Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Asterix and the Soothsayer: Latin Jokes Explained

A bigger, better version of this article now appears on my new Asterix site - click the white link just above this article. The one that says 'Everything Asterix'.

I understand it's annoying to be directed here and have to go there, but I promise it's worth it.

The new site is extremely beautiful, by the way. It's probably going to win an award and be preserved by UNESCO.

The difference between this cramped, stuffy blog and that luxury site is the same as when you sell your one-bedroom flat in London and buy a six-bedroom villa anywhere else in the country. The furniture is better, the air is clearer, and you can stroll around your garden smelling flowers and sighing contentedly.

It also has a new webcomic called Asterix vs Hitler.



Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Swiss Army Knife (2)

What can the Swiss Army Knife (SAK) tell us about Switzerland? Thanks to a generous student I finally own one. It has 21 functions and by trying to find a use for them all, maybe I'll learn something about Swiss culture. Or maybe I'll just make up some outrageous lies and pass them off as fact.

Click here to read part one. I'm writing about the functions in the order I use them, not in numerical order.

Function 1 - Large Knife
The design I've chosen for my flat is Spartan. I don't mean I have a bottomless well in my lounge into which I can boot my enemies. I mean that it's minimalist. I have one knife, one fork, one chopstick, one Xbox controller.

Having one of everything worked perfectly until I bought a mango. My knife was in the dishwasher encrusted with month-old, penicillic Brie. I tried to eat the mango like an apple, but that didn't go well.

Then I remembered the SAK had a big knife, and hacked at the mango shouting "squeal like a pig!" I have many skills, including the ability to space out no matter who is talking to me, but wielding a knife is not one of them. I staged this photo to make you think I eat with class and elegance.

The hands in the photo belong to a Swiss woman. It tells you something about the inhabitants of this funny little land that she insisted on taking her watch off to prevent identification. Her watch!

Let's go through that again. Pose for a creepy English guy's weird mango slicing fetish photo - yes. Run the risk of being identified - no.

This need for privacy is coded into the Swiss DNA. One woman merrily told me all about how she was knitting socks for her sister's unborn baby, but when I asked if it was a boy or girl she looked offended and snapped "that's a secret". One receptionist at my school wouldn't let me sign the Christmas postcards they were sending to my students, so terrified was she that it would somehow be a breach of their privacy.

It's a big deal!

By the way, the hands in the photo belong to Heidi Dwarflegs, and her address is 7 Buenzlistrasse, Zurich 8005.

Function 19 - Screwdriver
This is the back of my beautiful TV. When I bought it, I didn't have a screwdriver so I assembled it using a Brie-stained knife, tweezers, and coins of various sizes and thicknesses. Clever, but stupid. The screen was slanted for six months. The photo shows me redoing it properly with the Army Knife screwdriver. I am now slant-free. Slantless. Sans slant.

One weird thing about Switzerland is that people don't dump old TVs and fridges in their neighbours' gardens or near railways. Crazy, right? It's refreshing to pop back to Manchester and see rusting appliances in every hedge and squirrels nibbling on kettle cords.

Britain is better than Switzerland because Britain is a liberal paradise where you can do what you want with your old appliances. In Switzerland, the pesky government imposes a sneaky tax on new gadgets which covers the cost of recycling the old ones. You bring your old TV to a shop and they recycle it for you. Result - proper recycling and cleaner cities.

It goes without saying that I prefer the British way, and when I'm done with my TV I'll carry it to a canal and chuck it in. 

Function 2 - Small Knife
This is me using the small knife function to open an IKEA box. I built the pictured shoe-rack and a chest of drawers over the course of two days. 

It took that long partly because after every step I took a break to play Skyrim on Xbox and partly because of Switzerland's strict noise pollution regulations. On weekdays you have to be quiet before 8am and after 10pm. On Sunday it's the whole day.

Some mornings you can see construction workers ready to drill holes in the streets, stood stock still, looking at their watches, waiting for the little hand to point to 8. My Swiss ex-girlfriend refused to do sex with me after 10pm in case the neighbours called the police. We had to start at quarter to ten at the latest to make sure we didn't break the law.

Punishments for breaking the noise rules are real and immediate. Police have a range of powers to deal with noise polluters, ranging from fines to the smashing up of stereo equipment with electrified batons.

In the 70s and early 80s, the fashion for taking late-night baths reached such proportions that the government was forced to act to stamp out bath noise. Now, all baths in flats have trapdoors which open at 45 decibels and anyone in the bath falls into a chute. These, famously, were the inspiration for a scene from The Matrix.

So trying to build a chest of drawers on a Sunday was a problem because I needed to hammer some stuff without getting deported. My solution was genius - hammer one nail in really quickly, then take a 20-minute Xbox break, then do the next one. It was going great until I measured my progress. I'd done four, it was 5pm, and I had 28 to go.

It was too much of a risk to do more hammering. I chickened out and finished it on Monday.

Part Three