Sunday, March 30, 2008

DIARY 58 - Amusing yourself in the shallow end

When we get home from work of an evening, David & I have our tea, and listen to whatever is on the 6.30pm Radio Four 'comedy slot'. I say 'comedy slot' ,placing it in inverted commas, because amusement by the contents is not guaranteed. Some of these half hour slots are painful to listen to, as the thirty minutes are clocked up, each one singularly bereft of humour. The comedy sitcom is often the worst culprit - the recent 'Rudy's Records' with Lenny Henry,being a classic example of witless radio comedy. There are some good radio sitcoms - 'Revolting People', 'Old Harry's Game' ( both by Andy Hamilton ) and 'Claire in the Community, but these are few. Other styles of recent Radio Four comedy programmes which lacked a funny bone are - 'The Lawrence Sweeney Mix' so called 'improvised comedy' which was like being left out of an 'in joke' for half an hour - 'Count Arthur Strong' which gets re-commissioned, in spite of it lacking any entertaining feature worth recounting here. The old stalwarts -'Just a Minute', 'I'm sorry I haven't a Clue', 'The Now Show' and the 'News Quiz', remain good value for money, years, if not decades ,after there instigation. I can't see many of the current crop of new programmes lasting the test of time in this way, they are far too shallow.

There are themes being currently exploited in radio comedy. With the success of 'Down the Line' there are a number of 'media parody' programmes following in its wake - such as the recent 'Listening Against'. 'Down the Line' is now into its third series, but it's already losing its edge, sounding predictable and tired as a comedy format. There's also a rash of programmes, (rash as in mildly irritating, requiring frequent application of balm to reduce the inflammation) where people are encouraged to talk amusingly on air about there wacky ideas - the originator being a programme called 'Genius'. The latest variant is 'The Museum of Curiosities', which is almost a stereo-typical BBC Radio Four programme, with an unstated, but obvious, intent to be both 'informative' and 'witty'. Anchored by John Lloyd and Bill Bailey, it usually has two eclectic boffins, with a stand up comedian for insurance, in case the boffins turn out to be tedious bores. Each brings an item they're interested in, the odder the better, which they wish to put into the 'museum of curiosities'. The reasoning behind this programme is slight, but it does fall into the mild, unoffensive end of the comedy spectrum. At least it doesn't make you instantly reach for the off button. The offensive, shallow end of humour, is populated by the likes of 'Ed Reardon's week' ,and the ubiquitous, curiously eternal (or do I mean infernal?) 'Quote Unquote'

Anyway, to get round to what I really wanted to write about, in reference to this week's 'Museum of Curiosities'. One of the contestants, though I'm not sure that is what they are, perhaps contributor might be better, was a woman called Martha Reeves ( no, not of 'the Vandellas). I'd never heard of her before, but she interested me, because she apparently spends half of her year on solitary somewhere up above the Arctic Circle, and the rest of it writing (she writes under the pseudonym of Maggie Ross) and public speaking. Her entry into the museums vaults was ' silence' itself. She came across as having a healthy, if not iconoclastic perspective on the Christianity she appears to be a serious practitioner of. She said one thing which really chimed with me as true; she described the Church of England as being a bit like a swimming pool, where all the noise and splashing takes place in the shallow end. This, I'd say, as an observation, has a more universal application beyond the CofE, to most religious institutions, even the FWBO /WBO to which I belong. It certainly is my impression that frequently most of the unhelpful criticism, carping, divisive and disharmonious frothing at the mouth, emanates from 'the shallow end' of the FWBO / WBO's combined multi-purpose swimming pool.


On Saturday, David and I went for our early morning jaunt into town, to read a newspaper, and have a coffee in the Cafe Nero in Heffers Bookstore. It's our usual haunt of a Saturday morning. Provided we get there early enough, there is always a seat,its not thronging with folk, and better still - no misbehaving brats! There is usually only a scattering of lone punters, and the four middle aged nerds ( of both sexes) who avidly do crosswords together every week.

Whilst we were being served by a young girl, her middle aged and mumsy co worker batted her eyelids and swapped innuendo filled banter with the very tall young man, whose hair looked like it had been fixed at 60 degrees to his forehead by high winds. The conversation and the glances both of them gave him were doe eyed, often sexually tinged, asking whether he'd like a slice of passion cake in an overtly flirtatious manner. So distracted were they, she almost forgot to stamp my loyalty card! We took our cafe lattes and cakes, leaving mildly embarrassed, but also slightly amused. Unwittingly bearing witness to this 'coming over the counter', so to speak.

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