This was the week that was

A Kenyan has offered Bill and Hillary Clinton 40 cows and 20 goats in return for their daughter Chelsea. Unconfirmed sources say the Secretary of State’s immediate reaction was, bloody hell that is way more than Bill thought I was worth! Meanwhile, a man presumably without enough cows and goats at his disposal has said he wants to marry the one he has loved since he was 16 — his pillow.

Then again, maybe he had the right idea – look what happened when the bloke married a waitress and discovered that she had six other husbands in the course of a month and a half.

Or wait a minute, don’t knock weddings just yet – a couple just celebrated the 75th wedding anniversary, and say the trick is never going to bed angry. I’d try this too, but the thing is I need my sleep and if I follow that rule, I’ll never get any. [On second thoughts, after reading this story I’m beginning to think chronic insomnia might be a good thing after all].

From romance to weddings, and a Chinese bride has set a world record for the longest wedding gown ever – 7,093 feet. [A local laundry is likely now getting set to submit the world’s biggest laundry bill ever.] And speaking of big bills, spare a thought for the New York hot dog vendor whose monthly rent works out to $54,000 – that bloke’s in hot water, though not quite so hot as Timo Kaukonen, who managed to withstand a blistering 110 degrees Celsius to win a ‘world sauna championship’ [Now there’s a guy who will be right at home in hell].

In what was a good week for PETA, a dog flew business class for $32,000, an elephant was fitted with a nifty pair of slippers worth 500 pounds [and that is more than the Sex and the City girls spent on their Manolo Blahniks], and a bald penguin was given a wetsuit so he wouldn’t get sunburn.

Don’t scoff — animals are your best friends, just ask the bloke who got saved from a burning house by a cat that didn’t even live there. Which brings me to the subject of ingratitude, spelt Kevin Griffin, for the guy who told the police his cat had been downloading kiddie porn off the internet [a step up from the classic ‘dog ate my homework’, this].

In news you can use [when there are no comedy shows on TV], ‘research’ has found that optimistic women live longer, and macho men die quicker.  Science has also discovered that women are choosy while men are okay with anything in a skirt, when it comes to one-night stands; fresh research is expected to tell us how picky women end up with anything-goes men.  Oh, and while on men not being picky? A grandpa got caught groping Minnie Mouse.

Around the world, then: 88 percent of Dutch folks said they preferred going to the toilet to friends, and sex. In Paris, a woman attacked the Mona Lisa with a mug; investigating detectives say the assault had no effect on Lisa’s smile.

Israelis had a good week of it – a bunch of them took to the skies to pray that none of their countrymen died of H1N1, while another bunch is busy ogling mermaids – they think. Elsewhere, Australians are busy sending messages into space – mostly relating, we are told, to Freddie Flintoff. Austrian kids are meanwhile busy sending messages of a different kind – themselves.

Moving on to the ‘it takes all kinds’ files, a naked man in an art project was told to cover up, while a French woman in a burqini was told to shed some clothes.

For your ‘there’s a fool born every minute’ files: a woman claimed to be able to spiritually cleanse money – and cleaned seven Hispanic families out of $140,000.

To end on an upbeat, chicken soup note, the crew of a rowing boat abandoned their attempt at a world record in order to save the pilot of a crashed plane.

Enjoy the weekend, people. See you Monday.

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Choli ke peechey

Immensely wtf.

Story

Meet Robert McKee [wiki]:

I first stumbled on his seminal book, Story, in the summer of 2002. The strap line suggested the book would be of use to those interested in screen writing. I was not, at least at the time, but the few pages I read while sitting on one of those extremely functional uncomfortable plastic stools in New York’s Strand bookstore persuaded me to buy it — and it has since become my preferred gift to give friends who are interested in writing of all kinds [Many readers have over time asked for recommendations of books they can read to learn/improve their craft — if you read only one, then make it this].

In 2004, I attended one of his storied workshops [unfortunately, only for two days of the four I had registered for]. It was — what to say? — humbling, humiliating, and uplifting all at the same time. McKee’s workshops are characterized as much by his ruthless dampening of pretension as they are by a personal clarity of vision. [‘Poetic license’, I explained at one point when he critiqued what I thought was a clever way of getting out of a writing hole I had stumbled into. ‘You don’t deserve it, your license is hereby revoked’, he snapped].

Courtesy my friend Rahul Bhatia, who is a good writer when he is not making bad tomato soup, this link to a New Yorker profile of the man.

In McKee’s description, this is what a story is: a human being is living a life that is more or less in balance. Then comes the “inciting incident.” (McKee borrows the phrase from “Theory and Technique of Playwriting and Screenwriting,” which was written in the late forties by John Howard Lawson, the first president of the Screen Writers Guild, and an inspiration to McKee.) The protagonist reacts, his life falls out of balance, and he now has had aroused in him a conscious or unconscious desire for whatever it is that will restore balance—“launching him on a quest for his object of desire against the forces of antagonism.” McKee speaks some of these key phrases very fast, like a police officer reading a suspect his Miranda rights. “He may or may not achieve it.”

Can his students achieve it? Can McKee? These are the dramas of the “Story” seminar. Pacing back and forth beneath portraits of Michael Faraday and Alexander Graham Bell, McKee spoke for three days about risk, jeopardy, desire, turning points, conflict, and choice—moving between his own life (most of it bad), the lives of his students, and the life of Rick in “Casablanca.” He made close, clever readings of favorite movies (“Tender Mercies,” “Carnal Knowledge”), and—uniting accounting and therapy—drew charts that showed lives zigzagging into emotional credit and debt in response to antagonistic forces. He screened “Casablanca” over six hours, and afterward (his shoes kicked aside) he reached an extraordinary crescendo of metaphysical, motivational talk (being and becoming, Schopenhauer and Derrida) that discovered in “As Time Goes By” the richness of a “Hamlet” monologue. He even sang the song, softly, to an audience that for a moment looked as if it had been caught on “Candid Camera.”

18 days, 18 ways

At his feet lie the bodies of his brothers — in front of him stretches an inscrutable talking lake that asks questions he must answer if he is to avoid the common fate. Remember the episode of Dharma questioning Yudhishtira? Here, in Peter Brook’s stunningly original version of the Mahabharat [I had first stumbled on this at the now defunct 22nd Street-6th Avenue Barnes & Noble outlet, I’ve in the intervening years had to buy four copies, each one to replace the predecessor some friend borrowed and never returned]:

And here, the curtain raiser to war: Krishna’s advice to Arjuna:

And now, there’s this — a different kind of creativity brought to the epic by Grant Morrison. I’ll leave you with an image:

Grant Morrison's conception

Grant Morrison's Bhim

Up close and personal

At times batsmen take the chat from the close-in fielders personally. I remember once, Lou Vincent, fed up of my chirping, telling me to either shut up or face the consequences. I didn’t stop, and the next ball, from Anil Kumble, was hit directly into my knees. It was a short-pitched delivery, and Lou was batting on 100, so instead of hitting it to the fence he chose to target me. It hit my knee, which had been operated on a while ago, and caused quite some pain, but I couldn’t show it, and I didn’t. It was a little mean of him to react that way, but that’s how the game is played at the highest level. He got out to the next delivery and I celebrated as if it was my first Test wicket.

The third, in Akash Chopra’s eminently readable series on aspects of cricket from a player’s pov. The earlier ones were linked to here.

The Freddie Factor

There used to be a time when every important Test match, every series India played in, was bookended by lengthy ‘think pieces’ on the importance of Sachin Tendulkar before the start, and breast-beating diatribes on how Tendulkar had yet again failed to deliver results after it was all over.

Those articles missed a central point about the game: in a team game, no one player could guarantee to single-handedly deliver results. It took a long time for India to get over that hang-up — or, as it appears, to pass it on to England, currently in the grip of all things Freddie.

Over the last few days I’ve read Freddie saying he wanted to play Edgebaston, his agent  saying he should have played Edgebaston, his captain and coach saying he would have played Edgebaston if only there was hope that he could last the distance and do more than merely ‘inspire’ with his presence…

More on Freddie: Peter Roebuck sees in the England all-rounder the impermanent attraction of a meteor rather than the sustained brightness of the true star.

Several factors lie behind England’s obsession with Flintoff. Partly it is a nation’s need for heroes. Partly it is the manner in which he plays his cricket, with generosity and adventure. Partly it is the way he takes on the Australians. After all, he was Man of the Series in that famous victory. Partly it is the way he lifts a crowd, responds to its roars, goes into battle on its behalf, captures the imagination. He has an ability to communicate with spectators. Hope has been his calling card. And he has the common touch as well – likes ale and darts and so forth. People sense that he belongs to them, and so forgive his foibles.

If Roebuck is not prepared to concede unqualified, Botham-esque greatness, Rob Steen has no such doubts.

Flintoff pushed my buttons partly because he seemed to have married the privilege of youth to the duties of manhood (the “Fredalo” incident put firmly paid to that delusion), but mostly because he embodied tomorrow, possibility, hope. In the middle of this decade he did for British cricket what Botham did a quarter of a century ago, beer in hand, capacious of heart, invigorating and replenishing. It is assuredly no coincidence that Channel 4 enjoyed its largest live audiences for four years during the Edgbaston Test of 2004, an auspicious prelude to 2005 and all that. Fearful of jinxing him, Tim Rice used to crouch behind the settee whenever David Gower came in; when Freddie takes guard, even now, even in his cricketing dotage, everybody wants a front-row pew. He still symbolises possibility, still radiates joy.

Forget the disappointments. Forget the excesses and the underachievements. At a time when the game, in Britain and beyond, was striving to court and spark a fresh generation, when we fortysomethings could hear only the hissing of long gone summer lawns and had begun to despair that our children would ever be remotely as turned on by flannelled tomfoolery as we were, along plodded Freddie to banish all scepticism. Yabba-dabba-do.

Flintoff is something of a contemporary icon, so the panegyrics as his career runs out the clock is only to be expected. What sticks a bit in my craw, though, is that England seems to have pinned its hopes of the Ashes on this one factor: If Freddie plays, all is well with the world and we can do a repeat of 2005; if he does not, we can not. Seems to me too much Freddie — and not enough on a bowling lineup that seems to be powered by misplaced machismo and a middle-order batting lineup about as solid as apple crumble. [S Rajesh has more]

PS: The fever and related ailments much better, thanks, but I suspect it will take the weekend to fully bounce back. More prolific service will resume Monday — and oh yes, I have another episode to find time to write 🙂