Useful putdowns

As Clive Anderson remarked to Jeffrey Archer,

Is there no beginning to your talents?

And there must be an earlier source for this one, but I heard it from Jack Dee on I’m sorry I haven’t a clue:

Once heard, forgotten.

A review of one of my gigs, surely. For the niche genre of conductors’ inadvertent self-putdowns, see here—and then my elegant trio of variations punctuating my Visual culture post.

In the kitchen

Nearly related to my post on advertising slogans, how about

Prick with a fork

Scholarly rigour obliges me to observe that this may have been concocted from an old line of the late great Humphrey Lyttleton on I’m sorry I haven’t a clueits target then (yet more suitably) being Antony Worrall Thompson.

Strictly in the interests of gender equality, I believe the female version goes

Fluff with a wooden spoon

Again, take your pick—Nigella? or the numinous Fanny Cradock?

Cf. “May contain nuts”.

Early Woody Allen

In those heady days when Woody Allen was known mainly as a humorist, how we chuckled at his early books (cf. “late Beethoven“) like Without feathers and Getting even. In the latter, here are a few highlights from Spring Bulletin—”an imaginary, handsomely printed course bulletin more or less typical of all the college bulletins and adult-education come-ons” that kept turning up in his mailbox, convincing him that he “must be on a special mailing list for dropouts”:

History of European Civilization: […] Also studied in the course is the decision to hold the Renaissance in Italy.

Fundamental Astronomy: students are taught to identify various constellations, such as the Big Dipper, Cygnus the Swan, Sagittarius the Archer, and the twelve stars that form Lumides the Pants Salesman.

Modern Biology: How the body functions, and where it can usually be found. Blood is analyzed, and it is learned why it is the best possible thing to have coursing through one’s veins. A frog is dissected by students and its digestive tract is compared with man’s, with the frog giving a good account of itself except on curries.

Introduction to social work: How to organize street gangs into basketball teams, and vice versa.

Tambourin chinois

In my teens, as a fiddler and budding aficionado of Chinese culture, I couldn’t help practising Fritz Kreisler’s Tambourin chinois. You can explore various brilliant later versions, but here’s Kreisler himself playing it in 1936: 

I relished getting my fingers round all the funky pentatonic runs and double-stops in fifths and fourths—and the whimsical middle section is great too.

At the time, deprived of “real” Chinese musical culture (as indeed were the Chinese, then—With All Due Respect to The Red Detachment of Women), chinoiserie was still attractive. It was to be a long time before I came across The Real Thing in rural China. OK, Tambourin chinois isn’t entirely similar to Li Manshan’s funky drumming in Yellow Dragon Thrice Transforms Its Body (coda to the Transferring Offerings ritual—my film, from 1.11.07), or the amazing tracks on the playlist in the sidebar. But I still like it…

LMS drummingMuch as I admire Kreisler and Co., don’t miss Sun Huang‘s exquisite playing—and do click on the link to Saint-Saens and the toothbrush

The art of the voiceover

Talking of media voices, how David Tennant must delight in doing his deadpan voiceovers for BBC TV’s brilliant spoof W1A, successor to the equally fine Twenty Twelve.

My current favourite line (here, from 3.58) is

… the Department of Culture, Media, And Also For Some Reason Sport…

which cracks me up every time he says it, even in the more subtle version

Department of Culture, Media, And Also Sport.

He slips in gems like

Reaction on social media has been almost universally divided.

The choice of theme tune is perfect too.

Further to my paltry comments on filming techniques, I did the voiceovers for my first two films (DVDs with my books Ritual and music of north China) myself, much to the amusement of my friends—who, used to my imp–p-pediment, couldn’t imagine a budget vast enough to allow for all the editing. In the end I recorded both voiceovers over a single morning, doing only a few retakes, and it didn’t take the editors too long.

Still, for my portrait film about Li Manshan, it was much more personal for him to do the voiceovers himself, with English subtitles. After lengthy discussion of the script, we eventually recorded them deep in the night at his home—Chinese villages can be noisy places, with dogs barking, donkeys braying, and tractors making those tractor noises…

The joys of indexing

I’ve just added a handy tag for Chinese jokes, that transpires to comprise a majority of my posts—hours of harmless fun for all the family.

I’m not going to try and work out how to introduce sub-headings into such tags, but here’s a simple list of how they might look for this one:

  • puns
  • Daoist
  • grammar
  • pinyin
  • poetry
  • Maoist
  • heritage
  • names
  • visual
  • Tang
  • urban–rural

Call me a nerd [You’re a nerd—Ed.], but I’ve always loved indexing. After graduating—just as orchestras were mysteriously beginning to consider paying me to play the violin—I indexed books for Cambridge UP (notably for the Tang volumes of The Cambridge history of China), relishing the task of compiling hand-written index-cards (imagine that). Since I began writing my own books, I’ve always enjoyed indexing them too—it’s so good if authors can compile their own indexes, as detailed knowledge of your text can produce a much more instructive result, highlighting themes that may not always reveal themselves through a simple search for particular words. And they can give a real flavour of the subject. Again we return to taxonomy.

Pedantry and frivolity can go hand in hand. With sub-editors either indulgent or distracted, I’ve generally managed to sneak in a few entertaining entries. Alphabetical order can further create random and stimulating associations. I made an early foray in my index for Folk music of China:

  • temples (Fujian, Hebei, Shanxi; see also temple music)
  • Temple, Shirley

A couple of nice sequences in Plucking the winds:

  • Beatles
  • Beethoven: author despairingly sings gongche mnemonics to
  • bicycles
  • birth-control policy
  • blind musicians

[…]

  • vagrancy
  • Valerio, Father
  • Verona, missionary base
  • video-CDs
  • viola jokes
  • Vivaldi, disparaged

Ritual and music of north China:

  • clothing
  • coal mining
  • commune system
  • concert performances
  • conch
  • contests, official
  • cremation
  • crime
  • Cui Jian
  • cultural authorities
  • Cultural Revolution
  • cymbals

In Daoist priests of the Li family I like the sequences

[…]

and

  • Venice
  • violence
  • vocal liturgy
  • walking

Slonimsky’s brilliant A Lexicon of musical invective (a genuinely instructive caveat to our contingent aesthetic judgments) has a hilarious index (“Invecticon”)—here’s a sample:

invecticonWhile we’re on the subject of research (um) tools, the glossaries of the Barry Mackenzie cartoon books are masterpieces of indiscreet linguistic erudition:
Bazza
I keep trying to encourage Chinese publishers to include indexes—they would make a really valuable resource.

While I’m here, it’s great to be able to cross-reference and give links online (as you can see in this very post)—which in a work published on paper would have to be a tedious footnote or a laborious URL. Not to mention publishing colour photos and maps. AND what’s more, unlike traditional publishing, we can continue editing them. Hooray for modern life!

Anyway, enjoy all the Chinese jokes.