There’s a hole in my bucket

One of the less depressing things around at the moment – and between the weather and the multiple international crises there is plenty to depress – is laughing at this odd thing about ice buckets. It seems pretty much everyone in the public eye is involved and it is quite fascinating to see what has basically become a giant public game of dare.

The fact it is all wrapped up in a charity drive gives the silliness some authenticity, but in the end it is all rather silly. I feel I can say that considering my own charity based recent endeavours (potentially even sillier) but what interests me this week is not so much what or why but the very fact the thing exists at all and more worryingly, what might be next.

I guess it is partly an artefact of the social media age. Nothing could spread quite this fast without the likes of Facebook and Twitter to propagate it. I guess also I should expect it to become wall to wall – by its nature this nomination process means an exponential growth for the period it is still trendy, which my spider sense suggests is just coming to an end.

Even within the current fad there has been a natural push to stand out and to perhaps be funnier, or more extreme. I don’t think this is a problem if we are talking about people in the celebrity eye because most of them have agents and the like who will be quite interested to make sure it is properly staged and not too stupid or dangerous. The less well advised among us though may not have those checks and balances and while the risk from pouring a bucket of cold water over your head is probably pretty low (another reason for popularity?), people can come up with some surprisingly weird and wacky variations.

There is a dark side to this – individuals can have their arms twisted by the threat of peer pressure and whacked by the velvet glove of ‘it’s for charity’. Not everyone is strong enough to ignore it/say no and not feel bad about it. It can get out of hand and people can get hurt – if not physically then the mental strain of either being forced to do something they do not want to do or face accusations of being a stick in the mud or a coward.

But, as I say, I’m more worried about the next phase, because there will be one. This whole thing appears to have been so successful in fund raising that I’m sure the next phase is already percolating somewhere. The bandwagon is rolling along and people will still continue to jump on it or take inspiration (if that is the right word) from it.

It reminds me of the whole nude/nearly nude calendar craze. The original Calendar Girls story is funny and innovative and rightly caught attention. But I don’t honestly think we need the endless supply of copycats that still limp on today (mostly involving fit students which kind of unfortunately make them increasingly look like exercises in objectification). It is well past the sell buy date as an idea and it is not funny anymore (although I am sure there is a spectrum between class and crass). Also, I am not sure everyone persuaded to take part realised the legacy for themselves – those pictures are always going to be out there, thank you again dear internet. My recent unclothed activity did have to be done through the filter of acknowledging that something I would not like might turn up out there. If I did not accept that then I would not have done it – but I am old and ugly so I do not care too much (well, mostly).

Another example is charity singles – in the mid to late 80s you could not move for the things and for every ‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’ there were several versions of ‘Doctor in Distress’ (and yes, I maybe one of the few people who bought that – indeed I have the true horror that is the twelve inch version of that. If you don’t know what I mean, then but honestly, folks, just say no. Oh hang on, that’s a different cringe inducing experience, isn’t it? ).

So I am waiting for the depressing and inevitable slide into mediocrity of the current craze and hope fervently that what replaces it is well thought out and witty. I’m not holding my breath though (and that’s not a suggestion either). And no, I haven’t been nominated for the ice bucket challenge. Yes, I would do it (going running in the UK about guarantees at some point an identical effect). What I am not sure about is who I would then nominate and whether I would do that at all. People should not need to be challenged to be charitable.


Birthday Suits and Songs

Well the weather held off, I did the streak wound London zoo but cannot say that regular nudity outside of the bathroom is ever going to be my thing, at least not without substantially less beer and much more time in the gym. I did find it amusing that it was clear who the naturists were and who were there to do it for a laugh/dare/good cause/never going to do this again people largely to do with just how aggressively undressed some people can be.
Should anyone feel the urge to sponsor me then the link is below for the last time and therefore I will draw a veil over the whole thing (as I would say if I was going for a cheap pun).
I will warn people that I did not completely manage to avoid being on the internet, but thankfully with the exception of three seconds in a video post I am only seen half wrapped in foil, a bit like a strange looking oven bound turkey. I look about as comfortable as said bird would probably do, and I have not even been stuffed.
So your internet surfing is probably safe.

So from moving quickly on, I thought I’d go from nakedness, to birthday suit to births and songs about people’s kids – a link I think anyone should be proud of. I was listening to the radio this week and they mentioned that Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’ was a song about his baby daughter (obvious in retrospect, as it contains the line ‘only one minute old’) and it set me wondering whether it was compulsory for songwriters/artists to write a song about their offspring at some point. For example, after having an early hit about one daughter, Josephine, did Chris Rea feel indebted to write ‘Julia’ for his younger girl? I guess that it was a cathartic act for Joel Pott of Athlete to write something about the plight of his prematurely born daughter (the marvellous ‘Wires’). They’ve all been at it – Barenaked Ladies (‘when you dream’), Neil Hannon’s ‘Charmed Life’… They are mostly sweet, emotional outpourings about the new life that they have helped to bring into the world. It is not a sub genre I had thought of before but the more you think about it the more you can come up with. Knowing what a song is about – if anything – always rather puts me in a different place of reference to the song which can be positive (as in this case) or perhaps negative to. For instance, ‘Everything I own’ by David Gates, for the band Bread back in the 70s and covered many times by all sorts of people, was written in response to the death of his father (that is a whole different genre, come to think of it, stand up Mike & the Mechanics ‘The Living Years’ to get the tears going). Additionally it can make it just a bit creepy when someone reuses the song or uses it in a context unaware of the connotations that the lyrics may bring. That said, I’m a lyric motivated person and I know many people that pay no attention to lyrics at all, so I guess that is the defence of causing a bit of a, um, ‘let’s just overlook that line’ moment or two.
The other sub-genre that the Lovely Wife came up with is a slightly different one which we thought was quite fun is love songs written for wives/girlfriends who subsequently became ex. For example, John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’; Billy Joel’s ‘Just the way you are’; ‘Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’. Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’ almost qualifies but not quite; despite a high profile affair he is still married to the said Lady apparently.
So what is my favourite song that someone has written about their own child? My first thought was that ‘Wires’ was the front runner, but in the end I’m going for the Lightning Seeds ‘Life of Riley’. It’s just so full of joy, looking forward to a life stretching out ahead of a new person in the world – I think it is impossible not to be carried along by that spirit, wherever it takes.
Unless your name happens to be Riley, in which case you probably hate it.

Bare Faced Cheek

Hmm. Sooner or later I had to write something on this topic and go out a little on a limb (or insert your own pun related euphemism). On Thursday I’ll be removing my clothes and running round London Zoo with a few hundred complete strangers in a silly attempt to raise some money for the ZSLs conservation programmes.

Now Zoos are not my favourite thing – animals should not be used for entertainment. However, the best ones are now doing some very interesting work with conservation in the wild as well as the captive breeding and reintroduction programmes people are more familiar with. For example, Cincinnati zoo’s programme to protect lions by preventing clashes between the big cats and the Maasai with their cattle herds by first tracking the lions and getting the livestock to only go to the (shared) water holes at different times – effectively removing the temptation – is a great piece of work and a good way to look at how the solution to a problem might be actually quite simple.

Thankfully the conditions for most species have improved and frankly, you need to look at things species by species. For example I have serious issues with most marine mammals in captivity with the exception of manatees – as when your lifestyle involves mostly sitting on the sea bottom chomping sea grass you might as well be in a huge tank – at least you are safe from motor boats running you over, which is the main threat we present them in the wild.

So anyway – I’ve had a number of facial expressions thrown in my direction on this ranging from a raised eyebrow to incredulous looks of horror. I think the horrified end of the spectrum would rather run the marathon than a brief streak in the altogether. But it is like that, it is literally a very personal and individual thing. I guess for me the challenge is complete lack of body confidence and the need to remind myself occasionally that I should love the skin I’m in. I have had one previous experience of that back in 2011 where I was part of a charity skinny dip in Wales – 413 people of all ages and sizes diving off a freezing beach in the Gower for Marie Curie cancer care. It was hilarious and most people could not stop laughing, because it made you feel like a five year old, silly and very temporarily, care free (until the cold kicks in). At the time it was an official world record too; I have the certificate to prove it from Guinness, although I believe it has been since been overtaken by a bunch of New Zealanders. So it was fun and I’m hoping for a similar atmosphere on Thursday.

But, I don’t think I could ever cope with a naturist beach. I think some friends of mine have thought that odd – nay, inconsistent – but in the end I would find that a bit too weird. Skinny dipping and the like relies in the one off nature of it all and you don’t want to have time to think about it; I do not think I would ever feel entirely comfortable being unclothed all the time, except perhaps with the closest of friends. But even then, the shared awkwardness would probably destroy any element of fun to be derived.

So those who know me well; don’t worry. You can just ignore it and I’m intending to behave as discretely as anyone else outside of events and perhaps secluded swimming places where there is no one there to offend. That’s not acceptable for any reason. I am going to call it rule number one – do not inflict your naked form on anyone who is not a consenting adult.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the Lovely Wife is not joining me, and would rather gnaw off her own leg. She will be sitting in a cafe drinking tea and steadfastly ignoring everything until I am presentable again. Rule number two… Always ensure you have someone trustworthy to look after your clothes, because, inevitably, someone thinks it funny to run off with them.

And if you do want to help ZSL projects then please do sponsor me.

Send away the Clowns

We recently had the pleasure of dinner at a rather quirky restaurant/bar called Circus which was hiding away on the fringes of Covent Garden. The resident quirk is that every 40 minutes or so they turn the lights off and some house performers appear on a large stage/table and proceed to eat fire or balance in probably impossible ways on a support to increasingly lubricated and therefore appreciative dining audience. Of course you have to watch – it is so dark in the place even with the lights on that trying to continue eating your red curry while the performance is happening is only asking for trouble. It is rather charming, and the young performers pretty talented.

Obviously this is themed to go with the name of the place. But of course one type of circus entertainment was missing. There were no clowns.

We found this reassuring. We do not like clowns, you see.

Now, I do not mean people talented in the area of physical comedy. That is something entirely different and I can laugh at a pratfall or a whack on the head with a spinning plank as much as anyone. I mean the whole white face/orange hair and outsize clothing weirdness.

Clowns are creepy and sinister and not at all funny. It is not surprising they turn up in horror movies a lot (the clown doll on the chair in Poltergeist is a personal scare favourite , although why the kid has such a horrible thing in his bedroom in the first place is beyond me, but then it was made in the 80s and it is not a decade know for taste and discretion).

But I had not really thought about rally what is behind the dislike. It is not just that I do not find them funny. There are plenty of things – and comedians – that I do not find particularly funny, but I would not accuse (most) of them for being creepy. I think it has dawned on me recently though, and the problem is a lack of humanity.

We are going to see King Lear at the weekend (a bundle of laughs itself I know) and one of the key characters in that play is the Fool. The fool or jester in medieval times always seemed to me as a reflection of ourselves, literally poking fun at our own inadequacies and weaknesses that we know perfectly well exist but we would rather not confront in any more direct ways. But most clowns are not reflections of our human condition and rather painted macabre creations of their own, hiding behind makeup as much as if they were wearing a mask.

A few years ago I ran the Great North Run in a horse suit, which included an all encompassing headpiece. The lovely Wife noted that she found it extremely off putting when I put the head on, because at that point I vanished. As she said, there could be anybody at all – or nobody for that matter – in the suit at that point. The mask removed my humanity and replaced it with a visage of fake equine. Incidentally, that was a day when I think I may have finally learned to truly hate the ‘why the long face?’ joke. Runners are not the most creative wits in the world it appears (although I’ll give the guy who grabbed my arm claiming that he was ‘feeling a bit horse’ at least a B+ for effort).

So I think it is the mask effect. They may indeed be very comfortable and soon everyone will be wearing one, but I do not see the fetid pale paste of the clown becoming more widespread, outside of a possible zombie apocalypse. I think it is perfectly fine to avoid things that disturb you sometimes; so together with reality TV shows and Michael Bay movies I think I’ll give the clowns a miss, if you don’t mind.