In which The Author keeps his wallet in his pocket
Aficionados of the Scottish Play will, of course, recognise the title as a quotation from the Porter’s speech. The Bard used the Porter as a humorous device to highlight the perils of drink:
Macduff: Was it so late, friend, ere you went to bed, That you do lie so late?
Porter: ‘Faith sir, we were carousing till the second cock: and drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things.
Macduff: What three things does drink especially provoke?
Porter: Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance: therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.
Macbeth, Act II, Scene 3
As a long-time frequenter of pubs, I can certainly vouch for the accuracy of Shakespeare’s observations. Ross first brought this little gem of an exchange to my attention about twenty-five years ago. Now, I’m not a scholar of literature by any means. (That may surprise those of you who know that I was studying English before Everything Changed. However, my interest in English is primarily linguistic and theoretical, rather than as a medium for poetry.)
Consequently, I don’t know whether this is the first reference in literature to Brewer’s Droop. I expect Chaucer alluded to it somewhere; it would have been well within his style and suited to his sense of humour. I’d be very surprised if Terence, Juvenal or Ovid missed an opportunity to point it out. After all, one of my favourite Latin tags is from Terence: Aut bibe, aut abe. (‘Either drink or depart.’) I think I might adopt that as my family motto, in fact. The inability to rise to the occasion probably gets a mention in Homer, or maybe even in the Pyramid Texts. Who needs SSRIs to unman you when you’ve had a few pints, eh?
I also love the term ‘nose-painting’ to describe the characteristic bulbous bloodshot results of excessive consumption. An nice old boy named Davey used to drink in the Corner House in Llwydcoed when I first moved there in 1986. (He’s probably long gone now.) One night my friend Baz asked me why Davey looked like someone had glued a large over-ripe raspberry to his face. When I told him, he nearly gave up drinking on the spot.
There’s a very different sort of nose-painting going on across the UK even as I type. It’s the night of the BBC charity telethon Comic Relief (or, as it’s more commonly known, Red Nose Day). It’s nearly thirty years since this biennial guilt-fest first burst onto our TV screens, encouraging us all to ‘Do something funny for money.’
The brainchild of erstwhile comedian Lenny Henry and scriptwriter Richard Curtis, Comic Relief was launched on Xmas Day 1985. It was the height of the mass organised charity drives which arose in the wake of Band Aid and Live Aid. As an initiative to raise money for deprived children in the UK and Africa, it was a laudable scheme in principle. The reality was somewhat different, of course.
Comedians approaching their use-by dates were shipped out to Africa to make films of starving children. Others were dispatched to Byker, Moss Side, Toxteth or Ely (in Cardiff) to report on initiatives to engage the youth of these blighted areas. There were some positive outcomes, of course, like funding for Aberdare’s very own Chequers Centre (which closed its doors a couple of years ago). Meanwhile, actors and musicians were roped in to make embarrassing sketches, in a pale imitation of the old Morecambe & Wise ‘plays what I wrote’. The resulting footage was broadcast on BBC1 from 7.00 p.m. until long after the kids’ bedtimes.
In shopping centres up and down the land, people sat in baths of baked beans, donned fancy dress and waved collecting buckets, phoned the BBC to donate money via their credit cards, and (most importantly) wore plastic red noses to show their solidarity. There were some decent moments, most notably Steven Moffat’s first foray into writing Doctor Who: ‘The Curse of Fatal Death.’
Unfortunately, nowadays Comic Relief consists largely of lame spoofs of films and TV shows, as I mentioned in No Laughing Matter. Over the years, it’s become a template for the piss-poor ‘comedy’ shows which fill our screens these days. As the night wears on, the attempts at humour become more puerile and more scatalogical. It might appeal to a youngish post-pub crowd, but it probably alienates many older viewers who’ve been there for the duration.
Naturally, the big retailers soon got on board to sell the red noses, the essential fashion accessories, the proceeds from which went to the charity. Now, Sainsbury’s supermarkets are one of the biggest sponsors, and sell the full range of merchandise. Our nearest branch is about ten miles away. That’s a distinct improvement on 2011, where we’d have had to travel twice that distance to take up their offer of t-shirts, aprons, hats, and red noses.
And it’s the red noses that have been a bone of contention with some friends of mine today. Yesterday Gema was hunting around town for a pair of red tights, leggings, or trousers, suitable for a six-year old girl to wear to school this morning. Every pupil was expected to wear red to show their support for the cause. Having drawn a blank, she was planning to make an early trip to ASDA in a last-ditch effort to kit Jasmine out. As Gema said, for working-class parents already hit very hard by benefit cuts, being expected to buy special outfits for their kids – to wear for just one day – is a bit rich (no pun intended).
This afternoon, my friend Sharon posted a status on Facebook. It made me wonder just how far this ‘voluntary’ fund-raising activity has travelled from its original idea. Her young daughter had forgotten to take her red nose to her primary school in Aberdare this morning. (I won’t name the school. I do know it, however, as Sharon is planning to make an angry phone call to the headteacher on Monday morning.) As a result, she and the other non-red-nose-wearers had been excluded from the fun events which all their friends were taking part in. One of Sharon’s friends responded by saying that, in her children’s school the red noses were banned. In a classic case of Reverse Psychology, she reckoned that eighty per cent of the pupils were wearing them.
On BBC1, the telethon should be in full swing. I can only go by the schedule in the paper. In the pub where I’m sitting, the TV has been tuned to S4C so that the lads could watch the Wales vs England Under-20s game. I was in town at lunchtime and I didn’t seen anyone out with a collecting bucket. So far (10.00-ish), nobody has come into the pub in fancy dress. The shelves in Iceland were reassuringly stocked with baked beans when I popped in earlier. Maybe, in the downswing towards a triple-dip recession, the Great British Public have realised the wisdom of the old proverb Charity begins at home. Maybe everyone’s saving themselves for tomorrow’s Six Nations decider. Wales need to score just eight more points than England to secure the championship. It’s going to be a crazy day regardless of the outcome.
Possibly – just possibly – Compassion Fatigue has set in big time, and people are starting to fight back against the commodification of charity. After all, it’s one thing to donate money to a worthy cause out of the goodness of your heart (or even as a cornerstone of your faith, as with Islam). It’s quite another thing to be pressured into giving, and sidelined when you’re perceived (rightly or wrongly) to stand aloof from the collective guilt trip.
Anyway, that’s nose-painting dealt with. That brings us to sleep. For the past two nights I’ve slept in the armchair with the duvet over me, rather than toss and turn for ages while I try and find a comfortable position. That’s pretty much the agenda for tonight. I plan to be asleep long before the total is announced live on the radio in the small hours. (Maybe, given my age, I should call them the wee hours.)
Before then, the only urine will be the sort currently being extracted by the Comic Relief presenters. According to one newspaper report this week, they’re set to pocket a pretty penny for tonight’s work. And that is what’s starting to stick in people’s collective craw, I think. Charity isn’t compulsory, after all, and if the BBC celebrities were serious about giving, they’d donate their own appearance fees to the appeal. Surely that would be far more productive than excluding young children from a Spacehopper race simply because they’re not wearing the correct badge of solidarity.