Explaining Fred Basset

10 December, 2016

My work gets daily newspaper deliveries, and at afternoon tea break some of us like to flip to the puzzles page to try to solve today’s Target (a nine-letter word polygon puzzle). On the facing page is the comics section, which contains a typical selection of daily newspaper comics: Calvin and Hobbes, Hagar the Horrible, Garfield, Snake, Phantom, and… the venerable Fred Basset. Some of these comics are occasionally funny (well, except Phantom, which is a serialised drama) – except Fred Basset. It’s just an endless stream of what look like attempts to make a gag, but which consistently fail to deliver any sort of punchline.

So we started discussing making a blog to explain why each Fred Basset strip is actually hilariously funny, even if you, the average naive reader, don’t realise it. We’ve been discussing this for a while, and given the most recent strip, I finally decided to give it a go. So here goes:

Fred Basset 2016-12-09

This is a typical Fred Basset strip. Seemingly nothing funny, or even slightly amusing on the surface. It in fact looks like a tired retread of a “joke” that Garfield has been perpetrating for decades: animal is lazy. Ha ha.

But no, to reach this conclusion and go no further is to miss the tragic underpinning of true comedy embodied by this simple set of three panels. The titular Fred is old. He’s been doing this routine of getting up out of his comfortable bed every day for … more years than a simple dog can count. His mortality weighs heavily on his weary bones, and in his heart he knows his days are numbered.

Today, he is lucky enough to get up out of this bed once again. But Fred knows there is a good chance that this is the last day he will ever get up. The first panel is the slowly dawning realisation that he is still on this mortal coil – a realisation made thus slow by his fading mental capacities. It takes a full beat panel in the middle for him to come to terms with the fact that his eternal rest will require at least one more day of struggle against the inanities of his life, in a middle class London home with a similarly ageing couple of humans who never do anything to make his life more interesting or amusing.

In the final panel we get the double whammy of the punchline. “But not quite running!” As if Fred, with his arthritic legs and reduced lung capacity, could run anywhere any more. The fading memory of running brings to mind young days as a puppy spent frolicking in sunny fields of a never-ending summer – yet we all know that summer ends, and with it comes autumn, and twilight. Winter is coming, Fred, and you know it.

As his front paw touches that cold, hard, unfeeling linoleum floor, he feels the chill enter his body and penetrate to his osteoporotic bones. Running! Ha!

Yes, Fred, not quite… not quite. And therein lies the true humour. Dark, enfolding its ever-reaching, cold, black tendrils around the amusement centres of your soul. A creeping mist that reminds you of your own impending doom, but then laughs it off as the mere follies of a dog with human thoughts. And so we laugh, for there is little else we can do, and go about our business.

Another one of those days

8 September, 2016

Yet another miserable day in the saga of the dishwasher.

So we decided to get the integrated dishwasher replaced with one with a nice stainless steel door. I called up the retailer and requested this, choosing an equivalent model with a steel front panel, for the same price. They said there was a fee (about $300) for exchanging the dishwasher. I figured it was my bad assumption that the front panel would be a standard size and didn’t check to be sure, so I felt obliged to cop this fee, and agreed. They said they’d arrange delivery of a different model dishwasher in exchange for the one currently in our home.

Then yesterday I received an emailed receipt, saying they’d charged my credit card $550. So today I phoned them to query why this charge was some $250 greater than what I’d been quoted. The operator I spoke to said it was an installation fee, since I’d requested installation in my original order the new dishwasher would need to be installed, plus some other fee imposed by the manufacturer for an exchange.

I said that I wasn’t told about these fees when I accepted the quoted fee of $300 for the exchange, and I wasn’t going to pay them. There was some resistance and eventually I had to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. I explained that I had been quoted an exchange fee of $300, and neither of these additional installation or exchange fees were mentioned to me when I accepted.

The manager I was speaking to actually said to me, “You should have known there’d be an installation fee, and now you’re just trying to get out of paying it.” I kid you not.

He was absolutely adamant that I had to pay the extra $250, despite me repeatedly pointing out that I was never told about this extra $250, and was quoted a total price of $300 for the exchange, and that that was the quote I accepted. His attitude was, “Well of course there was always going to be another installation fee – you’re getting it installed right?” I said I’d paid for installation of a dishwasher with the original order, and I expected at the end of the process to have an installed dishwasher – why on earth would I come to the conclusion that I’d have to pay another installation fee? Especially when it was never mentioned when I accepted the $300 fee to exchange dishwashers.

He wouldn’t budge, until I threatened to contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over them not honouring a verbal agreement on a quoted price, and attempting to charge me for fees that were never mentioned to me. This eventually got him to agree to “look into it” and promise to call me back. When he did, about an hour later, he said that the extra fees had been refunded. (And I’ve received emailed confirmation.) But not a word of apology for accusing me of deliberately attempting to defraud them.

You can bet that once the replacement dishwasher is safely delivered and installed, I’ll be sending the retailer a letter of complaint.

One of those days

5 September, 2016

It’s been one of those days.

I took the day off work to wait for delivery of a new dishwasher, after our previous one broke. This is the second time I’ve had to take a day off to wait for the delivery, because the first time they came the dishwasher they brought was too big to fit into the kitchen cabinet space, so I had to change my order to a different model (and pay an extra $270). And then I had to wait a whole month for the new model to come into stock so they could deliver it.

Anyway, today was the day. The delivery arrived, and the dishwasher fit into the cabinet space. It’s one of those ones where there’s a front panel which matches the cabinetry, so it looks just like a cupboard. They guys took the panel off the old dishwasher and tried to put it on the new one… of course it didn’t fit. The new washer has a taller door, so attaching the old panel leaves a weird strip about 3cm high at the top, which would look obvious and bizarre.

They told me to get a new panel made to match at a kitchen cabinetry supplier, and they’d come and screw it on free (since I’d paid for full installation).

I called around five different kitchen cabinetry suppliers. Most said they only do full kitchen renovations, and wouldn’t make a single door panel. One guy said sure, he could do it -he’d come over, measure up the door, make a new one in a matching finish, and come back to install it. I said I didn’t want it installed, I could do that myself. (Figuring I have guys who will install it free for me.) He said no then, he won’t take the job, because if he can’t install it, it’s not worth his time to make it. Basically, he wants to charge me an arm and a leg for the installation work, and won’t just make the door panel for me.

So I don’t know where I can just get a new door panel made.

Wife came home and I was discussing options with her. We can either order a third new dishwasher with a nice silver door panel, and get the delivery guys to deliver and install that and take away the one we have installed now. Requiring yet another day off work to wait for them. Or we could just screw the current matching door panel onto the current dishwasher, and live with the weird 3cm strip at the top.

While holding the door panel up on the front of the dishwasher to show her what it would look like, I lost my grip and the door panel, a good 5 kilos or so of it, slipped sideways and jammed my ring finger between it and the adjoining cabinet, crushing it. I don’t think the finger is broken, but there’s a lot of blood around the nail and it’s going to be bruised very badly. Hurt like heck, I can tell you.

I got some ice and stuck it in a plastic bag to ice the bruised finger. While I sat with my left hand immobile on my desk, I did some web surfing.

Lifted up my left hand to check the finger, and the bag of ice tipped up… pouring ice water all over my keyboard.

Maybe I’ll just go to bed and wait for tomorrow.

New York diary: Day 8 & 9

22 August, 2016

Saturday, 18 June, 2016. 18:58

I am on the plane, taxiing to take off from JFK to LAX, on the way home.

I set an alarm for 08:30 this morning, and woke up a bit before it went off. After the usual breakfast of cereal in the hotel dining room, I spent some time packing until about 09:45, when I headed out to the Discovery Exhibition Centre near Times Square, where they hold various rotating exhibitions. At the moment they have Body Worlds, and a Vikings exhibit, plus the one I wanted to see: Star Wars and the Power of Costume.

Droids, at Star Wars and the Power of Costume.

On the way there, I noticed market stalls being set up on Sixth Avenue, with the avenue blocked to traffic for at least a couple of blocks, although the intervening cross streets still carried traffic. It must be a Saturday morning thing, because there was no trace of a market when we arrived last Saturday evening.

Read more: Star Wars, a hearty lunch, a British pub at JFK Airport, and flying home

New York diary: Day 7

18 August, 2016

Friday, 17 June, 2016. Written next day

We got up a little lazily as my meetings didn’t start until 08:30, and M. was planning to have a shower last thing before leaving for the airport at 13:30. I had a bowl of brain flakes and today tried another bagel, this time toasted. While I went to my meeting in the morning, M. went to the Met to check out the artwork there.

The meeting ended early, a bit before 12:30, and I went back to the hotel to find M. there packing her bag and getting ready to leave. The shuttle bus was picking her up at 13:30, and I waited with her until it arrived, then set out to walk north to the Met for our afternoon tour of the museum, arranged by Scott G, who works there.

Tony Dragon's Grille
Tony Dragon’s Grille.

On the way, I stopped at a Greek food truck called Tony Dragon’s Grille on the corner of Madison Avenue and bought a lamb gyro, wrapped in a thick pita bread. It was a little messy to eat on the street, but delicious, with hot lamb slices, salad, and tzatziki. Madison Avenue got fancier as I went north, with expensive fashion labels and jewellers lining the street.

Read more: Behind the scenes at the Met, then touring the public exhibitions

Game of Thrones recap by a non-watcher

20 July, 2016

So, I’ve never seen any of the TV series Game of Thrones, nor read any of the books on which it is based. It’s not because I don’t want to – I actually think it’s the sort of thing that would appeal to me, given what I know about it. I just haven’t had the opportunity or the time to get into it. But being a modern day cultural phenomenon, I can’t help hearing tiny snippets about it every now and then. And an idea occurred to a friend of mine who is a big fan of the show.

He said, “Hey, you know that thing where someone wrote up what they thought the story of Star Wars was, based entirely on cultural osmosis, having never seen the movies themselves?”

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “You should do that for Game of Thrones!”

So here I am. And what follows is what I think happens in Game of Thrones, based on never having read the books or seen the TV show, but only from what I’ve picked up incidentally. A lot of this is really “I think this happens”, but I’m not going to keep typing that at the front of every sentence. I’m just going to assert it all as though it’s true (but on the understanding that I really don’t know what I’m talking about, so keep that in mind). Also, some of it might actually be true, so it’s possible there may be some significant spoilers in here, even if I don’t know they’re spoilers! You have been warned.

Herein lies everything I “know” about Game of Thrones!

Read the rest of this entry »

New York diary: Day 6

18 July, 2016

Thursday, 16 June, 2016. 24:17

We’ve had an exciting night out at Citi Field watching the Mets play the Pittsburgh Pirates, and got back to our hotel a bit late, so it’s now after midnight.

We got up at 08:00 this morning and M. had a shower while I struggled to wake up after a poor sleep. I just had some bran flakes for breakfast, picking out nearly all the raisins this time, and took an apple for a snack later during the ISO meetings. M. went out for a walk up to Tiffany & Co. on 5th Avenue, while I headed to the ANSI offices for more meetings.

The agenda was scheduled to finish at 17:30, making it a bit of a rush to get to the stadium for the baseball game. However, we managed to get through the business ahead of schedule and I got out just after 16:30. At lunch time I went with Scott over to Grand Central again, and this time we got some cheapish Indian food at the food court. I had rice with chick peas and a pea and mushroom dish. The combo plate also came with a green salad, which seemed very weird with Indian food. The vegetables tasted pretty good though.

7 line
The 7 line train.

Meetings done, I returned to the hotel to change into my new Mets shirt, grab the camera, and head off with M. to the 5th Avenue subway stop at Bryant Park. There we caught the 7 line express train out to Queens and Citi Field.

Read more: The baseball game at Citi Field, a humungous waffle, and shooting black and white film

New York diary: Day 5

15 July, 2016

Wednesday, 15 June, 2016. 21:36

The alarm went off at 07:00, which seemed rudely early. I left M. snoozing in bed and went down to have breakfast. I had a couple of small bowls of raisin bran again, this time picking most of the raisins out of the second bowl. I’m amazed that America can make even raisin bran less healthy by increasing the proportion of dried fruit to truly ridiculous levels. It’s almost like eating a bowl of raisins, with a few bran flakes thrown in. I grabbed an apple and ate that in the room while preparing to head out to the meeting.

I left about 7:40, getting to the meeting room a few minutes later. The first session was a long one, going from 08:00 to 12:00. I’d sort of expected there might be snacks provided, especially after arriving after lunch yesterday and seeing that people were eating leftover sandwiches and pastries from a lunch that had presumably been provided to the CPIQ meeting which had preceded ours that morning. But no, there was no sign of any snacks at all. Fortunately I’d brought a pack of Fantales from Australia to share around, and several people took some to keep their sugar levels up. We did get a bathroom break midway through the morning, but at lunch the only thing that happened was the meeting chair told us there were several places outside on the street to buy food.

Grand Central
Grand Central Station.

The morning session went fairly smoothly though, and we broke for lunch a few minutes early. I joined Scott, Margaret, and Jonathan and we decided to follow Scott’s lead as he lives in New York. He led us across a couple of blocks to Grand Central Station, where he was recommending the various places in the huge food court below the main concourse.

Read more: Lunch at the Oyster Bar, Grand Central Market, Indian food dinner, LEGO shop

New York diary: Day 4

26 June, 2016

Tuesday, 14 June, 2016. 12:10

We are sitting in Le Pain Quotidien on Madison Avenue up near the middle of Central Park, having spent the morning wandering around through the park. We’ve just had lunch and I am about to go back to the hotel to get ready for the ISO meeting which begins at 13:30.

We slept in this morning until 07:00. I slept much better than the last two nights, and could have slept more. The breakfast room was busy, and we were lucky to get a table, where I had cereal again and an apple. The bananas here are not good – they are greenish, but also with brown spots, and the fruit is mushy. Maybe they keep them in the fridge or something. So I’ve decided to stick to apples from now. M. had some corn flakes and a toasted bagel with cream cheese.

30 Rock, NBC building 30 Rockefeller Plaza
30 Rockefeller Plaza.

The first order of business was a trip to Central Park. We walked north from our hotel, but stopped briefly at Rockefeller Plaza to find the Blue Bottle coffee shop which M. had searched for online after seeing people walking down the street carrying take away cups with their logo on them. She reckons it’s the best chain store coffee she’s found in the US. We also saw the Lego shop there at Rockefeller, as well as the NBC building at 30 Rock. They were actually filming something for the Today Show in the southern section of the plaza, with a crowd of people holding signs and making noise.

Read more: Central Park, Keens Steakhouse

New York diary: Day 3

25 June, 2016

Monday, 13 June, 2016. 19:56

We are sitting in the Caliente Cab Company, which is a Mexican cafe and bar. We’ve just finished dinner, and will head back to our hotel soon on the subway.

Our day started with breakfast in the hotel again. This time I stuck to the raisin bran and fresh fruit, having a banana and an apple. M. had another bagel, toasted, with cream cheese. We weren’t in a hurry, as we wanted to wait until after the morning rush hour had passed before catching a train down to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. We left a bit after 09:00, and walked south to Bryant Park where we found Le Pain Quotidien, where M. got a coffee and I typed up some of yesterday’s diary while we watched workers scurrying to and fro on the street outside.

Manhattan from ferry
Manhattan viewed from the Staten Island Ferry.

After coffee, we walked over to the subway station near Times Square to catch a 1 train to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Here we boarded a ferry that was just about to depart, which was good timing as they only leave every half hour. The ferry took us across the Hudson River to Staten Island, passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty along the way, giving us a good look at the latter. The weather was cool and a strong wind was blowing on the water, which made it very cold standing on the open deck.

Read more: Tribeca and the 9/11 memorial, Inwood Hill Park, NY Public Library, Greenwich Village