I was a little surprised when I heard the news that Madame Jolie had decided to remove her breasts. However, it wasn’t the double
whammy mastectomy that I found surprising but rather the fact that Angelina Jolie did not have cancer. Ugh? Huh? What? I followed the news feeds, read the statement and thought “Oh well, each to his (her) own” and thought nothing more of it. I didn’t think it stupid nor did I think it brave. However, my reading of the press feeds and listening of the radio never stops and I was very surprised to hear the opinions of right-wing senator Bolesław Piecha, who I have always found to be a pretty intelligent and sensible bloke (for a PiS politician). Senator Piecha branded Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy a media event. When asked by a TOK FM reporter if he actually meant what he said and if he really thought Angelina Jolie’s operation was a typical celebrity stunt Piecha said “yes”. He then went on to say that Jolie’s mastectomy will mean that Angelina Jolie will not look less sexy as she’ll have breast implants. Senator Piecha went on to say that Angelina Jolie’s ‘stunt’ means that we could head in an extremely dangerous direction. Bolesław Piecha asked the question what would Jolie had done if she had found out that she was at risk of losing her ovaries or uterus. “Would she have cut out her ovaries? Would she have cut out her uterus?” The question really is if Bolesław Piecha really believes Angelina Jolie went as far as a double mastectomy in order to prove a point. Piecha is a gynaecologist so allegedly he knows what he talking about. Allegedly.
I was a little surprised when I heard the news that Madame Jolie had decided to remove her breasts. However, it wasn’t the double
I feel devastated, disgusted and betrayed. After hearing the news that TV and radio icon Stuart Hall has admitted to assaulting thirteen girls between the ages of nine and seventeen I feel utterly, utterly sick to the very pit of my stomach. I physically wanted to wretch. I feel like vomiting. I’m absolutely stunned by the news. Stuart Hall was an icon to so many of us growing up in the UK in the seventies and eighties. A superb wit, a superlative broadcaster with a superb gift for comedy. I loved the man, as so many of us did back then. To hear that Stuart Hall was an ‘opportunistic predator’ of young girls in many ways destroys my own conception of my younger and teenage years. What icons we had! First Jimmy Savile, a British institution no less, and now Stuart Hall. I feel like a little part of me has been ripped out and spat on.
What makes things even worse is the fact that it is not only Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, who seemingly did (ironically) so much for charity, but it is a long list of media stars who join them on the deviant roll call of shame. It now turns out that Hall is the eleventh person who is being investigated under Operation Yewtree which seeks to uncover the nasty truth about all the dark deeds of Jimmy Savile et al. The roll call of shame makes morbid, disturbing reading. Along with the now deceased Savile we find sex offender, seventies glam pop star Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr, radio DJ and icon Dave Lee Travis, comedian Jim Davison and (according to the BBC) entertainer Rolf Harris, who were all arrested as part of Operation Yewtree. Every single one of these people were truly ‘big names’ in my formative years.
As well as the numerous counts of assault, abuse and rape from this collection of ‘stars’, there are two questions that keep popping into my head. Firstly, how the hell could have this gone unnoticed? Hall is said to have assaulted thirteen girls from 1968 to 1986. Savile seems truly villainous in that there are said to have been 589 victims across four decades. Surely, some of these victims asked for help. Why has it taken so long to bring these ‘stars’ to justice? Why didn’t any one help? Secondly, what part did the BBC play in all this? Operation Yewtree has already seen several prominent BBC employees been arrested (not including the stars, of course).
So not only have several major British media stars been arrested on charges of assault, abuse and rape but the major British institution itself, the BBC, has a lot to answer for. A shadow has been cast on the reputation of dear old Auntie Beeb that I’m afraid will never go away. Many of us feel demoralised and disgusted but, for me, the feeling of betrayal is the hardest to take. I feel betrayed because as a child I trusted Savile, Hall, Starr, Davidson and Lee Travis. They were on my side, weren’t they? They were with us on TV, at home, over dinner, over tea. We trusted them. We trusted the BBC. And it’s all gone. That past has been mangled, warped and destroyed. I’ll never be able to look back with fondness because I’ll still have a bitter taste in the back of my throat.
Back in 1976 Richard Dawkins coined the wonderful term – meme. It can be defined as an element of culture that replicates itself. Some describe it as a virus, a contagion which spreads and infects other people. I prefer the idea of a meme being a cultural gene, something that hops from one mind to the next. Whether for better or worse. A good example might be a piece of music that everyone recognises – Beethoven’s Fifth or Happy Birthday to you. Memes also abound on the internet but it is difficult to say if these are genuine memes or fads that explode and later fade into obscurity. A meme, methinks, has to be long-lasting, sturdy and familiar to many.
When deciding what a meme is (and what might possibly be the world’s greatest meme) we have to take a look at memetics, the study of memes, which lays down the law when it comes to these tiny cultural creatures. Of particular interest to us are two terms used in memetics: memeplex (meme-complex) and memoid. The first is a complex of memes, a grouping together of memes. The second refers to a person who has become engulfed by a meme to such an extent that the meme is their reason for existence. And that is what leads me to believe that there is only one true candidate for the world’s greatest meme/memeplex.
What could possibly be the world’s greatest collection of ideas? Ideas (or groupings of ideas) that readily replicate and hop from one mind to the next? Ideas that have such power that they often completely and utterly engulf the mind of their indiciduals? A group of ideas which has the largest number of hits or followers? The answer, in the aftermath of the arch-memoid’s resignation and on the eve of the gatherings of many über-memoids to elect a new arch-memoid in the Petrine succession, has got to be the Catholic Church (or, in fact, Christianity). Join the dots, fill in the blanks. For better or for worse, the world’s greatest religion has to also be the world’s greatest memeplex.
An aged count once lived in Switzerland, who had an only son, but he was stupid, and could learn nothing. Then said the father: “Hark you, my son, try as I will I can get nothing into your head. You must go from hence, I will give you into the care of a celebrated master, who shall see what he can do with you.” The youth was sent into a strange town, and remained a whole year with the master. At the end of this time, he came home again, and his father asked: “Now, my son, what have you learnt?” “Father, I have learnt what the dogs say when they bark.” “Lord have mercy on us!” cried the father; “is that all you have learnt? I will send you into another town, to another master.” The youth was taken thither, and stayed a year with this master likewise. When he came back the father again asked: “My son, what have you learnt?” He answered: “Father, I have learnt what the birds say.” Then the father fell into a rage and said: “Oh, you lost man, you have spent the precious time and learnt nothing; are you not ashamed to appear before my eyes? I will send you to a third master, but if you learn nothing this time also, I will no longer be your father.” The youth remained a whole year with the third master also, and when he came home again, and his father inquired: “My son, what have you learnt?” he answered: “Dear father, I have this year learnt what the frogs croak.” Then the father fell into the most furious anger, sprang up, called his people thither, and said: “This man is no longer my son, I drive him forth, and command you to take him out into the forest, and kill him.” They took him forth, but when they should have killed him, they could not do it for pity, and let him go, and they cut the eyes and tongue out of a deer that they might carry them to the old man as a token.
The youth wandered on, and after some time came to a fortress where he begged for a night’s lodging. “Yes,” said the lord of the castle, “if you will pass the night down there in the old tower, go thither; but I warn you, it is at the peril of your life, for it is full of wild dogs, which bark and howl without stopping, and at certain hours a man has to be given to them, whom they at once devour.” The whole district was in sorrow and dismay because of them, and yet no one could do anything to stop this. The youth, however, was without fear, and said: “Just let me go down to the barking dogs, and give me something that I can throw to them; they will do nothing to harm me.” As he himself would have it so, they gave him some food for the wild animals, and led him down to the tower. When he went inside, the dogs did not bark at him, but wagged their tails quite amicably around him, ate what he set before them, and did not hurt one hair of his head. Next morning, to the astonishment of everyone, he came out again safe and unharmed, and said to the lord of the castle: “The dogs have revealed to me, in their own language, why they dwell there, and bring evil on the land. They are bewitched, and are obliged to watch over a great treasure which is below in the tower, and they can have no rest until it is taken away, and I have likewise learnt, from their discourse, how that is to be done.” Then all who heard this rejoiced, and the lord of the castle said he would adopt him as a son if he accomplished it successfully. He went down again, and as he knew what he had to do, he did it thoroughly, and brought a chest full of gold out with him. The howling of the wild dogs was henceforth heard no more; they had disappeared, and the country was freed from the trouble.
After some time he took it in his head that he would travel to Rome. On the way he passed by a marsh, in which a number of frogs were sitting croaking. He listened to them, and when he became aware of what they were saying, he grew very thoughtful and sad. At last he arrived in Rome, where the Pope had just died, and there was great doubt among the cardinals as to whom they should appoint as his successor. They at length agreed that the person should be chosen as pope who should be distinguished by some divine and miraculous token. And just as that was decided on, the young count entered into the church, and suddenly two snow-white doves flew on his shoulders and remained sitting there. The ecclesiastics recognized therein the token from above, and asked him on the spot if he would be pope. He was undecided, and knew not if he were worthy of this, but the doves counselled him to do it, and at length he said yes. Then was he anointed and consecrated, and thus was fulfilled what he had heard from the frogs on his way, which had so affected him, that he was to be his Holiness the Pope. Then he had to sing a mass, and did not know one word of it, but the two doves sat continually on his shoulders, and said it all in his ear.
The Three Languages by the Brothers Grimm (reblogged courtesy of transubstantiation)
Just to cheer things up a little I’ve decided to share with you five of my favourite light-hearted numbers. They’re odd, strange but they always put a smile on my face. We’ll begin with the sultan of dank and dirty blues, the master of juju-, voodoo-tinted zydeco and the king of boogie woogie, Dr John. This little tune (number five on today’s Raffy top five), Jump Sturdy comes from Dr John’s phenomenal Gris-gris of 1968, and comes in #148 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 best albums of all time. It combines psychedelic sounds with bucketfuls of New Orleans soul. If there’s ever an album that makes me want to visit a city then this is it. Both Dr. John and New Orleans should be made saints for giving us this album. Check it the Jump Sturdy:
In at number four is my favourite Paul McCartney tune. Yes, it may seem odd to combine the words ‘favourite’ and ‘McCartney’ in one sentence but there you have it. Even though I believe him to be the lamest of Beatles he was a gargantuan songwriter. This man could fart songs out. Ask him to write a song about the price of cheese in the Vatican in the 17th century, give him 15 minutes and McCartney would write you an epic, pop-tastic opus complete with orchestrations and embellished with frog sounds. Love him or hate him, the man knows how to write a tune. This next little number does it for me. It began life as an experiment. McCartney was checking out a new machine he had just bought, hence, Check My Machine from his 1980 McCartney II album:
Now we turn to the female side of town. In at number three is the glorious, gorgeous and ground-breaking Peruvian delight Yma Surmac who rocks my world so much that I still find it hard to believe she can do what she can do. Born in 1922, she broke ground with her take on exotica music and together with Les Baxter and Martin Denny is regarded as one of exotica’s finest. This woman could belt out songs like no other and had a range of over four octaves ranging from baritone to soprano. This song Malambo No. 1 comes from her much-acclaimed 1954 album, Mambo!:
We move back to the blokes and to a legend. In at number two is one of my heroes. This man cannot be beat. One of the first shock rockers, a man who combined opera with humour, from the macabre to the ridiculous, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had a voice that could shake buildings. His 1956 song I Put a Spell on You is regarded as one of the most influential and important songs in rock history and comes in #313 on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Screamin’ Jay was and has been a huge influence on (the afore-mentioned) Dr. John, the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, even Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson. This is why:
Number one (for no particular reason) goes to a band close to my heart. The J-pop, shibuya-kei maestros Pizzicato Five turned my musical world upside down when I unearthed them by accident in Japan. I would spend my Monday afternoons perusing round the (only) little music store in the charming town on Kobayashi. One day I happened upon an album with a gorgeous lady on the cover. I bought the album. I was hooked. This is what Japan does best – clone and copy, upgrade and improve. There is so much about Pizzicato Five which originates from the West but it is so, so, so very Japanese. From the 1997 album Happy End of the World, here is the high-tempo It’s a Beautiful Day:
Inspired by several polls, lists and tables of ludicrous, embarrassing and rude English place names, I have decided to compile a similar list for Poland. However, before we get down to the polski equivalents, let’s delve into the most bizarre English ones I have been able to unearth. The Mirror and The Telegraph both have wonderful ‘top tens’ but my personal favourites, my top ten, if you like, has been put together using other lists, place name websites, and a host of other wonderfully funny sources. Here are my British favourites:
10. Zeal Monachorum, Exeter.
9. Burton-le-Coggles, near Grantham.
8. Durdle Door, Dorset.
7. Wide Open, Newcastle upon Tyne.
6. Wetwang, near Bridlington.
5. Bullyhole Bottom, Monmouthshire.
4. Cuckoo’s Knob, Wiltshire.
3. Cocklick End, Lancashire.
2. Loose Bottom, East Sussex.
1. Dancing Dicks, Essex.
Not sure that the Polish ones can match the British ones but let’s have a go. Many humourous British place names seem to revolve around the countless fun that can be had with sexual connotations – endless knobs, countless bottoms, the odd fanny and a splash of dick now and again make for japes all around. The funniest (or rather, strangest) Polish ones I have been able to find seem to revolve around odd word/phrase formations. I’ve also included my own personal gloss/translation of each place name just to help all of you non-Polish speaking souls. Here is the list (and just a sample of the fun you can have with place names):
10. Koce Schaby (Cat’s Chops), in the Province of Mazovia.
9. Zgniłocha (Rottenness), Warmia-Mazuria.
8. Biały Kał (White Faeces), Lower Silesia.
7. Krzywe Kolano (Bent Knee), Kuyavia-Pomerania.
6. Koniemłoty (Horses’ Hammers), Świętokrzyskie Province.
5. Kukuryki (Cock-a-doodle-doos), Lublin Province.
4. Kłopoty Stanisławy (Stanisława’s Problems), Podlasie Province.
3. Młynek Nieśwniński (Small non-pig-like Mill), Wielkopolska.
2. Jęczydół (Moaning Pit), Western Pomerania.
1. Gnaty Wieśnaty (Bumpkin Bones), Mazovia.
There are, of course, countless others and this list could go on ad infinitum but that’s where I leave the rest to you. If you have any more interesting ones, please let me know. All of these place names have their etymological, geographical reasoning and it’s always interesting seeing new ones.
Football has moved on in recent years: better-behaved fans, better stadia, even perhaps a better all-round experience. Football is big business. Football is a machine. A well-oiled, money-making global machine. But perhaps not in Poland. The failed first attempt at playing the Poland-England World Cup qualifier is perhaps indicative of what Poland is all about. The Poland-England cancelled game is Poland in a nutshell, warts and all (but mainly warts). A hour or two before the planned kick-off it was already apparent that the game would certainly not go ahead. The sight of the referee emerging from the tunnel and throwing the ball at the huge puddles that had already appeared on the pitch well before the game’s KO was laughable. Seeing England manager Roy Hodgson standing on the Polish National Stadium quagmire soaked through was a sad advert for Polish organisation, Polish preparation and, to be frank, Polish football.
Panic, embarrassment and absurdity engulfed the stadium, the fans and people at home watching the TV. Jerzy Dudek, who was commentating for Polish TV, was visibly irritated at the complete incompetency of the organisers in their inability to: (a) take a firm decision, (b) close the roof, and (c) inform the fans what was going on. Again, the referee came onto the pitch (bog?) in order to check the consistency of water and the physics of balls in puddles and disappeared deep in thought. The Polish Football Association (PZPN), FIFA, the referee and both teams (who took the decision not to play under a closed roof) could have been blamed for the sorry state of affairs but for those of us who live in Poland, we all know what was to blame…
This could only happen in Poland. How could the pitch of a spanking, sparkling new stadium possibly be unplayable? This centrepiece of Polish football was unable to host an international football game but several months before had hosted the continent’s premier footballing competition. How was this possible? And in this answer is the key to understanding everything there is to know about Poland. In times of trouble and stress Poland always comes out on top. Take the Solidarity movement and the fall of communism as an example. Take Poland’s situation during the global financial crisis as another. Take Euro 2012 as yet another. With their backs to the walls, Polish people are phenomenal. They can really be relied upon and are a model to the rest of the world. But the Poland-England World Cup qualifier wasn’t a political demonstration, nor was it an über-prestigious tournament that the whole continent was watching. It was just another football game. And there lies Poland’s downfall.
Two words were bandied around by Polish commentators and experts in the hours that followed the farce: bylejakość and olewactwo as typical Polish demons. The first can be loosely translated as ‘mediocrity’, ‘poor quality’; the second as ‘not-giving-an-arse-ness’, ‘not-treating-seriously-ness’. These demons were firmly behind the reason to: (a) decide not to spend more money on a better pitch drainage system; (b) ignore the weather forecast, (c) decide not to close the roof (for fear of forfeiting the manufacturer’s warranty); (d) not inform the fans what was going on; (e) not have a plan b for ticket refunds; (f) not have the balls (forgive the pun) to take responsibility for one’s mistakes.
But not all is lost for Poland. The positive side to this embarrassing tale is the ability of Poles to make light of difficult and absurd situations. The internet was rife with talk of Poland’s new ‘National Swimming Centre’, the economic feasibility of Poland’s National Stadium to double-up as a paddy field as well as news that Poland’s goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń will be replaced by Otylia Jędrzejczak, Poland’s Olympic swimming champion. The match may have been cancelled, Poland’s ability to host an international event may be tarnished and the Polish Football Association may be a laughing stock but the ability of Poles to laugh at themselves is well intact.