Monday, 8 November 2010

James May's Man Lab: Shaggy dog stories and bog rolls

In the James May's Man Lab continuing mission to rescue us men from pacification inflicted on us, over 40 years of health and safety, sensitivity training and general loss of curiosity or urgency about life. Captain Slow opens the ep with a bold statement that insinuates most men under a certain age wouldn't know the inside of a tool box if it hit them on the head. In fact 8000 men a year are reported using  a flat bladed screw driver as a chisel. I assume the reporting comes from the various casualty wards these men are taken to after having abused said tool or being hit on the head by random tool boxes. I could lie to you and say that by the time I was 13, I knew how to build a house, fettle a car for a road rally, engineer an ice box using only 6 feet of plastic tubing and some chewing gum, or brew my own beer. But I could use and name most of the things in my father's tool box , as well as wire a room to pick up Radio Moscow on several loops of industrial copper wire. Pity all they ever played was farm reports and the Watergate hearings. I also picked up the skill to mend anything I put my mind to, for a while at least, with duct tape.

Mr May donning his man shirt of checked flannel, reminded me of my own oft replaced and updated collection of said shirts. There he sat laying out the bill of fare for tonight's show. We would navigate with a dog, duel for honour, save pubs, change a tire and tootle a horn with a load of other people. If you watched the first episode, you'll know it sort of knocks around from one thing to another and then back again. Chaos and randomness may in fact be the way the natural patterns of life manifest themselves in the world of Man Lab, but for the sake of simplicity I'll try to sum up the projects in a more orderly manner. There are also the man skill test and cause of the week.

Saving Pubs first up in the programme as it's important. Of course it's important, we loose 40 pubs a day, at this rate there will be no place to watch the football, have a drink or meet your mates in cosy surroundings that aren't infested with gastro food menus that'll cost you a week's wages to order. What I ask you, is wrong with a proper pint and some pies or a bag of scratchings? Nothing , and yet everyday that goes by , your local is that much closer to closing down and you'll have to drink cheap lager at home alone watching what Katie did next with your missus. Poetry and prose, never far from the surface, shows up again as May bangs on about the Post nuclear bolt hole safe from bad suds. But to have this man cave of beer, you need to build it. The fun begins with the putting up of shelves with special dowels designed to level the shelf, we stare at them in awe for a bit and admire the work of the genius who came up with that.

Having selected a suitably vile pattern based on one of his shirts,  the hard part comes when somebody has to demonstrate the lost art of wallpaper hanging. Can any of the crew do it? No, none of them can? Can May?  no he's never done it ....Wait here comes Mark Linsey BBC head of entertainment, let's ask him.  I just came here for a cup of tea, what you mean  none of you can do this? In the end he volunteers to do the job showing us how to paste and hang the wretched stuff.  My own experience with wallpaper is that it's great once hung, but a mighty test of the cohesion of a relationship regardless of whom you do it with.  Be entirely sure you can cooperate with somebody before you try this, you may never talk to them again.  May avoids the whole mess by letting Linsey do the job by himself, proper self sacrifice that, in the struggle to maintain a friendship.  Lastly the beer keg needs setting up. I never knew you needed to poke holes into a highly pressurized barrel likely to soak you, twice! This time, not trusting his own ability to ignore the call of fresh beer , which we're assured is like a siren to a randy sailor, May let's somebody else near the potentially lethal keg with a spike and a hammer. "Oh come to me pretty pint and quench my spirit" .... Actually was more like ....

Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky, 
I heard a voice within the Tavern cry,
     "Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."
Omar Khayyam 

Who says being a man means being an unromantic knuckle dragger eh? In the spirit of art, let me tell you about the Man Lab orchestra. We have all taken grade one music, 73,000 in fact, by the end of grade one 20.000 of us have abandoned the effort in the first year,  most follow soon after that. I myself at the age of 7 or 8 learned piano at home from a past master of classic and jazz piano, but to his alarm, played so well by ear I didn't take my exercises that seriously. Then in school I took up soprano sax for a year. I was never that good but I wasn't that bad either. This of course would qualify me for the orchestra, now while my piano might not of been that bad had I auditioned, James May and  poor soul Victoria had to listen to a load of eardrum killers far worse than I ever was. We'll be hearing the results next week. Allegedly two weeks of training to come, the first try of God Save the Queen , sounded more like a bunch of 8 years olds . St Martin in the Fields will never recover from this I suspect.

Before we enter the world of the barking mad, let's have the celebrity man task. Today , John Sergeant changes a tire, and hopes to better his previous time of 42 minutes  46 seconds , set some time in 1964.  Charged with 6 school boy errors, he still managed to shave a few seconds of his old time. The most entertaining part of this was hearing John Sergeant have a moan about being penalised for raising the car form a spot other than the one proscribed by the manufacturer of the car. As segments go, had it not been for the celebrity guest, I could have cared less.  Almost as exciting as tightening the door knob.

And now welcome to the back of the magic wardrobe at Man lab....For all the passive dimwits who've lost the skill to read a map or navigate, like my father in law who depends on his satnav Sheila, we sail to the rescue of Oz Clarke who is waiting to be picked up on a French beach heavy laden with a basket of contraband wine and cheese. This one stuck to the philosophy of if you can't be complicated, it's not worth doing it. First we get a history lesson in how the Royal Navy tried a number of different things before hitting on the methods we now take for granted to navigate the seas, you know like compasses and sextants or cross staffs. Just in case the experimental method fails, May and crew were armed with  proper modern tools. You see as we find out later, no fake jeopardy for our lot, it's all very real and health and safety won't allow any harm to come to any one. As for the method they are testing,  it's very scientific and based in ancient folklore long associated with sailing... Honest it is. But as I said, just in case it's a load of Rollocks....

So you need a few things ..... A dog , a knife and some sympathy powder. It all makes sense once it's explained.

1- You take the knife and injure the dog with it, thus bounding the knife with it's victim

2- Then you have somebody dip the knife in the sympathy powder at noon in London. What this does, is brilliant.... the memory of the injury crosses the distance and causes the dog to bark , letting you know it was noon in London, assuming you had been on course all along, you would know where you were and could for example aim for la belle France. .

Simples yes???

Well, to achieve the same results without harming Dodger the dog, James May makes him listen to Subo warble "I dreamed the dream".  Horrible nasty man..... He then has the CD dipped in the sympathy powder at the proper time.... turn signal sorted!

Only problem was, when Dodger started barking, they were in the middle of gale force winds and even the Captain of the boat was agitated. Clearly it was a load of .... Next week we try once more, let's hope Oz hasn't drunk all the wine yes? By the way, isn't Dodger the Top Gear dog?

Staying in the land of the mentally challenged, ever wonder how to solve the problem of the empty bog roll? There's always the wait principle, you wait for somebody else to change it and use the netty, bog, khazi, kludgieloo, jacks and for my Australian readers....dunny, of a neighbour. Or you could use the patented Man Lab bog roll  alarm. This canny device essentially waits for the roll to be near empty and detects the pre-set level needed to set off the Awoogha sounding alarm. The actual noise is triggered when you lower the seat into position to sit down, thus saving you the bother of getting stuck in only to realize you'll be trapped there without so much as a square to wipe yourself with. Now that you know you need a fresh bog roll, you can simply call for the train, send a post it note ......

And lastly before you return through the layer of coats to normality, we learn how to engage in a duel. Before you say it's of no use at all, my own grandfather was a duel judge in the Polish army of the 20's.  They first had to agree to a method, one wanted swords the other pistols, so my grandfather suggested swords at 20 paces....  So where were we? Seems James May and his producer have got into an e-mail test of wills about May stealing his producer's parking spot. In order to shorten the entire exercise and resolve it before it gets tiresome, May has suggested a duel.

Duels, the rules and etiquette of duelling were established in 15th century Italy, a time people were duelling wily nilly, as opposed to simply brawling, then the more familiar  Irish code duello of 1777 came along for the English speaking world, followed by the French Duel a volonté in which you retreat to about 35 paces, walk at the signal and whoever gets to the 20 paces spot shoots first, but woe betide the man who misses first.

Before you get to the business of shooting, you need to establish impertinence to justify the satisfaction of honour by deadly weapon. To lure his producer and extract the required impertinence, May rings up the man and suggests he is  familiar with the practice of onanism. In other words,  he is a banker. "What you on about you idiot",  and we're off to the duelling!

First they tried the the single smooth shot from a standing position, missing each other and apparently taking out an expendable sound man.  Having thus nearly hurt themselves, health and safety demanded they use modified pistols for the duel a volonté. So armed with paint ball pistols, they drew up, walked to 20 paces and shot....
You'll have to watch to find out if May ever steals a parking spot again.

Next week Oz maybe gets rescued from France, and we go back into the the magic wardrobe for more insanity.

If you've an unresolved question of honour, drop him a line at  Mark your subject line "Damn you sir, I will run you through"

You may also wish to visit the Man Lab home page.

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