Monthly Archives: May 2010

How not to do religion.

Religion is mostly uncool in general. Either there’s the romanticised Roman Catholic imagery (look at me playing with the etymology there. That’s what passes for cool in my world, oh yes) in things like ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ and ‘The Departed’, which we all know doesn’t come from belief, it comes from movie-and-tv world, in which depression, egomaniacal behaviour and drug abuse can all be quite cool and admirable, or there’s religious belief in the real world, which is mostly, as Dylan Moran has pointed out, based around tea. Not to mention quite incongruous. It doesn’t add up. Real World + Invisible Deity = Someone Looking Silly, or at least someone looking extremely serious, daring anyone to risk pointing out that they may possibly be being silly. There’s melodrama, or there’s boring.

Most religious groups do sort of divide up along those lines, too. You get the serious, dusty ones; the Wesleyans and the Church of England, Chapel, that sort of thing; and at the other end of it you get the happy-clappy seventh-day-pentecost alleluja evangelists. There’s space in between for every shade of ridiculousness except for Marcus Brigstocke. Mine is, of course, the one that manages to be both very very serious and more ridiculous than most of the others: the Quakers. And I don’t even fit in there.

Quakers are an odd bunch. The gist of it is; everyone has their own relationship with the divine (hereafter referred to as the Thing, to avoid causing offence to people who don’t believe in God. Of which I am one, but fortunately I’m not at all offended by any of this post), which means that we don’t need an intermediary to tell us how to be religious, so we all get together to sit in silence, mostly. Everyone, having their own relationship to the Thing, has their own truth, and so we don’t need to agree to believe exactly the same thing. If you’re conducting your own relationship with the Thing, it’s a 24/7 thing, and so you don’t get to cop out of anything by saying it’s not communing-with-the-Thing time (e.g. Sunday morning): you have to do it all the time. Practically, this tends to mean various levels of success/failure in not lying, fighting, gambling, getting drunk, being selfish or showing off. It really honestly doesn’t have anything do to with porridge. Although I like porridge a lot.

I’m mostly terrible at those things, especially at not being selfish and even worse at not getting drunk. Okay, and not showing off is really hard too. Okay, I’m only good at the not gambling, and I’m too choice-phobic for it anyway, I go tharn in the supermarket if my usual milk isn’t there and I have to pick one. I would claim to be good at not fighting, but then I’d have hexed myself on the not lying thing: ‘good at not fighting’ is not the same as ‘rubbish at fighting.’ The whole thing would be much easier if porridge-eating was part of it, I might shock myself and succeed at it. But the thing is, I’ve got used to trying and failing within this particular set of parameters, banging my head against this particular brick wall, so to speak. Just because I don’t believe in an actual proper God doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to quit bloodying my head on this reassuring, known, hard stone wall, and go seek a new one. Realising that I hate most mainstream movies hasn’t stopped me from paying a tenner to sit in a sticky-carpeted hollywood temple resenting the crisp-eaters behind me and hating my own popcorn-scoffing habits (I don’t even like popcorn), so I don’t see any arguments against sticking with my religion, with or without the God bit in it. Besides, there aren’t even any Quakers here, so it means I get to sit here with my Richard Dawkins book, and selfishly drink all the tea. Whilst eating porridge.

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Where are the really, really un-cool comics?

I’ve just knocked back two whole series of Peep Show, and I’m raising a solitary glass of Ribena to the onscreen distress, discomfiture and other disses of David Mitchell. What a total dork. What a guy.

In principle it’s no surprise for comedy to be filled with people who don’t seem to get on well with reality: comedy is famously a place for exposing your vulnerabilities, testing your boundaries and so on, but British comedy (in my obviously baseless, biased and probably irrelevant opinion) seems to be particularly based around the public parading of shame and embarrassment. From Del Boy falling through the bar to Alan Partridge stabbing himself in the foot and Fry and Laurie’s Hedge Sketch, British comedy has a moment of mortification for pretty much any taste. There’s a BUT, though.

These people are pretending. They’re not one hundred percent inside those idiots they portray: maybe they’ve had moments of standing in the shoes of the incompetent, but not a life sentence. David Jason’s been in lots of other things, playing lots of different people. He’s not really a proper custard-case. Alan Partridge? I’ve seen Steve Coogan on Parky’s sofa, all leaning back and laughing, like people do when they’re perfectly normal, and not a loser, so I’m not going to believe he’s one of us. Fry and Laurie: who plays the social incompetent? Exactly. Doctor Bloody House himself. Doctor I’m-so-clever-I-get-lonely, Doctor You-all-forgive-me-for-being-an-egomaniac-because-you-fantasise-about-getting-in-my-pants House, Mister Sark of Astic, a genuine stottering invertebrate? Don’t make me laugh. No, really. Don’t, because it isn’t FAIR. These guys can stop. It’s just an act, they’re not in fact, embarrassed to be themselves. They get to knock off and go back to being cool. They’re like the posh girlfriend Jarvis Cocker sings to in ‘Common People’, who plays poverty for kicks, because in reality she has a choice.

If I was a completely different kind of person, I could now sound off about it being actually quite like pretending to be a member of any other socially disadvantaged group just for the sake of a bit of entertainment at their expense, and that discussion would go on and on until someone mentioned Hitler, and then I’d get blamed because this is my blog and I started it. And I’ve just written ‘Hitler’ anyway, so it is, definitely, now, my fault. But I’m not that kind of person, despite the Hitler comment; I’m the kind of person who just smiles and wonders what it is, whether I have really made another gaffe and I won’t realise it until I wake up in the night surreptitiously using my fingers to smooth out my upper lip to stop myself from cringing in the dark, or whether they are laughing with me. They never ever ever bloody are. Even David Bloody Mitchell betrays us on the panel shows. Okay, they’re scripted, but still – and there have been interviews, too, in which he’s come across as treacherously well-balanced.

I know that these comedy characters, just like film heroes and wizards and baddies, are not real. They’re based on real qualities, though, that we all have in life to some degree. Heroic people in the real world aren’t like in the movies, but we admire them. Real evil and selfish people aren’t movie–character bad, but we try to avoid them if we can get away with it without there being a scene. Why is it then, that if you’re afraid of other people and you tend to want to apologise for your skin and everything in it, that’s not, in life, a scaled-down version of the funny and charming movie version, but instead just, well, somewhere between pitiable and contemptible, depending on the charitableness of the cooler onlooker. Like, for example, comedians, who can see straight through us, take us off to perfection and then flick back to relaxed amiability. Bum-beans and reprobates.

So, what do we do? I can hardly join up with my own kind. ‘Flake Pride’ isn’t going to happen, because I’m as ashamed of them as I am of me, and they feel exactly the same way. I think. Obviously I haven’t asked, but there’s no union and you can’t select ‘Sad Sack’ on the census forms. So we just laugh. After all, it is funny. Social incompetents trying to get through life and cocking it up is funny. Even I can see that.

Maybe some of them are really lonely, bored, hoping to make a connection with someone else who doesn’t ‘get’ the world. Maybe it’s all of the comedians and most of the laughers, and there are no really cool people at all. Maybe we’re ALL uncool, and in the closet about it, hiding our true gawk behind successful performances, to varying degrees (which would explain Mr Mitchell’s apparently laid-back style on camera and allow me to return to thinking he’s The Real Thing). I think this is probably a ridiculously over-optimistic idea/hope/fantasy, but I’m going to cling to it like a barnacle to the first rock it finds, not knowing if there will ever be another. If anybody else wants to cling to my rock with me, you’re more than welcome: out yourself as socially incompetent and, if we can get more than three, then I’m up for a Flake Pride march in November (reliable weather, and we look good in coats). Maybe David Mitchell would open for us.


Warning: contains me, sulking.

Life was uncertain, tense and in limbo, and then I got a call to say that my father, with whom I have had very limited contact, had had a stroke and wasn’t expected to survive long. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but I still hadn’t expected it.

The ash cloud put the stoppers on any ideas of flying over, and prices did the same for the train idea. Driving over alone, the fourteen-hour journey from Hanover through Germany, Belgium, Holland, France and England to Barnstaple, would have been difficult-to-impossible. Ela borrowed her ex’s car (we’ve never really hit it off, mostly because I’ve never been very nice to him: he however, immediately agreed to use the aforementioned expensive train for his own weekend plans so we could have his car. I am a shameful lowlife), rearranged her work life, and set off with me at three in the morning. We, or rather, she, drove and drove until six the next evening in the hope of catching him, even though I knew that the chance wasn’t high, and that in the context of our non-relationship all this looked a lot like attention-seeking melodrama. When we stopped, an hour or so from our destination, I charged up my phone and received a message telling me that he had died at six in the morning, and everyone had gone back to their homes.

Travelodge baths are so shallow that you can’t cover your legs, although maybe that wouldn’t have been true before I turned tubbo. They also don’t give you bubblebath, only soap. Bubblebath is important on two counts: one; small pockets of air insulate the water against heat loss and enable long soaks to remain warm soaks, and two; small pockets of air in large numbers become opaque. I don’t want to see my body while I’m trying to relax in the bath, thanks.

Ela slept the sleep of those who turn their lives upside-down for others, and I cried the unjustifiable tears of the confused and self-consciously self-centred. I could have had a real relationship with him, if I had got back in touch. I told myself I had been protecting myself, but I could hear from the tone of my voice that even I didn’t believe my crap anymore. Weakling scaredycats who hide away in another country and leave fathers to live and die with rejection because of their own childish fear of adults kicking off, those children don’t deserve grownup treats like bubblebath.

So today, I will inconvenience Patrick to the same degree as Ela, hiring a car and returning to the UK to parade my self-indulgent sorrow at my father’s funeral on Monday. I will be honest: I will hang my head in shame: they will think it is respect., I will wear black, as I always do, and people will think I am grieving for my father. I, as always, will be grieving for the better person I wish I could have been.