Of Thunderstorms and Deceased Comedians

Amazon finally sent me an e-mail that they are on the case of my missing e-book. So maybe I will have an official announcement later this week. Meanwhile, the story is already available at OmniLit/AllRomance ebooks and XinXii.

I also experienced something of a statsalanche today, because my post on the issues facing international writers has been picked up by the World SF blog. The same post has also been linked from the website of the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Unfortunately, my blog has also been targeted by payday loan spammers (not that there’s any connection between the two. I get a spam attack every two months or so) who seem to insist on posting a comment to every single post. I must have deleted approximately 200 spam comments by now. I always scan the spam folder, because occasionally a legitimate comment ends up in there.

In other news we’ve been plagued by thunderstorms these past few days and today was no exception. And unfortunately, thunderstorms or rather the rapidly shifting air pressure tends to give me killer headaches. None of which would have been much of a problem if I could just have stayed indoors.

Alas, today I had one of those fairly rare translation jobs which require me to leave my office, because I had to show up at a local company to interpret for a phone conference. Phone conferences are always a bit of a challenge, because they can easily degenerate into a game of Chinese whispers. My personal highlight was a phone conference where two people (plus me) on my side of the phone plus three people on the other side of the phoned needed a full 45 minutes to verify whether everybody had the same version of a circuit diagram. Today’s phone conference went a lot smoother, thank goodness, because the person on the other end of the line was a native English speaker.

However, there was still the thunderstorm. I first noticed thunder in the distance, while I was getting ready to leave. I quickly exchanged the shirt I planned to wear for something more rain appropriate and pulled the plugs on all computers and my new flat screen TV, just to be on the safe side. When I left the house, I noticed a flash of lightning. “Oh, looks like it’s getting closer, but I’ll be safe in the car.” I had made it maybe halfway to the car – a distance of maybe five meters altogether – when there was a very loud and very close thunderclap. I sprinted the remaining two meters or so to the car, jumped inside and closed the door. I had barely made it into the car when it started to rain. Luckily, I could park close to the entrance of the company, so I wasn’t soaked by the time I walked up to the receptionist.

I was half an hour early for the phone conference, but that was intentional, because I needed some background information on the project in question. It is kind of embarrassing when the interpreter has no clue what everybody is talking about. Still, everything went well and I even got a follow-up job translating some correspondence out of it. And by the time I was finished, it had stopped raining, too, so I could run the other errands (take shoes to the shoemaker, go to the supermarket) I had planned.

Though we’re not out of the woods yet, because I can hear thunder rumbling in the distance again. It’s not bad enough to switch off the desktop PC yet. Besides, I always keep my laptop and netbook fully charged, so I can continue working even during thunderstorms and power outages. Not that we have many power outages, though the alarm system came on of its own accord this evening.

Finally, the German comedian, cartoonist and actor Vicco von Bülow a.k.a. Loriot died today aged 87. Here is Spiegel Online‘s tribute and here is a pretty good article from the Huffington Post (ignore the usual anti-German crap in the comments). My local radio and TV station Radio Bremen, who produced Loriot’s famous comedy skits in the 1970s, has a tribute page as well.

If you’re German or have lived here in the past forty years or so, Loriot’s cartoons and comedy skits were part of the cultural background noise. As a child, I had toy figurines of his cartoon characters Wum (a dog) and Wendelin (an elephant). His skits Die Bundestagsrede (The parliamentary speech) and Das Frühstücksei (An egg for breakfast) have been featured in German textbooks since I was a student and were still textbook texts the last time I taught German a few years ago. If anything, the Loriot’s brand of humour has become so much part of the cultural fabric that the actual skits often vanishes behind the image we have of them. For example, until I saw the cartoon repeated on a tribute program today, I had always assumed that the two naked men in a bathtub arguing about a rubber duck in the famous skit Herren im Bad (Men in a bathtub) were a gay couple, even though that’s not the case at all.

Actually watching at the skits for the first time in ages rather than seeing bits and pieces while channel surfing (they are popular fillers because they are so short), the thing that struck me most was how dated many of the skits really were. Now humour dates very rapidly in general and it is a testament to Loriot’s skill as a comedian that his 35-year-old skits are still watchable at all. Try watching any other comedy from the mid 1970s.

Nonetheless, it is telling that the last time I taught The parliamentary speech in class, I had to explain to the students what was supposed to be funny about it, because parliamentary debates are no longer as omnipresent on TV as they used to be in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Hardboiled egg for breakfast skit was incomprehensible even when we had to read and discuss it in 10th grade. In fact, the hardboiled egg is probably the least suitable Loriot skit for teenagers, because the middle-aged marriage breakdown is lightyears from their own experience.

Loriot is very much my parents’ humour and not just my parents but everybody’s parents. His characters are comfortable middle-aged, middle-class people and he skewered their follies and obsessions wonderfully. I have met many people like his characters, but enjoyable as it was to see the bourgeois “Spießer”* skewered, Loriot was generally more kind to these people, probably because he was of their generation, then my generation would have been. And when I think of watching a comedy show on TV and laughing so hard that I fell off the sofa, it’s not Loriot that I think of.

Nonetheless, here are a few skits and cartoons that have held up even after 35 years:
Der Astronaut (The Astronaut)
Die Steinlaus (Stone lice) – Loriot parodies a very dull zoology professor who used to host a show about animals on German TV.
Das Bild hängt schief (The painting is loopsided) – If you’re not German, this is the one to watch, because it relies very much on physical humour.
I find Urlaubsparadies (Holiday paradise) hilarious for a reason that has nothing to do with the actual skit (though it’s a good one), but because the location where the skit was shot is not a Mediterranean monster resort but the Osterholz Tenever housing estate in Bremen. And yes, it’s that ugly in reality.

*A German word for which there is no English equivalent. Think of the most awfully pedantic bourgeois suburban middle class people you’ve ever met and you get a vague idea.

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3 Responses to Of Thunderstorms and Deceased Comedians

  1. Susan says:

    Ah, the stone louse 🙂
    As a (very isolated, female, English language) speculative writer in Switzerland, I’m enjoying your blog very much. The isolation may be bad, for some people certainly worse than for me, but access to the internet has made a huge difference. It is more heartening to fight for recognition when you know you are not the only one.

    • Cora says:

      And apparently the last surviving stone louse in Germany was found in a pavement crack on the Bremen market square (because that’s where they filmed the sequence). So that’s why they’re always repairing the pavement – we have stone lice.

      And I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I was lucky when I started writing in English and found some other English language writers at the university, though none of them wrote speculative fiction. And of course the internet makes it much easier to connect.

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