Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ph'glui mglw'nafh Cthulhu Chateau Stevie wgah'nagl fhtagn

Post Santa

Christmas came and went in depressingly quick order, but the loot haul wasn't half bad.

Mrs Stevie got the entire run of Upstairs Downstairs on DVD. I estimate it will take her four years at her current viewing rate to finish it. She also got something called The Elizabeth Gaskell Collection which is set in Victorian England. Truly, she will be costume drama'd out by the summer.

The Stevieling got an iPod Nano, and as a result I got to spend Xmas morning configuring bloody iTunes. I wouldn't mind but the damned thing installed a stealth "helper" executable that launches in every logon, despite iTunes being required only in the Stevieling's account. No doubt this is another case of my not seeing how the Apple Way is better than, say, the Norton Way which pulls exactly the same sort of shenanigan for which Symantec are roundly criticized by the world and its dog. She got a bunch of other stuff, but the iPod was the great hit of the day, so kudos to Mrs Stevie who made it happen1.

I got a bunch of DVDs including Hogfather, Universe season 1, the UK version of Eleventh Hour, the entire run of Red Dwarf and The History of Britain which is spiffy with a capital spiff. I also got this year's Hess Truck2, which is ultraspiffy and features a self-propelling component for the first time. Hess Trucks are truly wonderful toys and worth every penny. No-one is allowed to play with mine.

I also got the Horrorclix figure of Great Cthulhu, which is so far beyond spiffy that radio messages take four minutes to reach it from there. A truly magnificent realization of the ultimate in antediluvian cosmic horrors, and dead good to fondle while making appropriate noises3.

However, the Stevieling’s eyeballs, only just unbugged-out after getting used to the idea of being an iPod owner4 sprang from their sockets when she unwrapped the family's Wii console5.

All in all, Mrs Stevie engineered a Christmas to remember.

Mrs Stevie felt we should all go to church this year, and since I was exhausted from iPod installation, Wii wiring, Hess-Truck figuring out and making Appropriate Noises, I couldn't marshal enough cogent arguments to gainsay her so we decamped for Lutheran indoctrination.

Now everyone here knows that as god is my witness I am an atheist. Not the sort that makes a religion of it, but I just don't think there's anything there. I don't say you have to agree with me, and if you do Believe and you are right, you'll have the last laugh if I have understood the set-up, but I've had a long think and it doesn't make sense to me (not that much ever does these days).

However, I don't believe in making other people unhappy for what would be at worst an hour of standing and sitting in a cold church watching everyone else get closer to redemption, and Mrs Stevie badly needed the morale boost so I said "okay", which was enough to get her to release me from the Full Nelson she had me in too. In any case, I love a good sing-song and have fond memories of compulsory choir membership while at school being actually enjoyable at Christmas. Even Lutherans can't ruin Christmas with the duff hymns they so often trot out on other occasions to spoil the mood.

Or so I thought.

We got changed (my "iCephalopod" T-Shirt depicting Cthulhu "rocking out" to an iPod was deemed unsuitable for church attendance) and soon were ensconced in a pew before the altar, whereupon the pastor gave a service that seemed to miss the point a bit.

I'm no expert, but I thought that Christmas was all about the baby Jesus having been born. The service that day seemed to dwell on the horrific death the man was put through, which should have been thirty three years down the road, sometime around Easter if my maths is right. This wasn't the pastors fault, since I understand that the service is pretty much put together by a committee and all the pastor does is put a friendly face on it all. This seems wrong to me, but I'm not a fully paid up member of the club so I don't really get a say.

Each reading was bracketed by a carol to illustrate the text and emphasise the narrative. Each carol was truncated to only two verses generally, which was just enough for me to get the tune down before the song ended. Lutheran carols are sung to tunes subtly different to the versions I learned at school, so I occasionally end up soaring away from the pack or taking a left turn a bar too soon. It is all very trying, but I was doing okay until we came to The Appalachian Carol.

Set to a funereal dirge not unlike in feel to the tune of Poor Judd Is Dead from the musical Oklahoma, it features a folksy lyric supposedly written by a simple mountain man, and I suppose the idea was to throw into relief the idea that Jesus was as much for the simple common man as anyone. I think that was the idea. What I know for certain was that it was almost tailor made to cause an Incident In Church and get me into trouble with Mrs Stevie.

First of all it had a plodding tune that I was unfamiliar with, which gave me time to get bored and actually read ahead in the lyric.

Now anyone who has read this far should be secure in their knowledge of my grasp of grammar. Some may be under the illusion that I cunningly break the rules of grammar to achieve poignant literary effects, but the truth is I am somewhat blind to it and any grammatical cleverness in The Occasional Stevie is actually a result of the signal to noise ratio occasionally producing a random artifact, or unintended fallout from rare post-composition editing. In short, if I spot a grammatical problem, it is by definition a scorcher. Such was the case in The Appalachian Carol.

I've also confessed to being totally poem-blind. This is a curse. I'd love to read a poem and luxuriate in its rhyme, meter and imagery, but unless it's so obvious a cow could see it I can't spot the rhythm in any poem, and the effort of trying hurts so much I'm in no mood for cunning imagery and just want the poet to say what's bothering him or her and be done with it. That just leaves the rhymes, which I believe a cow could spot.

All I've just said should make it obvious I have insurmountable problems telling a good poem from a bad one6 (or indeed, spotting any poem from a bunch of instructions on how to apply carpet glue), but I was utterly convinced that with The Appalachian Carol I had in my hands a glowing example of Bad Poetry. It went like this:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus, 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on a wing
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause He was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

It really needs the dirge-like music to fully convey the effect of course, but notice how in each verse each line rhymes with the previous one despite where the normal use of language might like to take the text. Masterful, I suspect.

Mr Brain, feeling quite jolly and no-doubt mad at me for this enforced religious indoctrination, decided it was show time and piped in the thought "Where's the verse about Judd Fry being dead?" and threw up a visual of Hugh Jackman singing at the top of his voice, in a burnoose and flowing robes, somewhere in the desert-like countryside, heading toward Bethlehem with his thumbs stuck in his rope belt, striding in an exaggerated western rolling swagger with his spurs jangling softly in time to the beat.

I began, quietly, to lose it.

I removed my glasses and held a hand over my eyes in the hope that from the rear and sides my shaking shoulders and the tears flowing freely down my cheeks might be interpreted as some sort of holy rapture brought on by contemplation of the birth of Christ, rather than a bout of barely restrained hysterical laughter brought on by this daft carol.

I almost got myself under control, but another small Georgian voice, dragged from an expository piece in The Stuffed Owl - An Anthology Of Bad Verse, whispered "Why, 'tis the most ridiculous thing that was ever wrote" and I was off again into the place where I flirt with death by asphyxiation due to a surfeit of humour.

I began biting the web between my thumb and the palm of my right hand in an effort to quell the spasms of laughter demanding egress from my head. Given Mrs Stevie's stance on Appropriate Noises earlier that morning, I had a good idea of the reaction a volley of Inappropriate Noises in church would trigger. I was dicing with death.

It was at that moment, with impeccable timing that speaks well for her future in the World At Large that the Stevieling leaned over to me and whispered in my unprotected left ear: "Dad? Is it my imagination, or does this song belong in an episode of The Black Adder".

Non-fans of that show will not know what the hell that meant, but she and I have often watched and loved the episode from Black Adder III in which Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Connor star as two Georgian actors, Mossop and Keenrick. They perform the most ghastly pseudo Shakespearean dialogue at the drop of a hat - "Oh to torture him I lust, Let us singe his hairs and up his nostrils hot bananas thrust" is a small sample of what has to be seen and heard to be appreciated and both the Stevieling and I urge you to do so as soon as you stop reading this dribble. Mr Brain, not to be outdone, connected her comment and the referenced memories in a trice.

That was it. The Stevieling and I sat leaning against each other, rendered speachless by increasingly less silent laughter while Mrs Stevie hissed threats and punched me. All this did was to make things worse, as the mental picture of what this family tableau must have looked like from anywhere back of row three sent me into overdrive. By the time the carol was over I was a ghastly purple as the red from the effort of not laughing out loud mixed with the blue of acute anoxia. I haven't been in such a position since the fiasco at the altar during our wedding vows.

But that's a story for another time.

  1. With her seemingly endless supply of frequent spender reward points
  2. You can see it here if you don't wig out about Flash-driven sites. The link opens in a new window
  3. Which Mrs Stevie will tell you to stop making after only a few minutes. Mrs Stevie doesn't hold with appropriate noises
  4. Oh Jobs, you have so much to answer for
  5. Again, courtesy of Mrs Stevie and her frequent spending reward points
  6. Which is tragic when you consider that I would dearly love to be able to write Bad Poetry, but lacking the ability to do halfway Good Poetry I could only ever manage Terrible Poetry which, in the topsy-turvy world of poetry is actually not as desirable or meritorious as Bad Poetry

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