Friday, July 31, 2009

Twitching The Nets

There’s been a double departure from out street this week.

Two sets of neighbours have vanished in the night leaving an assortment of detritus in their wake (an old mattress, a swivel chair and an assortment of mildewed shelving).

The first was the Polish family that lived in the counterpart to our semi and used to impinge upon our back garden privacy by staging volcanic barbecues every weekend and walk around in bollock revealing shorts whenever there was the slightest hint of sunshine.

I shall miss their loud arguments in Polish – the wife was particularly vocal – and their pigeon English as they tried to make small talk with us with the small change of their English vocab. But what I won’t miss is the door slamming, the stomping up the stairs, the late night hoovering or their eldest son who played the guitar so loud late one night that I was forced to go round and knock on his front door.

I didn’t get very far. His parents were out and with typical teenage nerve he tried to tell me that he didn’t even own a guitar and that the music was coming from a house about 20 yards away on the other side of the street... totally overlooking the fact that while he was stood at the door talking to me Mr Hendrix had mysteriously downed tools mid-lick. I wasn’t happy: after being on this planet for nearly 40 years, I’ve pretty much worked out how my hearing works and can divine where sounds are coming from and know when someone is trying to take the proverbial.

The damned temerity! I came away wishing I’d clipped him around the ear but the guitar playing didn’t start up again so I guess it was a victory of sorts. Young whippersnapper!

The other departure is even more welcome. The people whose Rottweiler has terrorized half the street for the last 2 years have finally gone taking with them Cujo (or whatever the dog’s name is), sundry ill fed rabbits and a particularly pernicious black and white cat that couldn’t deem a day done until it had shat on our lawn.

Our youngest, Tom, has (alas) inherited his father’s ability to wonder across an open field and step straight into the only instance of animal excrement for miles around and then carry it into the house in a compact little pat on the heel of his shoes. Suffice it to say, I shall not miss the cat at all.

The biggest relief though is the removal of the dog. Some of you will be aware of the worry and trouble that it has caused us and other neighbours by frequently escaping from its own garden and rampaging through ours and everybody else’s.

I am an animal lover but this dog was terrifying. Huge, bad tempered and slightly unhinged. Not what you want snarling around when you have young children who love nothing better than pottering about outside.

We last saw the dog last week. Again on the loose. Eyes wide with agitation. Bounding up and down the street and biting chunks out of the bumpers of passing vehicles.

The Poles (at a push) we shall miss. But as for the doggers...

Good riddance to ‘em.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shooting Yourself In The Foot

PeperamiIt’s official. Sun beds are as dangerous to one’s health as smoking or asbestos.

Or even smoking asbestos.

Pasty faced scientists all across Europe are unanimous. There is a definite link between the use of sun beds and skin cancer.

Doh.

Like this isn’t bleeding obvious.

I mean, let’s face it, a sun tan is nothing more than toasted skin. When you endeavor to acquire a sun tan you are effectively cooking yourself. This can never be a good thing. Never. Not in anyone’s book.

Well. Not unless that book belongs to the person who is in charge of the multimillion pound industry that thrives on the cheques and credit cards of the “desperate to be brown”.

There was a mini debate about it all on breakfast TV this morning.

In the white corner, fighting the good fight on behalf of all us “pale and interesting” folk was a pretty young blonde thing with perfect skin and the vital glow of good health. If she was a plant she would be a tender young succulent.

In the black corner, emitting no doubt the faint scent of eradiated carbon was the High Priestess of the Sun Beds Association. I won’t embarrass her by revealing her name. Suffice it to say that if the Government wants someone to appear on a warning poster advising people about the dangers of sun bed abuse this lady would be perfect. If she was a plant she would be a charcoal brick.

The words “wizened”, “desiccated” and “smoked kipper” came to mind. One overly dry gust of wind and she would have exploded into a pillar of salt.

After seeing her I didn’t need to hear the details about the scientific research.

I was totally convinced.

Factor 50 for me from now on.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Half Blood Prince

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore+++ SPOILER WARNING +++

So. The difficult 6th movie adapted from the difficult 6th book.

I took to the Harry Potter movies from the offset (yes, even with the occasionally irritating kiddy acting) but came to the novels late. In fact, up to the last movie (The Order Of The Phoenix) I’d staunchly avoided reading any of the books. I’d enjoyed the films so much I wanted my enjoyment of them to continue unalloyed and I didn’t want to join the miserable members of the “oh it wasn’t as good as the book” club.

However, the complete boxed set on Amazon last summer put paid to that and I ended up reading all 7 novels straight through in a matter of weeks.

So I went into this film fully armed with the gospel truth according to J. K Rowling and my membership card to the “oh it wasn’t as good as the book” club all ready to be stamped and issued.

And have I joined the whining members of that club?

No. I haven’t.

I will say this though: the movie isn’t as full as the book – but then that is inevitable. Movies can never be as full or as all encompassing as the books they are adapted from. And thank God for that, I say. It is a fact that should be embraced. Movies are a different beast entirely and should be / must be accepted as such.

They are a different discipline. A new thing entirely. They are a filter, not a mirror.

And David Yates, the director of The Half Blood Prince, has proved himself to be a very adept filter.

The Half Blood Prince is an odd book. Unlike the other novels there is no overriding mission or endeavour – the book focuses on relationships, on romance with the activities of Voldermort (via Draco Malfoy) very much on the back burner. The threat remains hidden until the last scenes when suddenly the whole world comes crashing down with the shocking violence of Dumbledore’s murder.

Yates builds up to this nicely in the film – there is plenty of humour and laughs but the darkness is never too far away. The duel between Potter and Malfoy is short, brutal and bloody. The horror and shock of it is well handled – as is Malfoy’s attack on Potter in the early stages of the film. And yet I felt that Yates pulled his punch with Dumbledore’s murder. I felt that, compared to the book, it had been sanitized. A little fluffed. Instead of the sickening lurch of Rowling’s prose (that isn’t a comment on her writing style) we got a tasteful floaty-fall from the highest tower reminiscent of Gandalf falling into the mine of Moria.

It’s just a small gripe and is part and parcel of the whole franchise being aimed at kids I suppose. Or maybe I’m just being too bloodthirsty?

The only other gripe I had was that Snape’s part of the story (which is rather essential) was downgraded far too much in the film. He should have had way much more screen time but I’m honestly not joining the “Oh it wasn’t as good as the blah blah blah” club, honestly I’m not.

‘Cos these gripes aside I thought the film was superb and well worth the wait. Jim Broadbent was perfect as Slughorn and the usual triumvirate of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were a joy. There is such subtlety to their performances now, especially Watson as Hermione, that their interlinked relationships carry the film without any apparent effort – they must look back at their performances in the earlier films and cringe. Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley stepped into the limelight as Harry’s love interest and exuded a strength and confidence which was a perfect foil to Radcliffe’s / Potter’s bumbling abashedness. She also should have been given much more screen time in my opinion.

It took me a while to get used to Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Richard Harris had such a warmth about him that Gambon seemed cold in comparison but he seems to have softened himself into the role over the last two films. In The Half Blood Prince Gambon IS Dumbledore and I found his performance poignant and sensitive. The failing health, the fading strength, the acceptance of his fate was all there in the way he moved – which is something I have never expected from Gambon before. Suddenly in The Half Blood Prince I notice him as an innately physical actor rather than just verbal.

So. The difficult 6th movie is a success. As good as the last film? Hmm. I’ll be honest and say perhaps not. To be fair, it never could be. The Half Blood Prince is a scene setter. The final moves before the end game begins. The antechamber to the great hall of the finale.

Yates has set the dominoes up nicely.

I’m packing my mixed metaphors into an old kit bag and booking my seat on the front row right now.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Unfit For Purpose

The entire family is on holiday this week.

And when I say "holiday" I of course mean that we are being groovy fashionable young things and having a staycation... basing ourselves at home and having various day trips to places that are neither distant nor expensive. While the rich might be lapping up the ambrosia of St Moritz or Cannes we are slurping away quite happily on the custard of Great Malvern and the Birmingham Sea Life Centre.

The kids are happy. Karen is happy. And the bank account is sighing with relief.

I, however, am gasping with unfitness.

We took the kids up the Malvern Hills yesterday - well, one peak of them at any rate: the British Camp which, if you follow the link, you will see is an Iron Age Hill Fort rather than a shrine to Kenneth Williams.

Karen, Ben and I are expert hillwalkers. Tom, at little over 21 months, is not. So I carried him up in a specially designed kiddy backpack.

I'm sure he felt like Hannibal marshalling a very truculent, wheezy elephant up a moderate foothill.

I cannot believe how unfit I have become.

Now Tom is a solid lad but he's hardly Geoff Capes. Yet I felt like I was about to expire. My shoulder muscles seemed to be tearing apart down the centre of my back. My head felt like it was being pushed off the base of my spine and my forehead felt tighter than Gordon Brown's chocolate starfish.

It was painful. Very painful.

But I persevered. I made the noble sacrifice because Tom was loving every single moment of it. You could hear in his voice the wonder of so this is what you guys can see from up here! The backpack places him at head height you see so he was able to fiddle about with my hair and poke his fingers into my lugholes as I climbed. I suspect he was trying to steer me.

Anyway, once I'd confessed my agony to Karen she made a few adjustments to the backpack and the pain lessened a little. So maybe it was not all down to my lack of fitness but instead my hamfisted usage of what is essentially a very easy to use device? I bloody hope so.

I'd hate to think I was that out of shape.

My assumed immortality has been rather shaken as a consequence. Could it be that I am getting old? Should I be on the search for a nice bit of pasture?

I thought 40 (which I become next month) was supposed to be the new 30?

Not the old 60?

Gulp!


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Happy Endings

My graduation from Warwick University 2009Friday was an odd day.

But for once the oddness was a good oddness.

Friday afternoon saw me and my lovely wife attending my graduation ceremony at Warwick University. For those of you that missed it, I achieved a 2:1 Hons degree in English And Cultural Studies, a degree that has taken me about 15 years to achieve (as I took 5 years off half way through).

Before I started the degree (back in '92) I'd already been visiting the University for a couple of years taking various Open Studies courses - so my association with the University has been a long and edifying one.

And I shall miss it.

This didn't really hit me until the ceremony was underway. I must admit I hadn't felt that excited about the ceremony at all. Karen was in far more of a tizz about it than me... but once I was there, once I had my gown and cap on and was seated amongst all the other similarly garbed graduates (or graduands) it finally hit home. I felt both relief that it was all over and sadness that it was all over.

The ceremony was amazing. The University put on quite a lavish affair. We had the University Choiresters and Musicians to entertain us and everything proceeded with a precision that was breathtaking. The University has been doing this sort of thing for 50 years so it should be well used to it by now I guess.

I remember very little about going up to collect my certificate - it all happened very fast - a good shove from a steward (given to all the students) sent me on my way and then it was a brief blur of lights, faces, handshakes, the certificate in my hand and then a dazed walk back to my seat.

I felt very flushed and very proud.

And discovered a burning desire to do an MA.

However, this will have to wait for at least 3 years. We just can't afford it right now. Maybe once Tom has started school things will be easier financially... until then my academic dreams are placed on hold.

Talking of finances though... the other bit of news I had on Friday was that finally finally the money from my aunt's estate has been paid out. I should be receiving a cheque early next week.

I'm not going to be crass and say how much - suffice it to say it's enough to pay off our debts (barring the mortgage), purchase a desperately needed garden fence, a new fridge freezer as our old one is on its last legs and maybe a little treat for the kids. The rest we shall save - a nice little nest egg that, God willing, will see us through the next three years of these uncertain times. We're still experiencing a financial shortfall so this safety net is invaluable. Hopefully, by being frugal, we shall still have a good portion of this windfall left when the good times begin to roll in again.

I hope so anyway.

At the moment it's just nice to have all the anxiety and worry brought to an end.

I feel like I can breathe again.

(Photography courtesy of Karen.)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Mechanics Of Profanity

I perform a daily external patrol around my place of work pretty much as soon as I arrive on site each morning, armed not with a telescopic baton, pepper spray or a taser but with a bin bag and the keys to the bin store.

You see, I’m not on the lookout for armed blaggers or tooled up psychopaths but for litter louts and damned defacers. Or rather, I’m on the lookout for their multifarious droppings.

This is just one of the many uplifting and status elevating jobs that I perform regularly for my employers.

On a good morning my rounds will net nothing more than a couple of empty cans of Special Brew and an empty cigarette packet (usually Marlboro). Though on occasion these items are augmented inextricably by the presence of a pair of ladies shoes, the cellophane wrapping from an Asda T-shirt (which will be missing – presumably on the purchaser’s / shoplifter’s back) and an odd collection of serviettes still folded up into neat little squares.

Plainly the drunks and tramps around the Leamington Spa area have standards. Not necessarily high standards but standards none the less.

On a bad morning I will encounter what is known in the trade as “a man turd”.

Now, this is not to be confused with a dog turd.

A dog turd is bad enough. I don’t need to describe one to you because you’ve all seen one / walked through one. They’re disgusting and unwelcome in the extreme but have one small positive; one saving grace. The odour of a dog turd (unless stepped into and thus reactivated) is relatively short-lived. A quick slide action with a shovel and they can quite successfully be scraped up off the ground and catapulted into nearby undergrowth without too much post-contact shovel cleaning required. If you’re really lucky the turd will already have turned quite crusty and will barely have left a mark on your spade of choice. Job done (no pun intended, etc).

None of this is ever true of a man turd.

Now, you can tell a man turd by the size and smell.

They smell bad.

And they smell bad forever.

So bad in fact that even a passing hyena would gag.

And they take a hell of a long time to go crusty. In fact they retain a Christmas cake moistness of such magnitude that they may one day be identified as reliable sources of H2O in a post atomic holocaust world.

If you’re lucky the “bricklayer” will possess a healthy digestive system and will deposit a single neat sausage that can be scraped up quite cleanly and lobbed somewhere out of sight and out of mind. If you’re unlucky, however, the owner will have the digestive system of a cat on high strength worming tablets and will leave matter that can be variously described as “a broken muffin”, “a Spanish omelette” or, worst of all, “a walnut whip”.

And such matter will defy any and every attempt at efficient shovelling. In fact using a shovel is just a big no-no. You’ll just get the offending matter spread over a wider surface area and the shovel itself will be transformed into a chemical weapon so effective it would make a muck-spreader vomit.

What is needed is an industrial strength hose and a bio-suit.

I was faced with one of these this morning.

Now, I’ve become something of a stoic when confronted with these still-warm examples of ethno-botany but a couple of niggling questions always buzz around the back of my head (like the flies) every time I encounter one.

The mechanics of producing such an offering... I mean, how exactly does someone go about it?

The pulling down (or up) of clothing and the squatting down I can just about envision (though try not to)... but... cleaning yourself up afterwards...? What happens there, eh?

Do these people come pre-prepared with toilet paper or freshly bought copies of The Big Issue? If they do this suggests something premeditated about their whole activity and therefore a sickness of the mind.

Or are such droppings evidence of people genuinely caught short... a case of the poo-train is coming and the brakes they ain’t a-working?

What happens then? Surely you don’t just pull up your kecks and walk daintily home, ignoring the uncomfortable localized heat and the feeling of greasy skid marks working themselves deeper into the gusset of your Y-fronts?

You must surely make some attempt to clean yourself up, to scrape off the worst?

But with what or on what?

Nearby foliage? The wall of a building? The pavement itself?

A sleeping tramp?

My mind boggles.

Answers on a piece of toilet paper to the usual address please...


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Super Tasters

Lord knows I was a fussy eater as a child.

And on top of this I had the misfortune to be born to parents who valued highly the nutritional and flavoursome attributes of cabbage. I kid you not. We got it on average three times a week though sometimes the cabbage marathon was spiced up with a hefty dose of cauliflower.

I loathed it. The cauli I could just about cope with but the cabbage made me gag. It was too stalky. And even the fleshy parts were like biting into small tiles of semi opaque plastic. Gravy did not help. In fact gravy – of the granulated kind – made it worse. Now the cabbage was coated with a grainy liquid that made it catch on the back of your throat whenever you tried to swallow it.

I inevitably left as much as I could on the side of my plate. In fact I became very cunning at disguising the sheer amount of cabbage that I could leave at one sitting. I devised a technique whereby an entire quarter of cabbage could be hidden beneath a single leaf which in turn was partially hidden by a carefully arranged knife and fork.

Alas, it fooled nobody and I was regularly nagged by my parents to eat it – you’ll never grow big and strong (they were right), starving people in Africa would count themselves lucky to have such food put in front of them (they’re welcome to it) and – from my granddad – it’ll put hairs on your chest (puberty did that anyway).

Now as an adult, whilst not inclined to jump for joy when faced with a portion of cabbage, I am able to eat it and even half enjoy it. I made my peace with cauliflower long ago and now rather like it. I’ve even been known to welcome a floret or two of broccoli.

You see, taste changes with age.

At least that’s what I’m hoping.

Our eldest, Ben, is giving us cause for concern at the moment as he is barely eating anything. Getting any kind of veg inside him is a labour of Hercules. Even the veg that I loved as a fussy kid – peas, sweet corn and carrots – he turns his nose up at. Now this in itself is normal. Kids traditionally do not like vegetables and, as recounted above, my own Cabbage Wars, have impressed themselves indelibly onto my memory.

But that didn’t mean I didn’t have a good appetite as a kid. Shove a plate of egg and chips in front of me and I’d wolf the lot down in a split second. Even a huge Sunday lunch found itself thrown down the back of my throat (except for the cabbage) and dropped into a bottomless pit once a week. My appetite was good; I was just fussy about the type of food I ate.

Ben is different. His appetite is worryingly small sometimes. Not just with vegetables but even with food he professes to like. Pizza and garlic bread picked at like it’s diseased. Spag bol – his one time favourite and one time guarantor of a cleaned plate – is now out of favour. Even food that all kids traditionally love – egg, chips, fish fingers, sausages, etc – are all sneered at and only eaten under duress.

It’s exhausting.

And worrying.

Yesterday he hardly ate anything at all in terms of proper food. Nutrition bars and crisps – no problem. Sandwiches for lunch and pizza for tea barely touched.

“Tin ribs” hardly covers it. Literally.

So what to do?

Persist with the nagging? I know for a fact my parents eventually gave up and just lived with the abandoned cabbage mountains that regularly propped up my knife and fork.

Starve him until he’s so hungry that he’ll eat anything and be grateful for it? A friend of ours did that and it worked. But only for a while.

Give in and just let him eat gack until his taste buds finally mature? Plainly this is not a sensible option.

Serve him cabbage daily so he can see how much worse it could be and how lucky he actually is?

Tempting.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Fire

Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper+++ APOLOGIES +++ MINORITY INTEREST POST +++

So. Torchwood.

The Doctor Who spin-off returned for a third outing last week in a lavish new 5 part story that was broadcast every day, Monday through to Friday.

I was, I admit, dubious.

Series one and two of Torchwood were disappointing. Like a chocolate cake that just wasn’t quite chocolaty enough (the diet coke of sci-fi). Good ideas were there – but were spread to thin. The acting was good but the scripts were frequently weak. The stories built up nicely and then were abruptly deflated as Russell T Davies pulled yet another lame solution out of an all too convenient hat.

Deus ex machina done as cliché.

It was too lightweight. Which was a shame as Torchwood had promised much in the early days. Something meaty. Something more adult than the family oriented Doctor Who… but it seemed to fall at the second fence.

In various interviews writer Russell T has admitted he had neither the time nor the ideas to fully realize series two. It showed. The series was patchy and frustrating. So often nearly there… but never quite.

And here they were for series 3 – promoted to BBC1 no less. Somebody high up at the Beeb obviously had faith in them.

In my opinion that faith was at last validated.

Torchwood: Children Of Earth was as close to a sci-fi masterpiece as I’ve seen on terrestrial telly for a long time. Fantastic script, a plot that set the nerves jangling and disturbed the emotions and a proper gut wrenching finale that, while inevitable, left you gasping. It was harsh. Very harsh. But a good harsh.

I’m not going to spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t yet seen it yet (I’m aware that Torchwood makes it out to the US and NZ among other places) but the storyline dealt with some very difficult subject matter. Parenthood, our children and our desire (and our failure) to protect them. Self serving politicians. Child abuse. The rich / poor class divide. Bigotry… and for once Russell T didn’t pull his punches. He followed the dark path to it’s horrible conclusion rather than bottling out at the eleventh hour. It wasn’t pretty.

But it was truthful.

One particular scene where UK politicians decide the grisly fate of millions of children reminded me of the meeting the Nazi’s had to formulate their “final solution”. An entirely deliberate reference point, I’m sure, and of course it added a ring of truth to the entire premise: such a meeting taking place wouldn’t be that outlandish. It’s happened before. In living memory. Civilization is a very thin veneer plastered over a bubbling magma of waiting anarchy.

And as history shows it doesn’t take a lot to puncture the crust.

It made for uncomfortable viewing. Maybe having children myself over-sensitized me? But the idea of the state not just interfering with my children but claiming ownership of them for its own ends really upset me. Again Russell T was tapping into very real, very relevent fears – how much personal autonomy can anyone really have in a nanny state that is always looking over our shoulders for our own good? Who does the family unit really belong to? How far would you go to protect your kids? What if following the parental instinct to protect your kids at all costs became treasonous?

Dark, dark ideas. Which is exactly what I want from sci-fi. It should be far fetched, futuristic, in turns utopic and dystopic. But most of all it should be relevent to the here and now.

It is interesting to note that John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) was not at all enamoured of the decision to reduce Torchwood to a single five-parter. He’s been very public in announcing his displeasure, feeling that the show has been punished in some way, deliberately constrained.

Well I can recall a tutor of mine telling me that true creativity comes out of constraint, out of limitation. It is a good thing. It should be embraced.

I think Torchwood series three is the proof of the pudding. Rather than a run-of-the-mill 12 part series that misses as much as it hits, we had An Event. We had something that has sadly disappeared with the advent of cable TV and iPlayers and “watch whenever you want to” telly. We had something that millions of people watched at the same time and talked about the next day in anticipation of the next part. It was a good move by the BBC. A clever move. It reminded me of the time in the mid eighties when ITV lost the rights to broadcast the Olympics and so instead bought a US mini series called “V”. It was a ratings success. Everybody sick of the wall-to-wall Olympic coverage on the BBC tuned in to it. Everybody tuned in together. It became an event.

I don’t know where Torchwood will go after this. My hope is that we will see more five parters like this. I’d rather see five lavish, top notch, intelligent, adult episodes per year than a 12 episode series that constantly flounders beneath its own padding.

Last week Torchwood finally delivered.

First class.

I’d like to place another order please.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Battleships

Swine fluSo it’s now officially a pandemic. Though not many people in the media are as yet using that terminology. All to spare us the degrading activity of panicking en masse I suppose.

Swine flu arrived on these shores with a great furore and hoo-hah and then almost immediately blended into the wallpaper as The Great Expenses Debate peppered the MPs in the Houses of Parliament with their own richly scented excrement.

We didn’t exactly forget about it. We just didn’t want to deal with it. Not really. We’ll deal with it later, we thought. When we actually get it or when someone we know gets it.

And like a game of battleships the shells have landed ever closer and closer and now we’re all starting to get a little bit soaked by the resultant spray.

Apparently the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6. Not sure how many phases there are to go but it sounds very worrying. The number of flu related deaths has also increased. 14 so far in the UK according to one report.

People reactions to it have been bi-polar to say the least. On the one hand you’ve got people who have recovered from it shrugging their shoulders and saying it was no worse than normal flu and on the other you have people like the receptionists at my doctor’s surgery who, during a visit my wife made there last week, barred entry to a man who was panicking because he’d merely been on an airplane with someone who had swine flu. They actually kept him standing on the doorstep rather than allow him to come inside.

Despite all the information flying around the situation remains confusing. And confusion breeds fear far more effectively than keeping people well informed.

For my part – currently struggling with a sore throat, headache and a gummy ear – I’m not too bothered. I have no idea whether I’m coming down with a normal cold or the big SF and don’t care. A couple of days in bed sounds effing great. I’m otherwise fit, healthy and well nourished and am confident I will fight it off should it get me.

But my kids I do worry about. Ben especially is at risk due to his asthma. And Tom is barely 21 months old and has been hammered by every cold going since starting at nursery a year ago.

And still the water plumes rise ever closer...

It’s tricky. Do you wish to get it over with quickly or try to keep yourself disease free for as long as possible? Do you pray to get it now while the vaccine is still available and the doctor’s workload isn’t too great... or do you leave it until the whole country has come to a standstill and there are looters carrying off the latest iPods from Currys?

I guess it’s elementary. There is no choice. It’s fate. The will of God. Luck. Whatever.

You certainly don’t invite all your friends’ kids round for a “flu party” as some parents have been doing according to newspaper reports earlier in the week.

It’s one thing to have your battleship holed by a stray shell. Another to sink it yourself with your own guns.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Not Getting Any

A report on BBC News24 had me choking on my freshly dunked bourbon biscuit this morning. It seems that scientists in Newcastle have successfully bio-engineered their own sperm.

And by their own sperm I don’t mean, like, you know, their own sperm – cos, let’s face it, every bloke I know (with the possible exception of Michael Jackson) bio-engineers their own sperm on a regular day to day basis. It kind of comes naturally. Sorry. No pun intended.

No, these guys have bio-mechanically engineered a whole bunch (gaggle? shoal? flock?) of spermatazoa in a laboratory – possibly in a petri dish, possibly in a test-tube, certainly not in a tissue – from human stem cells.

Now, I know I’m being glib and flippant in my approach to this and I know that the impetus for this research is to help men with low sperm counts bestow the bounteous joy of children upon their female partners but my first thought was: are these scientists utterly mad? They are making men’s role in the procreation of the species totally totally redundant.

Yeah. I know. Some females among you will (quite rightly perhaps) say that we men have been a negligible ingredient in this endeavour for years. Let’s face it a dirty mag, a willing donor and a turkey baster is all a woman really needs to get a bun in her oven.

But where’s the fun in that – for anybody?

You see, my fear is that any kind of scientific research – no matter the honourable motivations that lie behind it – can ultimately be abused and used to the detriment of our species. And in fact probably will be.

I’m amazed this didn’t occur to the research scientists. I mean they have literally rendered the existence of men (except maybe for plumbers) completely unnecessary. Why would they willingly do this?

My theory is that the scientists involved are highly geeky and have never had and never will have girlfriends. They are being motivated by disenchantment and “rejection anger”. Because they are not getting any they’re going to see to it that the whole concept of any is totally removed from the equation of ongoing human life on this planet.

Now some of you women might shrug and say so what, who cares? But the heterosexual woman among you need to bear one thing in mind. If us straight men aren’t getting any. You’re not getting any either.

It’s time to resurrect the Luddites! It’s time to smash the machinery! Before our own machinery de-evolves into redundant protuberances of skin and tissue matter (like the appendix) through lack of use...


Monday, July 06, 2009

Ring My Ding-a-ling-a-ling

Today has been a strange day.

I was off sick Thursday and Friday and returned to work today, brave soldier that I am, only partially recovered but prepared to stand and face the bullets of the French or the Germans or whoever it is we don’t like as a nation anymore.

And instead found something worse than bullets.

My desk was full of notes and messages – hastily scrawled missives from colleagues and work-mates who in my absence did their best to stem the inevitable flow of entropy and dissolution which is my daily bread and butter.

(Should any of you find yourself in Hell in the afterlife I guarantee you’ll find the entire place plastered with post-it notes...)

Among the lists of malfunctioning equipment and diabolical break-downery that hurt my brain this morning was a plea to recover a ring from one of our sinks. It seems some poor woman – let’s call her Joanna Public – managed to dislodge a bit of bling while scrubbing her dannies yesterday and was most eager to have it recovered if at all possible.

Well, I am always eager to perform acts of possibility and so set to work with a screwdriver and little else (though possibly a modicum of goodwill) and managed to remove the trap from beneath the sink that catches all solid matter – or indeed any matter that just happens to be heavier than the water that has washed it down there in the first place.

It wasn’t a pleasant job. The water was black and thick. Mucoid, if there is such a word (my spellchecker is questioning it with an angry red underline). It looked like Sigourney Weaver’s stomach lining after she’d been impregnated with one of them Alien thingies.

And yes I made the age old mistake of pouring the contents down the very sink I’d just removed the trap from so that the water splashed straight down to the floor. Doh!

But I did recover the ring.

Which upon closer inspection was disappointing. I was expecting gold. I was expecting silver. I was expecting a sparkly stone the size of Jeremy Clarkson’s chin.

Instead I got a rather dowdy looking blackened band of indeterminate metal with a dull, very opaque green stone set into the middle of it.

My first thought was: Christ, I hope it wasn’t the water in the trap that did that. But, upon further examination, I suspect it may have been the ring that did that to the water. However, there is no accounting for taste and I am sure the sentimental value of the ring completely outweighs any snobbery I may harbour towards its true monetary value.

Well, it had better. I’d hate to think I’d swilled my fingers through watery vomit for something that fell out of a Christmas cracker alongside a plastic comb and a tiny plastic spinning top that refuses to spin.

Oh what do I care, really? The job was done and I was just glad to be able to ring (ha ha) Joanna Public up and say that I had saved her ring from a fate worse than missing. It isn’t something I get to say very often, after all, and I made sure I relished the opportunity.

A happy ending.

Unlike the hours I then spent reviewing our CCTV footage to catch two middle aged women setting fire to a bin bag dumped outside the building last night for no other reason that it appeared to amuse them.

The resultant fire wasn’t huge and thankfully a staff member happened to spot the blaze and douse it with a good old fashioned bucket of H2O.

I have then spent the rest of the day wading through conversations with police, staff and alarm engineers who have all given me the distinct impression that I am pouring black, vomity water down a sink without a trap onto my own feet once more...

With no ring this time – dud or precious – to make the activity seem at all worthwhile...

*sigh*

Where’s Frodo Baggins when you need him, eh?


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Too Cute For Words (But I’m Gonna Try)

+++ WARNING +++ PARENTING POST +++ WARNING +++

Tom was sick the other morning. Not a sign of illness of bad food, thank God, just a cough that dug a little too deep. A cough with follow through, if you like.

This occasioned not only a change of bed sheets and jim-jams but also necessitated a ride in the washing machine for “Teddy” and “Snow Bear”, Tom’s utterly devoted sleeping companions.

Now, Tom already loves the washing machine and likes nothing better than to help me load it up ready for a wash. However, given that Tom’s bed mates were going to be subjected to the wash and spin cycle we decided it might be a little traumatic for Tom to condemn his friends to such an ordeal and so snuck the toys in while he was preoccupied with CBeebies.

There was no fooling Tom. As soon as the washing machine kicked into life Tom rushed over to it and stared into its portal window with a look of consternation. There, deep within its foamy innards, Teddy and Snow Bear could be seen sloshing about barely (sorry!) keeping their heads above the torrential suds.

Tom’s hand went to his mouth. His other hand pointed to the washing machine and a loud, sympathetic “aaah” could be heard.

Tom checked on their progress regularly throughout the morning. As soon as the washing machine reached its conclusion and became silent and still Tom was canny enough to wait for the door to unlock itself before he burst into action. Quick as a Flash (sorry again!) he opened up the door and fished his bedraggled friends out.

They were each given a big hug and a kiss and were then carried lovingly to the sofa where they were lain down side by side on the cushions. Tom put his fingers to his lips and told them “shhh”; a clear indication that he felt that a little sleep was all they needed to put their soapy ordeal well behind them.

Altogether now: aah!

I would now like to start a campaign to change the current Oxford Dictionary definition of “cute” to the post above. All Blogger support appreciated.