To complement my post on Alexei Sayle and his early travels behind the Iron curtain:
The other day, finding myself (in the old-fashioned, not New-Age, sense—what do you take me for?) in Stoke Newington, I recalled this fine routine—a historical vignette that already needs exegesis, given the area’s later vibrant image:
Alexei may have mellowed over the years since his angry standup and his cameos in The young ones, but he hasn’t lost his surreal edge, as we can hear in his recent BBC Radio 4 series Alexei Sayle’s imaginary sandwich bar.
He plans a sultry film noir aimed at the children’s market,
Postman Pat always rings twice.
From 1939 to 1945 the government had permitted, indeed had positively encouraged men to bayonet people in the guts or set them on fire with flame throwers or bomb their houses from 20,000 feet, but when they came home they couldn’t have a tomato until 1957!
With the immaculate credentials of his upringing, he reflects,
I think despite all the chaos we create, the famines, the gulags, left-wing people are basically good people. Admittedly left-wing regimes might over time devolve into authoritarian kleptocracies whose autocratic rule is enforced by terror and torture, but we do mean well.
Despite my inordinate enthusiasm for Strictly, I applaud his critique (relevant also to the Chinese heritage flummery):
Everything is wrong with ballroom dancing: the clothes, the music, even the expressions on the dancers’ faces, plus of course the dancing itself. The reason for this is simple—you get points for it. Ballroom dancing is an aesthetic pursuit, an art form, which has been turned into a competition, the result of which is that everything is done to attract the attention of the judges. The competitors must try and fit into a series of rules rather than display emotion, artistry and invention, and so a tawdry, flashy, kitsch aesthetic takes over. […] If you see a couple performing a proper Argentinian tango you are watching a dance created in the brothels of Buenos Aires that reeks of melancholy and sex. Then you watch the ballroom version of tango, all gurning faces and robotic, angular, hideous movements. You are seeing a great popular art reduced to a terrible travesty.
On the topic of TV competitions, he might like the recent Mash Report headline:
Bake Off winner discovers you can buy cake from shops
Alexei elaborates on the Pannacotta Army line (“ancient figures of soldiers, sculpted out of soft white cheese”), and reminds me of the old Snow White and the Seven Samurai joke, which gave Tom Holt the title for his drôle book. Which might lead us to Nick Helm’s line:
I needed a password eight characters long—so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Among many gems is his account in Episode 2 of how a casual expression “Soup, swoop, loop de loop”, recycled as a forgotten piss-take after a London dinner party, came to be exported to New Zealand and immortalised in the dissertation
“Soup, swoop, loop de loop”: shamanistic incantations in Rarotongan food preparation rituals, University of Topeka, 2001.
I’m also enjoying his latest BBC Radio 4 series The Absence Of Normal.