Monday, 30 July 2007

Our World Needs A Hero

And that hero is Spiderpig!

Born on a farm in the south of France, pig was an ordinary little porker. In fact some would say he was less than ordinary. He was too skinny to make it to any self-respecting roast, and too stringy for the breakfast plate. As Jethro Tull might have put it, he was too old to pork and too young to fry.

Then one day, as he was rooting around for truffles, he was bitten by a radioactive spider. He thought nothing of it at the time. But weeks later he was chased by a dog and without thinking about it he shimmied up a tree, knocked over a stranded cat (who fell on top of a surprised fireman) and trod over a sparrow who was still abed in its nest. At that point pig knew something out of the ordinary had happened.

His best friend was a tailor bird who obligingly stitched him a costume. Pig wore it as he explored his new powers. He loved being able to climb up farmhouse walls and jump down chimney chutes into the living room fireplaces of his neighbours. (Luckily it was summer and the fires were unlit, or his dressage would have turned into sausage). He enjoyed vaulting from tree to tree, suspended from a nearly invisible silken thread while he beat a tattoo on his chest in enthusiastic imitation of Tarzan.

Most of all he loved to kiss Kirsten Dunst as she hung upside down in the rain.

But one day his idyllic existence was shattered and he was adopted by Homer Simpson.

"Doh" said Homer.
"A deer," said Spiderpig, "a female deer".
But Homer was not to be fooled - he knew a pig when he saw one.

Homer and Spiderpig traveled back across the Atlantic to Springfield (Illinois), home of apple pie, a non-descript baseball team, and a circus featuring the world's prettiest bearded woman. Actually she was a gorilla, but the circus manager wasn't about to tell that to anyone, and the gorilla could not speak. So none of the patrons realized they were being duped. They thought they had paid $3 to throw yellow missiles at a hot and hairy chick. In fact they were merely feeding the monkey with bananas.

However Spiderpig had first-hand knowledge of the animal kingdom. He knew Uwaka (as the bearded lady gorilla was called) was a damsel in distress. And he was determined to be her knight in shining armor. Or pig in tights. Or strange half-superhero/half-farmyard-animal. Or something.

Anyway, he decided that he had to rescue Uwaka and to that end he devised a fiendish plot. He would buy a ticket to the circus, break into Uwaka's tent, gnaw through her chains, and shoot his way out with a shotgun that he had bought from Walmart. That night he went to bed early. He was full of anticipation and wanted to be up early the next day so that he'd be well-prepared to effect Ewaka's rescue.

At about midnight Homer got hungry and turned Spiderpig into a delicious spam-and-baloney sandwich.

"Doh" said Homer.
"A deer," said his wife Marge, "a female deer".
"No," replied Homer, "that was Spiderpig. I miss that cute little pig already. He was tasty."

Spiderpig's epitaph read: with great power comes great responsibility and a splash of mayonnaise.

Homer's would read: with great hunger comes a triple-decker sandwich.

Uwaka still eats $3-bananas and waits to be rescued.

The End

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Why Rocket Scientists Are Bad At Sports

We live in a world where top sportsmen are constantly watched by the media. Every word they speak is reported. And we've learnt from experience not to expect those words to be clever. After all, it wasn't long ago that David Pleat explained that "A game is not won until it is lost". And Stuart Pearce took his joint out of his mouth long enough to tell the world that he could "see the carrot at the end of the tunnel". Must have been a genetically engineered giant carrot. Or a really small tunnel.

So I guess I should not have been surprised by Ivica Osim. He coaches the Japanese football team but is himself Bosnian. And yesterday he recited an old Bosnian proverb: "It is pointless looking for unborn rabbits in the forest".

I think this is inspiring. I think we should all create proverbs to make our lives richer. For instance tomorrow if my boss asks me whether I have prepared stuff for an upcoming management meeting, perhaps I will say to him "Even the space monkey never eats a Martian banana". Or perhaps I'll have the wisdom to just nod. After all, as the ancient Sudanese saying goes, "A camel in the hand is worth two in the bush, but you'll never be able to hold it anyway so all three camels are worthless in the end."

You can really go a long way with this proverb thing. Whole movies have been made that were entirely proverbs. Think of The Empire Strikes Back. It's basically two hours of Yoda reciting obscure Jedi proverbs with awkward syntax, alternating with Luke Skywalker whining about how he's really bored and can he go rescue his friends from Darth Vader now please? Inevitably, lose his arm to Vader, Luke does, for searching in the forest for unborn rabbits is he.

Alternatively, you could string together a bunch of proverbs and write a book of haiku. Let's see...

The forest listens
Rabbits roam; but not yet seen
Unborn and unfound

That sounds almost on the verge of being profound. Methinks there is a zen master in the making here. Or as they say in Japan: "The cow that barks must really be a dog, but only if it also chases cars."

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

You Can Check Out But You Can Never Leave

Such sweet irony! Let me tell you a story:

Friend of mine gets an MBA degree and embarks on a career in marketing. Disillusioned by the superficiality (or perhaps bored by the futility) of the profession, he resigns and decides to go back to school. After a few years of being a professional student in LA, he finally gets himself a PhD in communications. His PhD thesis relates to the use of technology for empowering slum children with education. He then accepts a teaching job in Singapore and....

...his first course assignment is to teach a course in branding!

Thus we come round in a full circle. I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes you just cannot escape your destiny. Poor Indra is probably cringing at the idea that his destiny lies in marketing. I'll admit to enjoying his discomfiture. But I enjoyed it largely because I have also admired his conviction in walking away from the rat race at a time when things seemed to be quite rosy for him professionally.

Now that he is a professor, he has threatened to invite me to be a guest lecturer in his class. I hope he follows through on that threat.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Swing Low, Swing High

Ah, the joys of self-inflicted mood swings.

I'd been through this phase where I read depressing books and saw depressing movies and steadily worked my way to "ready-to-slit-wrists" status. Even more worrying, I started turning this blog into a stream of reviews for morbid entertainment. Now, I still haven't decided what this blog is for (not that I really need to), but I'm pretty sure that inside me there is not a little reviewer banging his fists on a glass cage and screaming soundlessly to get out.

Obviously it was time to do something. Step one was to dose myself with some over-the-top Hollywood kitsch. That worked a treat. Next, some televised football. I hadn't been able to bring myself to watch a game since Liverpool lost the Champions League final back in May. So after that long hiatus, it was a real treat to watch Argentina spank Peru.

As a long-time Argentina fan, I find it galling that Brazil get the tag as the team that plays beautiful football. Frankly they don't always deserve it. Frankly, it's often Argentina that plays the more attractive football. Frankly, I am so looking forward to Monday morning, when I expect to watch Argentina play (and beat) Brazil in the Copa America final.

But all that is still in the future. Back to today and me bashing at the computer with endorphins fizzing through my veins. Why, you ask? Because I went for a run! Well, alright, it wasn't a run so much as a gentle jog. And the endorphins aren't fizzing, they're really gurgling gently. But after a month of physical inactivity, this was just the pick-me-up I needed. Once again I can feel self-righteous, as behooves those who 'take care of themselves'.

I feel an ice-cream urge coming on...

Thursday, 5 July 2007


I had a turbulent flight to Sydney, but not because of the weather. It was because of the in-flight movies.

The first one I watched was Amazing Grace. This is the story of how William Wilberforce got Britain out of the slave trade. It’s a wonderfully uplifting story in the end, but along the way it took me through the most agonizing emotional twists and turns. It’s the sort of story that leaves you feeling tight-chested at the sheer mercantile callousness of people. Bewildered by their ability to truly believe that they have good intentions and yet act like villains. Stunned by the incredible changes that a handful of very angry people can bring about in a society. It gives me no shame to admit that several times in the movie I was misty-eyed. Sometimes it was because the story was deeply upsetting. Sometimes because it was profoundly inspiring.

(It also left me thinking very hard about my job. It forced me to consider how much of my time and energy helps other people. I’m thankful that plenty of it genuinely does. But there is no denying that some of it is worn away by friction in the corporate machine. Good thing that on the balance I came out feeling positive.)

So then, feeling all uplifted and cleansed inside, I made the profound error of watching Blood Diamond. Now that is an absolutely brilliant movie. As a story it is every bit as good as Amazing Grace, and as cinema it is immeasurably better. But it’s depressing! Several weeks ago I wrote about the appalling state of affairs in Zimbabwe, the country formerly known as Rhodesia back in the days of apartheid. Well, in Blood Diamond I watched a Rhodesian soldier / mercenary / diamond-smuggler /arms-dealer set out to enrich himself with systematic, cynical, callousness.

At the end of two and a half hours of carnage, cruelty and greed, the movie’s catch-phrase was echoing in my head: "T.I.A. – This is Africa". By the time I landed at Kingsford-Smith, all the good work done to me by the first movie had been comprehensively undone by the second. As I headed morosely to my hotel on a dark and wintry evening, I no longer felt cleansed. I felt purged.

You have to wonder, what is it about Africa that’s led to its dismal history and depressing present? After all, it should have a lot going for it. It’s where mankind originated. Civilization had developed five thousand years ago in Egypt. It is in many ways a rich continent. On the face of it, there is no reason why the same positive winds of change that are sweeping across most of Asia should not also be blowing across Africa. And yet its nickname, the Dark Continent, is still sadly apt.

Many first world governments blame bad governance by African leaders, and there is certainly plenty of that going around. And in Guns, Germs and Steel, writer Jared Diamond offers a theory based on the climate and vegetation prevalent a few thousand years ago. His theory is very simple, which also makes it very convincing. In fact there's a multitude of convincing theories. But in the face of stories about slavery and conflict diamonds, any theory seems inadequate.

In the face of these stories all you can do is feel woeful about the human race and wonder why it is okay to just say

“T.I.A. – This is Africa”