I say I say I say
20 August 2001
My uncle once told me a joke. That's not unusual in and of itself. My uncle had a better sense of humour than people generally gave him credit for. It's just that a cataract operation gone horribly wrong deprived him completely of his ability to see the funny side. But that's not really the point.
The point is, back in the day, before the accident, he was always coming back from his travels and travails with little snippets of international comedy. One of which was this:
A Spanish man is visited one day by his Portuguese friend -
OK, stop here. Quick explanation. The Spanish tend to look at the Portuguese in much the same way as the English are supposed to look upon the Irish, at least for the purposes of bad jokes. And the Irish are supposed to look upon the Western Irish. And the Western Irish are supposed to look upon people from Kerry. And people from Kerry are supposed to look upon people from one particular part of Kerry, who look upon people from Southern Kerry, who look on people from the dark side of the road, who look on people from number 12, who look on people from the flat upstairs, and so on and so on in an endless chain of microcosmic piss-taking.
And incidentally, why do Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman jokes never specify whether the Irishman is from the North or the South? Does it suggest that all such gags originated before the partition, which I can well believe, or possibly that this troubled land can only be truly united when used as a source of lazy stereotypes? One nation under prejudice?
But anyway, this Portuguese guy pops round to his Spanish friends flat. It's never explained how he can let himself in without disturbing aforementioned amigo. Possibly a spare key from when he fed said amigo's goldfish. More probably they are lovers. Sadly, after a botched attempt at laser therapy to correct his myopia, my uncle became almost entirely blind to subtext.
So, he lets himself to find his (boy)friend sitting on the sofa, leaning forwards to stare into a tank containing the "oh, yeah, he has a key to let himself in to feed my goldfish when I'm away. We're certainly not going out or anything" goldfish. Remember, this was a more innocent time.
So, Spaniard is sitting with his back to the door, staring at the fish and moving one upraised finger in a slow clockwise circle, apparently following the motion of the fish as it traverses endlessly its watery circuit, eternally surprised by its apparently endless journey until the day it dies. Being a goldfish fucking sucks.
"So," says the Portuguese fellow, "the Hell are you doing?"
"Watch and learn," his friend replies enigmatically, before changing the clockwise finger-spin to widdershins. At which point the goldfish flips neatly over, and begins to swim anti-clockwise.
Not a massive lifestyle change for the goldfish - on your left, some water, on your right, some more water - but the friend is intrigued.
"How did you do that?"
"The power of my mind. Using my superior willpower, I can impose patterns on the motion of the simple creature. Check it out...."
And he does. In a display of fine and somehow entirely Hispanic prestidigitation, he makes the fish his yo-yo. Circles. Loop-the-loops. Figure eights. Signing his name. Moonwalking. The rabbit caught in the rain. Obscene lithograph. It's a virtuoso show, and Portugal Boy is damned impressed.
Tiring of this game eventually, the Spaniard heads off to the kitchen, and returns with steaming mugs of coffee to find his chum sitting on the very same spot he recently vacated, staring into the goldfish bowl.
Rhythmically opening and closing his mouth.
Yeah, it's more of a sight gag, which makes my uncle's ophthalmic catastrophes yet more ironic. But it's all leading up to a terrible, terrible truth. As some syphilitic German (the Germans look down on the Bavarians and the Austrians) once said:
When you gaze into the decorative miniature plastic castle,
And why is any of this at all germane, I hear you ask with commendable patience? Well, because the same oft-misquoted Teuton also commented:
Battle not with noncers,
Which brings us neatly to the recent furore about Brass Eye. Now, to the best of my knowledge nobody has accused Chris Morris of actual noncery, or inciting the machinery of kiddyfiddle. However, the general consensus is that he is guilty of trivialising acts of nonce.
Which is a terrible thing to do. Already, friends of mine who teach in Primary schools have become quite literally criminally lackadaisical, taking children on geography trips and then letting them wander off into the woods with instructions to find a fern, spot at least one squirrel and stroke some puppies. The school board probably should have reprimanded them more forcefully, but it all seemed so...trivial.
Likewise, the tabloids, despite feeling a certain obligation to whip up a bit of a stink, really couldn't be fucked. Seized with ennui, they ended up just seeing how far they could take the piss. Articles of condemnation next to leery close-ups of underage chest puppies. More condemnation, juxtaposed with shots of Sarah Ferguson's pubescent princesses in bikinis. A few people worked out what was going on, but couldn't summon up the interest to write in.
Of course, it's all downhill from here. Justin Timberlake trivialises the plays of Timberlake Wertenbaker. Britney Spears doesn't so much trivialise the desire of middle-aged men to spurt sterile, beer-poisoned jism all over their fur-lined paunches while thinking of teenagers in school uniform as institutionalise it and provide a multimedia presentation on the benefits of phasing it in. Phil Collins trivialises the idea of human existence, just by being a part of it.
O tempora, o mores, say I, except in English, obviously. Just as Morris' blustering celebrity victims were forced, goldfish-like, into capering and aping by his superior will, so we, will-sapped excrescence of the new millennium, are driven from wretchedness to hopelessness to nothingness by the dreadful, empty weight of evil celebrity role models. Faced with such a barrage of trivialising the pretty-trivial-to-begin-with, what other option does one have but to sit down in front of your rust-red aquatic chum and see if you can at least assert a little control on this tiny goldfish-shaped corner of your personal kingdom.
Best watch yourself, though. Should you find yourself perched motionless on the edge of the sofa, opening and closing your mouth in imitation of your piscine playmate, try to keep some measure of self-control. You never know when your cataract-ridden, Wertenbaker-dissing, kilt-wearing uncle will stagger into the room, muttering about the impossibility of hurrying love and strung out to the second star on the right with junk sickness.
And stick his cock in your ear.