Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Saints are Coming

I went to New Orleans earlier this year to write this, and it was great. Having researched Katrina and met the Saints organisation, who I found incredibly impressive, and being susceptible to sentimentality, I found this mocked up video very affecting.

American football, wait, I haven't got time for this. I will do a bit more on American football this week. But basically, American sports writing is fantastic, and so is a lot of American sports documentarising. They are better mythmakers, and sport is a lot about myth.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Tip of the Wolfberg

Obviously it is not true that every second book is about crows or a wolf, but sometimes it seems like it to me (I include in these links only books I have definitely seen in bookshops in the last few months, or read recent reviews of).

They are both good animals - not as good as tuna or squid, but pretty good - but that fact is not enough to account for their current metaphorical dominance. They are both liminal, maybe? A wolf is on the edge of domestication? The crow is not quite a bird of prey, but nearly? Both are seen as intelligent (crows are wise, wolves raise humans in stories, and have pack law, and turn into werewolves) which separates then from other animals? Crows are widely symbolic of death, and so they stand at a door between worlds?

But why now? I'm sure that fashion will have something to do with it. But could it also be that we in the West acclimatised ourselves to being atypically secure, but then terror and savagery forced their way back into our everyday consciousness, and wolf-at-the-door and death-amongst-us images started to seem more appropriate? I, as could not possibly be more obvious, do not know.

Earlier this year, I watched a terrific play (by a friend of mine, lest anyone think that my biases aren't in the open) based on Saki short stories. A lot of early Saki is about a fragile, effete time of fashion and frivolity, but the stories soon start to focus on how his society's cultured veneer is thin ice over the raging waters of history, man's animal nature and the fearsome power of mixed metaphor. All kind of animals appear as symbols of disorder, from stags to a sort of killer stoat, but the wolves that are most often at civilisation's gate are wolves.

There's one story in particular, about two people meeting in a forest over which their families have squabbled since time immemorial. They get pinned to the ground by a falling tree, and they denounce each other as they yell to their men to come and save them and to slay the other. Eventually, they see eyes in the distance. Spent, one says that even if these are his men, he will release his enemy. His enemy says the same, bygones will be just that, and beer and roses. But the eyes are not human...

He's really good, Saki.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Bad sex prize

I forgot to write about it when it was awarded. I'm pretty sure I will not be in the running for next year's prize, not because I am a brilliant writer about sex, but because I was by quite a long way too reticent to touch the subject with a bargepole. Whatever, re literary sex, there were for me, like for a lot of people, a couple of more or less florid novels that came at an impressionable time.

One was either Romancing the Stone or Jewel of the Nile (a vivid but unclear memory). I have no idea why I bought it. Unless, maybe, I flicked through it in WH Smiths and found some sex. That certainly rings possible. I mean, I was about fourteen.

But that pales into nothing beside Testkill, by former England cricketer Ted Dexter (who once reputedly drove a ball from the Jesus College cricket pitch over the chapel, which is a long way and let's leave it at that) and some other guy. I barely remember the story - it was about a murder during an Ashes match or some such - but it had some passages of sex, and somewhere, referring to the villain I hope, was the line, 'Byron was a cold, superb lover.' I didn't really understand what it meant then, and I'm not sure I do now, but the phrase has never left me.

(I have already had my best moment that I will ever have of writing about sex, by the way. It's the line, delivered as an intentional joke: 'In my experience, women don't really enjoy sex anyway.')

Poetry is 4 girls

This is literally not true, but that's what the GenderAnalyser obviously thinks. Before yesterday's post, I was a red-blooded 81% male. One poem and I leap the great divide - 61% female. Oh, wait a second, maybe the Mitchell-Hedges post had slipped off the bottom, with its 150% masculinity? Hm. Checking, it shouldn't have, since it is two posts below the bottom, but maybe that was it. It is certainly the most logical explanation.

I am getting really annoyed that the date is not coming up on the top of these posts. I have combed through the html in the manner of someone who doesn't understand html but is comparing it with a functioning template...

OH! Maybe I need to press the html button above this. Maybe I am a moron. Maybe you do not have to witness this internal dialogue. (This dialogue is not internal.)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Stick that up your ar*e, puny humans

These are by Leigh Hunt. They are aces. Must run.

To a Fish

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be—
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unmoving, infamously chaste:

O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is't ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still naught but gapes and bites,
And drinks and stares, diversified with boggles?

A Fish Answers

Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
With the first sight of thee didst make our race
For ever stare! O flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace,
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finned, haired, upright, unwet, slow!

O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? WHat particle canst share
Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

whiskers on kittens

Good von Trapp facts at Wodehouse-planning lunch with Jeremy yesterday (he bookwrote and directed the current West End / worldwide Sound of Music): the von Trapp children's mother was an English woman called Agathe Whitehead. She was the money in the family, and the money came from her grandfather, Robert Whitehead.

Whitehead was a Bolton-born engineer who was trained in Manchester and then worked in Toulon and Milan. He was headhunted by some boilermakers in Rijeka, which is one of those central European cities that has had dozens of names and masters. At the time it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it's probably best-known to English-speakers who've done history at my school (I mean, 'to me') as Fiume, and it's now part of Croatia. Anyway, Whitehead managed a works making boilers for the Austro-Hungarian navy.

Without getting too heavily into the details, in the 1860s he and a local engineer called Givannie Luppis invented the torpedo. The company went bust in 1873, and in 1875, Whitehead set up a new one: Torpedo-Fabrik von Robert Whitehead (catchy). The good version of the story (but I have not read lots of books on torpedo-making, so don't quote me if you are writing one and using this blog as research) has it that he offered the torpedo to the UK before the Austrians ordered some. He kept hold of the patents and rights with some pretty good business practise and a healthy dose of paranoia. He was taken over by British arms giants Vickers Ltd. and Armstrong-Whitworth & Co. He got very rich.

Sub-fact: a Whitehead Mark VIII sunk the Belgrano.

Sub-fact 2: the Captain of the Belgrano was Hector Bonzo. I can find no confirmation, but am almost certain because I was so taken by it when I watched a documentary on the Falklands a couple of years ago, that the First Lieutenant was Leonidas Ponce.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

I am obsessed with sex

All this twittering about crocodile shoes and umbrellas has seen my maleness drop to 79%. Golf. Rugby. Internal combustion engine.

More of Mr Bown

Mr Bown says, 'A gentleman must have at least four umbrellas.' You, like me, instantly wonder whether this is some ancient dictum we have missed, some seminal moment of milk-in-first style advice that has passed us by, leaving us and our too few umbrellas looking like a pile of peas on the wrong side of life's fork. But no, because Mr Bown goes on: 'This rule of wardrobe I have determined myself, so let me explain.'

The explanation is crystally reasoned over quite a lot of space. In distillation it runs: I will not discuss foldaway umbrellas, they are beneath me and should be beneath you; steel is lighter but more fragile than wood; you need four because you need two different sizes depending on the likelihood of rain, and you need each of these sizes in two different colours because what kind of barbarian would wear brown shoes with a black umbrella, or vice versa?

After this, hats: 'What is the easiest way of changing one’s outdoor appearance? Buy a hat. I did it as an undergraduate in Cambridge (it was a homburg, and caused me to be described in the pages of the Spectator as “a pale imitation of Enoch Powell”) and I have just done it again. And where does one go to buy a hat? To Lock’s, of course.'

Dating

After my unwise template-fiddling, I am still not getting dates on the top of these posts. Sorry for that. I will try to sort it out.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Unworn baby shoes

Periodically someone re-raises the wheeze of telling a story in six words, and often the results are fun, and frequently they are more autobiographical than their author probably intended ('Philosopher, fire-eater, barrister, careering through life'; 'No A Levels but a millionaire').

But how about this one, rather longer than six words, which is from the Members' News section of my old college magazine:

'FACS BOWN (1968) has resigned the benefice of St Stephen Sculcoates, in the Diocese of York, and taken up a new career as a writer. He describes hotels and restaurants for Bown's Best and gentlemen's clothes for Bown's Bespoke (www.bownsbest.com and www.bownsbespoke.com).'

I have come up with three backstories for this guy already.

Also, I have visited Bown's Bespoke. The bit on crocodile shoes begins: 'Let me at once address the concerns of the conservationists. There are now, quite properly, the most stringent regulations in force about the use of crocodile and alligator skins. These creatures are protected species. Only those specimens specifically bred and farmed for the purpose can have their skins used, and so – with regard to any shoes made by the firm which features in this article – there can be no question of harm being done to any wild animal.' Further information includes: most skins used for shoes these days come from the underbellies of three-month-old Mississippi alligators; alligator scales tend to be rounder than crocodile ones; Bown's shoes are crocodile and he bought them to challenge 'the prevailing taste for the drab and the downright ugly', they are a 'blow against the scruffiness of the age'; he has 'gazed and gazed' at his completed shoes and he doesn't think he 'will ever tire of doing so'; they are 'a work of art'.

I bet St Stephen Sulcoates (C of E) was pretty high church while he was there. (Actually, this website refers to its style of worship as 'restrained Catholic'.)

Take two bottles into the shower?

A thing I have just noticed: I have been aware for some time of what happens to the ceiling of your kitchen if you don't clean it for about fifteen years - in fact, early in 2007 I had a crack at scrubbing off some of the pale-brown, er, let's call it an accumulation, and after an hour and a half had succeeded in making three square feet of it slightly paler, and then I fell off the chair and exacerbated my hilarious ongoing back issues - but there is a special bonus effect if you have a sort of perspexy lampshade in the shape of a downward-facing flower. The top side of the flower picks up the, er, accumulation, which in addition to all the rest is extremely tacky. The light attracts unwary flies. The smaller flies cannot escape the er, accumulation. There are scores of flies. I think that, while this is obviously a useful household gadget, I might replace the lampshade.

(If you think the roof is bad, you really don't want to look on top of the cupboards. If a mouse ever ventured into that ER, ACCUMULATION, I think he or she would be subsumed in manner of mastadon-fighting-sabre-toothed-tiger-in-prehistoric-tar-pit in the florid picture books of my youth.)

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sex Update

Ever since this, I have been feverishly concerned with how macho I am, and to that end, it seems, I am heavily focused on quoting other men. After slipping into the seventies, I am back up to 82% male. That, I can tell, is a weight off your mind.

Mostly Nothing

I had probably my best period of book-buying in the late nineties. I was still a student, and I spent quite a lot time browsing for things I had never heard of, judged a lot of books by their covers, and got reasonably good at it. The most important triumph was either The Mortdecai Trilogy by Kyril Bonfiglioli, which I have given to most people I have ever spoken to, or A Ticket to the Boneyard by Lawrence Block, which introduced me to a writer who I always like a lot, often love, and who has written billions. I will have a look at the Bonfigliolis and Blocks for your amusement at some point, but not now. Now, is a snatch from East of Wimbledon, by Nigel Williams. I remember almost nothing about it except for a) I enjoyed it, and b) the Husayn twins were hilarious:

Every boy in the school was placed, and next to his marks was a small graph illustrating his performance throughout the year. The x-axis was attitude and the y-axis achievement. Most of the graphs were set on a steep, ascending curve, apart from the Husayn twins’; they started in the top left corner and were headed, inexorably, for the far right end of the bottom line. Next to each graph was a Polaroid photograph of the boy concerned and his own brief reaction to his assessment. Mafouz had written. ‘I have done brilliant. There is no stopping me in the Sports Department. We went on a skiing holiday.’

Saturday, 22 November 2008

More Uncle Fred

Irony fans will enjoy the fact that this drink suggestion comes from Uncle Fred in the Springtime, rather than Cocktail Time:

Its full name is, 'Tomorrow'll be of all the year the maddest, merriest day, for I'm to be the Queen of the May, mother, the Queen of the May.' A clumsy title, generally shortened for purposes of ordinary conversation. Its foundation is any good dry champagne, to which is added liqueur brandy, armagnac, kummel, yellow chartreuse, and old stout, to taste.

Friday, 21 November 2008

I don't know

what has happened to the titles of my posts. I ill-advisedly tried to import a different template, and have spent some time trying to get back to this one, which I like ok, though I would prefer a third column for one reason and another. I think I am most of the way back, but the titles are still crazy.

You see them on every side

After yesterday's long-winded chuntering, some nice, leavening Wodehouse. I don't have a favourite Wodehouse, but Cocktail Time is certainly in the crackerjack division. Here are some quotations from it. I started to contextualise them, and then I stopped:

'The trouble in this world,’ said Lord Ickenham … ‘is that so many fellows deteriorate as they grow older. Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all their finer qualities away, with the result that the frightfully good chap of twenty-five is changed little by little into the stinker of fifty.’

‘You could have got these views of yours on the younger generation off your chest in a novel. Something on the lines of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies – witty, bitter, satirical and calculated to make the younger generation see itself as in a mirror and wish that Brazil nuts had never been invented. But in your case, of course, that is out of the question. You couldn’t write a novel if you tried for a hundred years. Well, goodbye, my dear fellow,’ said Lord Ickenham.

‘I am convinced that, married to her, he would today be the lovable Beefy of thirty years ago, for she wouldn’t have stood that Captain Bligh stuff for a minute. Too bad the union blew a fuse, but how sadly often that happens. When you get to my age, young Pongo, you will realise that what’s wrong with the world is that there are far too many sundered hearts in it. I’ve noticed it again and again. It takes so little to set a couple of hearts asunder.’

‘Why the devil don’t you marry the girl, Johnny?’
‘I can’t.’
‘Of course you can. Better men than you have got married. Myself for one. Nor have I ever regretted it.’

‘You’re breaking that pen,’ said Lord Ickenham, ‘and what is far, far worse, you are breaking the heart of a sweet blue-eyed girl with hair the colour of ripe corn.’

‘Did you read that last book of mine, Inspector Jervis at Bay?’
‘Well, what with one thing and another, trying to catch up with my Proust and Kafka and all that-’
‘Don’t apologize. The British Isles are stiff with people who didn’t read it. You see them on every side.’

‘Now listen, Bert. This “M’lord” stuff. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about it. I’m a Lord, yes, no doubt about that, but you don’t have to keep on rubbing it in all the time. It’s no use kidding ourselves. We know what lords are. Anachronistic parasites on the body of the state, is the kindest thing one can say of them. Well, a sensitive man doesn’t like to be reminded every half second that he is one of the untouchables liable at any moment to be strung up on a lamp post or to have his blood flowing in streams down Park Lane. Couldn’t you substitute something matier and less wounding to my feelings?’

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Stupid democrats

If you want the best dancers, appoint expert judges. Ditto monetary policy and foreign affairs, and sentencing guidelines, and etc. Stable democracy is about putting experts between an inevitably ill-informed electorate and the exercise of power. The electorate then gets to scrutinise those experts and their decisions via the medium of a free press. If you don't care about expertise, then ask the public, but then you'll get a popularity contest and you can't blame people for choosing John Sergeant. I've got no problem with popularity contests, by the way. I thought that was what Strictly was.

Thus, on the big subject of the day, I oppose the resignation of John Sergeant, who signed up for a popularity contest, and who should stay in it until he is proven unpopular.

(Tangentially, I don't like sportsmen retiring from internationals before they are dropped. Going out at the top is vainglorious denial of what sport is about - measurable competition - and thus of the fact that, in the end, your powers wane and you get replaced. In the meantime, if any of the nonsense you have spouted about your pride in playing for your nation's shirt has any meaning, you wear it every second someone will let you, since by doing so you are not only doing something you claim to love, but you are also presumably helping your team win. You'll be dropped as soon as you aren't helping. (I am a Liverpool fan, and love Jamie Carragher, but I really don't respect his decision to sit out internationals because he wasn't being picked. I really do respect David Beckham's willingness to turn up and sit on the bench.))

But, post-Sergeant, I'm all about the democracy. One of my favourite books about it is Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom. In it, basically, he argues that constitutional liberalism, in the sense of individual freedom and security, gave birth to Western democracy rather than the other way round, and that democracy without constitutional liberalism is no guarantor of individual freedom. He fears that the shibboleth that more democracy must be better leads to the creation of ‘illiberal democracies’ born of demagoguery, populism, lobbying and special interests.

The problem with democracies is short-termism. We Westerners made some of our long-term, difficult decisions before we were democracies, or when the franchise was very small. Zakaria argues that a lot of third-word democracies can’t inflict short-term pain in terms of property laws, etc., while some authoritarian regimes have done so (Taiwan, S. Korea, Singapore, Chile (a particularly queasy example), Indonesia, China). He says, ‘governments that were able to make shrewd choices for the long term were rewarded with strong economic growth and rising levels of literacy, life expectancy, and education. Those that have gone down the path of reform are quickly stymied by the need to maintain subsidies for politically powerful groups. India has been unable to engage in sustained reform precisely because its politicians will not inflict any pain – however temporary – on their constituents. As a result, for all its democratic glories, the country has slipped further and further behind on almost every measure of human development: life expectancy, infant mortality, health, literacy, education.’

Now, Zakaria is no authoritarian naif - he also says ‘In general dictators have not done better at these policies than democrats – far from it. Most dictators have ravaged their countries for personal gain.’ Also, he wrote the book in 2003, and I think India has had some decent years since then, though I am basing that on nothing except news stories about outsourcing, which is pretty sketchy methodology. But the point is not that he is right in every particular, but that he raises a set of sophisticated questions about the outcomes we might want from development, and the difficulties we face if we take a simplistic view of how we might get them. 'At the start,' he writes, 'the West must recognize that it does not seek democracy in the Middle East – at least not yet. We first seek constitutional liberalism, which is very different. Clarifying our immediate goals actually makes them much more easily attainable.'

It's easy to say that nothing is more important than our political freedom, but ask a mother of two babies whether she'd prefer the vote or a washing machine.

I propose never to write another post of this length.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

John Updike on putting

I have not read much John Updike. I don't know why. I have read a collection of his, however, called Golf Dreams. If you play golf, it will be full of things you recognise - about the way a perfect shot stays with you long after all the shanks, hooks and other foozles have been cast from the mirror-walled echo chamber of your mind's eye, for instance, or about the moral importance of holing out rather than taking gimmes, because if you keep taking gimmes, what happens when someone suddenly asks you to make a short putt? I mean, what happens? You probably get offended that someone is saying that you might miss it, but the real reason you don't want to putt from three feet is that you might miss it, and if you might miss it, then he or she is right to make you take the putt. Sport is not about pity, people. Especially golf. It's you versus the course, with an incredibly simple basic premise. If you know in your heart that there's any chance you might miss the putt, you should putt.

Anyway, I'm not going to go on about that too much, because I doubt I have a big golfing readership. We're with Updike today because of a passage in a short story in the collection which has stuck with me, almost word-for-word it transpires, since 1998. The narrator and his subject, Jamie Ray, are both priests at a retreat for errants. I think, but don't remember for certain, that the narrator has dipped into the collecting box. Jamie Ray is a pederast. The one golf fact that you could do with knowing is that in most half-decent golf, great putting is the key. You drive for show, but putt for dough, etc. Anyway, here's Johnny:

'He got Jamie Ray as partner today, which meant he was sure to collect on the team play. Jamie Ray swings miserably but putts like an angel; I sometimes wonder if buggery hasn’t made the hole look relatively huge to him. Whereas we poor cu*t men keep sliding off to the side, hunched over as fearful as fetuses who suddenly realize they can never push their craniums through a three-and-a-half-inch pelvic opening.'

[John Updike didn't write 'cu*t', of course. I am doing so because I do not know how virulent corporate firewalls are these days.]

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Incidentally, sex fans

Last night I ran this blog through the GenderAnalyser, which I found out about here. Given that, at the time, most of the blog was taken up with Mitchell-Hedges talking about killing sharks, I was surprised to find that it was only 91% male. After today's post, the statistic has been maintained. Can it really be true that I am as male as Mitchell-Hedges? Or that Mitchell-Hedges was only 91% male? My faith in science is battered.

Consternation! Brouhaha! Run, run and tell the King the sky is falling!

This is one of my favourite lines of anything ever (say it loud and it's almost like singing), and it is in The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davies. I say it really quite often, not always to myself. One of my other favourite lines of anything ever is also in The Cunning Man, and I had forgotten about it until today. I once used to quote it just as often but at some point it fell from one of the (is it seven? I don't remember) drawers of my memory. It comes late on in the book when, for the x-th time, the narrator receives a misdialed phone call from someone trying to buy tickets for the local cinema:

‘Isn’t that the Odeon?’
‘No, this is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Good-night.’

Monday, 17 November 2008

69

A fact non-hockey players might not know: in most hockey clubs, all the players have a club squad number. This means that they can move from team to team and there is never a clash of shirt-numbers, and it is just the kind of sensible thing you would expect from a hockey club, because hockey is the best sport. One sideline effect of this is that when a new shirt design appears, which is usually every two or three years, there is an unholy scramble, usually between a big fat guy from the fourths called Spud who was at Lancaster (which is an excellent university, let me make it crystal clear) and another big fat guy from the fifths called Razor who was at De Montfort (about which I have more mixed feelings because I used to play against De Montfort and a big fat guy called Razor once belted me round the knees for no reason) over who will have the honour of wearing the club's number 69 shirt. This is not the fact about the number 69 that I want to write about.

There is a website called The Page 69 Test. It's about how Marshall McLuhan once said you can see whether a book is for you by picking it up, reading Page 69 and seeing whether you want to read more. (I have not found the McLuhan reference anywhere, and I am presuming it's not apocryphal, but it's the sort of thing that could be). The only reason I am writing about this is that I find it hard to imagine a better page 69 than this, from a book called Battling With Sea Monsters, by one of the all-time greats, FA Mitchell-Hedges:

*****

...These grotesque creatures have the appearance of pre-historic armour plated lice, with antennae of astonishing length.

The shark's jaws, which we carefully preserved, were seven feet four inches in circumference, and two men standing back to back could pass completely through them.

There is no jungle in the world that holds the horrors to be found beneath tropical seas. The gates of death never swing outward, though ghastly are the ways in which many enter. I have seen blood-curdling tragedies; one moment a man, strong, in the full vigour of life; the next, a bloody, foam-churned sea, a woman left grieving and children fatherless. I have seen a boy with keen anticipation starting out for a day's fishing; tragedy was lurking and he never returned.

Even more terrible: Thirty or forty natives were bathing in the sea off their little village, among them a father with his grown-up sons. They were close to the shore having great fun; suddenly a gurgling cry broke from one of the boys, aged sixteen. His head bobbed below the surface, the water reddened with blood; the father and an elder brother dashed towards the spot and at that moment the boy reappeared, his arms held out, shrieking terribly. They grasped his hands; just as they did so there was a tremendous swirl of water, and the great shark rushed again at the boy. Frozen with horror, the father and brother saw the cavernous mouth open, heard the crunch of the jaws as they closed. They were still grasping the boy's hands - but only his head and shoulders remained. The body below was bitten completely off.

Panic-stricken the natives came to me, borrowed one of my shark lines, baited a hook and ran it off from the shore. The fish was still lurking there, and almost immediately it took the bait. The men struck, and all together hauled on the line and dragged the brute to the beach. Dancing with fury they split open the belly from vent to gills; the guts spewed out on the sand. And there was the body of the boy, swallowed practically whole.

The enraged natives lit a fire, cut the shark into small...

Friday, 14 November 2008

Agit Prop

A thing I am really enjoying: sticking my Oyster card into my passport and pretending that the passport operates Oyster barriers. I've surreptitiously noticed some people reacting with surprise, but the key to the whole gag is to underplay, to understand that you will never know who really falls for it, and to be satisfied with the lack of closure.