At the End of the Day

At the top of every bottom line, there’s a pot of rainbows

Standing at the bar of a pub the other day, I overheard two blokes of roughly my age discussing mates who had shuffled off the mortal coil.

“I tell you,” said one them, “They’re falling off the perch like flies”.

Now you and I both know that flies don’t have perches. And only very rarely do they fall off any upon which they might land. We are in the land of metaphor blending here. It is an inexhaustible seam of humour, and much of it originates in pubs.

A mate who had worked on the old TV series Minder told me how the show’s star George Cole was in well-known watering hole with his son one day, when he heard one bloke say to another, “Listen son, get this right and the world will be your lobster”. He asked the writers to incorporate it in an episode, and they did.

Although there is a certain cruelty to mixed metaphor gags, as so many come from political rhetoric, I find them irresistible. Many sources attribute this one to George W Bush, but it was actually Al Gore who said, “A leopard can’t change his stripes”. Barack Obama began a speech in 2008, “As we consider the road that unfolds before us…”.  Tory novelist and chancer Jeffrey Archer once accused a Labour MP of “biting the hand that rocks the cradle”, while Rush Limbaugh invited his listeners to “button your safety belts”. And 1950s Commie-bashing Congressman Joe McCarthy told a witness at one of his enquiry committees, “I can’t imagine myself sitting in your shoes”.

Quite a few of them start life as the over-excited pronouncements of news anchors and sports commentators. An American football commentator described majorettes before a game as “drop down gorgeous”. Another said one team “isn’t taking any wooden indians”. One UK soccer manager said in an interview that his job was like “beating life with a dead stick”. He also described one of his defenders as “not the sharpest marble in the drawer”. “You can almost hear the writing on the wall,” said Alan Parkes while commentating a game between Arsenal and Derby County. Defending a bad refereeing decision, Alan Shearer said, “To be fair to the bloke, he didn’t have two minutes to rub together”.

Walking a thin cliff, drowning in a field of opportunity, stepping up to the plate and grabbing the bull by the horns, at the spur of the hat, a storm of protest nipped in the bud, hitting the nail right between the eyes: they’ve all been said by public figures who later cringed in embarrassment. There is even a US website dedicated to offering at least one example a day of metaphorical confusion. Recent ones include ‘It’s not over until the fat lady comes home to roost’, ‘I’m going to sleep like a baby’s bottom’, and ‘There’s no use crying over fish in the sea’. I’m giggling away here as I write.

One sadness of the EU is that its top pillocks don’t misuse metepahors, because they speak that Euro-English which comes from not speaking English well enough to know about metaphors in the first place. But it’s nice to dream. How good it would be, for example, to hear Nicolas Sarkozy say, “You think we French know f**k-nothing, but you are wrong – we know f**k-all”. Or Jose Barroso to pronounce that the Greek debt accord in Athens “Has shown to the markets that the glass houses of Brussels will gather no moss”.

I shall, however, take great pleasure in replaying to Sloggers a notice I saw in the painfully English part of the Dordogne. It said, “Trespasssers will be violated”.