Paris syndrome, Stendhal and the deconstruction of travel

September 24, 2011

I wouldn’t mind seeing China if I could come back home the same day. Philip Larkin, English poet

I love Paris in the springtime.

I love Paris in the fall.

I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,

I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles. I Love Paris, Cole Porter


These sentiments of Cole Porter would seem to be a truth universally acknowledged. However, the French capital can actually make some people very ill.; Paris syndrome is the name given to a transient psychological disorder that afflicts tourists when they discover that the City of Light fails to live up to their expectations. The Japanese, and in particular Japanese women, are the most affected, with between twelve and twenty cases a year reported. We need to put this number into some kind of context. Millions of Japanese travel abroad every year and Paris is one of their most popular destinations.

Professor Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France, is credited as the first person to diagnose the condition in 1986. The Japanese embassy in Paris is said to have a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from the syndrome. The vulnerability of the Japanese may be linked to the popularity of Paris in Japanese culture, notably the idealized image o f Paris prevalent in advertising. They become disillusioned when they discover that Parisians don’t put on Louis Vuitton to go to the boulangerie, or that the French are far more overweight than the Japanese population. Apart from this romanticised image of Paris, factors such as culture shock, the language barrier and sheer physical exhaustion may also contribute. According to Wikipedia symptoms include acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealisation, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, etc.

Youcef Mahmoudia, a physician with the hospital Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, argues that Paris Syndrome has nothing to do with any disillusion experienced by tourists. His theory is that the excitement resulting from visiting Paris causes the heart to accelerate, causing giddiness and shortness of breath, which results in hallucinations that are similar to the Stendhal syndrome described by Italian psychologist Graziella Magherini in her book La sindrome di Stendhal.

In 1817, Marie-Henri Beyle, AKA the famous French writer Stendhal visited Florence and soon found himself completely overwhelmed by the city’s heady mix of history and art. When he visited Santa Croce he was overcome with emotion:

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty … I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations … Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”

Whatever the reality of Paris Syndrome, and I am somewhat sceptical, writing about the gap between the expectations and reality of travel is not new. It comes up in A Rebours (Against the Grain), a 1884 novel by Joris-Karl Huysman. His central character, the aristocratic Jean des Esseintes, is a misanthrope who lives alone in a large house on the outskirts of Paris. He prefers not to venture beyond the confines of his house because he doesn’t want to have to put up with the ugliness and stupidity of others.

Des Esseintes had only ever felt drawn to two countries:Holland and England. He had already visited the former. Having seen the wonderful Dutch artworks at the Louvre, he travelled there with high expectations. But the trip was a disaster.  He was disillusioned by the reality of what he saw inHolland– he had been deceived by the art of the great Dutch masters:

“They had simply served as a springing board for his dreams. He had rushed forward on a false track and had wandered into capricious visions, unable to discover in the land itself, anything of that real and magical country which he had hoped to behold, seeing nothing at all, on the plots of ground strewn with barrels, of the dances of petticoated and stockinged peasants crying for very joy, stamping their feet out of sheer happiness and laughing loudly. Decidedly nothing of all this was visible.

Despite this setback, Des Esseintes is going to repeat his mistake. One day having read a volume of Dickens, he suddenly gets the urge to travel to London. He books a seat on the next available train. With some time to kill before the departure of the London train, he pops into Galignani’s English Bookshop on the Rue de Rivoli where he picks up a guidebook. He then goes to a wine bar frequented mainly by English patrons. The atmosphere is straight out of Dickens. Feeling a bit peckish, he then enters an English tavern on the Rue d’Amsterdam, near the Gare Saint Lazare. Des Esseintes sits at a table and orders some oxtail soup, a smoked haddock, a helping of roast beef and potatoes, a couple of pints of ale and a piece of Stilton. The time of the London train is approaching. He should be feeling excited, but he begins to feel a sense of overpowering listlessness:

He told himself: “Come now, let us get up, we must take ourselves off.” Immediate objections thwarted his orders. What is the use of moving, when one can travel on a chair so magnificently? Was he not even now in London, whose aromas and atmosphere and inhabitants, whose food and utensils surrounded him? For what could he hope, if not new disillusionments, as had happened to him in Holland?

He had but sufficient time to race to the station. An overwhelming aversion for the trip, an imperious need of remaining tranquil, seized him with a more and more obvious and stubborn strength. Pensively, he let the minutes pass, thus cutting off all retreat, and he said to himself, “Now it would be necessary to rush to the gate and crowd into the baggage room! What ennui! What a bore that would be!” Then he repeated to himself once more, “I’m fine, I have experienced and seen all I wished to experience and see. I have been filled with English life since my departure. I would be mad indeed to go and, by an awkward trip, lose those imperishable sensations. How stupid of me to have sought to disown my old ideas, to have doubted the efficacy of the docile phantasmagories of my brain, like a very fool to have thought of the necessity, of the curiosity, of the interest of an excursion!”

“Well!” he exclaimed, consulting his watch, “it is now time to return home.”

So des Esseintes pays the bill, leaves the tavern and takes the first train back to his house.  He will never leave home again.

In Paradise News David Lodge uses a holiday in Hawaii to ponder the meaning of tourism. Lodge creates another of those pompous academics that he likes to satirise. His name is Roger Sheldrake, a professor of anthropology at South-West London Poly, who has forsaken the traditional anthropological fare of an African village or a Pacific island to study instead the travel industry. Sheldrake is travelling to Hawaii as part of his anthropological research, with a grant from the British Association of Travel Agents. He is a man on a mission:

“I’m doing to tourism what Marx did to capitalism, what Freud did to family life. Deconstructing it

While on one level Lodge is sending up Sheldrake, on another level I think he is using him as a mouthpiece for some interesting reflections on modern life. There are two kinds of holiday. One is as a kind of secular pilgrimage, with the souvenirs as relics and the guidebooks devotional aids. Lodge is mocking those sightseeing tours where coach potatoes are shunted around all the essential sights of a city museums, churches, cathedrals, castles etc. They have very little appreciation of where they happen to be. If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium. The second variety is the holiday destination as paradise on earth. The classic example is the beach holiday in the Caribbean or of course, on Hawaii. Tourists are looking for an illusory paradise. Few of the millions of tourists who visit the islands every year will ever find the deserted paradisiacal beaches they see in the brochures.

And Sheldrake argues that this tourism is wearing out the planet:

The footpaths in the Lake District have become trenches. The frescos in the Sistine Chapel are being damaged by the breath and body-heat of spectators. A hundred and eight people enter Notre Dame every minute: their feet are eroding the floor and the buses that bring them there are rotting the stonework with exhaust fumes

He believes that the only way to stop this planetary curse, short of draconian legislation, is to convince the public that they aren’t actually enjoying themselves when they go on holiday, but are engaging in a superstitious ritual.  For Sheldrake it can’t be a coincidence that tourism arose just as religion was in decline. Tourism has become the new opium of the people.

I can identify with Stendhal and des Esseintes. I have a really beautiful image of Florence in my head. The Medici, Brunelleschi, Savonarola, and Botticelli – how could the reality ever live up to that? And what about all the hassle that comes with tourism? Some airports now have recombobulation areas, where you recover from all the indignities –having to de-shoe etc – that airport security heaps on you. Delays, strikes, overcrowded landmarks and tour operators going bust – it’s all too much

I suppose this contrarian take on travel is a kind of defence mechanism on my part. Travel has become a luxury for us. It all comes down to cost. With a family of four, any trip can be prohibitively expensive. I haven’t checked it out but I imagine a week in Florence could easily come to over €2,000 for the four of us. That’s a lot of money. I’ve travelled to France,Belgium,Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland Thailand and the USA among others. I can’t really complain. Of course there are many countries and even whole continents which I haven’t been to – Italy, Russia, India, China, South America or Australia immediately come to mind. It’s a bit of a shame because now I’m sure I would appreciate everything a lot more than I used to. Now I will have to make do with my e-book and my imagination. I’ve been to Florence in my mind and it was wonderful. You can’t take that away from me.


The worst Americanisms in English

September 24, 2011

When the BBC did a piece on Americanisms entering the language in the UK, they were inundated with thousands of e-mail examples from readers. You will probably know that I am very sceptical about this kind of thing. Some people just have too much time on their hands. See my previous post Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English. But I know people like this kind of stuff and so here is a selection of the readers’ gripes:

When people ask for something, I often hear: “Can I get a…” It infuriates me. It’s not New York. It’s not the 90s. You’re not in Central Perk with the rest of the Friends. Really.” Steve, Rossendale, Lancashire

The phrase I’ve watched seep into the language (especially with broadcasters) is “two-time” and “three-time”. Have the words double, triple etc, been totally lost? Grammatically it makes no sense, and is even worse when spoken. My pulse rises every time I hear or see it. Which is not healthy as it’s almost every day now. Argh! D Rochelle, Bath

Using 24/7 rather than “24 hours, 7 days a week” or even just plain “all day, every day”. Simon Ball, Worcester

The one I can’t stand is “deplane”, meaning to disembark an aircraft, used in the phrase “you will be able to deplane momentarily”. TykeIntheHague, Den Haag, Holland

To “wait on” instead of “wait for” when you’re not a waiter – once read a friend’s comment about being in a station waiting on a train. For him, the train had yet to arrive – I would have thought rather that it had got stuck at the station with the friend on board. T Balinski, Raglan, New Zealand

Dare I even mention the fanny pack? Lisa, Red Deer, Canada

“Touch base” – it makes me cringe no end. Chris, UK

10. Is “physicality” a real word? Curtis, US

Transportation. What’s wrong with transport? Greg Porter, Hercules, CA, US

The word I hate to hear is “leverage”. Pronounced lev-er-ig rather than lee-ver -ig. It seems to pop up in all aspects of work. And its meaning seems to have changed to “value added”. Gareth Wilkins, Leicester

Does nobody celebrate a birthday anymore, must we all “turn” 12 or 21 or 40? Even the Duke of Edinburgh was universally described as “turning” 90 last month. When did this begin? I quite like the phrase in itself, but it seems to have obliterated all other ways of speaking about birthdays. Michael McAndrew, Swindon

I caught myself saying “shopping cart” instead of shopping trolley today and was thoroughly disgusted with myself. I’ve never lived nor been to the US either. Graham Nicholson, Glasgow

What kind of word is “gotten”? It makes me shudder. Julie Marrs, Warrington

“I’m good” for “I’m well”. That’ll do for a start. Mike, Bridgend, Wales

Take-out rather than takeaway! Simon Ball, Worcester

“A half hour” instead of “half an hour”. EJB, Devon

Train station. My teeth are on edge every time I hear it. Who started it? Have they been punished? Chris Capewell, Queens Park, London

To put a list into alphabetical order is to “alphabetize it” – horrid! Chris Fackrell, York

“Normalcy” instead of “normality” really irritates me. Tom Gabbutt, Huddersfield

As an expat living in New Orleans, it is a very long list but “burglarize” is currently the word that I most dislike. Simon, New Orleans

“Oftentimes” just makes me shiver with annoyance. Fortunately I’ve not noticed it over here yet. John, London

Eaterie. To use a prevalent phrase, oh my gaad! Alastair, Maidstone (now in Athens, Ohio)

I hate “alternate” for “alternative”. I don’t like this as they are two distinct words, both have distinct meanings and it’s useful to have both. Using alternate for alternative deprives us of a word. Catherine, London

“Hike” a price. Does that mean people who do that are hikers? No, hikers are ramblers! M Holloway, Accrington

I hate the word “deliverable”. Used by management consultants for something that they will “deliver” instead of a report. Joseph Wall, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

The most annoying Americanism is “a million and a half” when it is clearly one and a half million! A million and a half is 1,000,000.5 where one and a half million is 1,500,000. Gordon Brown, Coventry

Surely the most irritating is: “You do the Math.” Math? It’s MATHS. Michael Zealey, London

I hate the fact I now have to order a “regular Americano”. What ever happened to a medium sized coffee? Marcus Edwards, Hurst Green

My worst horror is expiration, as in “expiration date”. Whatever happened to expiry? Christina Vakomies, London

Period instead of full stop. Stuart Oliver, Sunderland

My pet hate is “winningest”, used in the context “Michael Schumacher is the winningest driver of all time”. I can feel the rage rising even using it here. Gayle,Nottingham

My brother now uses the term “season” for a TV series. Hideous. D Henderson, Edinburgh

Having an “issue” instead of a “problem”. John, Leicester

To “medal” instead of to win a medal. Sets my teeth on edge with a vengeance. Helen, Martock, Somerset

“I could care less” instead of “I couldn’t care less” has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they’re trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham

My media week 25/09/11

September 24, 2011

The BBC has produced an eight-hour dramatisation of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. The adaptation, which features, Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant, will be broadcast from 18 to 25 September on Radio 4.  Life and Fate, which is set in the battle of Stalingrad, charts the fate of both a nation and a family in the turmoil of war. It has been compared to War and Peace. The Soviet authorities did not share this opinion and the book itself was arrested.

To mark the Pontiff’s visit to Germany Der Spiegel has an interview with dissident theologian Hans Küng: ‘A Putinization of the Catholic Church’

On BBC Radio 4’s Analysis Jamie Whyte investigates riots. The programme opens with the following premise:

Smashing things, running amok, making mayhem: something about riotous behaviour delights us, especially when we’re young.  Getting a flat-screen television, a pair of trainers or a bottle of vodka without paying for it is also nice.  Which makes it strange that, in the weeks following last month’s riots, everyone was asking how they could have happened.  As Roger Scruton, the philosopher and social commentator points out, this question arises from the wrong assumption:

Riots, that is the normal condition of human beings. What needs explaining is why they don’t occur, not why they do occur!  And they don’t occur in England, on the whole.  That is an important observation.

I like contrarian stuff and I was surprised to see this piece in Spiked about Real Madrid defender, Pepe: Football is not just for ballerinas.

A sceptic’s look at Scientology

September 18, 2011

The Church of Scientology, which is now almost sixty years old, has always been controversial. To its critics it is an evil cult that abuses its members and is only interested in making money. It is famed for its litigiousness and for hounding anyone who dares to criticise it. This ruthlessness and an ability to evolve have allowed it to become a powerful force in the USA.  I have found it impossible to find any reliable figures for the number of practicing Scientologists in the world today, with estimates ranging from 250,000 to 15 million. These numbers may seem inconsequential, but with a fortune in real estate and a host of influential celebrity defenders, they are able to punch well above their weight. I have recently been reading Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman. While the book contains no earth-shattering revelations, I found I learned a lot about the history, doctrines and workings of The Church of Scientology.

I am going to define Scientology as a religion because I feel that words like cult and sect are emotive conjugations. Scientology’s beliefs may appear to be wacky, but wackiness is in the eye of the beholder. Reincarnation, exorcism, rising from the dead, refusal of blood transfusions, the Hindu caste system, the niqab, Tibetan sky burial and food taboos could also be considered strange. So, scientology may be weird. I don’t think that means it should be banned. I think the German attitude to Scientology should be censured. On the other hand, being a religion does not exempt you from criticism. Such criticism should not be considered persecution.

The Church’s founder, Lafayette Ron Hubbard, was a science fiction writer. He certainly had a colourful life, although he did seem to have a certain talent for self-aggrandisement. He also spent much of his life travelling including years at sea as the Commodore of his own private navy.

In 1950 Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Two years later Dianetics was transformed into a religion. Hubbard would lead the Church until his death in 1986.  His successor and the church’s current leader David Miscavige, has been able to give the church somewhat more mainstream appeal. Miscavige, who rose to power when he was just 25, has put a lot of effort into expanding the Church’s physical presence. However, he has also made scientology more rigid and his critics accuse him of creating a climate of fear within the organisation. A number of high-ranking members have left the church. Of course, this is typical in many religions – the Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox split in Christianity or the Sunni/Shia divide in Islam are two obvious examples.

I’m going to look at Scientology’s belief system. This is not easy because of the obsessive secrecy of the church. What’s more Hubbard invented a way of describing the world that is filled with concepts and jargon that are alien to me.  I hope I don’t make too many mistakes. Scientology doesn’t help its case by maintaining many of its beliefs as secrets. They have spent millions of dollars trying to stop former members publishing their secret scriptures on the internet. This seems to be like the Catholic Church having the Virgin Birth of Jesus as a secret known only to a powerful elite.

Scientologists believe that they have lived and will live forever. They apparently sign billion-year contracts in which they commit themselves to the organisation. Scientology has its own creation myth. It involves a galactic ruler named Xenu, who controlled part of the galaxy including our own planet Earth, in those days known as Teegeeack. Faced by massive overpopulation, Xenu decided on a drastic plan. With the help of psychiatrists he called in billions of people for income tax inspections where they were instead given injections of alcohol and glycol that left them paralysed. They were put into space planes that looked exactly like DC8s (except they had rocket motors instead of propellers), and they were sent to Earth. On arrival these paralysed people were dropped into volcanoes. Hydrogen bombs were then detonated and everyone was killed. But that was not the end of the story. Billions of souls, known as thetans, were being blown around by the nuclear winds. They were captured by Xenu’s forces using an electronic ribbon and sucked into vacuum zones around the world. These souls were then packed into boxes and taken to a few huge cinemas, where they were forced to spend 36 days watching special 3D movies. These films implanted what Hubbard called “various misleading data“‘ into the memories of the defenceless thetans. This included all world religions, and Hubbard specifically attributed Roman Catholicism and the image of the Crucifixion to Xenu’s malevolent plan. The thetans were also deprived of their sense of personal identity. They clustered in groups of a few thousand. Now because there were only a few living bodies left they inhabited these bodies. Xenu was eventually overthrown and he is now a prisoner in a mountain and on one of the planets. He is kept in by a force-field powered by an eternal battery.

These body thetans are still around today. Each of us has our own thetan, causing us spiritual and mental harm. Scientologists believe we have a reactive and an analytical mind. The engram (painful memory) is stored in the reactive mind. As a result of the build-up of thousands of these engrams, we experience problems throughout our lives. The purpose of Dianetics is to rid a thetan (person) of their reactive minds. The means to do this is auditing, scientology’s form of spiritual counselling. The auditor’s basic tool is the E-meter, a skin galvanometer, that they claim helps ascertain the problems of the subject. In the sessions the auditor asks questions and takes notes about the participant’s responses. The idea is to consciously re-experience painful or traumatic events from their past in order to free themselves of their negative effects. Sessions are sold in 12-and-a-half-hour blocks, which vary in cost depending on what level you’re working on.

Once you become free of the reactive mind, you have reached Clear, but you still have the secret levels, known as the Bridge to Total Freedom, where you learn the theology and creation myth of the church and understand what it’s all about. You have advanced to a higher state of being, Operating Thetan. It is defined as “knowing and willing cause over life, thought, matter, energy, space and time.”

Scientology is famous for its celebrities. Tom Cruise, John Travolta Isaac Hayes and Kirstie Alley are names that immediately spring to mind. Jerry Seinfeld also dabbled with scientology and Charles Manson took over 150 hours of Scientology courses. The celebrities are part of the strategy of both Hubbard and Miscavige to recruit this kind of high-profile opinion shapers. This has enabled them to gain some respectability. The self-help aspect of the faith seems to go down well with the stars. John Travolta asserted that stars such as Elvis Presley and James Dean wouldn’t have died so young if they had been scientologists.  In fact, one of Elvis’s girlfriends tried to persuade him o join and he went to a scientology centre on Sunset Boulevard. Elvis was not impressed:

Fuck those people! There’s no way I’ll ever get involved with that son-of-a-bitchin’ group. All they want is my money.'”  However, they did recruit both his wife and daughter.

The jewel in the Scientology crown is of course Tom Cruise. He originally kept his religious views to himself, but in recent years he has become vocal in his advocacy. This has helped the church but there have been downsides such as the famous sofa incident on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Another famous Cruise moment was his attack on psychiatry and criticism of Brooke Shields for her use of drugs for postpartum depression. Cruise was very much on message. Scientology’s hatred of psychiatry is long-standing and particularly vitriolic, reflecting the views of Hubbard. They even have a museum on Sunset Boulevard – Psychiatry: an Industry of Death. They certainly make some outlandish claims:

There is no such thing as chemical imbalances in the brain and that the very notion of mental illness is a fraud.


Between 10 and 25 percent of psychiatrists sexually assault their patients, some of them children.


Psychiatrists kill up to 10,000 people a year with their use of electroshock treatment 

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have been critical of such things as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM IV documented 374 mental disorders and they see to treat life itself as human life is a form of mental illness. But the scientologists go way beyond that and deny the existence of mental illness. Their own record on mental health leaves a lot to be desired. The e-meter has never been subjected to clinical trials.

And they have their own dark history. Elli Perkins was a professional glass artist a senior auditor at the Church of Scientology in Buffalo, New York. Her son Jeremy was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2001. Following church policy, she rejected psychiatric care preferring to treat him with vitamins. The condition worsened to the point where Jeremy felt that his mother was poisoning him. After a failed suicide attempt, Jeremy eventually murdered her in 2003. Jeremy Perkins was found not responsible by reason of mental disease, but he was assessed as dangerously mentally ill and was committed to a secure facility.  In March 2006, an advertisement in LA Weekly blamed Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology for the murder of Elli Perkins. The ad stated: “Thanks, Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology, for your expert advice on mental health.”

What does the future hold for scientology? There are now third-generation Scientologists. I don’t find their beliefs very convincing. They seem to be a product of time and place. But I have no problem with people holding those beliefs.  However, there are serious questions about the way the Church behaves. They seem to have a strong authoritarian bent. This can be seen in the way Miscavige seems to intimidate the people around him. If you dare to leave the Church, you can expect severe problems. The Scientologists love to sue and harass their critics. They had a term, Fair Game, to describe policies and practices carried out by the Church of Scientology towards its enemies. Basically any tactics could be justified. Hubbard scrapped this policy because of the bad PR, but the Church still seems to be very aggressive in the gives defectors a forum in which to attack it. In the age of Wikileaks they have also been unable to protect their secrets. They face an uncertain future. In their sixty-year history they have proved adept at adapting to meet new demands. It will be fascinating how they cope in the next sixty years.

Tim Vine- The Punslinger

September 18, 2011

Tim Vine is an English comedian. His stand-up act consists primarily of a series of quick-fire one-liners and puns. On 7 October 2004, he broke the Guinness World Record for the most jokes told in an hour with 499, beating the previous record of 362. Each joke told had to get a laugh from the paying audience to count towards the record. The record was subsequently broken in May 2005 by Aussie comedian, Anthony Lehmann, who managed 549 jokes. Here is a selection of Vine’s material:

I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.

Velcro: what a rip-off!

So I went to the record shop and I said, “What have you got by The Doors?” He said, “A bucket of sand and a fire blanket!”

I was reading a book- The History of Glue- I couldn’t put it down.

I used go out with an anaesthetist – she was a local girl.

So I told my girlfriend I had a job in a bowling alley. She said “Tenpin?” I said, “No, it’s a permanent job.”

I’ll tell you what I love doing more than anything: trying to pack myself in a small suitcase. I can hardly contain myself.

So I rang up a local building firm, I said “I want a skip outside my house.” He said, “I’m not stopping you.”

So I said to the gym instructor: ‘Can you teach me to do the splits?’ He said, ‘How flexible are you?’ I said: I can’t make Tuesdays.’

I went to the doctor. I said to him, “I’m frightened of lapels.” He said, “You’ve got cholera.”

When it comes to cosmetic surgery… a lot of people turn their noses up.

I threw some snow at my girlfriend. She didn’t catch my drift.

Black beauty – he’s a dark horse.

I was chopping carrots in the kitchen when I saw the Grim Reaper. I suddenly realised I was dicing with death’

I never sleep with fish. I’m halibut.

So I went into this video shop, and the man asked if I’d like to rent Batman Forever. I said, “No, just for 24 hours.”

I went to the butchers the other day and the butcher said, “’I bet you £5 you can’t guess the weight of that meat on the top shelf.”   “I’m not gambling!” I said, “The steaks are too high.”

I was taking the motorway out of London. A policeman pulled me over and said: ‘”Put it back”

I’ve got a sponge door….don’t knock it.

So I took my dog for a walk and it was really angry – well it would be it’s a cross breed.

So I said to my Mum ‘I’m going to the funfair’.” She said, “Ooh, will you go on the ghost train?”  I said, “No, I’ll walk”

I saw a bargain the other day, a TV set for £1. Only problem was the volume control which was stuck on full. Come on, how can you turn that down?

I used to go shoplifting on the shoulders of a load of vampires. Then I got caught and charged with burglary on three counts!

He said ‘I’m going to chop off the bottom of one of your trouser legs and put it in a library. I thought, “That’s a turn-up for the books.”

I went to Millets and said, “I want to buy a tent.” He said, “To camp?” I said [butchly], “Sorry, I want to buy a tent.” I said, “I also want to buy a caravan.” He said, ‘Camper?’ I said [campily], “Make your mind up.”

One arm butlers – they can take it but they can’t dish it out.

Exit signs – they’re on the way out aren’t they?

You see my next door neighbour worships exhaust pipes, he’s a catholic converter.

You invented Tipp-Ex, correct me if I’m wrong.

So I went to buy a watch, and the man in the shop said, “Analogue?” I said, “No, just a watch.”

So I went in to a pet shop. I said, “Can I buy a goldfish?” The guy said, “Do you want an aquarium?” I said, “I don’t care what star sign it is.”

I phoned the local ramblers club today and this bloke just went on and on.

My mate asked me “What do you think of voluntary work?” I said, “I wouldn’t do it if you paid me.”

This policeman came up to me with a pencil and a piece of very thin paper. He said, “I want you to trace someone for me.”

So this lorry full of tortoises collided with a van full of terrapins. It was a turtle disaster.

So I told my mum that I’d opened a theatre. She said, “Are you having me on?” I said, “Well I’ll give you an audition, but I’m not promising you anything.”

So I fancied a game of darts with my mate. He said, “Nearest the bull goes first” He went “Baah” and I went “Moo” He said, “OK, you’re closest”

So I met this bloke with a didgeridoo and he was playing Dancing Queen on it. I thought, “That’s aboriginal.”

One of my squaddies in my army came up to my bunk bed the other day and had a hairdryer against my duvet, I said, “Don’t blow my cover”

My media week 18/09/11

September 18, 2011

Nature looks at the attemps by neuroscientists to undermine free will: Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will.

Misha Glenny, author of McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, was at the RSA  talking about  the three fundamental threats facing us in the 21st century: cyber crime, cyber warfare and cyber industrial espionage. The talk is Dark Market: Cyber thieves, cyber cops and you.

Over the summer I saw this video of a four-year-old evangelical preacher, Kanon Tipton.

I enjoyed this news review from The Onion.