The Meaning of Life, Larf AND Liff

Less known about Douglas Adams, the creator of the seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, is that Richard Dawkins dedicated his treatise The God Delusion to him and that Adams made two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Adams does Python

Adams does Python

Also hiding in the gargantuan literary shadow of Hitchhiker’s is a little handbook and dictionary of sorts called The Meaning of Liff, which Adams co-authored with John Lloyd in 1983.

Meaning of Liff book

The book which, incidentally, was in large part the inspiration for my blog’s name, also has a connection with the film,The Meaning of Life.  Hardcore Python fans will recall that the opening sequence of the gravestone reads Liff before the lightning bolt strikes the final F and converts it to an E.

Lloyd himself is an intriguing character who, oddly enough, I inadvertently struck up an email exchange with last year on a business-related matter.  At the time I had no idea that he was also the creator of QI and wrote for Not the Nine O’Clock News, Black Adder and was part of the winning Trinity College team in 2011’s University Challenge.  Never mind that he collaborated with Adams on Hitchhiker’s and The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd

John Lloyd

How I came to be in contact with Lloyd is another story for another time, but suffice to say I was over the moon when I realised that I was corresponding with the man whose name lay alongside Adams’ on the cover of one of my favourite books.

I love The Meaning Of Liff for its fine balance of practical intent coupled with absurd realisation.

Simply put it is a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet. Rather than inventing new words though, Adams and Lloyd thought they’d make existing place names work harder for their keep by assigning them new definitions because the words were already recognisable entities without as such having any sense or meaning attached to them.

The book’s forward says it best:

In Life* there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.

Douglas Adams & John Lloyd

*and indeed Liff

Liff itself is a small village near Dundee in Scotland and is repurposed to mean: A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words ‘This book will change your life’. Nice.

Some of my other favourites?

Beccles The small bone buttons placed in bacon sandwiches by unemployed guerrilla dentists.

Barstibley A humorous device such as a china horse or small naked porcelain infant which jocular hosts use to piss water into your Scotch with.

Gastard Useful specially new-coined word for an illegitimate child (in order to distinguish it from someone who merely carves you up on the motorway, etc).

Malibu The height by which the top of a wave exceeds the height to which you have rolled up your trousers.

Nazeing The rather unconvincing noises of pretended interest an adult has to make when brought a small dull object for admiration by a child.

Neen Sollars Any ensemble of especially unflattering and peculiar garments worn by a woman which tell you that she is right at the forefront of fashion.

Skibbern Noise made by a sunburned thigh leaving a plastic chair.

Spofforth To tidy up a room before the cleaning lady arrives.

Vobster A strain of perfectly healthy rodent which develops cancer the moment it enters a laboratory.

Whaplode Drove A homicidal golf stroke.

Whasset A business card in your wallet belonging to someone you have no recollection of meeting.

Happily Australia makes the briefest of appearances thanks to the entry for Yeppoon:  One of the hat-hanging corks which Australians wear for making Qantas commercials.

My mother has always said that if you’re struggling to find a present for the person who had everything, a back scratcher is the solution.  Wise words though they may be, I’d prefer to tickle my friends’ funny bones with a copy of The Meaning of Liff any old day.

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Patent pretending #1: The Blade Runner Walker

Spellbound as I was by Ridley Scott’s epic, it was the film’s smaller details that enchanted me as much as its expansive dystopian theme.

In particular, the LED illuminated umbrella which featured heavily in the perennially drizzling market underworld. How I yearned for one of those umbrellas for decades.

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Harrison fords every stream

Turns out they’ve been on offer for a while for just $20 at thinkgeek.com.

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Appealing against the light

Which got me thinking, as well as ultimately vacillating.

Once the fanciful figment of Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott’s imaginations became readily accessible, it rather lost its appeal for me.

Worse still, I started to think about its practical application, or rather lack thereof. An illuminated umbrella shaft would be of no use during daylight of course, and in the case of nightfall, in fact a pretty bloody stupid idea.

Because while the LED umbrella might look terrific from the viewer’s perspective, illuminating yourself rather than your surroundings under a canopy in pitch black while it’s pelting with rain has all the hallmarks of an OH&S disaster in the making.

But all is not lost when you transfer the principle with greater pragmatism.

May I introduce then, my personal f/light of fancy, the Blade Walker. Illuminate your gait and never put a foot wrong again with this lamp for the seriously cool limp.

Extra long version also available for the man about town, the Limited Edition Philip K. Swinging Dick Stick.

Either way, you can be your very own Android’s Beam of Electric Chic.

So you tell me … is this a replican’t or a replican do?

The House of Capes: An extension of life!

Melbourne’s time capsule of sartorial abstruseness, The House of Capes, is a thing of rare beauty and an oasis railing against homogenised and franchised fashion strutting its skanky stuff in shopping malls all over this country.

At its height, the cape was celebrated as a distinguished garment favoured by Roman Catholic clergy, high ranking military and ladies in evening dress.  More recently Sherlock Holmes, Superman, James Brown and pimps have gone ape for the cape.

Nowadays though, the cape is only sighted at cosplay conventions and draped across dowager humps at society balls.

And for those too lazy to take a cape out for a twirl, there is now the abomination that is The Snuggie, or as I like to refer to it, the cape under house arrest.

Listen up, dear readers. The House of Capes website speaks the truth … ‘Capes are an extension of life itself!’ (exclamation mark mandatory)

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Look closely.  Capes are more versatile than you could ever have imagined.  Opera and Theatre nudge shoulders with the Homeless and Night Clubbing is right at home with Special Needs. Not content with life writ large by virtue of the House of Cape’s diagrammatic wisdom?

Feast your eyes on the fashion shots peppering houseofcapes.com.au.  So good they haven’t been updated for twenty years, but then why would they need to be?  The cape NEVER goes out of fashion.

capes galore

Classic cape

 

Clearly the world agrees.  As Kitty van Wees-Miller, The House of Capes’  high priestess muses, Bill Clinton wore a cape to his inauguration in 1993 and capes are now ‘happy serving wearers in Paris, Moscow, Jerusalem, Tokyo and even some of the Findhorn community in Scotland’.

And if that weren’t enough, the House of Capes is taking it to the world at various ‘Rainbow Festivals’ and my personal favourite, the ‘Weekly Times Sheep-vention’ in Melbourne.

Unleash your inner superhero at The House of Capes.  As Kitty says, the shop has a magical aura about it.  It must be all those negative ions being generated by their customers’ giddy twirling.

Houseofcapes.com.au

A twig in a tutu goes on tour

I have Gough Whitlam to thank for being one of the first tourists into China once it opened up in the 70s. Somehow my mother and I ended up on a two week tour around the mainland when its notions of travel comfort were rudimentary to say the least. It was an extraordinary experience and worth writing about in earnest at another time.

For all the misguided and ham-fisted attempts to meet the needs of some of their very first Western guests, their commemorative gifts presented to us each time we departed a friendship store, hotel or school were on par with the exquisitely tasteful and beautifully packaged offerings the Japanese also bestow on you.

Our tour group had been warned in advance that this would happen frequently and we were encouraged to bring our own trinkets to offer in kind; pins bearing our linked flags, for example. Nothing over the top, but something of a keepsake for those who’d accompany us on our adventures over the fortnight.

It was with some horror, then, that a number of our tour party had fathomed that the perfect gift in exchange would be a Mountain Devil.

For the uninitiated the Mountain Devil is a bushy shrub found in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, and gets it name from the horned woody follicle that stems from it, having the appearance, at least in silhouette of a devil.

The locals latched onto the idea of taking the devil head and attaching pipe cleaners to it to create a body of spindly arms and legs. Then these newly fashioned Satanorexic Gumbys would be dressed up in a red cape with another pipe cleaner creating the trident of a pitchfork. These became quite the souvenir in Katoomba during the 60s and 70s.

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Before long and not content with the mono-thematic demonic look, the outfits branched out (if you’ll excuse the pun) into kilts, Little Red Riding Hoods and ballerinas.

Kitsch doesn’t begin to describe the abomination that was the costumed Mountain Devil, but for some of us having grown up with them, they had a certain curious charm to them.

One ill-thought through problem stemming (apologies again!) from their organic matter and cobbled together construction was that, contrary to what should be an essential requirement of souvenir, ie. withstanding the rough and tumble of crammed suitcases, the poor delicate Mountain Devil didn’t travel well at all.

Unfortunately our tour group neglected to check on their stash before presenting them to the Chinese delegates. On opening their parcels they looked in, frozen stiff for what seemed like minutes, to find some half smashed bulbous twigs in some flattened bright pink netting.

The complete look of utter bewilderment on their faces almost stopped time itself.

Trying to explain through an interpreter that when they were intact, they were meant to be devils dressed as ballerinas, didn’t really seem to help much.

There is so much of that fortnight that will remain with me forever, but sadly the Mountain Devil fiasco is right up there with the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City and Peking duck.

Suffice to say it comes as no surprise to me that the Chinese refer to us as White Devils.