Archive for the ‘Top 5s’ Category

Top 5 narcissists on Desert Island Discs

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

1. Elisabeth Schwartzkopf is remembered by a handful of opera enthusiasts for her career as a soprano, but whatever singing ability she may have had is almost entirely eclipsed by her appearance in 1958 on Desert Island Discs, a BBC radio programme that requires interviewees to choose eight songs that would be their sole entertainment on a desert island. Seven of her choices featured her own voice, and the eighth was the instrumental prelude to an opera recording in which she was the star.

2. Norman Wisdom chose five of his own songs, including the appropriately titled Narcissus.

3. Rolf Harris, cartoonist, artist, pop singer and a national treasure who recently admitted that he’d never read any Shakespeare, has appeared on Desert Island Discs twice, so he cannot claim not to understand the concept. Nevertheless, for his second outing, in 1999,  he chose three songs of his own.

4. Only two people have ever chosen Gary Glitter records to take with them, and one of them was Gary himself. Paul Gadd, to call him by his real name, was interviewed in 1981, 15 years before he was convicted of abusing two underage girls.

5. And finally, Engelbert Humperdinck, the ham-faced cheese-peddler who, if placed under a metaphor grill, would be a crooning croque monsieur. He only chose one of his own records, but earns his place with his spectacular choice of book to take with him to the island: his own autobiography.

Top 5 proposed front pages for The Independent

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Independent made a courageous decision to stand out from its rivals on the day after the Royal Wedding by using not a photograph of the event, but a drawing by Tracey Emin. The artist is not known for her drawing so much as her installations, but the Indy splashed on the image anyway despite its obvious shortcomings.

Will this become a trend, I wondered. Will Tracey become an artist-in-residence for the newspaper, composing impressionistic works of art in response to every news event? Here is a top 5 of how The Independent might have observed momentous occasions over the last 100 years, from the recent expiry of a certain terrorist mastermind to the sinking of the Titanic.

The killing of Osama bin Laden

September 11, 2001

The Tiananmen Square massacre

The US capture of Iwo Jima

The sinking of the Titanic

Top 5 unexploited fashion trends

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If fashion is anything*, it is the triumph of novelty over aesthetics. The newer an idea, the better, which is why the fashion conscious frequently find themselves gulled into wearing things like snoods and mid-calf boots.

Neither of these items are new, of course. They are merely old enough to ensure that no one who remembers their last appearance is young enough for their opinion to matter.

I can do better. Here are five items that are so new that I expect them to be foisted upon the credulous imminently.

Wishnets: any fashion designer could come up with tights attached to boots (although I’m not sure anyone has) but to date no one has had the wit to combine fishnets with waders. These could also be known as faders.

Pit stops: shirts once had detachable collars so that they could be washed separately. A capital idea, but half-baked. They should also have detachable armpits. Not only would they be novel, but economical. It’s only really the collar and armpits that need washing on a shirt. The environment thanks you.

Shocks: combined shoes and socks, with detachable lining to facilitate washing.

Scoves: everyone has fond memories of mittens connected, through the sleeves of one’s coat, with a piece of string. But string? Am I a conker? (No.) Join the gloves with a woollen scarf. It would be warm, and only carry a slight risk of strangulation in the event of sudden arm movements, such as might happen during a snowball fight. (There will have to be a warning label.)

Sock-bra (working title): the halterneck bra is a commendable deviation from the shoulder-strap tyranny, but it needs an ally. My friend B suggested a bra with straps that go over the shoulders and connect to a pair of socks at the back. This would have the added function of lifting the wearer’s breasts while seated and indeed exercising them when walking.

*I’m willing to listen to arguments that fashion is actually nothing.

Top 5 activities for a visiting Pope

Monday, April 26, 2010

The reporting of jokes contained in a Foreign Office memo about an impending Papal visit to Britain has been pretty po-faced. The memo did indeed feature suggestions that Benedict XVI could open an abortion ward, launch a brand of condoms and bless a gay wedding, but it also contained less offensive and funnier jokes about him doing forward rolls to promote healthy living and apologising for the Spanish Armada.

It may be worthwhile to celebrate this inspired piece of memo-drafting with an alternative top five activities for a visiting Pope.

1. Visit a Portaloo in a wooded area. Possibly with a Catholic bear, if available.

2. Receive a rapturous welcome in Camden from purveyors of witty T-shirts lionising his attested recreational drug use.

3. Have his bottom bitten by a flea, thus vindicating the mawkish song Little People in Les Miserables that makes the point that humble creatures can affect grandees.

4. Burn Protestants. Health and safety advice suggests burning only dead ones at a crematorium.

5. Put up a tent, go on a bicycling holiday, and other activities that may remind him of his formative years in the Hitler Youth.

Top 5 unexploited film sequels to Brief Encounter

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It seems odd to me that no one has adequately exploited the popularity of Brief Encounter by making a sequel. Or, indeed, several sequels, preferably along the lines of the Die Hard franchise, viz:

Brief Encounter 2: Briefer Encounter
Dr Alec Harvey returns from Johannesburg for a conference on respiratory diseases among miners, but only meets Laura Jesson for a few seconds while changing trains on his way to the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

Brief Encounter with a VengeanceBrief Encounter with a Vengeance
Fred Jesson discovers the truth about his wife’s clandestine cinema visits with Dr Alec Harvey and contrives to restore his pride by poisoning a scone destined for Harvey, who is due to visit the railway station tea shop on his return journey from Blackpool. The assassination attempt is foiled, however, when Dolly Messiter, the chatterbox who interrupted Harvey and Mrs Jesson’s farewell at the end of the first film, intercepts the lethal scone and dies noisily, pulling the tablecloth to the floor and upsetting a dish of Banbury cakes. 

Brief Encounter 4.0: Live Free or Encounter Briefly
(directed by Joel Schumacher)
Dr Alec Harvey, who has been suspended from the medical profession after the shock of Dolly Messiter’s death caused him to seek solace at the bottom of a whisky bottle, learns from autopsy reports that her demise was no accident. He returns to the station to confront Fred Jesson, but is met instead by Jesson’s hired goons, who force him to take refuge behind the counter in the station cafe during a 15-minute shoot-out sequence. Harvey overcomes Jesson’s thugs, defeats Jesson in hand-to-hand combat armed only with a stethoscope and episiotomy scissors, and rescues Laura Jesson from certain death by untying her from the railway tracks just before the delayed arrival of the 4.15pm to Crewe.

Brief Encounter Begins
A reboot of the franchise, in which Dr Alec Harvey emerges as a character stricken with guilt over his inability, as a child, to cure his twin brother’s conjunctivitis. To atone for his failure, he frequents station cafes in a tireless quest to remove coal dust from passengers’ eyes. He begins to find solace after rescuing Laura Jesson from certain blindness in one eye, but his happiness is thwarted by the return of his brother, whose bitterness over his condition has caused him to reinvent himself as the villainous Partially-Sighted Man. Harvey emerges victorious from their fight to the death (after Partially-Sighted Man gets coal dust in his other eye and stumbles into the coke furnace aboard the Penzance Express) but alienates Mrs Jesson, who realises that Harvey’s mission to save sight is more important than their relationship.

Brief Encounter Actually
Richard Curtis reimagines Brief Encounter as a five-act rom-com in which Dr Alec Harvey (Hugh Grant) and Laura Jesson (Keira Knightley) overcome their awkward social situation and get married after Fred Jesson (Bill Nighy) confesses his deep-seated passion for Dolly Messiter (Emma Thompson), who is equally smitten. Beryl Walters (Renee Zellweger), the cafe assistant, dies, but the solemnity of her funeral is broken when Albert Godby (Rowan Atkinson), the ticket inspector, uses the occasion to consumate his relationship with Myrtle Bagot (Martine McCutcheon), the longstanding object of his flirtatious banter. All six lovers are married in a joint ceremony in the station cafe at Christmas, during which it snows.

Top 5 superior song lyrics to woop, woop

Monday, January 19, 2009

policeman photo taken by allen350d and used under creative commons licence“Woop, woop,” is, according to the rapper KRS-One, the sound of the police.

Is it, though? I’ve heard the police, and it was definitely more: “Mee-maw, mee-maw.”

Now I think about it, that was probably the police car rather than the police themselves. I suggest to KRS-One, if that’s his real name, that he revise his song to one of the following:

1. Would you mind breathing into this bag, sir? That’s the sound of the police.

2. ‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, that’s the sound of the police.

3. We are appealing for witnesses to come forward, that’s the sound of the police.

4. A 32-year-old man is helping us with our inquiries, that’s the sound of the police.

5. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something that you later rely on in court, that’s the sound of the police.

When I was on my gap year in Indiah…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Nauseating, isn’t it? Anecdotes about India are almost as boring as anecdotes about scuba diving (“There were all these… fish”) or anecdotes about surfing (“The wave was like, woah, and I was like, dude”).

India gappers have become an archetype: floppy-haired students with collarless shirts who “found themselves” by going to a Third World country, eating Europeanised food that the locals would never touch, and travelling along a route so well-worn by budget travellers that you can almost see the rut from space. 

It is tempting, then, to dismiss the gap year to India as a contrived, boil-in-the-bag experience that non-gappers can emulate by going to Ealing and chugging a packet of laxatives.

Lots of people do dismiss it in this way, but they all have one thing in common. They didn’t go. They are armchair critics attempting to mollify their envy by pretending it isn’t enviable.

I did go, and I can tell you this: it was wonderful. I don’t mean “wonderful” as a euphemism for good. It filled me with wonder, and still does, more than a decade on.  The critics are wrong for about a thousand reasons, but here are the top five:

1. There is nothing sanitised about India. Tourism, rife as it is, has had little impact even on those towns tramped by a million Lonely Planet pilgrims. This is a world where laundry is beaten on rocks, men will shout through your train window at 4am to try to sell you tea, and mothers cling the outside of buses after passing their babies through the windows to be cared for by strangers.

2. Poverty is inescapable. Its scale and intensity means that even the most blithe tourist will have to adapt his or her world view to cope with the shock. It makes Western poverty, with its social security safety nets and health provision, seem like a Swiss finishing school.

3. Westerners are outsiders. They will be stared at and hustled, not through animosity but because of an assumption that they have money to burn. Not only is it exhausting, but for white middle-class gappers it is probably the first time they will have been on the sharp end of racist prejudices.

4. Kindness to strangers is endemic and profoundly touching.

5. It isn’t home. Gap years coincide with teenagers learning to deal with the world without their parents, and being in a country far from home only enhances that experience.

None of this is meant to suggest that India is the ultimate gap destination. Any country resistant to western influences will have the same impact. My point is that India is no theme park or pre-packaged experience. People who spend six months there on a gap year do have insights that people who spend that time at home do not.

But yes, the anti-gappers have a point. Those who have been must learn to shut up about it. I shall not mention it again.

Top 5 platitudes from Gordon Brown’s speech

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gordon Brown’s speech to his flock at the Labour Party Conference today reminded me of the usefulness of the Hoggart Test, the yardstick often applied by Simon Hoggart to platitudinous rhetoric: you can tell whether something is worth saying by examining whether the opposite is absurd.

The following examples from GB’s speech are not taken out of context; they were soundbites that were punctuated with rounds of applause. Could any elected politician get away with the opposite of these statements, as suggested in italics?

“I know the difference between right and wrong.”
I have no sense of morality.

“On the side of hard-working families is the only place I’ve wanted to be.”
Someone has to stand up for slovenly singletons.

“In all times we will put people first.”
Flamingos first, then people.

“We will be the party of law and order.”
We aim to build a society that bears a closer resemblance to the Wild West frontier.

“We will be the party of the family.”
We wish to tear apart basic social units*.

Most long political speeches fail the Hoggart test at some point, and it should be noted that GB’s speech was by no means devoid of significant announcements, but the question still stands: why do we tolerate this kind of bunk from our leaders? It’s a conference speech, not an episode of The West Wing. The people in the auditorium may have been flag-saluting automotons (I know from personal experience that delegates at these events are not independent thinkers) but viewers outside the auditorium aren’t.

*Even Margaret Thatcher, in her famous claim that “there is no such thing as society”, acknowledged the role of families.

Top 5 worst pay-off lines (give or take three)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

You can imagine the pain. I recorded Cliffhanger by mistake last night. You needn’t feel sorry for me, mind. I was actually trying to record Die Hard 2. (It was rescheduled because some oversensitive baboon at ITV thought that it would be inappropriate to screen a film about things blowing up at airports at a time when things are blowing up at airports. Ludicrous. The only person anywhere near death is the gimp who set himself alight. I ask you. These guys are the Benny Hills of terror.)

Anyhow, there was one positive outcome: I was able to listen to the worst pay-off line ever spoken during a hero vs villain finale. As Sylvester Stallone dispatches the actor from Third Rock from the Sun by throwing him inside a helicopter poised to fall into a ravine, he shouts: “Remember, shithead, keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times.”

Beautiful stuff. I wanted to compile a top five worst pay-off lines, but I can only think of one other example bad enough to qualify: Vin Diesel, having fired a heat-seeking rocket at a villain puffing on a cigarette at the end of xXx: “I told you smoking would kill you.”

Submissions for the other three places in the top five would be most welcome.