Wednesday, 10 March 2010


1. There's a set of clips in an old documentary on the pyramids of Giza -- I forget its name -- cut from an interview with I. E. S. Edwards, a well-respected Egyptologist who died in 1996. His The Pyramids of Egypt was a favourite book of mine as a child, full of gentle awe and restrained wonder, and to see and hear the man talk was a joy. He was round-faced, old, white-haired, at this point, sat comfortably in a comfortable chair in a comfortable, book-lined room, in a position which made him seem neckless without being particularly overweight. His voice was delicate, without a trace of the Welshness I was expecting from someone called Iowerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards, slightly crumbly and croaky, ever so posh. The programme strays into the territory of people like Robert Bauval, a "pyramidologist", a probably self-coined term for practitioners of a more fanciful realm of totemic theorizing and pseudoscience, understandably viewed with an amount of distrust and scorn by Edwards and his rigorously academic cohorts. The sight and sounds of Edwards, during this interview, mentioning that these people are sometimes referred to among the academic Egyptology community as "pyramidiots", chuckling at it, and then struggling to continue, just because of how amusing he clearly finds this quiet pun, is one of the most delightful things I've seen on television.

2. Along similar lines, there's another documentary I remember on the Nazca lines, which also treads the dodgy path between rigorous anthropological (and, here, mathematical) study, and the slightly batshit work of people like Erik von Daniken, who published about a million books asserting that the enormous trapezoids on the flatlands of the Pampas were constructed as landing strips for alien crafts. There's was a fascinating woman, Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who ended up spending the last few decades of her life living on these flatlands, studying the geometries of the various shapes there, and campaigning to keep them protected (from human intervention, not from weather -- thousands of years have passed and the trapezoids, lines and pictures have remained unaffected by the latter). There are small clips of archive footage featuring Reiche herself, staggering across the flatlands; or sat in her small hut, wizened into resembling an actual Nazca shrunken head, or a figure painted on pottery from the period referred to as "Nazca 5" (stylistically more gruesome, grizzled, warlike, due possibly to severe drought), poring over unimaginably complex mappings of an unimaginably sophisticated, still-unexplained system of markings from thousands of years ago.

3. Yet another documentary, which I actually remember the name of -- basically any scene from Rannoch The Red Deer, which followed either the whole life, or the final year in the life of, this beast in Scotland. Every scene was gorgeous.

4. The Rotten World About Us was a fascinating and genuinely perturbing documentary on fungi, which must have been repeated a few times since it was apparently made six years before I was born; I've definitely seen it, though. Most of it is incredible, but the clip I really want to find somewhere is time-lapse footage of the 'Octopus Stinkhorn', Clathrus archeri, expanding from its egg into its full form, which presumably takes a few hours. Speeded up it's like the hand of some angered Moloch, springing out of the earth and hooking his way out of hell. Over Christmas, actually, I discovered it's amusing to get extremely drunk on whisky, do a google image search for these organisms, and stare at the page, convincing yourself that every one is the Devil incarnate; not a part, but each one the whole, containing every conceivable threat and warning in solution. Remarkably easy to do, and really quite frightening.

5. Slightly more cheerfully, Les Dawson did one particular performance of his "blowing out the candle" joke which I think's funnier than all the others I've seen, and typically it's none of those which are online.

6. Kenny Everett strides onto a stage covered in scaffolding with green and yellow lights strangely placed, and what looks like dissipating smoke from a special-effects explosion. He's wearing a torn tartan kilt, I think, and a tartan beret which he keeps adjusting. "Hello. I'm Barbara Cartland, and you're all under arrest. I'd like to read you an extract from my latest romantic novel. When Lady Penelope swoons, her bosoms pop out like balloons. The butler stands by with a gleam in his eye, and pops them back in with warm spoons." It's fucking brilliant.