Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Includes your actual philosophical French

Flew home yesterday. Pleasantly surprised to discover that I had an aunt on the same plane (she was on her way to Miami, changing in Minneapolis) and it was her birthday. Then, off the plane, Maddy and I went to Hair Police and got our hair cut, and home.

A ponder about yesterday's Round the Horne post: Brian Cooke made a comment in the Round the Horne -- Revisited programme, about the Julian and Sandy characters, to the effect that "what we laugh at, we aren't frightened of" (some of his programme notes are in this Guardian article, but not that comment). Which, on the plane home, suddenly crystallised my problem with the shape of the material in the "Revisited" show.

On the original Feldman-Took show, we mostly aren't laughing at Julian and Sandy, although, as Feldman and Took commented, they rapidly became the showstoppers, and we're certainly not laughing at them because they're homosexual. Much of the humour in the Jules and Sand material comes from the knowledge that, on the contrary, they're laughing at us. The parlare/polari they talk is a cant whose function is not to be understood by those not part of the cognoscenti, a theatrical slang adopted by the gay underground at a time when male homosexual acts were imprisonable offences in the UK. One can be fairly certain that Sandy isn't talking about piano-playing when he tells you that Julian is "a miracle of dexterity on the cottage upright", and that Kenneth Horne (and most of us listening) are missing the significance of much of the conversation. It's transgressive humour that majority of the audience is not actually supposed to get. They know it's funny. They don't know how funny. (And it's radio comedy -- you can't stare at it until it makes sense.)

The web being the web, you're only a google away from most of what you need. So here's an extract from a Julian and Sandy conversation to try to show you what I mean. (The boys took on different jobs each week. This week, they seem to be the Carnaby Street foxhunt...)

HORNE: Hello - is there anybody there?

JULIAN: Yoicks, tally-ho, ducky!

SANDY: We are your actual Carnaby Hunt. Jule's MFH - I'm the Whipper In.

HORNE: And very nice you look, too. How many of you are there in the hunt?

JULIAN: Just Sand and me so far.

SANDY: And, of course, Reynard.

HORNE: The fox?

SANDY: No, ducky. Reynard La Spoon, the choreographer - he's a close personal, ent he, Jule?

JULIAN: An intime - you'll get on well with him. He's your type - all butch.

SANDY: But questing. You must have seen his work. He does fantastic things on the television.

JULIAN: You know, they all come trolling on in form-hugging black and do evocative things with chairs and ladders and planks of wood. He once done something with a bentwood chair that made Robert Helpman's eyes stand out like organ stops.

SANDY: It was his own fault for standing so close.'Course Reynard's classical trained.

JULIAN: Oh, yes. He's got your full classical.

SANDY: Started in John Cranko's Nutcracker and worked his way up.

JULIAN: He supported Dame Margot's Sleeping Beauty when Nureyev backed out.

HORNE: And he's the only other member of the hunt, is he?

SANDY: So far - but we're hoping to attract your show business clientele.

HORNE: And where do you hunt from?

JULIAN: Oh, here - in Carnaby Street.

HORNE: There can't be many foxes in Carnaby Street.

JULIAN: No. Not foxes. There's not what you could call a plethora of foxes round here, but you still have the thrill of the chase.

HORNE: The chase? But what can you find to chase in Carnaby Street?

SANDY: He's very jejune, isn't he, Jules?

JULIAN: It's a quality I admire in him. Would that I still had it. (Sighs) 'Ou sont les neiges d'antan', Mr. Horne -

SANDY: That's your actual philosophical French. Still, don't brood, Jule, you'll get lines.

You can read more of the sketches at


And changing the subject about as much as it can possibly be changed...

I just thought you might like this. It's really spooky and very real. The best photos are at the end.


And I was fascinated, chilled. Without the photographs it would be like reading a piece of post-apocalyptic 60s or 70s SF. With the photos, it manages to become a journey into hell that I wanted to go on too. Real life sense of wonder.

Go read it. If it's crashed because too many of you are going to look at it, put it off a day or so and then check again.


Over at the Mumpsimus, Matthew Cheney talks about teaching (and reading) my short story "Bitter Grounds". (It's in Nalo Hopkinson's uniformly excellent anthology Mojo: Conjure Stories, and will also be reprinted in one of the upcoming Year's Best Collections, but I don't actually remember which one, which as I type it I realise sounds like bragging and is actually merely incompetence combined with jet-lag. The three stories from last year, "Study in Emerald", "Closing Time" and "Bitter Grounds" have been taken by about five different upcoming Year's Best anthologies and I've completely lost track of which story is in which book. But am very happy about them all being republished.)

Sometimes short stories can be a balancing act -- there's a joy to writing something that doesn't give everything up on first reading, but you still want to give people enough on first reading to have enjoyed themselves. Gene Wolfe's definition of good literature as that which can be read with pleasure by an educated reader on first reading, and re-read with increased pleasure comes to mind. I suspect that my ideal reader for "Bitter Grounds" reads it once, goes "hmph..." and then, a week or so later, with the story sort of itching in the back of her head, goes back to read it again, and finds that it's topographically reconfigured into a completely different story.