Tales of the Unexpected

Photo by John Michael Thomson on Unsplash

Trawling the kind of television stations, as I do, which have the average daytime viewing figures of three if you include the dog, I stumbled across a barely remembered ITV series from 1979 called ‘Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected’ – later, after Mr Dahl had, presumably run out of unforeseen expositions of his own, just ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ – and it struck me, what would be the point of a ‘Tale of the Expected’?  Surely, in order to tempt the viewer to persevere through the myriad funeral plan adverts and into ‘part two’, there would need to be the expectation of something happening that was at least to some degree not quite as anticipated?  Imagine the pitch: “I like the general concept, so, what happens in the end?”
“Oh you know, the expected.”
“Brilliant!  Here, take this million pounds.  It’s going to be a blockbuster!”

The work of all fiction is surely to take you away from the expected, but the problem with calling something ‘Unexpected’ is that you then know to expect it.  The only way that you would be able to engender shock with the ending of a Tale of the Unexpected would be to make it totally expected, thus, probably putting you on the receiving end of a multi-million pound lawsuit from a group of viewers or readers with nothing better to do.  It is like expecting someone to be shocked when a large brown bear appears in ‘The Tale of the Large Brown Bear’.

Anyway, by way of research, I managed to sit through one or two of the aforementioned tales and I have to report that the makers did pull off quite a clever trick: the ending in each of the episodes I watched could, in no way, be described as unexpected unless you have the imagination of a ball of Edam cheese, (Now don’t get me wrong here; I like Edam, but you have to admit, as far as cheeses go, it is pretty much without imagination isn’t it?  A super-mature Cheddar will tell a tale of derring-do so vivid that it will seep into your dreams for weeks; a liquefying stilton will lull you into a false sense of security before suddenly gripping your chest like a reverse Alien, creating the kind of heartburn that can only be alleviated by the consumption of shed-loads of port, and gout; a lovely crumbly Cheshire will have you falling in love with anyone who provides just the right fruity chutney; an Edam will have you wondering only whether you have cheese-scented soap or soap-textured cheese, although it will allow you to make a passable model rabbit out of the wax.) but more ‘Odd’.  ‘Tales of the Odd’ would have been a much better title and would have encompassed the feeling of ‘Well, I know exactly what he’s going to do, but why in God’s name would he?’ that accompanied every episode I saw.

Because I was expecting the unexpected, then the only way to actually make it unexpected was to allow it to be completely expected but lacking in any logical explanation.  When I was a boy, the ‘Amazing Tales’ and ‘Astounding Stories’ magazines I read delivered exactly what it said on the cover, but the endings were never unexpected.  You always knew that the family next door were actually aliens and that dreams were the actual reality and vice versa: not unexpected, but definitely astounding.  It would be difficult, wouldn’t it, to relate to a story in which the denouement was not, to some degree at least, expected.  Life’s not like that is it?

Well, I know what’s coming next, so that’s my excuse anyway…

Idle Speculation

It’s all part of a normal cycle for me: a few weeks ago, fresh back from the Aegean sunshine, my carefully curated backlog exhausted, I was writing my posts on the hoof and fretting constantly over what to do when inspiration did not come to call.  Today, I sit with a pile of essays in front of me, wondering if I should start to publish every day in order to get rid of them.

I won’t, of course, because I know that the days of nothing to report are just around the corner.  It is, as I say, just part of the normal ebb and flow for me: sometimes I can write this hodgepodge in abundance – it just oozes out of me – whilst on others I can spend an evening staring at a semi-colon, trying to decide whether I can do without it.  I am consistent only in my inconsistency.  I think that the knowledge that there is ‘work’ in hand gives my head the latitude it needs to wander off in all the wrong directions.  Torpor sets in and the cardigan comes out.

It is, for reasons I have not yet managed to identify, a quiet day on the building site behind me.  All work appears to have halted and silence prevails.  I swear I can hear birdsong.  I am sure that if I were to half close my eyes, I would be able to see soldiers playing football in the mud and the puddles.  I wonder, should the work actually stop today, how long would it take nature to reclaim the land: to subsume the proto-roads and infrastructures, to re-establish homes, not for humans, but for beasties of all types and sizes?

Idle speculation of course because, even now, I see herds of hi-viz approaching me from the left and a lorry (presumably a Brobdignagian tea-urn) disappearing to the right.  A casual glance from the window finds me staring into the jaw of a giant digger.

Half a century, or more, ago I read a story in what well could have been ‘Amazing Tales’ or ‘Astounding Stories’ which, unusually, did not centre on the Aliens living, undetected, next door.  It supposed that the Solar System was a molecule, each planet an atom, a tiny fragment of a reality that was infinitely bigger than our own – the Universe as a coffee table – and I can’t shake off the image of all the giant machinery around me as vast insects, themselves part of some huge colony, simultaneously building and pillaging.

At which point, doubt kicks in: do I mean pillaging?  Wasn’t that a Viking thing alongside names like Bloodaxe and helmets with horns on?  Always makes me wonder how primitive we English were back then that the Vikings could be regarded as civilising.  We had plenty of Vikings around these parts and the influence still persists.  I know that the suffix ‘by’ simply meant ‘village’ (hence Ingleby – the English village – and Normanby – the Norman village) and that Thorp(e) meant a village of lesser importance e.g. Thorpe-on-the-Hill, Thorpe-le-Fallows, Thorpe-near-the-Bus Stop and Thorpe-where-the-old-village-pub-is-now-an-Old Tyre Dump.

What I’m hoping, of course, is that they might dig up Viking remains behind me, a Viking village perhaps, fatefully named Colinby or Thorpe-on-the-Back Field, accompanied by pots of gold and enough ancient artefacts to keep Baldrick* happy for months – just long enough for a Preservation Order to be slapped on the whole shebang.

Fanciful?  I guess so, but the thought has kept me occupied for a while – even if it does mean that another day has gone by with nothing for me to say…

*A hugely popular character from Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Blackadder’, played by Tony Robinson, who later hosted ‘Time Team’ in which all manner of things were dug up by a team of people with whom you would love to spend an evening in the pub, but probably, all things considered, would not want living next door.