children

Fat Tuesday, No Pancake

So, today is Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras, if you prefer, or Pancake Day here in Britain.

I don’t know about you but pancakes are one of those foods which you imagine are better than they actually are. Fried batter with raw lemon juice and white sugar. Yum. Like you could eat any of those ingredients on its own, in quantity, with relish.

In my youth, I vaguely remember an eatery chain dedicated to pancakes. What was it called? Pancake Hut? Pancakes R We? Flat Batter Fry House? I honestly don’t remember. Inside, the menu was almost entirely pancakes. You chose a savoury filling for the main course and a sweet filling for dessert. I think the savoury ones were stuff like chilli con carne, ratatouille or fried beans; the sweets were predominantly stewed fruits with ice cream on top. It was somewhere to take your girlfriend when you wanted to impress her without much money. We were young, see!

Well, much like Christmas mornings and Hallowe’en, Pancake Day hasn’t a lot of traction without kids about the house. I think we may forgo them this time. We have some venison meatballs in the freezer and I might do a wild mushroom and shallots gravy, some parsnip mash and lightly steamed cavolo nero. Enjoy your pancakes!

image: detail from The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel, the elder (1559)

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Comics and Philosophical Ideas

I loved comics as a kid. The choice in comics was broad and I favoured The Beano mostly, and often its big sister comic, The Dandy. Yet there were others I liked too, Beezer, Topper, Chips to name just three.

In the comic, I had my favourite characters too, as I expect everyone did. Now, I think how clever some of those characters were and how they could sow a seed of intellectualism and philosophical thought in the mind of an innocent child. My favourite of these would be the regular comic strip, The Numskulls, which featured originally in The Beezer.

The idea of homunculi controlling our mind and bodies is an old one. I’m sure at least once you’ve imagined sitting inside your own head, looking out through the windows of your eyes and listening to all the extraneous sounds coming in from the holes on each side. No? Just me then.

In The Numskulls, “our man” is observed going about some ordinary task or involved in some everyday business. He seems totally unaware of his own homunculi and the control they have over his senses, reactions and his subsequent actions. The irony is that we the readers get a cutaway view of the man’s head where we see it partitioned into departments, in each of which resides a homuncule with a specific duty. In the comic they have been given funny names; Blinky (Eye Dept.), Luggy (Ear Dept.), Snitch (Nose Dept.), Brainy (Brain Dept.) and two more, whose names escape me for the moment, in charge of the Mouth Dept. Each department is in communication with others by telephone and so collectively can influence and manipulate their man’s every move.

The odd thing is that they don’t appear to be intent on doing this all the time. It’s as if there’s a counter-intuitive struggle between what the man goes to do and what his Numskulls suggest he does instead. The humour of the strip always comes from the man’s apparent bewilderment at what just happened, why he did something different to what was intended.

This probably all boils down to the philosophical idea of free will, and whether we have it, or not. Now there’s a thought for a small boy chuckling over his favourite comic strip.

Malcolm Judge – cartoonist and creator of The Numskulls