Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Spectacularly Stupid

I have a soft spot for stupidity, not being the most together person on planet Earth myself, and so was delighted when Sam Jordison popped a copy of his latest book Annus Horribilis : A Chronicle of Comic Mishaps in the post for me.

Now I had expected Sam to be the highbrow literary sort ... after all, he blogs for the Guardian and earlier in the year took upon himself the arduous task of reviewing the whole Booker longlist. (And you don't get more respectable than that!)

But this collection of :
Mistakes, mishaps, cock-ups ...
is joyously funny, and deeply reassuring ... for it's really nice to know that there is always someone in the world capable of doing dafter things than you are.

The title of the book is Latin for "Horrible Year", a term famously used by Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas message in 1992 when just about everything that could possibly have gone wrong for her, did indeed go wrong.

The book is designed for dipping into, with tales of gross stupidity and spectacularly bad fortune for every day of the year. This makes it the perfect book to keep on the beside table, or (dare I say it) in your toilet library. I can also see it being bought as a Christmas stocking-filler for those hard-to-buy-for folks in our lives, particularly those who need a little luring into books.

The stories were compiled, says Jordison in the introduction, from various newspapers, websites and history books and a few more were donated by the victims/perpetrators themselves. They are all supposed to be true, even if the veracity is impossible to test with 100% accuracy.

My very favourite anecdote is the one illustrated on the cover of the book, and provides a nice little taster for the collection:
Larry Walters had always wanted to fly, but bad eyesight had prevented him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a pilot. Even so, on 2 July 1982 he managed to realise his ambition by tying forty-five helium filled weather balloons to a garden chair and taking off from the garden of his girlfriend's house in Long Beach, California

He thought that his flying chair would level out at around 100 feet, and then he'd be able to lower it by shooting the balloons with an airgun he'd packed for the purpose. once in the air, however, he became afraid that shooting the balloons would destabilize the chair and tip him to the ground. What's more. it kept on rising and drifted and drifted into the approach zone for nearby Long Beach airport. Walters climbed to an impressive 16,000 feet while aeroplanes zoomed, above, below and beside him.

Eventually, he steeled himself to shoot a few balloons. his chair slowly drifted down, finally coming to an undignified halt when the balloon cables became entangled in the power lines. Walters jumped down the remaining distance to the ground - and was immediately arrested by members of the LAPD. When reporters asked why he'd done such an usual thing, he replied 'A man can't just sit around.'
Elsewhere, there's the story of the young man who stole electrical transformers because he wanted to build a time-machine so that he could go into the future to find out winning lottery numbers; the nobleman who travelled for seven long-years hoping that Queen Elizabeth would forget the fart he'd let off when he was bowing to her (did she heck!); the naturalist who discovered the first wild otter to be seen in the UK for forty years, only to run it down with his car; and the hapless prison governor who bought his inmates a trampoline which they used to bounce over the wall to freedom.

There are also some classic gaffes by politicians, and while Amir Muhammad might have cornered the Malaysian market in bizarre quotations in Politicians say the Darndest Things, it takes a lot to beat the best Bushisms!

If you want more, 3 A.M Magazine has a month and a half's worth of anecdotes from the book, here.

You might also like to check out Jordison's other books: Bad Dates, The Joy of Sects, Crap Towns: The Fifty Worse Places to Live in the UK and Crap Towns II (with Dan Kieran).

(Sensible picture of Sam from 3A.M. magazine)


Chet said...

Some of these sound like worthy contenders for the Darwin Awards.

bibliobibuli said...

i wish i'd bought the book about the darwin awards i saw at the penguin warehouse sales ...

Greenbottle said... should invite mr jordison to come to malaysia. he could easily do a vol 2 based on malaysians alone. there are a lot of what borat would term as ...retards ... here...(not that borat is an einstein ) especially among the umno politicians.

Chet said...

There is a movie version which will be shown on Astro soon.

bibliobibuli said...

it really is awful though, laughing at the way people dispose of themselves!!

hope i don't die in a stupid way. i'd never live with the embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the wild otter thing just makes me sad :-( . But the other examples are pretty darn funny -- I'll have to check this out when I get a chance!

-- Preeta

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

Book vs Movie

nietzschean-ghost said...

We've all thought about attaching a lot helium balloons to something and drifting off. Although I would have chosen something more stable then a garden lounger.

bibliobibuli said...

the sad thing is ... of course, your're right. and we're grateful to Larry Walters for actually testing it out for us!

Anonymous said...

Um.. well have you heard about the guy called Marconi who said he could throw voices for miles ? isn't that the most preposterous thing you've ever heard ? and what about this Edison chap, says he can make light in a glass tube, how silly.

And then there's the most preposterious idea of all, a entire world network, linking millions of computers, all of which could not be any more different from each other. And get this, all of them will give you bandwidth (and some of them even server space) for FREE. Now if that isn't the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard, then I don't know what is.

It's silly what people believe can happen isn't it ?

what's even stupider is that they actually want to try it, I mean everyone knows it can't be done, so why even try ?