Friday, September 11, 2009

Blue funk

Is it better to live in ignorance or know the bitter truth? I find I’m afraid of circumstances that might put relationships (with friends, with family) to the test, in case it turns out that the persons I think of as fun or principled or good-hearted or loyal or helpful are not what they would seem… not when it comes to the crunch.

I’m afraid of the crunch, because it would be sound of illusions being irretrievably shattered, like Humpty Dumpty.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Britcoms and sitcoms

Pete was watching "Red Dwarf" some time back, a British “sci-fi” sitcom which I watch only once in a while. It’s one of his firm favourites, though – if he could, he would watch it every time an episode of "Red Dwarf" was telecast… pretty much the same as me when it comes to “F.r.i.e.n.d.s”, I suppose. I find "Red Dwarf" reasonably entertaining, although what I like best is probably the facial make-up for Kryten, the robot-with-a-conscience. It’s absolutely brilliant for not being computer-generated/enhanced. The special effects for the series in general are pretty damn good, too.

In the years I’ve been in the UK, I’ve watched quite a few TV sitcoms, classic ones that Pete’s grown up with and others of more recent vintage. What I’ve discovered is that although I now like quite a few, some of them had to “grow” on me - they simply didn’t “click” instantly. And then again, there are some which I simply cannot get – they just don’t seem funny. A classic example of the latter is “Absolutely Fabulous” – where I sit stone-faced and puzzled but Pete’s chuckling away. Part of my problem could well be Jennifer Saunders, whose acting, especially in that sitcom, grates on every nerve I possess. Actually I think her brand of thespianism creates new nerve endings in my body purely so that they can jangle irritably. (It’s not a pleasant sensation.)

Another of those I don’t really get is “The Young Ones” – although I have come to like Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall separately in their gross-out live stage shows of “Bottom”, playing Eddie Hitler and Richie Richard, respectively. I can take slapstick and scatological comedy in small doses, but the bloopers have always been what I like best. I love the way they cover-up their mistakes by ad-libbing them into their dialogue. It took me quite a while to see that Rik Mayall was really quite good looking, because of the huge variety of dreadful faces he pulls.

Of those that I disliked right from the start, probably “George and Mildred” tops the list. Actually, it’s on a list all by itself. “Porridge”, with Ronnie Barker playing Fletcher, the smooth-talking small-time criminal, is one I’m still ambivalent about. Underneath the bonhomie and good humour that Fletcher displays, you can sense that he is actually quite amoral and a really rather nasty piece of work. It’s a brilliant bit of character acting, so good that I can’t watch “Porridge” without disliking Fletcher intensely. That Ronnie Barker was a very, very good actor.

Which is why I love him in the gentle sitcom “Open All Hours”, where he plays a tight-fisted, sarcastic, amusing old shop-keeper, Arkwright, whose nephew works for him. (A small digression: The stutter that Ronnie Barker affects is, again, brilliantly done and raises a laugh every time. But a book I read recently, "Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell, kind of makes me feel a bit guilty now when I giggle at Barker's perfectly timed stutter - because the teenage protagonist of the book has a stammer (or a stutter - there's a difference, I know, but I'm not sure which one is right in this instance), and in a passing mention he says that every time "Open All Hours" came on TV, it made him cringe, because he was so very conscious of his own problem for which he was bullied at school.) Arkwright is one of my favourite characters - he displays quite a few characteristics of Indian shopkeepers in trying to sell "off" goods and make as much money from his customers as possible while still being obsequious!

I could go on about more of the sitcoms I like, but what I was getting at was that the American ones seemed to catch my fancy quicker than the British ones (perhaps because they were not so reliant on physical humour?), even though the latter was what I got to watch as a kid before we had all the satellite/cable TV channels. Pre-Star TV folks might remember serials like "Some Mothers Do 'ave 'em" (intensely annoying, but all praise for the guy who, as Frank, plays such a convincing numpty), "Are You Being Served" (not terribly funny, and the camp guy overdid it by the bucketful!), "Sorry!" (a one word review - yurck!), "Mind Your Language" (got boring really quick because of the stereotyped characters) and "The Brittas Empire". My dad and grandfather were avid watchers of "Yes Minister", a series which I came to adore only when I got a bit older and could appreciate the wit and sarcasm - oh, and also understand the accent!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My new hobby is hitting the mark

I We might have found a new hobby – archery! Last weekend Pete decided to surprise me by taking me to the Church Stretton archery club, where he’d booked an hour’s instruction with a budding instructor who needed people to instruct so as to qualify for instructing. Apparently I’d mentioned to Pete (probably after watching costumed archers strut their stuff at some castle or other) that I’d like to try my hand at it too, and he’d taken that offhand remark at face value. I’m glad he did, because it was great fun. We were meant to be there for just about an hour, but we ended up staying on for six whole hours.

There were two young men whose instructing methods, etc were being observed by a senior instructor as part of the qualifying process. One of them, a lanky uber-cool young man clad all in black, with black sunglasses as well, was assigned to us. I have to say that going by his performance with us, he wasn’t exactly going to be the best instructor – not by a long shot! The examiner found it necessary to step in time and again to remind of things he should have told us, or asked us, or shown us, and to speak more clearly - if it hadn't been for his advice and comments, we would have been a lot less informed about the whys and hows of what we were doing. Mr Uber Cool did pass, but probably just by a squeak... the fact is that he's a very good archer (else he would very likely not have been considered for an instructor's job) but perhaps not yet confident enough in his teaching abilities.

Anyway, we started off shooting arrows at a target 20 metres away. What surprised me the most was the fact that you don't stand facing the target front-on. Rather, you straddle a horizontal line so that the lower half of you is at right angles to the target while you swivel your upper half to face the target. (Is this not a good enough description? Too bad, it's the best I can do.). I guess I've never watched any of the archery sessions at the Olympics or this might not have been such a surprise.


Pete got the hang of letting the arrows off correctly quicker than I did, making several bulls eyes while I just about managed to hit the target board. This pleased him very much because he values games of skill over games of chance - like cards - or games of chance that involve skill - like Scrabble.

My archery efforts were, meanwhile, for some time more on the lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was also not much of a shot, it would seem... always assuming he wrote the poem in an autobiographical frame of mind. (For non-Eng Lit students, it's the one that goes:
"I shot an Arrow into the air
It fell to earth I know not where,
For so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight." )

[Although, strictly speaking, I suppose I did know where my arrows fell - usually well outside the marked area on the target board. And the arrow the swift flight of which the sight could not follow could more accurately describe those shot by the Olympic entrants who were practising nearby.]

Still, eventually, after a while, my arrows began to hit the centre of the target more often than not, and after a couple of times of having all four of them hit the bulls eye, the instructor decided I was ready to move on to a target that was placed further away, at 30 metres. This was a bit more difficult as the technique involved was different - I had to pull the bowstring right upto my nose, with my curled forefinger under my chin, keeping my left arm bent just so. If I got it wrong, two things happened: 1. The arrow either wildly overshot or pathetically undershot its mark. 2. The bowstring caught on my arm, just above the elbow on the inside (which doesnt sound like much, but after a couple of times of catching your arm like that, it hurts like hell. I have a large painful black bruise, visible even on my dark skin, to prove that particular point.)

One thing which I thought was a bit overdone - at first - was the health and safety rules that were strictly followed. For instance, nobody but the archers (and the instructors, natch) were allowed around the shooting line - they all had to stand behind the observation line which was about 10 metres behind the shooting line (these are my terms for the lines, by the way). Nobody was allowed to go and fetch their arrows from their target until everybody at all the targets had finished shooting. And nobody was allowed to shoot arrows while there was anyone else on the field who was still collecting arrows from the other targets, even if they were really far away - like 90 metres away. (One of the archery contenders from Shropshire for the 2012 Olympics was practising shooting at his target which was 90 metres away. Since he is disabled, a colleague was deputed to fetch his arrows from the target.)

Like I said, it seemed a bit excessive to me at the start, but once I'd realised just how far beyond the target a wrongly-aimed arrow could go, I realised that maybe it was better to be safe than sorry. Especially as anybody on the receiving end of an arrow would most emphatically not be a happy camper.

We were meant to have an hour's instruction but it was so interesting and enjoyable that we ended up practising for 6 hours straight. Membership to the club for a year is pretty cheap and we get to rent our own bow and arrows and accessories (to take home) for £5 a month... so Sherwood Forest, here we come!