Thursday, February 25, 2010

Armchair Critics #2

Mrs Dilo and I were really looking forward to these Olympics in Vancouver and to once again see the world’s top athletes sweating and straining to the very limit of their endurance whilst clad in skimpy vests and skin-tight lycra. But then we remembered that it’s the winter Olympics, and it’s not like that. Everybody’s in a nylon jump-suit like they were on their way to an ABBA convention and goggles so you can’t see if they’re really concentrating or just going through the motions before the après ski. Now, I take full responsibility for my views here: anybody who skis is surely enthralled by every single twist and turn and I bow to their greater knowledge, and indeed fully understand that they may regard my preferred sport, cricket, as about as interesting as a wet Sunday afternoon in Merthyr Tydfil. However, we were a bit peeved and disappointed:

I’m a bit peeved and disappointed.

So am I. And now that that bloke died in a practice session we can’t even hope for people crashing to give us entertainment.

I know. But now it’s a change from the skiing, it’s that jumping thing.

Oh no. Where they slide down a ramp and then fly off the end like one of those tree frogs off of Animal Planet and then land either a bit shorter or a bit longer than the previous bloke but nobody knows why?

Yes. What is there to say about it. Hmm, this one shouldn’t have chosen the red suit.

Indeed. He’s got a Nordic complexion, should have chosen the blue, and preferably in a lighter shade.

Ooh, I think this is the biathlon: they have to ski and then stop and see how many baked beans they can eat.

Baked beans? Are you sure?

It's something like that. Oh no, it's shooting. What's the point of that?

It must be relevant if you live in the arctic tundra of northern Lapland.

But who does?


Bobsleigh’s next. Did you ever see the film Cool Runnings?

About the Jamaican bobsleigh team? I did, and I thought it major missed opportunity. I mean, those lads could have totally taken the mickey out of the event for once and for all instead of trying to win it – they could have had Bob Marley blaring out of the in-bob stereo system and been laughing and smoking ganja all the way down!

That’s an appalling racial stereotype, I’m surprised at you.

Sorry. But you see now to what depths these ridiculous sports send me.

Err, ahem, I think there is speed skating now.

Wah! Oh my G...... Who let the gimps out?! I can’t believe I’m watching this. I’m going to my room to read some Kierkegaard - suddenly I no longer know if there’s any point to existence.

OK. Good luck with that

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hindi Cinema Interlude #2

(Can one have consecutive interludes? Isn’t that a bit oxymoronic??) While we have the expert services of Mr Ghanshyam Nair with us, here’s Anglo-Indian “vamp” Helen dancing with Indian sailors in a Calcutta dive. (Calcutta is the one Indian city in which I’ve spent any amount of time, and I have good memories of the cricket-crazy kids and the amazing driving skills of the adults!) I think I’m right in saying that being Anglo-Indian was enough in itself to suggest loose morals, but if you can also move about like this then you’ll probably need a large retinue of bodyguards wherever you go. She’s voiced here by playback singer Geeta Dutt and the film is the 1958 Howrah Bridge. It’s Mrs Dilo’s favourite song.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bollywood Interlude #1

I’ve been noticing for a while that some bloggers can post a video clip with a single line caption and get more comments in the space of a few hours than I can in a week. (How do they do that? Hypnotism? Nepotism? Or have they simply made a pact with The Devil?) I don’t think I can be so terse, as you lot are after all my only source of conversation about the arts, etc, and my only way of getting things off my chest :-) I will try to post some short posts, however.

Mrs Dilo and I like Bollywood, classic Bollywood, that is: she because it was allowed by Ceauşescu during the communist years (many Romanians are fans), and me because it reminds me of parties with my Indian friends in the UK (yep, really dancing like in the video below!) First Bollywood interlude is a homage to “playback” singer Mohammed Rafi; his voice may not be as perfect as that of Kishore Kumar, who became his main rival, but it has a warmth and urgency that I like. Here's Nain Milakar Chain Churana from the 1967 film Aamne Samne, arranged by the legendary R. D. Burman, outrageously big band and featuring (it sez here) a Chuck Berry guitar shuffle. I do hope you enjoy it. Rock on!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

St.Valentine’s Day Massacre

In which Gadjo trashes the tradition of February 14th and, most crucially, that strange comic strip featuring two naked pre-pubescents with no genitals (right). (I almost missed Valentine's Day this year – hence the belatedness of this post - but just remembered in time to pop to the graveyard to get a bunch of flowers. Here is what happens if you forget, curtesy of Gaws’ blog.) To do this he will use the famous phrase from the film Love Story and then pervert it, repeatedly. Levenshtein edit distance* (“LED”) will be employed to gauge the extent of this perversion.

Love Is.... never having to say you’re sorry. The paradigm. LED = 0.

Love Is.... never having to save your lolly. No worries about having to get your hard-earned dosh to a bank when she’s spending it all on shoes and scratch-cards – right, guys? LED = 9.

Love Is.... never having to pay for your folly. You may feel your marriage was folly but you’re still better in it than paying alimony – right, guys?? LED = 11.

Love Is.... never having to change your story. If you can use the same excuse time after time it proves your marriage is a solid one. LED = 11.

Love Is.... never having to wash your trollies. Leave them scattered around the bedroom floor if you must but washing them yourself will infringe a sacred marriage taboo. LED = 13.

Love Is.... never having too gay a hobby. Dancing, Ice Skating and Writing Poetry may all be said to be ‘gay’ but - and it’s a very big ‘but’ - not only will they put you in contact with lots of women but they’ll also make you a chick magnet. The wife’s not going to like that, and will insist you take up rugby, chess, or stamp-collecting instead. LED = 13.

Love Is.... never leaving to get your jollies. Make your sex life and your marriage life overlap, that’d be my advice. LED = 15.

Love is.... forever having to bathe in her glory. Perhaps the biggest perversion of all. She’s better than you are and everybody thinks she’s great. Learn to live with it. LED = 17.

* This metric calculates the minimum number of edits (insertions, deletions, or substitutions) needed to transform one “string” (in this case a series of letters) into the other; e.g. smite
--> kitten has an edit distance of 4: 1 substitution of ‘k’ for ‘s’, 1 deletion of ‘m’, and 2 insertions of ‘t’ and ‘n’. The algorithm for calculating (the very impressive, nuclear physics-sounding) Levenshtein edit distance has great significance in my life: having learnt it in my previous job I used it during the trial period of my current one; the boss maybe had heard of it but maybe didn’t know it was fairly simple to implement or that I didn’t know much about other algorithms – I passed the trial period and got a contract.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gadjo’s Skooldaze

My job may end soon and I have to think about what to do next. I’m actually taking this opportunity to review my entire life, starting from the start. Some of it went swimmingly well but I do usually prefer not to look back on my school days - they weren't so horrific, just so filled with naffness and embarrassment. In fact, so naff and embarrassing were they I’m inclined to imagine this end-of-year conversation in the staffroom:

Right, next up it’s Dilo and what’s to be made of him. Mr Bacon, what’s he like at sport?

Sport?? He doesn’t know the #!@%*& meaning of the #!@%*& word!! He can’t play anything proper, the only thing he can #!@%*& do is #!@%*& badminton and even then he swoops about like Isadora #!@%*& Duncan! Just give me an hour with him and a couple of Shōrinji-#!@%*&-ryū swords in the coal shed, Headmaster, and I’ll....

No, Mr Bacon, thank you, remember what happened last time. How is he in the metalwork room, Mr Sparks - did he ever fix the differential on your Cortina?

Did he bollocks.

Ok. Mr Shirk, you’re his form master, has he got any form?

None we can use. He lifted us a few Fruit Salads last term, but we reckon he just forgot to pay when he left the shop.

Pity. Oh dear, well, what about hobbies? Mr Sprot, is he still in your chess club?


Dilo. Weedy chap. Bad haircut. Stammer.

That doesn’t narrow it down much.

Well, if you haven’t noticed him then he’s probably not the next Boris Becker. Mr Brasso, didn’t he play trumpet in the school band?

Ay, he did. Bloody rubbish he was. Couldn’t get the high notes, or the low notes. We moved him to 2nd euphonium but ‘e were rubbish there an’ all. Tuba’s reserved for special punishments, as y’know, and triangle’s been stolen, so we kicked him out.

Oh, I see. Err, Mr Vaseline, has he been to any of your “art” classes? (God I’ll be glad when this man retires, only another couple of years now, and hopefully by then sodomy* will've been taken off the school curriculum.)

Duckie, we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him, not that’s it’s any loss I mean it’s not as if he’s particularly attractive is it!

If you say so. Well, seems to me another basket case, let’s move on...

Errr, Headmaster, just an idea, I know it’s a long shot but might we try him on, errrr, exams?

{A heavy silence descends. A silence you could cut with a knife, along a straight line between two points you’ve triangulated with a skool compass and drawn with a 2B pencil and a rather chipped plastic set-square.}

"Exams", Mr Chips?? This school never went in much for "exams". Strikes me you’re been sniffing the Chem. Dept.’s acetone again, eh?!

Well, I just thought we could try it. I’m sure if we wrote to one of those Examination Board thingies they’d send us some forms and whatnot.

Oh, alright, just don’t make a habit of it.

And lo, so it came to pass that young Dilo found he could focus his otherwise aimless mind for the few hours it took to take some academic qualifications. Though really none of this now matters a jot as he’s ended up earning a pauper’s wage in the European Union’s most despised and dishevelled country, so it let that be a lesson to you.

* It has come to my attention that Romanians may now be reading this nonsense, and I wish to encourage them not to jump to conclusions. This is all just A Laugh, for heaven’s sake, none of this actually happened like I’m telling it, especially not this bit. Thank you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Let's Dance #1

WARNING: This is a foretaste of several posts that will discuss dancing and will be of no interest whatsoever to anybody at all except, errr, me.

Last week Mrs Dilo and I and a friend went to see a performance of Irish dancing at our Romanian opera house. The tickets were expensive, and I think there was never much chance it would better the Russian dance troupe that came last year, but it was still a good evening: costumes, pacey music, professional dancing and even a couple of songs I knew the words to and could sing along to – smashing, almost like being back in North London. And I was glad to see the audience here giving a standing ovation at the end. I respect anybody who can organise a bunch of musicians and hoofers and bring a folk art to wider audience. (Romanian dance has as yet no Michael Flatley, a Moses to lead it out of the wilderness of village weddings and anodyne TV shows and into the major concert halls of the world). Just a couple of disappointments for me: firstly, no pints of Guinness, either in the foyer or on the stage, and judging by the covers of LPs by The Dubliners, the Furie Brothers etc I'd always thought that these were a requisite, and I really fancied one; secondly, the woman sitting behind me who was introduced as one of my wife’s colleagues said “Oh, you’re English, not Irish – a lot of Irish died under English rule, didn’t they?” (disappointment in this case with some aspects of British foreign policy, of course).

But one question that I had when I entered the theatre was still unsolved when I left. Here it is, together with some possible answers; perhaps you can help me judge which is the correct one:

Q: If God meant us to do Irish dancing, why did He* give us arms?

A1: God didn’t give us arms: we were created without them expressly with Irish dancing in mind, but evolved them later on our own initiative so as to better cope with this fallen world.

A2: God did give us arms but special arms that become immobile when performing Irish dancing – the boys' trousers in this show were rather tightly cut and the girls' skirts were really very short, and it would have been a sin to put us in the way of such temptation whilst dancing.

A3: There is no God, and no such thing as Irish dancing – it’s simply sensible flamenco.

Of course, I lie, you can use your arms. Sadly I can’t find any clips of glorious, cult, feminist Irish dancing troupe The Hairy Marys with their show No Snakes Please, We're Irish.... ah, North London..... but here’s the act we saw and it does feature at least one arm movement.

* I know. But I'm in the mood to be brief.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Welcome to Muppetsville

You may be wondering what I'm currently doing for a job after I announced last year that the boss no longer needed me. Well, he found some more things for me to do, so I'm still there, for a while, though on greatly reduced hours. One of these things included a gloriously boring task copying and pasting data about neighbourhoods of American towns from Wikipedia. Of course I had to stop my mind wandering away from the job at hand, but I still absorbed a lot of extra info about the demographics of the USA, proving to me, as if it weren't already apparent, what a wonderfully diverse and historically interesting country it is; and of course my mind did wander, and I found myself compiling my own made-up data about my very own made-up American town:


Muppetsville is a city in The United States of America, the third largest in New Berkshire, and the county seat of Muppet County.

The first inhabitants of the area were the Native American Sue tribe, who broke away from the Sioux nation after the Great Schism that followed the controversial 1674 Spelling Reform Act. Later, Dutch hunters arrived looking for beaver, but agents of the Hudson Bay Company, who were gaining control of the region, told them to stop it and go back home to their wives.

The origins of the town's name are disputed: it may be derived from the Sue word "Muȟpót", meaning "There's nothing here for you, Cheese-Breath!"; from the Dutch "Mupjet", meaning "Yeah, I see what you mean!"; or perhaps from Lord Muppet, a popular music-hall entertainer of the time who was mistakenly given the land rights to the place by the British House of Lords.

As of the census of 2005, the racial makeup of the city was 65.26% White, 29.29% African American, 3.84% Asian, 1.35% Native American, 0.23% Pacific Islander, and 0.02% from The Planet Aaamazzara (concentrated largely in Muppetsville "Pleasant Pastures" Maximum Security Home for the Highly Suggestable).

As at 2005 there were 65,648 households, 26.8% with children, 10.8% with a female householder and no husband present, 46.7% were “non-families”, 37.4% were highly disfunctional, and 28.3% have probably been on Jerry Springer*. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 3.14. You do the math.

85% of the population speak English as their first language, 11% Spanish, 3% Chinese, 0.5% Sue, 0.3% Hindi, and 0.2% Klingon. Klingon speakers are not uncommon in this region of America, but the high incidence of those speaking it as their first language is a result of the first ever "Trekkies" convention, held in Muppetsville in 1972.

The city has had its share of sporting success: the Muppetsville Muskies have been NAIVE** champions for 37 out of the last 39 years, putting the town well and truly on the global sporting map.

Famous Muppetsvillians include Dude, where's my baseball cap? actor Jerry Brad, serial killer Cletus "Muesli Man" Muncie, and WWF wrestler The Lump.

The city is represented in the Senate by Muff Watney and in the House of Representatives by Tagg Bigley, scions of the famous Watney-Bigley urinal deodorizer block manufacturing empire.

Today, the town's chief exports are corn, pith, and homespun philosophy, perhaps the most famous example being "If it looks like a Muppet and it smells like a Muppet, it's a Muppet".

* Stick to the facts! (Wikipedia moderater: drivelmeister)
** North American Ice Volleyball Event

AN APPEAL FROM WIKIPEDIA FOUNDER JIMMY WALES: Please don't copy and paste this crap into any data repository that might be taken seriously. It's written by insomiacs, drones and dodos. Frankly I wish I'd never started it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pizza ‘Ere

In communist times Cluj was famous for its pizzeria – yes, just the one – and students who studied here then, of which there were many, felt very privileged to have been through its portals. There are more opportunities now, and though the quality of Romanian pizza rarely rises above “average”, they do make a nice change from the usual, with all the usual suspects such as Margherita, Quattro Stagioni, Hawaiian, etc. But I noticed one here recently called “Bismarck” - is that normal?? And it featured slices of hard-boiled egg. Was The Iron Chancellor known to be fond of pizza? Did the battleship named after him sink because it took on too many hard-boiled eggs at Gotenhafen?? There were other, similarly strangely named ones; I think the menu went something like this:

Bismarck: Hard-boiled eggs (obviously), sausage, sauerkraut, iron.

Tirpitz : The one that never sees a pizza the action! With Operation Sauce.

Graf Spee: A “pocket” pizza, conforming to weight restrictions demanded by the Treaty of Versailles - it packs a punch but will meet its destiny on The Plate.

Hindenburg : A calzone-style pizza, the dough turned over to enclose the tasty, piping-hot hydrogen and then coated with a layer of special, (highly inflammable) anti-glare paint.

Charlemagne: Holy romano pizza. Tomato, mozzarella, oregano, Papal authority.

“Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria: Prosciutto, anchovies, Coco Pops, baked beans, banana, Marmite.

“Mad” King Otto of Bavaria: Pineapple, sardines, Smarties (but not the blue ones ‘cos they’re bad for you), gravy, Monster Munch.

Kaiser Wilhelm II: Pickled artichoke, pickled gherkins, Pickelhaube.

Adolf Hitler: Vegetarian.

Willy Brandt: (Deep-)Pan-European.

Helmut Kohl: Cabbage.

Gerhard Schröder: Quattro donnicciole

And if you can think what toppings an Angela Merkel pizza or even a Konrad Adenauer pizza would have on it, then you’re a better man than I am!