Thursday 30 July 2009

The Musical Economics of the Barenaked Ladies

Professor Dexter Duncan of the London School of Economics is one of the most eminent thinkers in the field of Musical Economics. His 1970 paper, A Third Staircase (Just for Show): What Could I Buy If I Were a Rich Man?, was a sensation and is credited with starting the Music Economics boom. Duncan’s most famous paper, Living in a Material World, explained the ostentation of the 1980s fiscal music scene.

Duncan’s latest work, If They had $1,000,000, is another grand project of aural economic analysis. In it, he tests the theories laid out by the Barenaked Ladies in their popular 1992 song, If I had $1000000, and tries to determine whether their claims are valid.

At more than three hundred pages long, this is a very dense and almost impenetrable work, with some formulae and passages that would be far too difficult for the casual reader. However, sticking with the text reaps some wonderful rewards.

As many music lovers know, the song begins with the assertion that if he had a million dollars, the singer of the Barenaked Ladies would “buy you a house”. Using current Canadian house prices, Professor Duncan determined that this would set back the singer $326,613. Several chapters are then devoted to the implications of buying such an abode and the differences between a building of this price in the different Canadian provinces.

Furniture is the next purchase mentioned in the song, and the singer specifies either “a Chesterfield or an Ottoman”. Using a complicated series of calculations based on musician psychology, wealth ratios and fabric costs, Duncan determines that the most likely item of furniture bought by the Barenaked Ladies’ frontman would be a $3,000 Chesterfield from one of Toronto’s premium seateries.

Here lies one of the more galling omissions from the paper. While his reasoning for coming up with this value for the Chesterfield is sound, Duncan does not assess the merits of having a large house and only one piece of furniture. This seems to me to be somewhat lacking for a gentleman of means, owning his own house and only a Chesterfield to sit/sleep on. This scenario brings to mind the frugal miser, rich yet reluctant to purchase fripperies like beds, wardrobes and tables. Is this really an image we see in the twenty-first century?

There are other oversights that do detract from this otherwise excellent piece of investigation. In estimating the cost of a llama (one of the “exotic pets” that the Barenaked Ladies would purchase), Duncan only takes into account the purchase price of the creature. There is no mention of cost of food, lodgings, training, etc. The same can be said for the monkey, a bargain at $8,000, but less so when you consider the extra money needed to house and feed the animal.

Sadly missing in the analysis is the cost of John Merrick’s remains. In the song, the singer wants to buy “them crazy elephant bones”, but according to Professor Duncan this would be easier sung than done. The remains belong to a London museum, and despite repeated requests for information, no employee would put a price on the bones.

Also, the song states that the singer would buy “some art; a Picasso or a Garfunkel”. Art Garfunkel does not make personal appearances, so Duncan had to find a reasonably priced Picasso work. In the end, he found an original sketch for $70,000.

All in all, Professor Duncan’s analysis of the Barenaked Ladies’ ability to purchase everything mentioned in the song for a million dollars is sound, although he really ought to have given more room to considerations of inflation since the song was written. There is also the question of differences in exchange rates between the song's appearance and now.

Duncan's conclusions – that the items in the song could be purchased for less than half a million dollars, leaving enough money to buy “your love” – are sound. He also adds that this much money would probably be required to buy someone's love if you bought them a house and only one chair, not to mention a fake green dress and lots of Kraft Dinner. But there are some bad omissions in the paper, and these are enough to sow the seeds of doubt about some of Duncan’s methods, and therefore, his conclusions.

I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral. Can't understand what I mean? You soon will.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

My Evening with Katrocket: Reviewed!

A while ago, excellent fellow Torontonian blogger Katrocket posted a competition on her blog, the prize being a custom beaver belt buckle from her good pals at Barbie’s Basement Jewellery. Entrants were asked to say what they’d do to win such a prize, and my entry – coming to meet Katrocket in person (thus saving her the price of postage) and reviewing the meeting – was deemed worthy of a second place prize. My reward: custom cufflinks of my choice.

Well, this weekend our busy schedules were freed and I met up with Katrocket and the Beevers, owners of and geniuses behind BBJ. I was given my excellent Tom Petty cufflinks, and my review follows now.

I will admit, first of all, that it was not without trepidation that I ventured across Toronto to the Beeverdeck. The city has been in the grip of a garbage collector strike for many weeks now, and our raccoons are getting more strong and brazen. Old people and children are now forbidden from going out alone, as these monstrous creatures have been known to pick off weak and infirm humans, gorging themselves on the skin, entrails and tripe. So as I got off the bus I made sure I was ready to run at full pelt, should the need arise.

Luckily I made it to my destination without incident, and was greeted warmly by Katrocket (real name: Katrocket) and the Beevers, who put me at ease by immediately thrusting alcohol into my hand. As a guest, my shyness prevented me from asking for a glass into which to put the alcohol, but I was later given one and a towel for my shoes.

Before we could retire to the Beeverdeck, I first needed to be given the basics of self-defense, and my hosts instructed me on the finer points of asparagus fencing. Raccoons are surprisingly unfond of this vegetable due to their mothers making them eat it as children, so it makes for a great weapon against advancing animals. As well as thrusting and parrying the floppy foodstuff, I also learned techniques known as the ‘Blatter’, the ‘Haichu’ and the ‘gullet-poke’.

Armed with the asparagus and my new knowledge, I was now able to go outside and enjoy the drinks and company. Katrocket and the Beevers are excellent conversationalists, and we debated such topics as the current situation in Chechnya, James Joyce’s lesser-known works and the merits of quilted toilet tissue. Before we could reach a conclusion on this last subject, though, an advance party of raccoons swarmed towards us and we were forced to take up arms.

After around half an hour of solid fighting, we felt that we had got the better of the creatures, and they were beginning to retreat. Sadly, they regrouped with reinforcements (several of which were armed with catapults and pepper spray) and so we decided it was a good time to retire to the sitting room, where the Vicar’s wife entertained us with an aria from Verdi’s La Traviata, accompanied by Mister Humbleby on piano. When they had finished we were forced to inform them that they were in fact in the wrong house and that the Cruikshanks were next door. This was a little vexing to them as they had brought their own piano and it took them a long time to get it back down the stairs.
A quick note on the food: I very much enjoyed the foie gras with vanilla bean compote and desecrated coconut, but the caviar burger with caviar-infused bun and caviar sauce was lacking something. I think it needed more caviar.

Some time before the witching hour, I was forced to bid my excellent hosts a fond farewell, and retired into the night, where I was promptly mugged by a pack of teenage raccoons who were brandishing cricket bats. Sad at the loss of my wallet and shoes, I walked home, happy at a great evening out with some wonderful people, and proud of my fantastic cufflinks.

Now I only need to buy a shirt so I can wear them.

The Imaginary Reviewer would like to thank Katrocket and the Beevers again for their warm hospitality and fantastic cocktails. He would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to any raccoons who were orphaned at the hands of his asparagus.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

The Imaginary Reviewer’s Tour of England continues with some Tourist Attractions

A lot of tourists go to England for the history, and culture. They marvel at how clever those mediaeval people were when they built their castles so close to where the train stations would be, and buy all sorts of things with an extra ‘e’ on the end, like ‘ye olde corkscrewe’ and ‘ye olde amusinge postcarde’.

But England has a lot of other things for tourists, and in my recent trip (which actually lasted less than a week, but somehow managed, TARDIS-like, to house several weeks’ worth of activities), I went to visit them.

One of the rides at England's most popular amusement parks, Funville

Firstly, Suffer Gardens in Shuffleborough is a brand new amusement park based around the concept of pain and physical anguish. As such, it’s not a whole lot of fun. I queued for six hours to go on their most popular ride, “The Uncomfortablator”, pressed against other tourists and families with screaming children and idiots who can’t keep their hotdog condiments on themselves. It turned out at the end that the queue was the ride. Avoid.

According to the pamphlet given to me when I entered, The Twitter Museum in Gaviscon-upon-Cretin is a wonderful love-letter to the latest social media craze. But then, I noticed, it’s a love-letter in building form. And a love-letter without any perfume sprayed to it. Or embarrassing hearts drawn on it. Gosh, this is nothing like a love-letter, it’s a bloody museum! What an awful pamphlet. The Twitter Museum gets no stars because its pamphlet is misleading. Next.

A Boy Who Looks Like Harry Potter is the biggest draw for tourists in Shirehamptonshire since the World’s Biggest Cloud exhibition was called off due to the cloud going missing. The boy stands on a plinth, dressed as the eponymous character, and visitors have to pay ten pounds (about sixteen hundred groats) to get within four feet of him and take a picture. I’ll admit, he does look a lot like the character, but when I saw him he didn’t look very well. And his constant complaining to the crowds about “needing the toilet” and having not eaten “in weeks” did ruin the image for me. No points from this reviewer!

Finally, the Hedgehog Acrobatic Troupe have their home in Strathcarnage. With hedgehog trapeze artists, hedgehog high-wire acts and balancing-on-lots-of-chairs-routine hedgehogs, their twice-daily shows are billed as “fun for some of the family”. I will say that I had a fun, enjoyable time watching all the flying spiky rodent things, but you should think twice before sitting in the first twelve rows. I counted more than eleven fatalities from errant animals flying into the crowd, and many children’s faces were punctured like brain-filled water balloons. Tragic.

Pour encore d’information sur l’Angleterre, consultez un map ou un livre. Je pense que la Grande Bretagne est un pays joli avec les pommes frites et un tranche de biftek. Si vous voulez, manger beaucoup de fromage commes le Francais! Et joyeux Bastille Day. Pamplemousse!

Wednesday 8 July 2009

The Imaginary Reviewer Takes on England!

One thing I wanted to do when I was back in England was to visit lots of places I’ve never been to before. Sure, there’s London, Manchester, Liverpool and Royal Leamington Spa, but I’ve been to all of them before and I love trying new things in new places with new faces and new spaces. Here’s what I found in my travels, like Bill Bryson but without the facial hair.

The village of Flatbrush in Upper Denmarkshire is famous among locals for being “that place that’s mentioned on all the pieces of paper that the postman brings”. It is home to Britain’s largest stuffed mandrill, which weighs more than a car seat and is tall enough to ride Space Mountain at EuroDisney. I loved it in Flatbrush, with its street-lined trees (very handy for stealing apples) and children playing army games with skipping ropes and needle-nosed pliers. Visitors should avoid the aquarium, though, as the fish are all made of innards.

A stuffed mandrill with quite an angry face, yesterday

Crannymagnet is a delightful town located between Blattford and Chorlton-cum-Bucket. It is full of small tea shops run by little old ladies who provide the most wonderful scones with clotted cream and jam. The rooms are all charmingly decorated with twee patterns and chintzy doilies, and the pensioners themselves are all delightful to talk to. Furthermore, give them fifty pence and they’ll take you into the back room and show you their underwear. Splendid!

There’s a tiny hamlet called St Laurence of the Leisure-Suit on Splee, and in order to find it one must first enter Godswood Forest in Bliss (near Bagshot), find a particular wooded glade and recite a poem written by sixth-century monk Douglas Twanky. Then, when the moon glides in a self-satisfied manner towards the South, scatter the ashes of a deceased rhythm guitarist around you and clap three times. A hole will appear in the ground, and when you walk through an imp will ask you three riddles which you must answer correctly or you will be turned to lymph. Only then will you find your way to St Laurence of the Leisure-Suit on Splee. And to be honest, all they’ve got is a crappy souvenir shop and a McDonald’s, so I wouldn’t bother.

If you like custard, you’ll love the city of Cataract, which is down the M18 from Tattersby (turn left before you get to the mill). A tragedy in their pudding factory means that the entire city is covered in eight feet of custard, and daring scuba divers are encouraged to visit and see if they can find any more remains. Anyone is welcome to gorge themselves silly on sweet and gloopy yellow liquid, so long as they bring their own spoon.

Finally, I have heard great things about the village of East Frottage on the cusp of Dantwedge and Throttle. The scenery is beautiful, with gorgeous parks and all-you-can-eat lawns. Museums and art galleries of the highest quality fill the place; in fact, there’s so much culture in the village that the average IQ of the residents is six thousand. I wish I could have seen it all, but I couldn’t as there are no roads which enter East Frottage, only ones that leave. This town planning oversight is quite egregious, and thus I cannot recommend this place at all.

England is open from Monday to Saturday, 06:00 to 23:00, except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Entrance is free to under 12s and racists.

Monday 6 July 2009

The Toronto Fringe Festival

I’ll be writing more about my trip to England later in the week. But for the time being, the Toronto Fringe Festival is running and I’ve been invited to a lot of preview shows just so that I can relate my opinions back to you all. Let’s face it: you can’t have a preview without the word “Review”. Without it, you’d just have a “p”. And you can’t just have a p in a theatre, you have to go to the toilets. I know. I’ve been thrown out of enough shows.

One of the most talked-about shows in the festival is An Angry Transvestite Talks About His Crotch, a one-man show in the Gashlycrumb Tiny Auditorium on Yonge and St. Muffin. I’ll be honest, if you’re not interested in transvestites, crotches or high-pitched laughter at one’s own jokes, you’re not going to find much to enjoy here.

Gratuitous Swearing in the Motherfucking Title
is a new play from the drama club of Saint Liberace’s Middle School in West Parody. In all my years of reviewing things, I have never seen anything quite so violent, so sexually explicit, so foul-mouthed and so gut-wrenchingly bleak as this performance. It made Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant look like an episode of Smallville. God, this was fantastic. Take your kids. If you don’t have kids, take someone else’s. You can usually find some outside a shoe shop.

If you like improv, you’ll love the Statue of Ad-Lib-erty, which is running from Tuesday to Tuesday following, at the Whiplash Theatre in the Jerseying District. Shout out things that you think are funny and receive rolled eyes from the performers who really do actually see you as a barrier to humour, rather than a facilitator. Oh, “Nantucket”, how hilarious, nobody’s ever shouted “Nantucket” before. Are you sure you’re not Colin Mochrie or something?

A Tribute to Someone You’ve Never Heard of features the comedy stylings of Dan the Faux Misogynist, Deborah the Traffic Warden Who Wears a Mexican Wrestler Mask for Comic Effect and Ted, That Guy Who Pretends to be Mentally Slow by Slurring But Actually Isn’t Because He’s Really a Financial Advisor in Real Life. Anyone who watches this show is guaranteed at least one and a half actual laughs or your money back. Free show, then.

Finally, a thoroughly enjoyable play stars Edgar Badmoustache and Jemima Duddlepuck as two old people who sit and reminisce in front of a fireplace. The play, which doesn’t have a title, is showing at Grumbly Street Nursing Home, every day until December. The play is free, though viewers are asked to donate several biscuits and tea for the performers.

The Toronto garbage collectors are currently on strike, meaning that the city streets are piled high with crap and rubbish. That this is occurring at the same time as the Fringe Festival is purely coincidental.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

The Imaginary Reviewer back in England! Pubs Reviewed!

As I mentioned recently, I just spent a week back in the old homestead, Blighty, the place of my birth, Britannia, that sceptred isle, and so on, et cetera. Now, as many of you gorgeous readers know, there's one thing us Brits love: Booze. And something we love nearly as much as booze are places in which booze is sold for consumption on the premises. So while I was over in the Kingdom of Unitedness, I thought I'd check out some of our finest (and not so finest) pubs, and relate my findings back to you, my loyal fans, because I love you all, even when you give me that look that you know annoys me.

A really impressive pub is the Cuckolded Arsewipe in the beautiful village of Dripple-on-the-Gabe. This visit was my second, as I had been there several years before. I have to say, the place has really improved in the intervening time, a fact that - I am told - is due to the regular customers removing the previous landlord in a bloody coup and leaving his lifeless body in the beer garden as a warning to all. They have an excellent selection of beer, engaging portraits of the barmaids in various states of undress, and very enjoyable food. The Ploughman's Lunch was particularly delicious, although he wasn't very pleased when he caught me eating it.

The Gratuitous Mention is a very nice pub hidden away in Smothkenyonhampton, the picturesque town in Kooganthomsonborough. It's a great place to find people you know and haven't seen in a rather long time, even if they are a bunch of absolute piss-heads. It does pay to spend a lot of time here, too, because otherwise you won't get any of the the in-jokes, but it really is worth it. Oh, and the weekly quiz is fun, but rigged.

I wasn't a big fan of the Craven Beverley which is situated in a secret location at 34 Christendom Lane, Chatterstoft, because of the terrible curtains. The beer was excellent, the clientelle was fun to be around, the food was delicious and the prices were all top-notch. But why (oh why?) did they decide to make their curtains out of screaming children? It really does put a massive dampener on an otherwise brilliant pub.

The locals in The Fantabulous Fountain of Fancy Footwear and Firkin in Dullard, Kent, are wonderful people. They were amazingly kind to this out-of-towner, and helped me to choose from the many ales and lagers, going as far as to buy me several pints of their favourite drinks. They even helped me to find a nearby hotel when I started feeling a little poorly, and apparently made sure that I made it to my room without incident. Sadly the hotel must have had some kind of security problem, as when I awoke the following morning, my wallet, passport and all my clothing had been taken. Also, I also appear to have a scar on my chest which appeared at some point in that night and may or may not be related to the fact that my pancreas is missing.

Finally, The Dog and Steamroller is a delightful little establishment in the back streets of Cockthrobton, a small village just south of Badford and Goodbury. The Dog (as locals call it) is the only pub in England licensed to serve Saint Godspeed Methadone Ale, a locally-brewed tipple that really hits the spot. In fact, I found it very difficult to only drink one pint of this excellent beer, and still find myself craving the sweet, sweet liquid and oh my God I have to go back for some RIGHT NOW BECAUSE NO MATTER HOW HARD I SCRATCH THE ANTS ARE STILL UNDER MY SKIN CRAWLING CRAWLING CRAWLING PLEASE I NEED THAT BEER RIGHT NOW.

The Imaginary Reviewer is not responsible for any injuries suffered as a result of pinching the buxom barmaid's bottom.