Typical, Nothing But Repeats


Today I’m in and out of hospital so I wasn’t going to post, but nosing through the staggeringly long sidebar of past entries I’ve collected on this site I thought it would be fun to post a paragraph from the first few that I opened in a kind of bran tub of snippets. If you enjoy them I’ll post a few more odd juxtapositions. Dipping my hand into the sawdust, this is what I pull out (and inevitable tamper with the wording of because, you know, writer):

31st December 2009

It’s panto season again, and for some peculiar reason washed-up Hollywood stars seem to be joining the casts of shows. We had Pamela Anderson in Aladdin at Wimbledon, and now Mickey Rooney, soon to be 90, is back for a second season as Baron Hardup in Cinderella, singing and telling jokes that must mystify him. “Hello England,” he calls out. “I’m so happy to be here. At my age I’m happy to be anywhere.”
Rooney looks a little bewildered, as well he might, given the references to everything from Katie Price (a model) to the MK Dons (Milton Keynes’ local team) to feet that it’s claimed wouldn’t get into the Crystal Palace, let alone a crystal slipper. But his bafflement suits the plot as much as his lack of inches. The two Ugly Sisters, Whitney and Britney, have no trouble dominating him. And Rooney’s Hardup sings upbeat songs and joins in the repartee as slickly as anyone: “May I take your daughter’s hand in marriage?” “Why don’t you take the whole thing?” Bless.

27th February 2010

At the station I was recently I was given a bottle of water labelled ‘Portable Hydration’, which brings me to another meaningless word – ‘luxury’. My bathroom soap is, in fact, a ‘luxury bar’, which is gibberish. Does it taste like foie gras? No. Has it got champagne in it? No. It just washes dirt off. ‘Experience’ once described something you did. Now it’s routinely tacked onto everything from restaurants – ‘a dining experience’ – to tribute bands – ‘The Abba Experience’, and it gives us ‘experiential’.

The worst culprit, though, is ‘system’. Shaving foam is no longer content to merely stop your insanely overpriced razor blades from cutting your face. It’s your ‘personal moisturizer grooming system’.

A book that traces words and phrases with real meanings is the wonderful and idiosyncratic Brewer’s Dictionary Of London Phrase & Fable, which gathers together the people, places, events, culture, anecdotes, slang and catchphrases of the city. My mother used to say our neighbour was ‘as dim as a Toc H lamp’. My father would complain that the trains were a ‘right Fred Karno’s Army’. What they meant can easily be found in this latest updated volume.

31st December 2011

My unusual New York pal Michele gives me an unusual Christmas present, adoption papers for one Thorny Devil (Moloch Horridus, I kid you not) and one Squat Lobster. Details of the Thorny Devil’s life make surreal reading, from its habit of eating only one species of ant, and consuming up to 3,000 for dinner, one at a time, to its inflatable skin and unique rain-channeling back that funnels water to its mouth.

The lobster, on the other hand, is just a short, fat lobster. Oh, and they’re pickled in jars.

The Grant Museum of Zoology is one of the University College of London’s four slightly peculiar museums housed in the central London campus, and makes an ideal adoption gift for the person who has everything (but not a Squat Lobster).

29th May 2011

Edgar Wright says about “Hellboy 2” ‘I really liked it. I’ve never read the comics, so I watch “Hellboy” as a Guillermo del Toro fan. He really creates his own universe, and it’s just beautiful. On a production design level it’s just absolutely staggering.’

Until I saw it again recently, I’d forgotten that it contained monsters from my book ‘Spanky’. What happened was this.

Guillermo del Toro bought the rights to ‘Spanky’ and because he was a storyboard artist, sketched out some brilliant creature designs for my demonic character. The designs were entirely original and created separately by him for the film version of the novel. We met a few times in London and he showed me the stunning drawings in his notebook. We discussed them and we were ready to go.

The film version was to be set in Pittsburg, the first half in winter, the second half in summer – Heaven (snow) and Hell (furnace heat) would balance the story. It was a wonderful idea, and would have worked beautifully. But.

As we were heading for pre-production, Guillermo was offered a fortune to direct ‘Hellboy 2’. He phoned me apologetically and said he was doing the sequel in place of my film. He explained he wanted to use his creature designs for ‘Spanky’, and as he had created them I agreed. It was odd seeing them in the movie, but it was decent of Guillermo to ask me, and I was glad they were used. He remains a hero and a lost opportunity.

The photograph shows a sign in the Piccadilly underground most commuters overlook.

29 comments on “Typical, Nothing But Repeats”

  1. SteveB says:

    Hey Chris, keep well, funnily enough I always worry when a few days go by without a post in your blog, so it’s great to have even a short one.

  2. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Is the Piccadilly sign using < in a mathematical sense?
    Do we agree?

    Hope the hospital visits go as well as they can.

  3. brooke says:

    What Steve said. Take good care.

  4. Liz Thompson says:

    Brewer’s Dictionary, Toc H lamps, and Fred Karno’s. Oh yes. How about soft as boiled tripe? I once tried cooking tripe. It bounced when dropped.
    Look after yourself Mr Fowler.

  5. eggsy says:

    First World War slang, fascinating area, all classes from all over the world mixing in the forces, with new (and old) experiences to name. Possibly gave us “chat” as a verb to small-talk, transferring from de-lousing, in a satisfyingly anthropological way. Dunno why Toc H lamps were notoriously dim, though. Blackout?
    And Fred Karno remains as applicable as ever.
    Molochs are curiously endearing, despite the appellation. Must have been named by a myrmephile.
    I echo the above sentiments, Mr Fowler, keep up the good work.

  6. Quite reasonable concrete nouns are replaced by abstract ones. I found an old management text of my father’s that discussed relations between master and servant – pretty clear! Time passes and the master transforms into a manager, more time and the passage to abstraction begins with managers becoming management, then the management team. When I finally gave up salaried work, they were the leadership.

    Take good care and avoid abstract doctorships!

  7. John Griffin says:

    Now I know why rather tatty ladies in my early childhood were referred to as chatty, as were kids wit nits.

  8. Kristin says:

    Willing to read your snippets whenever you’re up to posting! Rock on!

  9. Ian Luck says:

    No sensible person’s home is complete without a well-thumbed copy of Brewer’s Phrase and Fable. The Brewer’s Curious Titles book is a good argument settler, too. Which of your ‘Spanky’ creations made it to ‘Hellboy II?’ – If you haven’t read the original Hellboy comics yet, then you should – Mike Mignola, Hellboy’s creator, is a great writer, and his Hellboy stories use familiar dark tropes, myth and legend bound together in a beautiful, even logical way that you don’t notice – something which the writer of a series of books about a young wizard, never quite managed. The ‘Hellboy’ and associated ‘B.P.R.D.’ books are full of a sense of creeping dread throughout, which is something few ‘proper’ books manage. Never try to guess the outcome of a story, either. You’ll usually be wrong. Guillermo Del Toro’s movies got the tone exactly right, and Ron Perlman was note perfect as Hellboy. Like Del Toro, he loved the comics. The less said about the reboot, though, the better – although David Harbour was excellent, he was sadly given nothing to work with. The trailer brought me out in goosebumps, as I recognized several scenes as taken straight from frames in the comic books. There lies the problem – when your two minute trailer contains all your movie’s best bits.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I never followed the comics growing up, just read the occasional one, but now, umpteen years after the rest of the world I have been reading Hellboy and love it very much indeed. Likewise Sandman for different reasons.

    Do not push yourself to post, Chris. You have enough other stuff on your plate. For obvious reasons we would appreciate a “signing off for this week. Talk among yourselves” note.

    I assumed the signage read “is less than” and mostly agree, except for the first one because beauty is beauty full stop.

  11. Ben M says:

    Re: Piccadilly ticket hall. The last time I was in London (a couple of days before lockdown) I went through the Piccadilly ticket hall and stopped to spend time there and appreciate the wonders on the space (all the better without lots of people). It’s a beautiful hall which you need to stop at and look to appreciate how well it is designed for its use. I hope you’re doing well with your treatment Chris especially through these tough times.

  12. Malcolm Fowden says:

    Chris, I came through testicular cancer in 1982 and still going strong. I can empathise with your experience – I like to think I never lost my sense of humour and I’m convinced it was a big factor in my recovery.

    If that’s the case, you’ve a powerful weapon to hand; your SOH is second to none and, just reading Wild Chamber, my 14th of your B&Ms, you’ve written the funniest line ever, viz:- “Over the top? I expect my libraries and churches to be like my ex-wife: unlovely, unforgiving and underheated when you’re inside them.“

    Sincere best wishes, Malcolm

  13. Jan says:

    Isn’t it Piccadilly Circus particularly it’s circular ticket hall which was deliberately underlit for a long time? I dunno if it still is and this dim lighting applied particularly to the area around one tube line – I really can’t remember which line.

    Was strange really I used to be around Piccadilly quite a lot cos of work and it always felt relatively chilled out within the booking hall maybe because of the dimmer lighting. And it was made to seem even dimmer because of all the blazing neon above ground!

    Hope all ok Mr F.

  14. Jan says:

    This is so sad that I know this I was buddies with a bloke who knew tons about Toc Aitch (..and i’m just about to become Snowy for a minute.)

    Toc Aitch was named as such because of the phonetic alphabet in use during the 1st world war which was a bit a forerunner to the present phonetic alphabet ….some bloke called Tubby something or other Hewlett or Howlett or something set up a club for allied 1st world war troops at a place in Belgium. This Tubby guys brothers had been killed early on in the war and he named this friendship club after his bro. The brothers initials being T.H. The club began to be referred to amongst the troops in their phonetic alphabet terminology as Toc (T tango) Aitch (H hotel) this fella was a bit of a vicar of some type of missionary persuasion and the Toc Aitchers apart from doing a lot to improve the welfare of the troops fighting nearby – this club being a reasonable distance from the trenches in a relatively peaceful part of Belgium did loads to help folk from different bits of the Empire. There’s a Toc Aitch school in India loads of Seikh fellas having enlisted to fight in Belgium for the mother country.

    Their emblem oddly enough for some big Christian outfit is an Aladdins lamp and it used to have a like a dim yellowish light you know like a flame coming from the spout. Apparently reminiscent of the trench lighting. Or and I can hardly remember what Bernie told me about this the poor brother who died had been blinded am really not sure. For some reason probably some advisers revamp they have or were considering making this lamp “flame” bright blue. Maybe a sort of update of the product…or maybe somebody just gave the lamp a good rub and it sort of just happened…..

  15. Mike says:

    Tubby Clayton.
    There used to be a TH hall just round the corner when I was growing up in the early 50’s
    Never saw it being used though

  16. Richard Brennan says:

    Thanks for this, I have always enjoyed the old posts. After reading your latest daily post I often do a Lucky Dip into the archive stuff and get lost in Old Fowlers Almanac. There is always something good to read and it’s a great cure for any lockdown – Oh how I hate that word- blues.

  17. snowy says:

    I’m going to become err… me for a minute, [as if I have any other choice].

    There are two incarnations of ‘Toc H’.

    The first was a Christian comfort mission, based around ‘Talbot House’ in Poperinge. [It was created to keep troops out of the pubs.] The symbol it used was a oil lamp, Aladdin-style, called the ‘Lamp of Maintenance’.

    After the Great War, it diversified into other areas of charitable works but still kept up military links. [that part of it worked like the British Legion crossed with the NAAFI].

    It has links to the church of All Hallows by the Tower.

  18. snowy says:

    Oh, despite what school-books will tell you, lots of the words that apparently ‘come from the trenches’ are much older. They are bits of Army-slang from India: words borrowed from Urdu and Hindi, [like the name for the colour of the uniforms they wore].

  19. Jan says:

    Yes I heard about the All Hallows link but couldn’t work it out was Tubby err..Clayton vicar there or something?

    I think there’s some sort of a memorial to Toc H( but I might have misremembered this) close to the massive memorial to all the merchant navy men killed on the WW convoys this memorial being in the E of the City of London.

  20. Jan says:

    cos I have really fallen off the maths cliff – after all that work trying to climb up it is ^ that sign pointed left greater than or contributing to I can’t remember ….Snowy you will know being you in which you have no say in…

  21. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    It would mean beauty is less than immortality etc.

  22. snowy says:

    Rev. Clayton was the vicar at All Hallows from 1922 until 1962. But his blue plaque is in Trinity Square, opposite the Mercantile Marine Memorial.

    There is another memorial there featuring an oil-lamp, to Lord Wakefield, who donated the building for various charitable uses, inc. Toc H HQ. [Lord Mayors are prone to chucking money about.]

    [But this one is more likely a reference to how Lord W made his cash, he founded Castrol].

    [ ‘>’ Greater-than:

    Big end goes to the larger qty.
    Small end points to the lesser qty.]

    I don’t think the designer is using the same maths-book or dictionary as the rest of us. But that may be the point of it, to make the viewer think.

  23. snowy says:

    The word construction/layout bothered me, [and I’d done the crossword]. So…

    The text apparently relates to Frank Pick’s philosophy about beauty, utility, goodness and truth in design, and was derived from some handwritten lecture notes of his discovered in the LT Museum. [Which I can’t seem to find].

    But it may be possible to decipher it with another quote from him:

    “The test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.”

    To rearrange mangle the text:

    Immortality comes from from Beauty, [since nobody would wish to destroy it].
    Perfection comes from Utility, [the most useful design is the most perfect engineering solution].
    Righteousness comes from Goodness, ]who knows?]
    Wisdom comes from Truth, [self evident?]

    “Frank Pick oversaw what is widely acknowledged to be transport design’s golden age. He commissioned some of the most recognisable icons of London Underground’s identity such as the distinctive red, blue and white roundel Tube logo, the original Johnston typeface and the art deco architecture of many Underground stations designed by Charles Holden. Pick also commissioned striking advertising posters in a variety of styles, often working with famous artists of the day such as surrealist Man Ray.”

  24. Helen Martin says:

    Not only would a person not want to destroy a beautiful thing (although it happens every day) but a perfect design solution is beautiful because the lines formed, the interaction of parts, and the parts themselves present beauty to the eye. Perfect function is a form of beauty. Thank you, Snowy.

  25. Ed DesCamp says:

    @ Snowy: I’ve been reading the blog entries from oldest to current, and never fail to get something fun, useful, or challenging from your posts. Carry on.

    @ Helen: the recipe proportions for apple monkey bread were accurate. The apples rendered so much juice that only a 1/4 cup of cider was needed. I cooked it all down into an apple-flavored caramel sauce, which was warmly received by She Who Must Be Obeyed. Thank you.

  26. Helen Martin says:

    Ed, so glad it worked for you. I am thinking of making it into apple centred cinnamon buns – you know, rolled up and then sliced to make the buns. I don’t think I had the right kind of apples. Bet those Washington Cosmic Crisp apples would be perfect.

  27. Ed DesCamp says:

    Helen – I used Honeycrisp, as I had them to hand, but your choice would have been better. BTW the recipe makes a TON of bread…

  28. Helen Martin says:

    Ed, and should not be squashed into the 5×9 pan they recommended because it can’t rise properly. I’m into rhubarb just now and have to get a couple of roots for my own garden since it’s immoral to buy rhubarb, just the same as raspberries and blackberries.

  29. michael brooks says:

    We love the books. Happily, pre lockdown, bought 15 of them, most second hand so sorry. Got us through this time. However also have Forgotten Authors. It’s wonderful. Romford born I love the background, My school was in Snaresbrrook, top corner of the underground map on Central line. but now live in a village. Sorry could not return, I cannot stay there. My memories are jumping on and off the routemaster buses. Health and Safety be dammed.
    Managed to do the Star of David diagram. Once realised itn was dot to dot amd not lines between numbers. As for Hall of Mirrors, I might try to work out the wrong chapter title. I doubt it. I’m not thast clever.

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