Tag Archives: Jim Henson

A Postscript to an Imported Tradition

Jim Henson's The Storyteller - The Soldier and Death

A still photo from Jim Henson's The Storyteller - The Soldier and Death

Horror of horrors. Being in South Africa means we get a spattering of pop culture (relentless bombardment of mostly Hollywood-processed images and thus filtered and/or watered down North American traditions or mythmaking) and other cultural oddities remixed into the local configuration (hahahahaha, I already lost myself there!).

Our kids wanted a Halloween of sorts so they started days ago with cutting up bits of paper into ghost shapes, skulls and ribcages with strings to connect the hands and legs, lots and lots of bats (out of black paper with silver ink outlines), one orange pumpkin about the size of their hand, and a few other things I can’t remember. They stuck these all over the house, often in the most unexpected places like next to a light switch.

A day before Halloween they rediscovered an interactive book we had given them when they were too young called Human Body (a DK – Dorling Kidersley action pack it says!). Well, they are still too young for such a challenging project, so my ever-patient wife who loves the fiddliest of things (I am the clumsy junkman) worked for hours putting together the book’s intricate and superbly detailed human skeleton made out of thin cardboard. Boy was it a show of technical wizardry!

Not having grown up with such a ghastly (nudge, nudge) tradition as Halloween, I was of little help, of course, in thinking of ways to make the evening more interesting. All I could do was hang dark cloths to cover windows and set up dim lighting in one of our spare rooms (my junkroom, actually). The skeleton standing next to a slowly waking lava lamp did add some… cheer?

Skeleton out of cardboard from DK Interactive Book, Human Body

Skeleton out of cardboard from DK Interactive Book, Human Body

Now my wife had other plans. She grew up in North America and it was something huge for her, really lots of fun — or was meant to be anyway.

The kids put on their home made (more like home trashed) outfits of a witch (black silk cape and broom of the wrong design!) and an Eastern European looking Little Red Riding Hood (nope, not really, more like a gypsy actually) then knocked on our door, but then forgot to say TRICK OR TREAT and instead just giggled.

We brought them inside the house, blindfolded them, spun them around three times and then led them to the “Haunted House” (my junkroom, remember?) where cobwebs (a peacock feather!) brushed against their cheeks and foreheads. We sat them down, took off their blindfolds, then made them put their hands in a bag. Gooey stuff on their fingers, they started giggling then went “Ewwww!!” “Yukkk!” “Gross!!!!!”

My wife said it was the guts of someone we had cut up! Hideous laughter from yours truly. Well after the frantic laughter and faces of disgust (all mixed in!) they asked us what it was. “Noodles!” my wife declared. Worse facial reactions accompanied an extended and screeching “YUUUUUKKKK!!!”

The next item was a little bowl with an eye and an ear floating in blood. Grapes, my wife told me later on, would have been best for an eye, but they’re totally out of season in this country. She used, of all sad things, carved out cucumber. The blood was tomato juice. The kids laughed and laughed, but they did eat an eye! My wife managed to string up a story of sorts, nothing I can remember now. What mattered was there were loads of laughter and expressions of gleeful disgust.

So it was a weird first Halloween. Well it would have been way better anyway than my silly idea of showing them an episode of Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller” series – which they have seen a number of times already and would be nothing new or scary anymore. Still, that series and that particular episode I was thinking of, “The Soldier and Death,” remains one of the best rendered fairy tales that I have ever seen. John Hurt is always fantastic, and here plays The Storyteller’s part with perfect dramatic and comic flourishes. I miss Jim Henson’s genius matched with Anthony Minghella’s scriptwriting magic.

Ah, maybe I can watch it on my own again another day.

Pigs in Geneva, Not in Space



Miss Piggy was one of my favourite characters from Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show” – oh, so many years ago.  “Pigs in Space” gags still run in my head with that echoing voice over of the title.  One particular scene has to do with a wall of their space ship that had been damaged.  Props are being sucked out to space.   Panic ensues, one thing leads to another until Miss Piggy ends up plugging the hole with her snout.  Problem solved.  You have to consider that I am recalling these scenes from a childhood memory, so the details may not be as accurate as they should be.  But I am pretty certain about that snout in the hole.

Now how did we get there?  Ah,  the pigs in Geneva!  Some weeks ago I signed up on Avaaz.org’s campaign to try and convince the WHO (World Health Organization, not the band) to verify the link between the “Swine Flu” or H1N1 virus (are they expecting more, hence the seemingly ‘Episode 1’ title?) and an American-owned factory farm in Mexico.

Well here’s the thank you note from Avaaz, and perhaps a better explanation of the campaign.


We stopped traffic in Geneva on May 27th as we descended on the World Health Organization (WHO) with a herd of cardboard pigs to deliver our petition! The 225 cardboard pigs represented the 225,000 Avaaz members that had signed the petition. We certainly got our message across — our campaign delivery went out around the world on ABC news, EFE TV, the Wall Street Journal, France 24, Kuwait News Agency, and Intellasia – as well as many other major news outlets.

When we handed over our petition, it became apparent how important our campaigning was and how valid our concerns were. Initially, the World Health Organization’s Food Safety and Zoonoses director, Dr. Jørgen Schlundt, told us that the WHO and the FAO had not found a definitive link between the H1N1 virus and a factory farm and that the source was still under investigation. But he then admitted scientists have seen more disease breeding and mutating between animals and humans with the massive increase in industrial meat production; he agreed that certain company’s farming practices (Smithfields in this case) were dangerous; he warned that new operations propagating in developing countries could make ‘mistakes’ in food safety that could be seriously risky to human health; and most importantly he indicated that the political processes that determine the research and rules on factory farm biosafety are dominated by the industrial meat lobby. He said strong global regulations were essential, but, to date, unless there is a huge scare like BSE and people die, scientists are unable to push through the laws needed to prevent animal borne pandemics.

The message was clear – our public campaigning for investigation and regulation of factory farms is vital to ensure our food safety and counter the powerful meat industry. Our action showed the WHO that the world does not want to wait for another disaster – we want funding for scientists to investigate factory farms and we want preventive measures put in place that ensure public heath standards.


They could have made the campaign more effective and classy (har har) if they had invited the dame of pigdom, Miss Piggy.  Snort.  Snort.

Click this sexy photo and see one of her amazing performances.