Thursday, 28 October 2010

NOT PJ: An Oracular Octopus

_BernardDarnton This week Bernard Darnton investigates spineless creatures, and it isn't a metaphor.

Forget the volcanoes, the mid-term elections, and fraught attempts to increase the number of hours worked by French people. The real reason TV news exists is the animal stories. Some watch for the sports so a sports story about an animal does double duty. Add a dose of psychic power and it’s ratings on a plate. Hence Paul the Octopus.

Paul the Octopus, described by the Daily Telegraph as “the best known octopus of his generation,” died on Tuesday. He was two.

For those who’ve been living in a cave and therefore have bad tabloid television reception, Paul successfully predicted the outcome of all Germany’s World Cup games, plus the World Cup final.

One News, across developments like a rash, crossed live to the seafood buffet at Valentines, where a pretty blonde girl mawkishly delivered the news of Paul’s demise, looking relevant next to a bowl of dead octopuses.

If you are going to talk about octopuses, do yourself a favour and learn the word “octopodes.” It’s a great word to know coming into the holiday drinking season. Just don’t bugger it up and say “ok-tuh-podes” - it’s “ok-toh-puh-dees.”. Armed with this simple fact and a six pack you can be the star attraction at the end-of-year work barbeque. Compulsory fun will never have been so much fun.

PaulOctopus For the full effect, sneer at anyone who says “octopi” and memorise the Wikipedia article about how that word is based on the misapprehension that octopus is a second declension Latin noun, and that “octopus” is Greek, etcetera.

While you’re browsing Wikipedia, marvel at the article on Paul the Octopus himself. Part of the reason that TV news is so dire, stuffed silly with populist drivel like clairvoyant molluscs, is that people have deserted television to spend their free time on more edifying tasks, like writing Wikipedia articles on clairvoyant molluscs.

The article has an info box, explaining Paul’s dual occupations of “Exhibit” and “Psychic Football Pundit,” several photographs, some charts, serious discussions of his career and the possible biases that may have affected his sporting picks, links to other “oracular animals,” and a page of detailed references. The article is similar in size and depth to that on King Richard III of England.

Paul the Octopus’ page also contains speculation on whether or not he was the same octopus that made predictions on games during the 2008 European Championship - a mystery on par with the Princes in the Tower.

While Paul may not have been truly psychic, octopuses - sorry, octopodes - are highly intelligent creatures. They’re not intelligent in the sense that they worked out the laws of thermodynamics but they are, presumably, highly intelligent compared to other molluscs - that is to say, slugs.

Based on this copious neural firepower, octopuses have been classified in English law as honorary mammals. Indeed, octopuses have eight brains - almost as many as the House of Commons, where this stuff gets made up.

Paul and his eight brains will be cremated after a state funeral to be shown live on TV One. Close Up will have an exclusive interview with a grieving relative, and 20/20 this week will investigate claims that Paul had a penis on the end of one of his arms.

* * He’s not PJ O’Rourke, but he’s not bad either.  Read Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ
column here every Thursday, barring drinking accidents. * *


  1. What a great article Bernard, thanks for the humour! :)

  2. Richard McGrath2 Nov 2010, 11:26:00

    Bernard, I keep saying to all and sundry that your columns should be sydicated to every newspaper in the country!

  3. Richard McGrath2 Nov 2010, 11:27:00

    Whoops, make that "syndicated"


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