Category Archives: History

How many times have you heard someone say “I’d rather die than give a speech” or “If you don’t MC my wedding I will kill you”? I know I have heard these, and variations of these comments many, many times.  Somewhere along the line ‘public speaking’ and ‘death’ become intrinsically linked.  It is almost common belief that there is a certain level of ‘being embarrassed’ where you will actually kick the bucket and that this can be triggered by having to make a wedding toast.

Of course, despite people’s morbid fear of standing up and prattling off a few anecdotes it is an exaggeration – like saying you ‘love’ your car, you’re a caffeine ‘addict’ or that you ‘literally want to shag’ your internet service provider – strip away the hyperbole and you’ll realise the link between speech-making and shuffling off of this mortal coil is a grossly inflated untruth.

Sure, some people have died as a result of making speeches – notably, U.S President William Henry Harrison died a month after taking office as a result of making an inauguration speech so meandering and verbose he caught pneumonia in the process. The thing was though, Harrison actually enjoyed making speeches. He wasn’t the vaguest bit embarrassed at all. He liked making speeches so much he forgot to wear a coat. So really the only evidence there is that making a speech will kill you is if you enjoy doing it so much you forget to dress yourself.

President William Henry Harrison: So long-winded he died of pneumonia

President William Henry Harrison: So long-winded he died of pneumonia

Not only will you not actually leave the mortal realm simply because you feel a bit shamed, making speeches is really, really easy; you just need one or two ‘templates’ up your sleeve and you’ll be ‘Pulling a Harrison’ (Making speeches, not dying of pneumonia) without ‘totally Harrisoning out’ (dying, not making speeches).

Tell a Risqué Story

When you were at high school, the most interesting people were always the people who had ripping tales about getting ripped in the weekend or had ribald tales of sexual conquest.  In this, like in most areas of life; nothing has changed since high school. The Falstaffian Sex conquistadors of our society are always the most interesting because of the tales that they tell.

One of the advantages to telling a risqué story in a speech is, due to societal mores, you are supposed to use euphemism and implication to indicate risqué behaviour, rather than being direct.  For instance, the crowd at a wedding would be aghast if you, as a bridesmaid charged with making a toast said:

“Tabitha is getting married today. Last week at the Hen’s Night Tabitha got drunk and had sexual intercourse a stripper in a manner so vigorous that she broke the end of his penis”

Even though this is a literal and dispassionate list of events, it would still be inappropriate.

However, if you were to say:

“I don’t think any of us have had a drink since the Hen’s Night last week. Put it this way, there were a few sore heads the next day…”

You imply a degree of licentiousness without being literal and everyone would have a good old laugh.  This works as a euphemism, but it could also be used to imbue a relatively tame evening with innuendo.  You could simply be referring to Tabitha buying one too many craft beers and waking up with a mild hangover.

Litter with Cliches

Everyone thinks they know what “You’re only young once and at the end of the day you can’t put the shit back in the donkey” means, but this is because it is simply a list of idioms they have heard many, many times before.  It might not mean anything at all, or it may be a pleasant way of justifying something extremely horrific. Regardless, you will get a laugh if you say it in a blokey voice and it’s the sort of funeral where the surviving family members say “He would have wanted a party and not a sad sort of funeral”.

Steal jokes

One of the reasons that stand-up comedians are among the highest paid individuals in our society is because of their in-demand skill of being able to turn even the most mundane speaking engagement into something akin to a riotously funny episode of The Big Bang Theory.

However there is a good chance that you and your friends aren’t comedians.  The way you can tell is, when you go to comedy shows, you don’t have a microphone.  Even if you make loud jokes during the show, that are objectively funny, its still a case of ‘no microphone, no comedian’.  The best you can do is to nick bits of a comedy routine and make them your own.

This is why Brides are so often accidentally referred to as ‘Louis C.K’ during well-lubricated wedding receptions.

Self-aggrandisement

It is one thing to make a speech well, it is another to make it passably funny but it is another thing still to make it advantageous.  Making people think sex thoughts won’t pay the bills and no-one gets paid for making jokes unless they are a licensed and city-bonded comedian.  The way to get ahead is to self-promote.

This is not as easy as simply standing up and saying “Hey guys, you know who is great: me!”. This only works on Twitter.  No, the key to self-aggrandisement is to be more subtle than that.  Rather than talk about yourself directly, look for an opportunity to insert yourself and your real or imagined achievements into someone else’s event.

I use the example of a farewell morning tea in the office to illustrate my point.  The boss asks if “anyone has anything else they want to say” and you could say:

“Gandalf has been a credit to the team and, even though we all thought he was a bit of a bell-end when he changed his name, he’s a solid team player (cliche) and we’ll miss him…. *pause for applause* “…and here’s hoping his old mum doesn’t kick him out  the house (familiarity, light humour). *pause for laughs*

Perfectly servicable speech, sure. Doesn’t really say much about you though does it? No.

Let’s try it again, this time with a bit more of a go-getter attitude

“I am reminded of a nickname that I heard The G-man and I used to have when we first started here ‘Ten Percent Above Target Twins’. It was a while ago, I  don’t know how many of you will remember that but it was definitely a thing people said. Anyway, we used to have a laugh. G-Muzza with his references to the live action role-playing he did, me with my consistently high work rate and few sick days. We were quite a team.” *pause for awe*

In that speech you subtly reference your high performance and good record of bothering to show up, while also vaguely dehumanising the supposed subject of the speech by giving him a silly nickname then forgetting it, and giving him another one.  That’s how you get ahead in this world if you’re not a comedian.

Don’t forget to bring a coat.

 

The Origin of: Feelings

It is hard to imagine it nowadays, in our fast moving society of social media and dogs on skateboards, but up until the 1990s people didn’t have feelings.  In the eighties, only celebrities had emotions on things and those emotions were usually associated with cocaine or Margaret Thatcher.  In the sweltering trip-hop summer of 1994 this changed.  One intrepid journalist by the name of Helene Garblog dared to ask a simple follow-up question about a new flavour of Fanta to a man no more famous than you or I, and it changed the world.  She asked “…and how do you feel about that?”.  It may have seemed like nothing at the time, and the man’s answer may have been very racist, but this answer opened a global flood-gate that released a foaming torrent of, often non-racist, emotion.  

Over the next two years, science categorised emotions into five categories: ‘angry’, ‘sad’, ‘drunk’, ‘looking’ and ‘pretty chilled’.  In 1997 the categories ‘disappointed at Bill Clinton’ and ‘frustrated’ were added and there have been no new emotions recorded since then.

Now ‘feels’ are as important a part of day to day life as eating, going wees, or taking your dog for a skateboard.  It is hard to conceive of a world in which you aren’t asked how you feel about the weather, the AMC show Mad Men, or your sister.  Instead of a PIN number, some banks are simply asking how you feel about money to identify their customers.  Rugby players. once the bastions of not feeling anything, are now asked how they feel about the French before, after and during any given game of rugby.

The feels are here to stay, and all because of one reporter’s inability to leave a racist man alone.

How to computers

Cat Lime

Awww…

In my lifetime,  I have been given conflicting predictions for, assurances about, and visions of the future involving, computers.

In the 1980s, as a child, I was taught that in the future computers would do cool things like ‘be holograms’ and send faxes.  we were led to believe the next step were robots; both malevolent and violent robots,  and sassy, irreverent ones.  As children we imagined them talking in cute, tinny electrical voices; offering friendship and having their cheekiness be the a catalyst for adventures.  Either that or killing everyone.

By the 1990s the dream had flattened, narrowed, and focused on the practical. Computers and the tube that linked most of them together (which Al Gore had named the internet,) would be useful, but only to do mundane things like ‘typing’, ‘help you shop’ and ‘act as a pornography delivery agent in lieu of a VHS cassette’.

By 2006 the future of the computer was seen as bleak.  In 2007 the US Treasury prophetically declared that computers were ‘pointless’ and would all soon be obsolete.

US Treasury

The US Treasury Building, 147 years before the prophetic 2007 announcement

Now, in this the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen, we have seen that the 2007 proclamation has largely come to pass.  Computers have been surpassed in their once idolised position as the ‘thing of the future’ by DVDs, big televisions, iPhones and serious developments in fabric technology that has made wearing jackets fun for children.

As we all know, with the cold twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, computers have their purpose but that purpose is limited.  Don’t, however, take your computer and throw it in the face of the next person to knock at your door. That would be senselessly violent and there are still five things you can use a computer for:

Social media.

Social media is a trendy word for Facebook and Twitter and texts and stuff. If you are ever actually talking about it, in any technical sense, you call each type of social media by its actual name.  Like you say, “To look at my photos on Facebook first you need to add me as a friend on Facebook because I locked down my Facebook profile to stop that creep Claudius perving at them.”

If, however, you are really proud of the fact you know how to use Facebook and Twitter, you call it ‘social media.’ Say you are going for a job, and you want to tell people that you know how to use Facebook or Twitter or Friendster, you don’t say “I’m good at Facebook, and Twitter, and a bit Friendster” you say “I’m a social media guru” or, even better, “I’m a social media mogul.”

Note, ‘mogul’ in this case doesn’t mean you own a social media company.  If you did, you wouldn’t be applying for a job would you.  No, it just means you know how to use social media.

Toaster-oven

My CV actually lists my interest in toaster-ovens and my excitement about the new opportunities developing in the industry.

The same way if you can work a toaster-oven you always list that as a skill when applying for employment.

Cats

The internet is actually now mainly cats.  No-one knows why this is, or when it changed from being a pornography transfer system to being an archive of cute cat pictures, but I am going to say 8 February, 2002.

There is pretty much no limit to the different breeds, colours and amusing cat facial expressions represented on the internet, and because the internet is often accessed through computers it makes the computer a comprehensive archive of cat pictures.

One of the problems with this is, while we can all forget our troubles in a fug of adorability looking at Maru climbing about in a World War One bi-plane (complete with flying goggles…awww…) none of the information is any use.  If, for instance, your cat accidentally eats some poison and in a fevered hurry you were to type ‘cats’ into Ask Jeeves, chances are you’d only get cute cat pictures.  Even if you typed ‘Claudius left poison lying around and the cat ate it, help’ you’d probably, at best, get Grumpy Cat dressed as the Roman Emperor Claudius.

Adorable, but not much use in a crisis.

Typing

Computers aren’t just used to access the cat/porn database (note: in this case the ‘/’ refers to AND…).  Let no-one tell you your computer is just a forty kilo paper-weight when it is offline; they are almost as good as a typewriter.

It is a little known fact, but deep inside every computer there is a series of programmes designed for typing, number charts, and playing primitive games.

In order to access them first you must locate them.  When you locate the typing programme, which is called Microsoft Word, you work through a series of counter-intuitive riddles and within several years you can produce a typed document that is, for my money, at least eighty per cent as good as a handwritten note.

Arguing 

Once upon a time, arguing was the preserve of Kings and Queens, in fine robes, in Argument Salons in only the finest Capitals of the World.  The internet, as well as giving you access to several different types of information, has democracised the world of arguing.

Nazi Party party

This is a rare picture taken at the exact moment the Nazi Party decided that all internet based arguments would ultimately be won or lost by comparison to them.

The internet means that anyone, regardless of age, rank, creed, intelligence, level of understanding, level of personal hygiene, taste in music, understanding of political process, basic grasp of history, level of realisation as to the severity of what the Nazis actually did, basic human compassion, and understanding of grammar can hold the strongest opinion on anything.

Surely it is a giant step forward in the march of human civilisation that you can raise a reasoned point that over-fishing is the primary reasons why some species of fish have all but disappeared from the Southern Ocean, and get one Facebook ‘like’, and Claudius’ response ‘u dum fuk’ will get fifteen.

Painting your house before you actually have to paint it

This technology has been around for some time, in the 1980s the first computer consoles appeared in home decoration shops which enabled you to choose a colour scheme and see what it looked like on some pre-loaded, generic house designs.  Some programmes even allowed you to match colours for interior rooms as well.

Things have come a long way however.  You now no-longer have to go into the home decoration shop, or use a pre-loaded generic house.  You can access the colour matching programmes from your own computer and some of them even allow you to load a picture of your own house, or rooms, into them.

I actually am not sure how you do this though.

Funny men’s hair

One of the things that happens as you get older is you become in grave danger of becoming nostalgic about the past.  At some point if you aren’t careful, music starts to sound worse, clothes start to annoy you, and broad social trends start needing legislation to curtail them.

Some people are always like this, and those people are called arseholes, so it is important to remember that these impulses are the whisperings of your darker demons.

It pays occasionally then to remind yourself about some of the crap things about the past.  There are loads of crap things about the past too; technology, most music, what you could and couldn’t do because of social mores.  Mostly the past, even your youth, was shitty or at very least lame and funny. One thing, if you are a bloke such as myself, is hair was funny.  I mean, really, it was.

For all you near-nostalgic men-children out there, let’s snap back into the reality of the ever-improving present with at some hairstyles I know you rocked, and we hope not to see again.

20130503-123704.jpg

The eighties: All about slicked hair and cocaine

The Corporate Pony-tail

In the eighties people got into being really busy.  Unlike in the seventies, where everyone was sitting round on strike listening to Mott the Hoople records, the eighties were all about being too busy to get your hair cut.  Of course, you had to look respectable when you were selling junk bonds so as your hair grew, you slicked it back and tied it off at the base so you had slimy horse’s tail hanging off the back of your skull.

The Bell-end

IMG_0561[1]

I looked like a choad

The thing about grunge hair, is it looked fine if your  hair was naturally straight, but if you were like me you had a slight wave or curl in it, it tended to turn up at the sides giving your head a distinct ‘bell’ look.  Quite often, when I hunched my shoulders in angsty cynicism, it gave the distinct impression my shoulders were two testicles.  Therefore, dear readers, I used walk around looking like a cock and balls. It wasn’t an impressive cock and balls either; I looked like a stubby, faux-nihilistic, choad.

The Dudebro Dreads

I have nothing against dreadlocks.  They look good on some people and they carry cultural and religious significance for many.

20130503-123814.jpg

Dreadlocks: Think about it. Are you really that committed?

I see dreadlocks as being a bit like owning sheep though.  If you take an interest in sheep, or grow up in a family or community that raises sheep, chances are you will look after them and they will be an asset to you.

If however, you decide to get a sheep on a whim when you move into your first student flat because getting a sheep is pretty bad-ass, chances are you won’t look after it.  Chances are, your sheep will get daggy bits of shit hanging off it’s unkempt nether regions.  Chances are, after a year you’ll be walking around wondering what the smell is, only to find your sheep died six months earlier and was decomposing behind the damp couch you won at the Student Union bar.

The latter part of that story is only partly a metaphor; parts of it were literal.

The Catch-phrase Era

Some time ago, in my youth, I claimed to have invented the catch-phrase ‘big time!’ I didn’t claim to have invented either the word ‘big’ or the word ‘time’ as this would have been both inaccurate and easy to prove as much.  I did however, claim that I invented the exclamation of those two words together, usually in response to being asked a question where I wished to respond in the affirmative with a good deal of enthusiasm.  For instance:

Oasis

Oasis: Not shit.

“Do you like the band Oasis?”

“Big time!”

Like that.

The example question is accurate too, because my claiming to invent the exclamation ‘big time!’ was in the mid-nineties.  As well as being the hey-day of people not thinking Oasis were shit, it was also the height of what would be known by historians as ‘The Catchphrase Bubble’; the go-go nineties was a time when coming up with a pithy, humourous, even mildly-annoying-but-cute little saying could make you fast millions and hand you cultural clout the likes of which have never been seen since.

Nineteenth Century

The Nineteenth Century: Pretty grim

There had been catchphrases in the past – ‘Get up that chimney or I’ll horse-whip you’ and ‘Whoopsie, I saw her knickers’  were both popular mid-nineteenth century catch-phrases derived from the ribald music-hall scene.

However, catch-phrases didn’t really begin to find their pithy feet and lose their horrendous child-labour connotations until the 1980s; with ‘Where’s the Beef’, ‘Eat my Shorts’, and practically everything Ronald Reagan said.

The year before I attempted to boldly stake my claim and take my seat in the glittering banquet-hall of the catch-phrase chosen, Quentin Tarantino made a movie, the script of which was made up entirely of catch-phrases.  This movie included the longest ever recorded catch-phrase:

By 1995, the year I broke ‘Big time!’ it was estimated that nearly a quarter of the gross domestic product of the United States and over half that of Europe was catch-phrase based. That year the undisputed king of all catch-phrases was a two-word ejaculation of enthusiastic agreement from Seinfeld character Cosmo Kramer.

That catchphrase was ‘Giddy up’.

Kramer

Seinfeld’s ‘Kramer’: Nineties taste-maker

This was where I thought ‘Big time!’ would make me my fortune: As people tired of saying ‘Giddy-up’ in enthusiastic agreement, or simply to annoyingly punctuate something someone else had said, I felt people would turn to saying ‘Big time!’ as an equally pithy and mildly annoying exclamatory alternative.  All looked rosy until an awful truth dawned on me.

I hadn’t actually come up with ‘Big time!’.

My world came crashing down around me the day I learned that ‘Big time!’ was actually a derivation of a popular 1920’s Chicagoan catch-phrase ‘Big time, see!’ which had been Prohibition-era code for “Yes, I have some whisky, and no its not cut with paint-thinner’.

I tried vainly for some time to add ‘clicking-my-fingers-into-a-sort-of-finger-pistol-and-aiming-it-at-the-person-I-was-talking-to-while-saying-‘big time!” but to no avail. What had become apparent to many others finally became apparent to me: I was a bell-end.

After my crushing blow I followed the fortunes of the catch-phrase bubble and it was with no little schadenfreude that I witnessed the demise of the catch-phrase.

There is some scholarly debate about how the catch-phrase bubble burst.  Culturally, all signs turn towards the 2000 Budweiser commercial which featured a series of people using land-line telephones asking each other what is up.

Along with Southpark, the ‘Wassup’ commercial is often seen as the tipping point where catch-phrases ceased to be seen as comic, ironic, and maybe just vaguely annoying and when they started to be seen as sub-moronic.  This argument, however, overlooks both the success of the advertisement in creating a buzz and the entire career of British comedian Peter Kay.

The seeds of ‘Catch-phrase demise’ are just as likely to be legislative as cultural. As part of a raft of deregulation ushered in by the Clinton administration, the law which stipulated that words and pictures posted on the internet for the purposes of ‘humour or irritation’ had to be separate, was repealed.

Previously, for someone to make a joke on the internet it either had to be in text form, or it had to be a humourous picture, but never both together. In 1999 this law was repealed and it ushered in the era of the ‘funny captioned cat photo’ or what would later be called the ‘meme.’  In many respects the march of technology and deregulation burst the nineties catch-phrase bubble.

While I still shed a tear wondering what ‘big time!’ might have become, and there is some residual churlish about the fame, fortune and influence that might have been mine had it not been for 1920s speakeasy slang, I can now look back now with a clearer head and wonder upon the giddying glory days of the catch-phrase.