Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Lights Out: The Complete Abridged History of Turning Out The Lights

Sometimes I read out my nonsense at a writers' night thing called Tell Tales.

Last week's theme was 'Lights Out'. For a change, I decided to take a non-fiction approach... But that got boring, so I just made stuff up.

The following lecture is entitled:


Perhaps, we take it for granted now, but in a very real sense, where would so many of us be today without turning out the lights?

And alcohol.

Where would we be without turning out the lights and alcohol?

But enough about me.

Even as recently as caveman times, turning out the lights wasn't the simple matter it is today. Cro-Magnon man, for instance, couldn't turn out lights at all; there weren't the switches, and anyway he had big hairy monkey paws. Instead, our pre-historic forebears had to spend their days hunting and gathering bits of darkness, clubbing them and dragging them back to the cave until there was enough to sleep by.

And yet, by the morning, it had always escaped.

Progress finally came when a particularly bright caveman, Dodgy Ugg, accidentally discovered fire, and started knocking it out at 6-flames-a-quid down the tar pits. Now darkness could be achieved whenever anyone liked simply by blowing out a flame. Or by jumping in the tar pits.

Sadly, for many older cavepeople, this new-fangled 'fire' proved almost as troublesome as a five-pence piece, and it was only a matter of time before one of them accidentally burned down the dinosaurs, confusing the rest of us for millennia.

Incidentally: birds are not descended from dinosaurs at all; birds are their angry winged spirits still haunting the earth, gleefully defecating on us all... and then singing about it.

In the Dark Ages... It was dark; the lights were already out. So we'll give them a miss. And the Middle Ages; which overlapped almost entirely with the Dark Ages anyway, after a scheduling cock-up back at the depot. (Work experience angels, or something.)

Late in the 1700s, and not before time, the Enlightenment began, when someone in Italy found the matches again, having had them in his back pocket all along, although he was sure he'd looked there earlier... and the century before that.

From the Enlightenment on, methods for turning out the lights, just like humanity's burgeoning intellect, became increasingly large, dangerous and painful to operate.

During the Industrial Revolution, light switches were universally terrifying, clanking great steam-driven affairs, each one manned night and day by its own workhouse, debtors' prison or sanctuary for foundlings – the latter all too often falling into the machinery, a terrible business, often keeping rich people awake for as long as minutes with their pitiful death-cries.

Thankfully, progress was swift and merciful, and by late-Victorian times light switches were much better sound-proofed.

During this time, or possibly some other, we also saw the invention of gas lighting. Later, when a massive fireball lit up the night, as everyone's houses burned down, a Mr Lamppost had his own brilliant idea – insurance – naming his first company Endsleigh... after the highly popular inventor of the street lamp.

Indeed, the outdoor gas lamps of Mr Endsleigh Insurance, were an immediate boon to humanity, instantly cutting nocturnal muggings and burglaries – except of certain twitchy-looking men with lamp lighting equipment who, being out at much the same time, twice a day, reliable as clockwork, were in many ways the first cash machines; so long as you clobbered them near enough pay-day.

Eventually, electric light switches occurred; electric lighting, proving vastly better for everyone – especially foundlings, who could now be killed almost humanely. Lamp-post lighters, on the other hand, suffered terribly, being safer now, but unemployed.

Around 1899, the Twentieth Century was started, a dreadful idea that plunged the whole world deep into war twice, even before the 30s were done. Turning out the lights now became a matter of life and death, once again, thanks to nocturnal bombing raids, and all the better electricians being off getting shot at. Eventually, alive people settled on black-out blinds, which seems fair enough.


Every time a light goes out a fairy dies...

Nearly a quarter of light switches aren't where you'd expect them.

In Australia, light goes out counter-clockwise. Even with a British bulb.

The world's first torch was the size of a small room, and could only be charged on Tuesdays. The switch, however, was tiny and highly portable.

In any rented house, there will always be at least one light switch that seemingly does nothing – except make you slightly anxious. (But that might just be my experience.)

In parts of rural Montana, turning out all your lights is legally punishable by blindness. Though only at night.

The Smiths once sung of a light that never goes out; but Morrissey probably just meant the sun. (Which is still considered mythical in much of Manchester. Not to mention 'a bit southern'.)

In Plymouth, they have their own immensely popular version of the Blackpool Illuminations, when once a year all the lights are turned out and for the whole night no-one has to look at the place.

Now, we turn to the present day, an age of excess, and luxury, and cutbacks; an age so decadent that many lights, are operable by as many as two switches each – often many more – presumably, just in case one should succumb to ennui while crossing a room, night should fall unexpectedly, or a house guest we just happen to have asked to 'just go down those cellar stairs a second, could you?', suddenly overstays their welcome.


“Bloody hell, dark in here. Wait, no – forgot to unblink” – Boris Johnson.

“Lighting? Why are you asking me about the lighting? I'm a piano player”  Ray Charles

“Nice to see you, to see you... not. Is there an electrician in the house?”  Bruce Forsyth

“Aaarrrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhh.....!”  a foundling

Perhaps the truest measure, though, of just how integral to our culture turning out the lights has become is to be found in the art world: in 2001, the installation 'Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off' was awarded the Turner Prize, a rightly prestigious award bestowed annually on one of the six current British artists deemed most likely to upset The Daily Mail. Even at £50,000, then, value for money in anyone's book.

Martin Creed, the winner, has since been known to construct long, colourful towers out of Lego, perhaps hoping to attract long, colourful Lego King Kongs, exhibited crumpled paper and arranged cacti into amusing and provocative displays - all of which, alas, outside this lecture's remit.

Other things outside this lecture's remit:

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand
  • The Teapot worshipping cult of Malaysia
  • The Dudelsack, which is German for bagpipes
  • Dirigibles
  • The tiny South Pacific island of Tanna, where many of the inhabitants still worship Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
  • “Yu-mi, yu-mi, yu-mi,” the national anthem of Vanuatu (also, handily, an exact plot summary of every Chuckle Brothers episode, ever)
  • Haberdashery
  • And, facts.

But now, as our lecture draws to its close, and since we're already facing that way, let us turn to the future. In the future, which, as we all know, will be bright – and orange – and very easy to recognise, what with being right in front of us – all lights will be controlled by the mind: the indecisive, finally, will have value as strobe lighting; dark thoughts will have a practical outlet; and optimists will be exhausted by always sleeping in the light (giving the rest of us a much-needed break).

Looking even further forward... there will be no 'even further forward', when the bright orange glow turns out to be an apocalypse.

Or a giant angry Wotsit.

But probably an apocalypse.

So, to sum up: turning out the lights: impossible; out already; dangerous; complicated; then impossible again; giant   angry   Wotsit.

And on that note: apologies for any inaccuracies you might have spotted, they were purely intentional; and thank you all for your patience. You've been a lovely audience.

Trapped in a room.

Listening to an idiot.

(If it's any consolation, though, the German for bagpipes really is Dudelsack. Some inhabitants of Tanna do worship Prince Philip. And there really is a teapot worshipping cult in Malaysia. (Or at least, there was, until it got banned... and someone burned down the giant tea-cup.

No, it's true.

You laugh... but that's religious persecution you're laughing at. You should be ashamed of yourselves...))

[N.B. OK, apparently I got the teapot related facts very slightly wrong.

The last two lines were a sort of scripted ad-lib, for if anyone did laugh at the teapot bit.

That bit about Vanuatu's national anthem is also true, 'yumi' being apparently a sort of pidgin English meaning 'we' (you-me)]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Unfit? Confined to a bath? No excuse!

 Window of Just Books, Pydar Mews, Truro.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The recluse issues a press release

This was originally written to be read at a thing that, in the end, I didn't get to - the theme was "beasts", with a bit of Cornish interest to be thrown in, if possible. I figured it may as well hang around here for a while. (And if hanging doesn't kill it...) 


"You've been in the papers, everyone's heard of you. Why not see where it takes you?"

"How did you find me?"

"If I can, anyone can," she said. "Now, how about it?"

He shrugged. And so The Beast came to have a publicist.

The Beast wishes it to be known, began an initial press release, that he is not a violent creature, he has never worried sheep, nor has he harmed cattle - the persistent slanders of the farming community are wholly and entirely untrue. In private, the real Beast is an enthusiastic vegan cook, gives to charity, and has even attended peaceful anti-hunt demonstrations - dressed as a protester dressed as a cat. Also, one day, he might like to be taken seriously as an actor, and fears being typecast.

He is not, repeat not, it continues, and contrary to present rumours, seeing Jordan in secret. Nothing that Jordan does is ever in secret. The Beast has the utmost respect for Peter Reid, or Alex Andre, or whatever he's called.

Furthermore, The Beast is not from Dartmoor - he is Cornish, he is a cat. Please, get it right.

In closing, the publicist extends her client's gratitude, to fans and media, for respecting his privacy over the coming weeks and months – formerly shy, and reclusive, this is likely to be a difficult time for The Beast. It's inevitable, she stresses, that he will need time to adjust to the public spotlight. We thank you for your patience.

In the meantime, please see the latest Hello! For a six-page tour around his house.

Just the next day, looking sleek, and poised – and surprisingly at ease in designer glasses – the Beast steps out into Truro HMV, greets the crowd and media, sits down behind mics, for his first full public appearance. Beside him, the publicist moves to deny unfounded speculation regarding a move into the music business.

"Simon Cowell has not been, we repeat, not been in touch," she reiterates. "Nor has his brother, who we gather lives down here."

"What unfounded speculation?" says The West Briton.

"That is all," sings The Beast, ominously breaking into the kind of guttural croon that once made Nickleback so hard to avoid.

Outside, on Lemon Quay, The Beast pretends to maul some children for the photographers, chases his tail, just to show a lighter side, finally disappears effortlessly into the slow-moving crowd of tea-drunk pensioners that constantly percolates through Truro M&S.

"It was terrible," one of them said, later, "just terrible! I didn't know what to do. They'd completely run out of scones..."

Is The Beast a scone-stealing immigrant, asks the Daily Mail online poll. Yes, say 60%, No, say 10%. We have no opinion, say the rest, but we don't see why that should stop us being heard.

Soon enough, news of a debut single breaks: a duet with Susan Boyle, announces The Mirror, to be released just in time for Christmas, backed with a dubstep cover of Camborne Hill – "both daring, traditional and danceable", says Dannii Minogue, with little regard for maths.

Beast and Boyle to marry? asks The Star. Beast and Beast to marry, claims The Sport, unsportingly. The backlash has begun, declares The Sun - then begins the backlash. Somewhere, in Portugal, Cliff cancels his Christmas single. "It would have been the people's single," says his friend Tony, taking a day off from causing peace in the Middle East, "Cherie and I will never forget."

At the national tour's launch event, just five minutes in, an embittered and opportunist Pete Waterman storms the Acorn stage with his latest act, The Owlman of Mawnan Smith, shoving Su-Bo heavily to the floor; a flurry of fur and feathers and anti-Cowell invective ensues. But the show goes on.

Later, The Owlman is found outside, in a pool of feathers, minus a head.

"Typical," declares Pete Waterman, on This Morning, "they always eat one bit and leave the rest. You know what I'm talking about." The Beast, for his part, has an alibi, and expresses his deep and unreserved sympathy, in an exclusive interview for Heat.

The rest of the tour sells out in an instant. Extra dates are added. Even matinees. The best thing to happen in music since Ozzy bit the head off a bat, declares Kerrang! Channel 4 commissions a series of How To Look Good Furry. The 3AM Girls vow to be backstage at every gig.

The Beast is even invited to the Royal Variety Performance.

Backstage, Prince Charles looks admiringly at The Beast's claws, and suggests a private meeting with his mother; Prince Philip gives a laugh, and mutters, "Ruddy hell, I bet you're the only Black Panther in Cornwall." An aide whispers in his ear. "Oh..." he says. "Really? Have I done it again?" The Queen, sadly, has gone home already following recurrence of an old waving injury.

All in all, the rise has been meteoric, too much so: behind the scenes a relentless schedule has begun to take its toll. Finally, at a recording session for Christmas Top of the Pops, after weeks on the road, it all just gets too much, something snaps, and Fearne Cotton is viciously savaged in the green room.

This is devastating, says a representative. Sadly, this year, there will be no Christmas Number 1.

In a Mount Hawke pub, The Beast sits quietly with a friend.

"I was this far from savaging Patrick Kielty, once," says Alex. "You know, after Fame Academy." She pauses. "And Cat Deeley."

The Beast slumps back in his chair and shakes his head. "No, but that's just natural, though. Anyone would. You didn't bite the head off an Owlman!

"I can't get over it..." he says. "I just can't. Not Susan! Why would she do it?"

Alex puts a hand over his paw. "Come on," she says.

"She'd been doing so well," says the Beast, but then stops. He nods, and takes a few quiet sips of his beer. "I know, I know, it's been months. I should get over it... But still..."

"We're not all cut out for it," says Alex, gently.

On a reinforced sofa, opposite Piers Morgan, the Loch Ness Monster is shedding a tear over the lonely years in hiding. The Kraken has arrived at Newsnight, he's filling in for Paxman. And in a cheap leather chair, just outside Manchester, a helpless Yeti is being yelled at for no particular reason by Jeremy Kyle.

Backstage, The Beast's old publicist sits and watches. On the table, in front of her, a Blackberry begins to vibrate. A second passes, then so does another. She sits forward, for a moment, and watches her phones dance - then smiles. She has never, never been busier.

[Incidentally, I don't have anything in particular against Susan Boyle, The Owlman or Fearne Cotton; I'm sure they're all perfectly good people (or whatever) that I don't remotely know.]

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Descartes gets insomnia



COGITO: .....I'm thinking.

ERGO: ........So what?

SUM: ..........Shush, or we'll never get to sleep.


Later, a desperate, sleep-deprived Descartes will modify his celebrated proposition, to I am, I exist. It doesn't help. Instead, he spends the remaining nights of his life worrying about tautology, while during the day hiding from the young Queen of Sweden in a warm bread oven, it being preferable, he says, to a cold one.

Throughout many parts of the former Swedish Empire, even today, Hide & Seek is still illegal. Outside of official royal buildings, however, the ban is rarely enforced.

But enough of that.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nothing to see here


A blind man put out a man's eyes.

“He was looking at me funny,” he told the police.

POLICEMAN: But you're blind?

BLIND MAN: That's no reason I should put up with it.

PM: No, I mean how can you tell?

BM: I'm blind. Everyone looks at a blind man funny.

The policeman struggled to dispute this.

PM: But what if you did this to everyone? And what if they did it too? Before long the whole world would be blind.

The blind man thought for a while.

“Yes,” he said, at last. “What do you know? I'm more far-sighted than I thought.”

Eventually they had to release him (something indisputable about furthering the causes of equality...

But anyway, let's not dwell on it).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

May as well put this somewhere...

DISCLAIMER: In no way an endorsement of traditional Toryism either. Make your own poster here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dialogue from a country in which nothing works


"I'll post it to you."

"It won't arrive."

"I know. It'll save you replying."

"The postal system works well."

"In this country everything works well."

"If you know how to look at it."

"Efficiency is in the eye of the beholder."

"And beauty is in the post."

"So it is, then. I wondered where it had all gone."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nothing and no chance


Nothing is sitting with his psychiatrist.

"What can I do for you?" the man gamely asks his couch.

"I feel like I'm invisible," says nothing.

"You are," says the psychiatrist.

"It's like I'm barely even here."

"Well, you aren't," he says. "In a very real sense you aren't."

"But no-one even sees me!" cries nothing.

"But that's normal – just look at you!"

"Oh," says nothing. "You mean I'm not going mad?"

"You? No, of course not," says the psychiatrist. "Now shush, couch, we have patients to see..."

Monday, November 23, 2009

A conversation... or whatever


- I am much obliged to you, sir.

- I have done nothing.

- Yes. I am grateful.

- What do you want of me now?

- Nothing.

- Then I have already discharged my duty.

- Yes.

- I shall go.

- No, don't go. Not for me.

- It's not for you. I have things.

- That's OK then. I thought all was to be undone.

- No. All is fine.

- Then we must have been misled. The choice is not between all or nothing.

- I shall go.

- No. Don't you go too. You will negate my going.

- But where are you going?

- I have things.

- Oh yes... I have no things. You don't have my things?

- No. You have no things.

- Then I am depressed. Go!

- But now you have something.

- Oh yes. Depression. I am happy now... But now you have done something for me. Now I am unhappy.

- You are very changeable.

- Yes. If you would like a different me please select from one of my range of companions.

- I think I would like the woman you.

- Goodbye then. Take care of her. I am very dear to me.

- Shall we go, Miss?

- No, I am married. And you are very forward. We have no future.

- But we have past.

- Ben?

- No.

- Then you have lured me here under false pretences. We have but seconds of past. It is not enough to honour.

- How about now?

- No. And stop trying to take my honour.

- Today has taken a disquieting turn.

- Just wait until tomorrow.

- But I have things.

- Then attend to them.

- I shall, but I have left them elsewhere.

- And no doubt in time you should leave me too...

- Must we argue? Let us not to do the husband-and-wifely thing in public.

- Oh, how could you? I am undone! This argument ends this second!

- Then I concur.

- You do? You are a gentleman after all?

- I am not so disagreeable.

- I can see that now...

- What of your other senses?

- They keep a respectable distance.

- Then there is but little sense in any of this. I must go. I am going.

- But won't there be still less sense between us? You must stay.

- I have things...

- Oh, your things! But enough arguments, I shall argue only with my husband.

- With your husband? Such a relationship!

- I hadn't thought of it that way...

- What will you do then? Will you stay?

- If there is no sense in your leaving, then there is no more sense in mine. Unless--

- We leave together? An excellent idea – and with two of us at the task we can hardly fail.

- But your things?

- I think it is safe to say that things have changed now.

- Then we needn't go anywhere?

- No... No, indeed! And just as well, since this leaving is proving a deal more tricky than I could have imagined.

- Just imagine how it would be if there weren't the two of us!

- God, how I ever thought I could do it on my own...

- Nor I. Let us stay together.

- Yes. Let us stay together.

- I am much obliged, sir.

- I have done nothing.

- Yes. And sometimes that is more than enough.

And so, enough.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beware of trouble that requires specialist equipment

Beware of trouble that requires specialist equipment

All mountains are exactly the same - they go up.

Unless you're at the top, in which case they don't. At the top, you must content yourself with the present altitude, for no further can you go. But who is ever content for long?

So much then for mountaineering. (And so much else).