 winning entry, 'La La La', for example. Sung by Massiel, it was dismissed as 'a piece of rubbish' by thwarted songwriter Bill Martin. Martin co-wrote Sandie Shaw's 1967 winning entry for the United Kingdom, 'Puppet on a String', with Phil Coulter. The pair also wrote 'Congratulations', performed by Cliff Richard. 'Congratulations' was the favourite to win in 1968, and was indeed in the lead for most of the 1968 competition - until Germany gave Spain enough points to get ahead of the United Kingdom. So the universal language only unites if its speaking nonsense, and only unites some contries, in the strategic voting to block others. Or perhaps they just didn't dig Cliff Richard's frilly pirate shirt.
Anyway, the United Kingdom took notes. The following year, Lulu delivered a song with a stupid title: 'Boom Bang-a-Bang'. And it won. Although, 1969 was the first year that countries tied in the top spot, and because it hadn't happened before, there was no provision in place for the high-camp pantomime equivalent of a 'penalty shoot out', 'sudden death' or 'golden try'. So the United Kingdom won. And so did Spain, Netherlands, and France.
But take the time to appreciate how much of an over-the-top novelty song 'Boom Bang-a-Bang' is - the orchestra raises its eyebrows at 0:40 in:
I wonder if they chose Lulu deliberately for the song with 'bang bang' in the title - since 'Lulu Bang Bang' is a folk song no doubt familiar to musical insiders, much as 'the aristocrats' is known to comedians. It's a crude folk song. No musical euphemisms with the horn section raising its eyebrows, though.
The ridiculously titled winning entry was suitably parodied - along with Eurovision itself - by Monty Python's Flying Circus, in the Europolice Song Contest, won by Inspector Zatapathique (Graham Chapman), Forensic Expert with the Monaco Murder Squad, with his rendition of 'Bing Tiddle Tiddle Bong'. Before you get there, however, marvel at how pretty Eric Idle is when he frocks up - and also at the racist humour that just wouldn't be tolerated today.
Thus admonished, you'd think Eurovision contestants would have wised up and avoided the rubbish titles. But no, there were more foolishly titled songs to come. Teach-In won for the Netherlands in 1975 with 'Ding-a-Dong':
And Eric Idle had another go at Eurovision on behalf of the Pythons. In the 'Story So Far' section of The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the convoluted re-telling of the plot references Sally Lesbitt who "is now the half-brother of a distant cousin of Ray Vorn Ding-ding-a-dong, the Eurovision song, and owner of the million-pound bidet given by Hitler to Eva Brown as a bar mitzvah present during a state visit to Crufts..."
I'm not quite sure whether 'A-Ba-Ni-Bi', Israel's winning entry in 1978, qualifies for a nonsensical title. In fact, I'm not sure Israel qualifies as a European nation… Although they won again in 1979 and in 1998.
No mistaking 1984's winners as coming from a legitimately European country, singing a song with a legitimately nonsensical title. Swedish trio of brothers Herrey's - not quite a precursor to Hanson - delivered 'Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley'.
I almost wish there was another song with a foolish title this year. Never mind. Instead, we'll finish with the best Eurovision parody thus far. Neil Innes (you know, the seventh Python, writer of the Rutles' songs, former member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) has a song that could almost serve as virtually any nation's Eurovision entry: 'Mr Eurovision'.
Aren't you pleased MasterChef is making a return! And with such a groundbreaking, non-gimmicky new format. We're particularly happy here at Stand & Deliver! because we get to compile another bunch of food-related songs. For now, Volume 4 of this series will be a slow-release degustation menu of food-related songs.
As the story goes, FZ encountered one of his blues heroes while touring with the Mothers of Invention. Rather than living it up as a well-regarded superstar, the old bluesman was scratching out a living painting a music studio. Some kind of despair must have ensued, as Zappa promptly disbanded the Mothers and recorded and released his first 'solo' album – featuring a supporting cast of virtuosi. 'Peaches En Regalia' is the track that kicks it off.
The title makes it sound like a juicy dessert or a delicious cocktail –but we’re talking Zappa here, so assume his intent regards a different variety of peach altogether. Or at the very least, the other variety of tail. Since it’s an instrumental, it doesn’t really matter. However, if you do consider it to be part of the genre, it is one of the more subtle of the euphemistic ‘yummy dessert=delicious woman’ songs. And if you dig that kind of thing, check out the cherry-related songs that appear in Bastard Chef III: Just Desserts.
Since Zappa did reconvene the Mothers - well, not the Mothers, but other line-ups of musicians under that name ('Others'?) - and toured them extensively while releasing albums prolifically, there are a number of live versions available on various collections. The most interesting is 'Peaches III', so-named because it was the third version released up to that time (the second was the live version on Fillmore East - June 1971, credited to 'The Mothers'). Located on the mostly live Tinsel Town Rebellion, 'Peaches III' is delivered with mostly synthetic instrumentation and squared-off rhythms, sounding as though it was inspired by Devo, who were big at the time.
A cynical observer once suggested Paul McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney, marked the point where the erstwhile Beatles bassist finally achieved something he’d been attempting as early as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: he’d finally produced an album upon which only he appeared, performing everything himself. By the time of Sgt Pepper there had been songs that featured one Beatle and session musicians – George Harrison fronting an Indian musical combo, as on ‘Within You Without You’, Paul and the string quartet on ‘Yesterday’. But The Beatles (aka ‘The White Album’) frequently featured songs created by the Beatles working in pairs or solo.
Thus, while John Lennon and Ringo Starr were enconced in another studio and George was away on holiday, Macca doodled for the sheer fun of it on this little ditty. The short song, described by McCartney as “an experiment”, sounds like a novelty: silly, over-the-top multi-tracked voices in American accents, spring-like sound effects of bent guitar strings. ‘Wild Honey Pie’ was apparently included on The Beatles because, like the song’s protagonist, Patti Boyd (Mrs George Harrison at the time) happened to like it.
More than a precursor to the similarly doodled-for-the-sheer-fun-of-it McCartney, ‘Wild Honey Pie’ seems in the first place to be yet another cross reference to the Beach Boys: bass players of both bands seemed to inspire each other’s subsequent albums throughout the ’60s, Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper famously upping respective antes until Smile failed to appear, the Beach Boys ending 1967 with the album Wild Honey (the title track was its lead single). It could be a passing reference.
In the second place, it is also a pre-emptive defence of ‘Honey Pie’, a song that came later on ‘The White Album’ – but more of that later.
The interview took place in the hotel room Noel and Julien Barrett - The Mighty Boosh - were sharing in Melbourne during the Comedy Festival. They were performing Autoboosh that year, and their walk-on music - which I recognised as soon as it began - was Frank Zappa's 'Help I'm A Rock' from the very first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out.
By the end of the interview, Noel presented me with the gorgeous hand-drawn portrait of Zappa that he'd executed, in pen, during our conversation.
Nearly a decade later, I got to interview Noel again, for an issue of FilmInk. Noel remembered our earlier interview:
What I didn't know, either time I interviewed Noel, was that the Mighty Boosh had once described their work as "comedy for people who grew up listening to Frank Zappa". In fact, as that interview went on to reveal, I also didn't recognise Zappa's youngest child, daughter Diva, in her cameo in the final episode of the Mighty Boosh.
"How did you not recognise her?" Noel demanded in disbelief. "She looks so much like her dad!"
The Mighty Boosh Band went on to appear in the Zappa Roundhouse Festival in 2010, celebrating what would have been Zappa's 70th birthday - albeit a couple of months early, give-or-take.
The latest Zappa/Boosh crossover is with the Zappa Family Trust release of a 12-inch single - on red vinyl - featuring the Mothers of Invention for Mothers Day. Well, the announcement of the release is in time for Mothers Day.
The record features 'Help I'm A Rock' and 'It Can't Happen Here' in their original stereo 1966 mixes on side 1. Side 2 features the original mono release and the original basic tracks of 'Who Are The Brain Police?'
The record also features gorgeous cover art by Noel Fielding. Yep. Noel Fielding painting a portrait of Zappa for 'Help I'm A Rock'. Who'dathunkit? I love it when my nerd worlds collide. You can pre-order it here.
When it comes to family parties/dinners, I find myself in charge of the nibbles platter. Somehow, one time, I must have put stuff on a plate in an obsessive compulsive manner, and now it is my official duty.
After MasterChefbecame a thing, some relative or other would suggest or imply that I must have learnt how to apply boring repetition from watching that show. Truth is, they'd never 'plate up' anything in so boring a manner. And I normally wouldn't make that much of an effort. I mean, I don't even bother draining rice. (And besides, regular readers of this blog will know my attitude to that show.)
If Jungian psychology had any bearing on… well, anything anymore, really, I might posit such a platter constitutes my mandala.
This is the one I put together a couple of weeks ago for a visit of some cousins who, until they moved away many, many years ago, lived down the street from my mum when she was a little girl.
Let me deconstruct it for you. I'll move from the inner core to the outer edge, but when I constructed it I worked in the other direction.
At the centre we have bocconcini cheese. It's name comes from a word that means 'mouthful' - because that's what each little ball of cheese is. I know I should probably be buying these fresh from the deli, if not the boutique dairy farm outlet - but I get them in a plastic container from the supermarket. I've stacked them in a pile - easier to do when you're doing it last of all, in the centre. There are always some left over that you kid yourself you'll eat another time. But you never do. You come back to a container of hard balls of cheese best left for the worm farm. There's a good reason for keeping bocconcini at the centre - you can include all of it so it gets eaten by you and the people you like.
Next we have a circle of black olives. Yes, I confess, also from the jar. Ideally you'd get some different kinds from the deli and mix them in the 'olive orbit' more-or-less randomly. Because bocconcini from the tub and olives from the jar are wet, best to put them towards the centre, and certainly not next to the crackers. Nobody likes damp crackers. Except surfer dudes in the 60s or boarding school educated boys forever, according to apocryphal stories. I pitted the olives in this instance, but I don't always bother.
Another circle of cheese, this time provolone - the prince of all cheeses. If you buy provolone as a whole cheese, it comes in a cylinder. I slice thick circles, and then chop them into quarters so the pieces can stand. If you buy your provolone in slices from the deli, you can roll them and fold them, or roll them and slice the rolls in half and stand them up.
The thin orbit of salami that follows was an after-thought - there was so much cheese and so little cold meat. I know processed pork products such as salami are not for everyone. But they're certainly for me. One time when I was seeking professional help for my psoriasis, the quack of a snake oil salesman tried to convince me that, to cure my rash totally, I'd need to give up pork, wheat and tomato. I suggested I just give up breathing since it would be much easier; I'm a southern Italian - those foodstuffs are the basic building blocks of virtually everything. Well, certainly almost everything - because they are what you make spaghetti and meatballs with. Pasta Bolognese e polpetti. That's virtually every meal.
Yet another circle of cheese. One of the soft French varieties. It's either Brie or Camembert. I have no idea which, and anyone who claims they do - without reading it on the label - isn't really your friend; they're just pretending. It doesn't matter which anyway.
More o' that yummy salami.
And a final orbit of Jatz. Your favourite cracker is suitable, even if it doesn't happen to be Jatz.