One of my favourite comedy quotes of recent times comes from The Old Guys, a much-underrated and, cruelly, somewhat unheard-of sitcom from the writers of Peep Show, when erstwhile Only Fools and Horses legend Roger Lloyd Pack earnestly delivers the line: “Anyone can use words that mean things, that’s the oldest trick in the book”.
I like it because it’s a subtly funny, clever little line. I also like it because it could be a tagline for what I’m trying – and I did say trying, not necessarily achieving – to do with this blog: highlight the surreal and the ridiculous aspects of everyday life in Britain today tooled up with an expansive arsenal of hot air, waffle and sometimes meaningless drivel that might just be even more surreal and ridiculous than my easy-target subject matter.
Sometimes, though, using words that mean things is probably the better course of action. I’ve just returned from a holiday in the Mediterranean with a head full of ‘hilarious’ examples of broken-beyond-any-chance-of-repair translations into English. Like this wholly baffling sign I found on the flip side of a toilet seat.
It’s funny to laugh at these things, but let’s be fair… it’s not these guys’ first language.
English is, however, the first language of the English, so why can’t we use our words to create something that means something when it matters?
I’ve been back in the country less than 24 hours and already I’ve clocked loads of examples of pieces of communication that should mean something but falter by using words that don’t.
For example, Lambeth was London’s most improved borough in 2008, the side of a car told me earlier as I popped to the shops. Nice, but, on the side of a car, in the absence of any statistics, what does that actually mean? I’d imagine Rio de Janeiro’s most-improved favela might be better than it once was, but you’d probably still be better off buying a second home somewhere else.
And splashed across a billboard at the airport last night: “Gatwick Express – The only way to get from the airport to the city, which also means it’s the fastest”.
Is that really something to boast about? Being the best at something because you’re the only one doing it? That’s like Pop Idol porker Rick Waller saying he’s the best footballer in the world that’s ever covered Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You and appeared on Celebrity Fit Club. Which is probably true, but come on.
Chesney Hawkes said he was the One and Only, but no one really believed that he actually was – apart from all girls at the time, but I’m sure they’ve since learned the error of their ways. So surely no one actually takes any notice of this kind of nonsense either?