By Gareth Edwards

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Bard's Flying Pig and the Uber-Spectrum

Ah, there you are! I haven’t done one of these for some time, and all the while the Universe has been expanding, and so I’m afraid we’ve probably got rather behind in explaining it. Here nevertheless are the meticulously-imagined answers to some of your recent, and indeed unrecent, questions.

Mike asked Why don't the Oscars have Best Director and Best Directress awards like they do for actors and actresses?

It’s a little known fact that back in Hollywood’s hay-day there were 1,317 categories of Oscar. Some of the now-vanished awards included Best Serious Director, Best Lightweight Director, Best Featherweight Director and Best Bare-Knuckle Director. Oscars were also available for Best Boy, Best Girl, Best Movie Pitch, Best Movie Bitch, Punctuality, Effort, and Make-Up in a Foreign Language. By 1929 pretty much everybody in Los Angeles had at least twenty or thirty Oscars and Hollywood was wracked by Award inflation. There are even stories of motion-picture professionals needing a wheelbarrow of Oscars simply to get a seat in an average Los Angeles restaurant. The Federal Reserve stepped in, and the Oscars were drastically cut back to the bare bones 24 categories that people really cared about. Categories like “Best Short Documentary” and “Best Sound Editing” that make the Oscars the essential night of TV viewing my wife believes it is.

Nance asked: are there any colours unaccounted for in the traditional colours of the rainbow?
The 1960s spawned an interest in mind expansion of all kinds, and none more so than in the area of colour. Doctor Iggy Farben, professor of advanced Tuning in, Turning on and Dropping out at the Woodstock Institute of Sticking It to the Man was a pioneer in his field. He believed that there was literally no limit to the colours the human brain could perceive if only it sat in the middle of his aforementioned field and had some of his mushrooms. Farben posited the existence of an alternative rainbow, a rainbow perpendicular to the normal one visible to “like, you know, the man”. Farben's was a rainbow containing colours you couldn’t see, but that under the right conditions you could still really, you know, dig. This was Farben’s “hyper-rainbow”,  containing colours from the uber-spectrum: Ultra Yellow, Ultra Blue, Ultra Magnolia, Uber Orange, Super Green, Infra Mauve, Infra Pink, Infra Tartan, Infra Penny and Infra pound. Farben died a broken man when the 60s, a decade he believed would never end, came to an end, and overnight his entire work became infra dig. 

Stu asked What’s the difference between a herb and a spice?

A herb is a leaf or stem of a plant used to add flavour in cooking. A spice is where a South African parks their car.

Grazlewacky asked: why are flying pigs the brunt of so many statements of incredulity?

The English language is full of sayings we hear time and again without ever considering their origin. “Neither here nor there”, “not that way inclined”, “too much of a good thing”, “for God’s sake, darling, for once in your life can you not reverse without going up on the kerb?” Familiar phrases that make up our every day conversations. But it might surprise you to know that each and every one of these are actually to be found in the plays of Mister William Shakespeare.

The same goes for that expression of incredulity “pigs have wings”. This comes not from one of the bard’s more popular works, but from his less widely-known and even less widely-admired Children’s Plays written for the financially and critically disastrous Globe4Kidz between 1598 and a bit later in 1598, under the artistic directorship of history’s least popular actor manager, and inventor of the interval snack, Sir Costly Chockice.

A copy of Time Out from that year lists works such as Shakespeare’s The Billy Goats Gruff, parts one, two and three; Goldilocks and the three Bears of Verona; and John Ford’s controversial ‘Tis Pity She’s a Horse. And of course the play which concerns us here – perhaps anticipating a later, greater work - Hamlet, Pig of Denmark, starring Chockice himself in the title role.

The text is now lost to us, but scholars believe the plot consisted of Claudius, a butcher, wanting to make Hamlet into sausages, and Hamlet wanting to avenge his father’s death but being hampered by metaphysical angst and also by being a pig. In the final climactic scene Hamlet turns to the audience and asks them to tell Claudius he has flown away, and then hides off-stage. Hearing the news of his quarry’s supposed escape from the audience Claudius replies “Pigs have no wings”. The boys and girls counter “Oh yes they do!” and a bitter row ensues.

The dénoument was intended to be a coup de théâtre with Chockice magically taking to the air in his pantomime pig costume, an effect achieved by carefully firing him out of a trebuchet over the heads of the audience and into a waiting safety net. Sadly the antipathy to Chockice within the company was such at the opening performance he was fired over the walls of the Globe4Kidz and into the middle of the Thames, and the play was never performed again. Incidentally this is also the origin of the expression “ham acting”.

Well, I’m afraid we’ve reached the arbitrary limit I’ve just set for this instalment, but do ask a question in the space below if you feel in need of Some Kind of Explanation and we'll get the Universe explained in no time.