Sunday, November 27, 2011

Catching Genumphs with Chic Murray

I'm currently reading about the comedy giant that was Chic Murray. I'm sure there will be a post about him over on my comedy bio blog.

I've known some of his material and his act, but this gave a good workout to my chuckle muscle.

"I saw a wee man jumping up and down, clapping his hands together, I went over and asked him what he was doing, he said "I'm trying to catch Genumphs", so I said to him "What's Genumphs?" he said "I don't know I haven't caught any yet".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You Very Much - for the Aintree iron, birds and bees and love

I write this on Thanksgiving day in the USA. Whilst I've been in the US and shared some special Thanksgiving days with my wife and her family it is a day that is hard to get. After all the British much prefer to say 'sorry' than thank-you.

The rather spiffing 1960s Liverpool trio of Roger McGough, Mike McGear and John Gorman, The Scaffold said it quite well in their song "Thank You Very Much".

The list of things to be thankful for being the Aintree iron (apparently writer Mike McGear has no idea what that is), birds and bees, the family circle, Sunday joint, cultural heritage, some other stuff and love.

So here's the song and me giving thanks for love, birds and bees, my growing new family circle and my missus

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NHS hospital in association with Coca-cola

Obviously not a reason to be cheerful. One of the biggest causes of obesity, diabetes and countless other ailments, manages to have pride of place in an NHS hospital.
I'm not sure if it's one step up or down from having a doctor sponsored by a tobacco company.
If we want to educate on healthy eating and drinking, surely hospitals should lead by example and have healthy food and drink?

Fred Karno

For the last few days I've been strangely fascinated by Fred Karno. I say strangely as I've known about Karno for some years. He was responsible for Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin going to America and for their early comedy education, both gave him credit for much of their early comedy knowledge.

Yet researching Max Miller, I saw Karno's name as having worked with Miller in the 1920s. The two men didn't particularly get along and Karno had an interesting take on how to keep dancing girls smiling when they were on stage. I have also read of Karno's casting couch, but he was a fair bit more than that too. By the time Max Miller came across him Karno had been one of the wealthiest men in the country, he'd bought an island, built an entertainment complex and casino on it (Karsino). He spent £20,000 in 1912 on a boat that is used today as a recording studio by Dave Gilmour!

In 1926 he was declared bankrupt and penniless he started again. Married with 8 children Karno had a mistress for 25 years who he also called his wife. He even crossed the Atlantic and Chaplin tried to find him work, which he eventually found with the help of Stan Laurel at The Hal Roach Studios. Karno wasn't happy with not having things done his way and ended up going back home and back in the theatre and eventually making some films there, which were again the ruin of him.

He ended up his days running an off-licence after a donation from Charlie Chaplin to fund the operation.

An amazing career that had started in the circus as an acrobat, he had runaway to join the circus after failing to become a plumber.

I'm sure I've got a more accurate post in this fascinating character. It seems odd that the last book about him was written 40 years ago and there doesn't seem to have been any great film portrayal other than in films about Chaplin (John Thaw played Karno in "Chaplin").

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bobbins - Cockney rhyming slang

I've known the word "bobbins" for quite a while. It is largely used in the North of England and the wondrously crazy Frank Sidebottom used to say it a lot.
Frank Sidebottom, he's just seen something bobbins.

Bobbins means anything of a poor quality, but the root of the word is in Cockney rhyming slang, here's a clue.

Bobbins of cotton is rhyming slang for rotten, which is odd as bobbins are "reely" good.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Laurel & Hardy in Politics

With thanks to The Laurel & Hardy Forum.
A recent thread discussed Laurel & Hardy's (lack of) politics. Perhaps them not having any clear political thoughts (as for the characters in the films, no clear thoughts) has led to newspapers and political parties using their image to lampoon politicians. Over 60 years after their last film they still get wheeled out to mock the politicians of the day (usually over economic failings).
The first two are from the US, the rest British politicians, from PM John Major onwards. Given what a good Stan Laurel George W. Bush makes I'm surprised that was the only one I could find.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wilson, Keppel and Betty

Wilson, Keppel and Betty were a music hall act, who had success on both sides of the Atlantic.. Jack Wilson and Joe Keppel were born in Ireland and England respectively in the 1890s.

Whether their act would have got past the first stages of Britain's Got Talent is debatable, but they certainly had a staying power in a career that lasted 35 years and up to a dozen Bettys, a residency at the London Palladium and several Royal Command Performances.

Their act consisted of them dressing as Egyptians and performing variations on a sand dance. At the height of Variety, they were an ideal speciality act, bridging the comics and the singers.

To experience this legendary act, have a butcher's at this

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine

In the blue ridge mountains of  Virginia, Ballard MacDonald wrote the lyrics and Harry Carroll the tune to a song that was a top ten British hit in 1975 for Laurel & Hardy, it had appeared in arguably Laurel & Hardy's greatest feature film Way Out West in 1937. The song had previously been the title to a film and a play dating back to 1913. The singer is pining for what would appear to be the love of a summer romance.

In the Laurel & Hardy film, Oliver Hardy picks up the singing of the song as the tune is played by the wonderfully named Chill Wills in a saloon bar, Stan Laurel decides to join in and irritate poor old Mr. Hardy. Here's a clip that you can sing along to yourself.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanks for waiting

As if by magic, about 18 months ago Marks and Spencer checkout staff started each customer with the phrase "thanks for waiting" a nice enough gesture if there had been something of a wait, a bit pointless when you were buying one sandwich and there was no one in front of you and you hadn't been waiting. The next words in the one sandwich situation, "do you need any help with your packing?", "not unless both my arms have just fallen off".

So it would appear that the pointlessness of apologising to someone for waiting when they haven't been waiting has not been lost and now they have stopped saying it, altogether. They now don't say it when you've been waiting for 20 minutes because they can't work out if the coupon to save 20p is a valid one or not and spend ten minutes checking it out.

It's a customer service dilemma in the UK, we really don't know how to be nice to customers, that's not to say service is inherently bad, an average shop assistant is generally helpful and polite, even in the US they aren't always tip top. Yet the culture between the US and the UK is totally different. In a US supermarket I was politely reprimanded for packing a shopping bag myself, I've never known of anyone in the UK voluntarily packing groceries, "do you need any help with your packing?", should be rephrased as "you DON'T need help with your packing, do you? if you do I may be able to find someone who will grudgingly do it, whilst staring at you wondering why you can't do it yourself, sir".

With the advent of the internet and review websites, customer service in general is starting to improve, whether we can get it as a culture will probably take a few more generations. Basil Fawlty was written as a man who was happier when he didn't have any guests staying at his hotel, the guests were always a hindrance, we seem to have moved a bit on that, perhaps we could start to teach staff to use stock phrases at appropriate times rather than learning them and saying them every time or not at all.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The weighty topic of the weight of toilet rolls

In a world where bidets have now been forgotten and newspapers dwindle away it would seem that we take for granted the humble toilet roll.

According to Wikipedia using toilet paper dates back to 6th century China. Modern toilet paper was introduced to the US by the rather charmingly named Joseph Gayetty. Colours and varieties only came into prominence in the 1960s and 1970s.

So recently the last couple of lots of store brand product I have purchased have both had perforation issues, now why the perforations are for such small sheets is beyond me, who uses but one sheet at a time anyway? I've not a problem if they perforate 4 times less than they do now, just perforate so that when I tear I don't end up looking like the human version of the Andrex puppy.

So I reverted to Andrex, arguably the brand leader and on this occasion on a decent offer. So I selected the two above, I'm sure one won't match the bathroom decor but I have no plans to decorate with it. The strange fact with the two packs is that one is at least a third heavier than the other, yet they are the same number of rolls and sheets on each. The one on the right is infused with Shea Butter (I haven't really got a clue, but it sounds good, nothing to do with Shea stadium as I understand), the one on the left is plain white comfort quilt. So obviously the one infused with the shea butter is the heavy one right? Well no (and I'm sure you guessed by my clunking attempt at tabloid journalism there), the infusion of shea butter only seems to serve as making the tissue lighter. Now I can't decide which is better to use, lighter or heavier.

I'm now quite impressed that I haven't resorted to anything even slightly rude with this post, no shit.

Now here's an ad for shea butter Andrex featuring the puppy, who judging by the packs actually prefers the quilted as he looks kind of bored on the shea butter, but no matter.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The unhealthy world of NHS hospitals

I've unfortunately spent more time than most in hospitals, mostly as a visitor, my dad especially spent over 6 months as a patient and I was his only daily visitor, sometimes spending several hours there.

There are an amazing amount of stupid things that happen, in that period I witnessed a cleaner who seemed to only appear on a Friday afternoon, his modus operandi was to mop the floor and while it was drying to then take a sweeping brush and sweep the floor he had just mopped! Fire hoses that may or may not have worked but were probably 30 years old or more and had layers of dust that were probably the same age. Alcoholic handwash is all very well, but surely ceiling tiles with a 12" square patch of green mould is probably more risky to patients and the public than anything else.

My main point of this topic now is the entrance to hospital, one of the first things to notice (after you get through the half dozen smokers outside) is a sign with direction to vending machines, the sign has a large advertising logo for Coca-Cola and points to vending machines selling the soft drink and the one above, full of confectionery. I'm not totally against these items in general use, but surely a hospital of all places should encourage some healthy eating, fruit perhaps, vegetable snacks in fact anything remotely healthy. Given that one of the biggest causes of health problems in the world is diabetes, and a personal estimate would be that at least a third of hospital patients would be diabetic, a major factor being what people drink, be they high or low sugar drinks. Research is now starting to show that diet drinks can be worse for diabetics than high sugar ones. I am by no means an expert, my dad had long term complications from diabetes, kidney failure, vascular problems, mood swings, blindness and ultimately death, so I have personal experience and researched some of the problems he had and their causes.

The diabetic recruitment drive doesn't end there. Having visited the pre-natal department in the same hospital, there is a wall devoted to statistics on diabetes and dietary advice as to how best avoid it, yet in the same department is a volunteer canteen, who's offerings are cakes, sweets, chocolates, crisps, coca-cola and other sugar drinks, in fact general diabetic recruiting products, I wasn't initially inspecting what they sold, I was looking for a healthy snack to eat, there wasn't one, nothing for expectant mothers (or fathers!).

Perhaps the managers of the hospital would argue that people don't want healthy food, maybe they have sold carrots or celery sticks and they have gone to waste, but that really isn't good enough, a hospital should only have healthy food, their staff and patients should only eat healthy foods, there shouldn't be any other option. Hospitals should lead the way in healthy eating, leading by example would surely save money long term, 'training' patients to eat well whilst in hospital may lead to them eating well outside and mean no return visits.

An association with Coca-cola, even in a tentative manner is not too far removed from being sponsored by Benson & Hedges.

Runcible and other made up words

Apparently William Shakespeare introduced over 1700 words into the English language, I wonder how many he'd heard on the street and how many he actually made up.

There's a great page at with a lot of the more famous words. I was personally surprised by bedroom and eyeball, but he didn't do much more than put two words together. I don't recall being told in school that Shakespeare made up lots of words, I would probably have dismissed all the bits that didn't make sense as being made up nonsense.  It has long been a tradition to make up words either for new inventions that didn't naturally have a name or morphing older words.

Some modern new words that have appeared as if by magic are scrappage, cyberspace, jeggings and even internet, all words that weren't words but now are, some will survive and some will not. The word television is now over 100 years old. Also in a book called 500 Years Of New Words by Bill Sherk is the fact that the word nudist didn't appear before 1929, the same year that the words foreplay and spermicide first appeared. I guess with the financial crisis at the time there wasn't much else to do!

The word 'runcible' was used several times by the writer Edward Lear, often in his poems and limericks, most notably in The Owl & The Pussycat.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I hadn't really thought too much about this blog post when I started it, as Adrian Monk would say it's a blessing and a curse of mine that I don't always plan ahead, sometimes it leads to unexpected delights and others down a dead end. My main aim was to change the name of my blog, I had thought that no one else would have used the name "The Runcible Spoon", how wrong I was.

There are several blogs called The Runcible Spoon or just Runcible Spoon, there's even a cafe with that name (I'd have gone for "Mince and slices of Quince" for a cafe), so I had to rethink, what would Lear and even Shakespeare do?

Well old Bill was prone to making up words from established ones, making nouns out of verbs and vice-versa and sticking two words together, so I decided on the former and here we have "Runcibilities".

So what are "runcibilities"? They are reasons to be cheerful and things that "get your goat", things that put a fire in your belly.

Up to now in the blog, the majority of the runcibilities have been reasons to be cheerful, I won't be stopping with those and insisting everyone becomes miserable, I'll just be testing out the extremes of my runcibilities.

So welcome to my runcible world, grab a spoon and dig in.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Umbrella Man - Flanagan & Allen

Written by James Cavanugh, Vincent Rose and Larry Stock, it dates back to 1924 and as far as I know is the only song with the word "thingamujig" in it. Rose & Stock also co-wrote the song Blueberry Hill, amongst many other credits.

Bud Flanagan & Chesney Allen were the most famous British stars in the early 20th century, comedians, singers, actors, they were stars of stage, screen and record.

The Umbrella Man was one of Flanagan & Allen's most successful recordings, the image of the Umbrella Man when sung by Bud & Ches conjures up an image of a poor East End London worker patching up poor peoples umbrellas so they can continue to wander the streets a little drier than normal, on their way to spend another night Underneath The Arches. Perhaps this view is far removed from the images conjured when sung by Louis Armstrong & Dizzy Gillespie. I'm cheered by a song that is about a man who repairs umbrellas, possibly a profession that no longer exists judging by the umbrella skeletons I've seen abandoned in the streets.

Here's a recording of Bud & Ches and below that Dizzy & Louis (I bet y'all wish you were on first name terms like me?)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Clint Eastwood: Son of Stan Laurel

It has long been a suppressed piece of information that Clint Eastwood is in fact the son of comedy legend Stan Laurel. I suppose Clint has never wanted his tough guy image to be associated with the simple character that Stan portrayed in over 100 Laurel & Hardy pictures.
In these pictures it is difficult to tell a young Clint Eastwood from an old Stan Laurel.

Clint was born 16 days before Stan's 40th birthday.
Stan Laurel produced a series of westerns in the 1930s.
Dirty Harry was originally called Dirty Hardy.
Clyde the orangutan in Every Which Way But Loose would prepare for the role by watching footage of Stan that Clint loaned him.

The name Clint is short for Clinton,  derives from the old English place name of Glinton, Northants, less than 200 miles from where Stan was born.

Stan Laurel and Clint Eastwood both had hair that stood on end.