Monday, April 28, 2008

Timeslide

A chance encounter this lunchtime has set me off reminiscing...

In-between bouts of heavy rain I decided to kick-start the old MP3 player and take a mooch along one of the many river walks that perforate my home town of Leamington Spa. As luck would have it, this particular route took me by the college where I completed my art foundation course back in 1988 and where I met Dave who, for many years was my closest friend. My best friend, in fact.

Now Dave is still a good friend but life being life we now rarely see each other and hanging out never extends further these days than a rare 20 minute rushed conversation on the street corner, usually in the morning when he’s on the way to his job and I’m on my way to mine. He has a family, I have a family... What can I say? Our commitments and drives seemed to slowly separate over the years until the bond that once held us close as brothers disintegrated without either of us ever quite being aware of it.

It’s something that occasionally causes me a twinge of regret and pain but never for very long – there just isn’t room or time in my life at the moment to dwell on it. And I guess that says it all. As for Dave, well, I’m probably being unfair but I don’t think my absence from the great scheme of things particularly impinges on him at all... but that’s possibly the subject of another post.

Anyway, this lunchtime, as I wandered passed the college where Dave and I first met who should I run into? Dave Jr. Dave’s eldest son who bears an uncanny resemblance to his father when he was 18. It was odd to see him goofing around with his mates the same way Dave and I did exactly 20 years ago and in the same place. Just for a second I honestly wondered if I’d walked through a hole in time or life was inexplicably repeating itself in some kind of temporal ox-bow. Some weird loop serving no other purpose than to endlessly repeat itself.

For the briefest of moments I was 18 again with no other worries than the thought of bunking off from lessons for the afternoon, my head full of stupid ambitions and dreams which now, 20 years on, seem wasteful, ill conceived and ill chosen. Looking back at myself I was lumbered with a profound lack of direction and a hopeless lack of motivation. Not a great combo.

But when you’re 18 it’s fine. There’s plenty of time to do things, loads of time... too much time in fact. So much time you fritter it away on silly pranks and things that don’t really matter and things that are of no consequence.

And I envy Dave Jr that.

But despite the pleasurable regret, the slight sugary tinge of melancholy that is tinting my spectacles this afternoon I’m glad that I’m here and not back there. It’s good to have passed through that period and to be standing on a hillside looking back at it through a pair of wizened binoculars... because as someone clever once said: the past is a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there. Besides which the sexual desert that characterized my twenties is not something I’d ever care to revisit no matter how young it might make me appear.

Today then, for the first time ever, the small grey hairs in my beard and hair are most welcome. They’ve been hard won by trial and experience.

And when I was 18 I certainly would have envied myself that...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Me, Danno

No, not a reference to the 1970’s Hawaiian cop show of dubious brilliance but to a delightful book themed meme that has been passed onto me by the glorious Gina at Reluctant Blogger.

In order to appease the meme gods I have to:

1. List three books I’ve always meant to read, but have never got around to reading.
2. Share the two books that changed my life.
3. Recommend the one book I’ve been talking about since the very first day that I read it.


So here goes:

Three books I’ve always meant to read but have never got round to reading.

1) Rookwood by Harrison Ainsworth – the story of Dick Turpin’s legendary ride to York on Black Bess. And I have utterly no excuse for not reading this having managed to locate and purchase a nice hardback copy of it last year. It’s sitting on my bookshelf regarding me with a reproachful eye. In my defence I’ve been up to the gizzard in University reading for the last few years so my opportunities to read for pleasure are few.

2) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – despite my many literary leanings there are huge gaps in my reading and Evelyn Waugh is one of them. However, I’m hoping to add this particular novel to my list of “books read” pretty soon as Karen and I have just watched the entire series (Jeremy Irons / Anthony Andrews) on DVD. I’d never seen it before - though Karen had beloved memories of it from when it was first broadcast – so it was something of a revelation to me. I absolutely loved it and I’m amazed at how much it’s impinged on my psyche. Wonderfully, gently tragic, wistful and gritty all at the same time. I absolutely must read the book now. I bloody must.

3) 1984 by George Orwell – seminal work, blah blah blah, major influence, cough cough cough, essential reading, etc etc etc. I just feel that I ought to read this book before I die (perhaps that’s why I’m leaving it to the last minute?) and again I have no excuse as we have a copy knocking about the house. If it’s any consolation I’ve read The Road To Wigan Pier...

The two books that have changed my life.

1) The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox – Not sure if it’s changed my life but it is certainly one of my most favourite novels. It’s a beautiful story without being at all mawkish. One night a French vintner, drunk on wine literally stumbles upon a statue of an angel in his vineyard... but the angel catches him and promises to return on the same night for every year of the vintner’s life to see how he is. Words like gorgeous and sumptuous are bubbling up in my mouth but none do this novel justice. It moved me greatly and I never want to be without a copy.

2) Anything by Angela Carter – and by anything I mean anything as opposed to “Anything”. I first discovered Angela Carter in my early twenties and her work blew my mind wide open. Her style of writing, I’ll admit, doesn’t suit everybody – it’s dense and deliberately wordy – but I love it. Her stories are heavily crafted fairy tales that are ripped apart, the truth in them dusted off and shaken out and then stuffed back inside the barely cooling carcass before electric shock treatment brings it all back to life again. Immensely satisfying and frequently shocking, both magical and dirtily earthy the energy in her novels is impossible to pin down. Films such as The Company of Wolves and The Magic Toyshop all owe their existence to Angela Carter. I have a book shelf full of her entire output.

Recommend the one book I’ve been talking about since the very first day that I read it.

This is a toughie and I don’t think I could limit it to one book. The Vintner’s Luck I would recommend to anybody. Likewise The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. All wonderful, beautiful novels that will totally immerse you in lives that seem much bigger than your own. But recommending books is like recommending holidays... it rarely works. One man’s beer is another man’s poison or something. It’s just important to find your own special book. A book that speaks to you is a very, very precious thing indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blofeld Is My Next Door Neighbour

Aston MartinIt’s not often that my hometown makes the national news (winning Britain In Bloom for the umpteenth time running is never front page material) but when it does it does so with style.

You’ll all no doubt have heard the news of James Bond’s fabled Aston Martin taking an unnecessary nosedive into some picturesque Italian lake on route to the film set of “A Quantum Of Solace”...

Well, it’s with a quantum of pride that I reveal that the driver hailed from good old Leamington Spa... the small Midland’s spa town that brought forth such luminaries into the world as Aleister Crowley, Terry Frost and yours truly.

And now we can add Fraser Dunn to that list, the hapless driver who lost control on a steep mountainous Italian bend in wet weather and took out Bond’s trademark wheels big time.

Fraser escaped unharmed (naturally) and merely brushed off his tux as the car was craned out of the drink by Italian contractors. Reports that the lake was filled with remote-controlled sharks with lasers attached to their foreheads are so far unfounded.

Mr Bond himself was unavailable for comment being up to his hips in posh, busty totty but Blofeld was heard to scream a tirade of curses before pounding his pussy to death in angered frustration.

Er...

Or have I got that the wrong way round?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cough Drop

I’m having a weird day today, probably aided and abetted by the fact I had a crap night’s sleep last night...

Baby Tom was fine, I can’t blame him at all – the sleep training has really paid off and any night time disturbance now tends to be very minimal. Instead, despite having eyes as heavy as John Prescott’s sick bag, I just lay awake into the small hours, wearing myself out with my many fruitless attempts to drop off.

The knock-on effect today is that I feel out of kilter with the rest of the world and totally benumbed. I feel like a cheap pair of 3D glasses – things aren’t quite lining up properly but I can still tell what they’re supposed to be.

If I was at home I could cope with that quite well. But I’m not. I’m at work and am required to be “on the ball” and capable.

None of which is actually in my job description but I feel too drippy to point that out.

So I’ve had a painful morning dealing with complaints of sexual harassment levelled against our cleaner (sorry, Hygiene Technician), meeting a lighting rep who has totally exhausted my fake interest in light bulbs, dichroics and barn-door shutters, running around trying to catch up on the paperwork that has been flapping around my desk since my day off on Friday and I have just shambled through the most bizarre office conversation ever which started off on the subject of new local authority gumf warning us about the dangers of the “employee terrorist” (the office bully by any other name), leapt onto the John Prescott bulimia bandwagon about halfway through and then finished off on the delightful subject of condensed milk sandwiches as eaten by Lenny Henry on Tiswas back in the early eighties.

My brain feels warped.

I feel like I’ve just coughed it out of my mouth like a dropped bollock in a fashion rather reminiscent of the Ood on Doctor Who on Saturday.

None of which bodes well for the afternoon...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Arsebook

Following a justified dig at online social networking utilities by Rol over at Sunset Over Slawit yesterday I’ve misspent valuable work time this morning thinking up the perfect antidote.

I’d like to patent the idea for an antisocial networking utility which would function along the same lines as Facebook except that instead of trying to accrue loads of friends onto your web profile the goal would be to lose as many as possible. A possible name for this online service could be Arsebook (which, ahem, has a certain ring to it). I’m sure somebody out there could come up with a suitably pert little logo and even build and manage the site for me... cos I really can’t be arsed.

Members can accrue arse points each time they lose an online friend – and maybe earn extra arse points if they actually lose a real life friend that they’ve actually met in the real physical world? You could also install various apps onto your profile page designed to snub, insult and drive away all the other members who are there solely to pimp their band, homemade porno pics, terrorist training camps, etc. And there could be a status box where you could type in the current state of your arseyness at regular intervals of the day so that any other Arsebook member happening across your profile will know that you are flying the flag of arsedom and are to be added to their ever growing list of non-online-friends. Arsetastic!

Personally I think it’s a winner.

By the way, for those of you who have read this far: this is my 300th post. Send the Moet to the usual address please, barman...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

John Wayne Is Big Leggy

I’m wearing corduroys today and as a consequence I sound like I have a small, hungry puppy strapped into the gusset every time I walk.

Yip yip yip yip yip...

Add a bit of tinder and I could start a forest fire.

To make it worse we are having a quiet day at work so the slightest noise is amplified a hundred times. I can sense people’s heads turning each time I cross and uncross my legs.

To combat this unwanted attention I have begun walking with my legs slightly further apart than is natural. I look like a cowboy who’s lost his chaps. A troupe of circus dwarves could ride a monkey bike – in formation and carrying flaming brands – between my legs without even touching the sides.

My kneecaps are protesting and it’s very bad for my posture. Plus I’m going to be hauled over the coals for sexual harassment if I’m not careful.

Tomorrow I will be wearing jeans.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gathers No Moss

Oh what an interesting morning I’ve had at work today.

There can be few jobs in the world where, as soon as you arrive, you’re greeted at the door by goggle-eyed colleagues all lasciviously recounting tales of the Phantom Public Pee-er striking yet again with his cleverly concealed urine spreader. Precious few.

So I feel like I’ve really lucked out in the lottery of life by finding myself landed with one.

Still, it’s better than shining Prince Harry’s boots on the streets of Baghdad I suppose or being one of Mohamed al-Fayed’s designated drivers.

Anyway, Captain Urine has struck yet again. Shock horror. Well, not so much “struck” as splashed and shook it about quite a bit. When approached by a member of staff he responded with logic so impeccable that I’d take my hat off to him if I was wearing one.

He needed a slash; the toilets were closed, so he relieved himself up the door.

Brave words. Fighting talk even. Into the valley of death, etc, etc.

But it will avail him not. The iron wheels of Local Authority bureaucracy are even now squeakily turning against him (powered by a one-armed monkey and a two-legged donkey)...

The police have been informed. Biometrics have been gathered. DNA has been swabbed. Keyboards have been keyed.

Due process has begun. The words “ban” and “ASBO” are being bandied about followed by “boot camp”, “public birching” and “Guantanamo Bay”. I can hear them knocking up a gallows beyond my office window even as I type. There will be no mercy.

So let this be a lesson to you all.

Don’t pee down my neck and tell me that it’s a gas gas gas...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Oh Lurcio!

Catherine TateI feel somewhat ambivalent about last night's episode of Doctor Who.

The Pyrovile rock monsters looked like rejects from the Transformers movie (maybe they thought the Tardis was the Allspark cube?) and sounded like a dodgy haemarroid cream. I also felt that Phil Davis - a terrific actor - was rather wasted as Lucius Petrus Dextrus (what, he can carry Chihuahuas in both hands?).

The 'limbs turning to stone' thing was rather ridiculous too. Phil Davis spent much of the episode running around like a vandalized one armed bandit. I was constantly waiting for the Doctor to score three cherries (but alas the Syballine Oracles weren't at all interested in his sonic screwdriver).

And yet the story overall did pack quite a bit of emotional punch. The history of Pompeii is well documented but still manages to move (unless you're as hard hearted as the Pyrovile of course) and the writers capitalized on this resonance by wisely focusing our attention on a select few of the town's inhabitants - making the sense of tragedy personal rather than general. The scene where Donna tries to rescue a small child from the panic before it is snatched away by its mother was superb. Very simple but it hit the target big time and Catherine Tate proved beyond all doubt that she is a superb actress in the harrowing scenes that followed.

I also liked the fact that Donna is acting as a "moral earth" to Tennant's Doctor - grounding him a little in the minutiae of existence rather than merely seeing the universe as a massive binary tapestry of what is and what is not meant to be. Their relationship is set to be far more rewarding for us viewers than the Doctor's previous travels with the lovelorn Martha Jones.

If only Donna could lose some of her Essex girl attitude when under life threatening stress... it is a little off putting to have her shout things like, "'Ere babe, no, leave it aht, wot you fink you're doin'?" etc when the proverbial is about to hit the fan. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit but I was half expecting her to whip out a white hand bag and pointy stilettos from beneath her amply bosomed toga.

The rine in Spine falls menly on the pline, anyone?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Brown Sugar

Sir Alan SugarFor the life of me I cannot work out why I find The Apprentice such compelling viewing. It’s not like I’m a fan of Sir Al. I don’t like the guy at all. He looks like a grumpy, grey gooseberry in an unfashionable suit. And it’s not like I’m fond of the job applicants / contestants either. To a man /woman they are the rummest bunch of self-selling underachievers I have ever encountered in my entire life. And I work for the local council, for God’s sake.

But maybe that is actually the appeal?

Despite my altruistic humanitarian demeanour I can still appreciate the pleasure that can be gleaned from watching two despised enemies thrashing it out to the death in a pit lined with spikes and flaming torches. I guess this explains the sadistic d├ęcor of Sir Alan’s much-feared boardroom...

Of course this gladiatorial imagery isn’t strictly accurate. There’s not much of a contest at the end of the day. Sir Al is the chief lion and the Sir Al lackey wannabe’s are the quivering, snivelling, unarmed Christians thrown into the bone and gore strewn sanctum of Sir Alan’s den to be chewed upon by his East End barrow-boy teeth. By the time they’ve had their boardroom roasting they’re practically sweating barbecue sauce anyway.

And they’re not exactly unarmed. They have very nice suits and haircuts and an unshakeable tragic-comic belief in their own (dis/in)abilities. And Heaven help them, they actually ASK for a good smiting. They literally set themselves up to be smashed into smithereens by Sir Al’s sharp as nails business acumen. The gimp who found himself “fired” in last night’s instalment was notable because the word “lose” didn’t apparently exist in his vocabulary.

No. Because I suspect very strongly it was forever on the lips of those around him. To say he couldn’t referee a football match between two peas is an understatement.

But none of them are particularly any better or any brighter. If these are the best business brains that this country has to offer it’s no wonder the UK is going to the dogs. And Sir Al is going to recruit one of these blundering business hippos to come and work for him?

If you’ve got shares in Amstrad I’d sell them now if I were you...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Homeopath's Guide To Drinking

Karen and I came up with a great way to combine the virtues of homeopathy with the many vices of drinking yesterday.

You take a pint of your favourite tipple – in Karen’s case, vodka – and then add just the tiniest, micro-droplet of orange juice or whatever healthy drink takes your fancy. Basically it’s the same science that lies behind products like Rescue Remedy and Mimulus.

Now your vodka will be imbued with all the goodness and nutritional excellence of orange juice in a way that will be disproportionately more effective than if you’d drunk a whole pint of orange juice on its own.

Absolutely fantastic!

Well... I think that’s the way you’re meant to do it anyway...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Belly's Gonna Get Yer

Catherine Tate's lovely bapsThe fourth series of RTD's Doctor Who hit our TV screens last night with something of a greasy splat... little blobby creatures made from the excess body fat of the clinically obese were running amuck in London. Well. Not running exactly. More like waddling very slowly and occasionally hyperventilating when they passed a chip shop.

The evil Miss Foster - deliciously played by Sarah Lancashire - had come up with the ultimate diet pill that literally made your fat "just walk away". So what's the problem, I hear you ask? Well. To maximise productivity of these little creatures - Adipose, as they were called (such a stupid name, they sound like a brand of trainers) - the unfortunate dieters were being reduced to nothing but a pile of oversized clothes. Britain's burgeoning obesity problems solved in one fell swoop you might think but no... by a marvellous script coincidence both the good Doctor and Donna Noble were attempting to put a stop to it.

Ta da! Welcome to the wacky world of the BBC's Doctor Who.

Actually, it was fairly entertaining stuff and although it didn't say anything intelligent about the UK's obesity problems and the worldwide obsession with quick-fix dieting I suppose the story could be seen as mildly satirical. It just didn't go anywhere with it. The Adipose themselves were a bit of a disappointment too. Way too cutesy by half. Little blocks of lard with arms and legs and, rather bizarrely, a single solitary tooth in their little Mr Men mouths. If the Pillsbury Dough-boy and the Michelin Man ever spent a night together in unholy bodily union, the Adipose would be the end result.

But at the end of the day the Adipose were a sideshow. The real focus of last night's episode was Donna Noble's promotion to Doctor Who's travelling companion number twenty-whatever...

So, how did she do? Was she a harridan? Was she a travesty?

I'm possibly going to break ranks with a great number of people when I say that no, I don't think she was. The girl did good. Sure there was the occasional nod to the "Catherine Tate comedy persona" - mouthing "Oh my God" through the window at the Doctor for example - but other than that she was reigned in by the script and her character was given more character and less caricature. And it worked. All at once she was less annoying than her Christmas special debut and became more of a sympathetic, well rounded, likeable character. And a strong character too.

It'll actually be nice to have a foil for the doctor who isn't mooning over him and sighing over his every twitch with the sonic screwdriver. Martha's moo-cow eyes last series were seriously starting to grate on my nellies. In fact as was said on Doctor Who Confidential afterwards: Donna Noble is a "grown up" whereas Rose and Martha were lovelorn teens / twenty-somethings. The Doctor has at last got an older woman on board the Tardis and it might just do him some good.

So dare I say it? A promising start to the fourth series! And Bernard Cribbins as Donna's grandfather played a blinder too.

Well phat.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Of Doorbells And Telephones

Batman answering the batphoneI’m sure that my irascibility this week has been caused by lack of sleep pure and simple but it’s curious to note that it has had some positive effects.

I’ve noticed that during any R&R time that I’ve managed to claw to myself over the last few days I’ve been more reluctant than usual to answer the doorbell or the telephone.

In fact “reluctant” is an understatement.

I’ve just refused outright to do it. And it’s felt absolutely great.

Not that I’m shutting out friends or neighbours you understand – I’m 99.9% positive that most of these would be intruders were cold callers, charity workers and salesmen. You can always tell. Usually I at least open the door and give them a polite no thanks but this week I’ve just ignored them completely – and taken great delight in the fact that the TV and any ambient household conversations were all perfectly audible.

On the occasion that the telephone has rung and I haven’t recognized the number I haven’t answered it. Sorry. Too bad. Not interested. Even if you are Keeley Hawes begging me for a pint, a curry and a tongue sarnie.

It feels wonderful to be free of the slavery to the ring tone.

I’ll communicate when I’m ready to, thanks.

And when I want new windows I’ll do my own research and make my own decision in my own free time.

Until then the drawbridge is pulled up and there are sharks in the moat. Attempt to cross at your peril.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Blurgh

5 hours sleep.

5 hours sleep.

And possibly that will be considered a good night at some not too distant point in the future.

Yes Tom’s sleep training has begun in earnest. He’s well recovered from his recent bout of gastro-nastiness and so Karen and I have decided that it’s high time we stopped pegging our eyes open with matchsticks and started getting a decent night’s sleep. We can’t go on as we are – lumbering about like one legged dinosaurs with absinthe hangovers. We’re lurching from one illness to the next due to the fact our batteries are not so much run down as slumped into a state of negative energy.

We need to sleep.

Enough’s enough.

And at nearly 6 months Tom is old enough now to go through the night. He just needs to be persuaded.

Sadly PowerPoint presentations leave him cold at the moment so all we can offer him is cold turkey. Last night he woke just after 11.00 – just as Karen and I were dropping off to sleep in fact – and then proceeded to howl and kick his cot like a miniature Hulk for a good 2 hours until exhaustion finally transported him to the state of beatific sleep.

No food is bad! Hulk smash! Oh alright then I’ll go to sleep. Zzzz...

He then slept through until 6.45am – a minor miracle in our house and then proceeded to chow down on his breakfast bottle like a good ‘un with not even a frown let alone a grudge. Ah bless him. So forgiving.

Karen and I estimate (possibly over optimistically) that it should take 2 weeks at the most to train him to sleep through the night. 2 weeks of sitting head heavy in the small hours of the night listening to our little marvel pitch his will against our own. 2 weeks of thinking that it might actually be worth our while booking a hotel room for the night or even flashing a police man just for a quiet night in the cells just to get some much needed sleep.

If I’m desperate I suppose I could always tie several rolls of plastecine to my waist and get myself held under the prevention of terrorism act. 28 days of howl free sleep sounds mighty fine to me. I could even cope with the plastic bag over my head and the greasy truncheon poked about my nether regions...

I’ll do whatever you want Mr Hunt, just let me sleep...!