Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year Non Resolutions

It is traditional at this time of year to come out with a list of resolutions. And over the last couple of days, surveying the blogging landscape from the crystal blue carapace of my blog-mobile, I have discovered some admirable lists. Lists of authentic resolutions from those bloggers not yet bowed down with cynicism that aspire to make the world a better place. Lists of tongue-in-cheek resolutions from those bloggers who know from bitter experience that even the easiest resolution will fall by the wayside by mid January. And then there are the cheating resolutions - or the "realistic" resolutions - lists of activities that you're going to do anyway, i.e. eat more chocolate, get to work late, skive longer lunch breaks, look at more internet porn sites.

Yeah, yeah, I've read them all.

And they're good.

But I want to do something different.

I want to compile a list of non resolutions. Things that I am definitely NOT going to do this year.

so... for your delectation then:

1) I am not going to try and forge world peace this year. It is pointless. Our politicians are too stupid and like the smell of their own duodenums too much to ever remove their heads from their butt-cracks to actually listen. Also, as a species, we are too given to rash acts of hatred and violence. World peace ain't never gonna happen, folks, until we evolve as a species. Or until aliens appear. 'Cos I guarantee nothing will unite human beings more regardless of skin colour than some bug-eyed, grey lipped, three-legged tripod from Mars stomping all over the car park at Lidl.

2) I am not going to win the Lottery. I know I'm not. It's pointless playing. But I am not going to stop. Because I am too weak, everybody else at work plays it and I don't want to be the only one stuck in the office one Monday morning because those other bastards have scooped the big one and are airing their fluffy bikini lines on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.

3) I am not going to take up more exercise or eat healthier. I already eat pretty healthy and if my chocolate intake is perhaps a little too high for some collagen lipped quack in Heat magazine, tough titty. I don't do drugs, I don't do gambling, I don't do football. I'm entitled to a vice and as vices go chocolate is pretty damned mild.

4) I am not going to get myself out of debt. I'm just not. Until Tom starts school Karen and I are accepting of the fact that money is going to be tight if not non-existent. The best I can do is try to manage my credit cards wisely so that they keep me afloat as opposed to burying me. Is credit bad? Is credit evil? Yes. Bet your ass. But it's necessary. My deal with the devil is personal - stay out of it.

5) I am not going to stop writing. Not this blog and not my novel. I don't care how many knock-backs I get, how many rejections, I'm going to keep going. On and on. Like an eighties washing machine. There ain't no stopping. I'm here for the long haul. If any of you readers want to bail out, now's the time. See ya. Been nice and all that. Do send me a postcard from Lack-of-imagination-land. I shall stick it on my fridge and laugh when I hit the big time.

6) I am not going to compile a traditional list of 10 items. That's how mad I am. I'm crazy. I'm zany. I'm whack. Live with it. Come and get me New Year. I'm here waiting. The boxing gloves are off. Queensbury rules are for wussies.

7) I am not going to not wish you all a Happy New Year. Happy New Year. There. Done it. Give me some skin, dudes. The only way is onwards.




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Monday, December 27, 2010

Victory Over Christmas

It's not like I have been deliberately at war with Christmas. Far from it. I didn't go out of my way to pick a fight or irritate it. I didn't shag its girlfriend behind its back or fence its entire DVD collection to buy drugs.

But the previous 2 Christmases have been fraught to say the least. Difficult. Compromised.

The first Christmas Tom had his MMR vaccination and the good nurse managed to time his appointment so that he had a reaction to it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He was grouchy and grotty and we got very little sleep. Christmas Day 2008 was, therefore, an effort and exhausting. Frustrating even. Then Christmas Day 2009 Tom came down with some horrible gastro-bug which affected us all in one way or another and kept him restless during Christmas Eve night so that we spent much of Christmas Day dragging ourselves around like zombies... frustrating yet again.

I actually got to the point where I wondered if we would ever experience an illness free Christmas. I felt - in the dark corner of my mind where ridiculous thoughts are wont to multiply - that we'd been somehow cursed. Bad Christmas ju-ju. A Santa hex.

So I approached this Christmas with an understandable amount of caution. Especially given Karen's recent hospitalization and all the bugs and noroviruses doing the rounds at the moment. I mean we've even got bloody swine flu at the local hospital. Talk about being under siege.

But.

It's been OK. It's been fine. I think Christmas and I may have made up (though I'm saying this quietly in case it changes its mind). It liked the aftershave I got it and, well, I made a complimentary comment about the socks it had bought me. Tom's been fine. Ben's been fine. Karen and I have been shattered but that's pretty much normal.

The house is awash with DVDs, books, Lego and a Kindle which some fabulous husband bought for his good-lady-wife this year. What it hasn't been awash with is poo or vomit or copious amounts of mucus.

And please, please, please, long may that continue. 'Cos if you're listening, Christmas, it's like John Lennon once sang: war is over.

Here's to a peaceful and healthy New Year.



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Friday, December 24, 2010

A Silly Christmas Wish

Nan and BampapIf you could go back in time which period would you choose?

It’s a pub question really. I’ve been asked it many times in my life and it’s always sparked off pleasant debate between friends.

In the past I think I’ve come up with all the obvious answers: Bethlehem around 0 AD, Avalon sometime in the Dark Ages, a safe distance from Pompeii in 79 AD... I’m sure we could all pick a historical time-frame that interests us on a personal level.

Since the death of my grandfather last Christmas – the last of my much loved grandparents – more and more I have found myself wishing I could leap back in time a far more modest amount of years. I find I am drawn far more than I used to be to World War II documentaries on television. Not out of any vicarious battle lust or schoolboy interest in fighter planes and war ships... but because the period is vividly associated in my mind with my Nan and Bampap (as we called them). It was a time when they were young adults and although they’d known each other a long time at this point their romance was only in its infancy.

I have old photographs of them taken in the 1940’s. They look both like and unlike the Nan and Bampap that I came to know and love after my birth in 1969. I find myself wondering what kind of people they were at this early and traumatic period in their lives. The world at war. Their hearts full of thoughts and hopes for themselves and their families – families I was 30 years away from being part of.

I would like to look upon them in colour – rather than the old black and white / sepia prints that I have in my possession. Would I speak to them? I don’t know. What could I say? Tell them I love them; who I am? I think in reality that would be impossible to do. So bittersweet. Sometimes I imagine myself catching up with my granddad during the war... pulling him to the ground as bullets strafe overhead; giving him a knowing look as he thanked me. A silly and embarrassing fantasy.

And then I would like to come forward in time a little bit. To Christmas sometime in the mid to late 70’s. Back when I was a kid and me and my 2 sisters, my mum and my dad would spend every Christmas and Boxing Day at my Nan’s house immersed in the effortlessly warm and joyous festivities that they seemed to weave around them every year. They were a big part of my childhood and teen Christmases. Inseparable in fact. I cannot approach a Christmas now without thinking of them and remembering all those Christmases gone by.

I wish I could see them again during this time. See myself with them. See myself with my whole family all around me. I would like to whisper invisibly into my own young ear... “Cherish this, cherish this...”

This Christmas, in lieu of travelling back through time, I shall take a few moments during the mad Christmas hubbub to sit quietly with my wife and my boys and I shall cherish it with all my heart.

I do hope you all do the same with those closest to you.

Have a very merry Christmas. I wish you all the very best for 2011. Thank you all for reading this year.



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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You Scumbag, You Maggot, You Cheap Lousy Faggot

I’ll admit I’ve bashed the UK postal service somewhat on this blog over the last couple of weeks or so. I’ve accused them – though in not so many words – of being wussies in the face of a bit of snow and ice.

Then I heard from a colleague that their recent no-show-in-the-snow on Saturday was due to the fact that 3 postmen had managed to break their legs in the icy conditions. I felt, I admit, a small twinge of guilt for my hard heartedness. This colleague went on to say that the rest of the post office work force had then been sent home by their managers and informed they would receive no pay for that day.

Outrageous! The last thing anybody wants is to be a day’s pay down right before Christmas. Surely there was sorting that could be done at the office? Rounds prepped ready for Monday? The PO management are clearly heartless penny-pinching maggots thought I.

And then to top it all, all but one of my missing parcels arrived yesterday. The PO had redeemed itself. I felt a feeling of peace and goodwill pass through me. All’s well that ends well. There had been an unwarranted delay but they’d delivered the goods in the end. We’ll say no more about it. I may even throw a frozen mince pie at our postie next time I see him.

But this morning they can kiss my arse. The mince pie is going back in the box.

I sent my parents a Christmas card through the post. A normal one. Bought from a shop. I posted it over 10 days ago with a first class stamp.

Not only has it only just arrived but the buggers reckoned there was insufficient postage on it. It needed another 10p. My parents had to battle through the snow in Rotherham to collect it. And then had to pay £1.10p to have it put into their possession. The extra £1 was a “handling fee”.

Excuse me?! Am I missing something here, Royal Mail? I paid for a 1st class delivery service that I didn’t get; you – as far as I can see – mishandled my card to the extent where next day delivery was transmuted into next week delivery; the card was possibly handled less than it normally would and merely languished in a warehouse somewhere while you warmed your fingerless mittens over a brazier. And then you charge my parents £1.10 for the privilege of being the recipients of your defective pathetically lax service?

Sod you, Royal Mail! You’re a bunch of money-grabbing overly officious cock-monkeys!

Merry Christmas my arse!



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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Pygmy Postmen Of Leamington Spa

Poor little blighters. It’s the weather, you see? It’s done them in. Finished them off. They’ve all gorn an’ bought it... Gone up to that little miniature world in the sky.

They were the Midland’s best kept secret. One of Leamington’s rarest breed of fauna. So rare, in fact, that I doubt that even the great David Attenborough has ever seen one, though if he ever tried to frank a letter in the main Leamington Spa Post Office he may have inadvertently stepped on one. They make a small squishing noise not unlike stepping on a Stag Beetle. Though unlike stepping on a Stag Beetle you don’t then get ear-ache from all the Stag Beetle’s mates effing and blinding at you for your carelessness.

I am of course talking about the Pygmy Postman. And while I’m at it I better throw into the mix the Tiny Taxi Driver and the Borrower Bus Driver too. ‘Cos they’ve all been affected. They all of them, to a miniature man, disappeared inexplicably from Leamington’s streets on Saturday morning.

It began with the snow. And I suspected it ended with the snow too. You see we had 3.5 inches of snow fall in Leamington Spa on Saturday. And, as I am sure you are all aware, the Pygmy Postman and his related species are only 3 inches tall.

Well, I mean, you do the maths.

I suspect the poor little buggers were swamped within the first couple of hours. Snowdrifts up to the kerbs and, in some places, clean over them! They were never going to cope. Not even with their boots borrowed from Action Man. The Bus Drivers are no doubt lying frozen solid under a garden hedge somewhere; their buses lying empty and echoing to the sound of non-existent commuters who were unable to get into town that day because of the positively Antarctic conditions that ravaged this little Spa town that I call home. The Tiny Taxi drivers I have more hope for as I suspect they are all merely snowed in to their local pub and dare not jump down from the doorstep lest they find themselves in need of a St. Bernard puppy to dig them out. No doubt they are even now swimming around a small brandy glass trying to make the best of it.

Us big people take it all for granted you see. We dig ourselves out of our homes; we haul the snow off our cars and in some cases some of us (like me) wade heel deep through the snow drifts and make our way to work under our own steam and never give a second thought for the little people who can’t do all that. The tiny people who, up to their necks in a few millimetres of snow and ice, find themselves quite literally out of their depths.

Please people, if you do nothing else for others this Christmas, can I please ask you to spare a thought for the diminutive breeds of our society? We rely on them all year round and it is only now, when times are hard and the Polar Bears are migrating as far south as Birmingham, that we realize the great all-year round service that these little guys offer us. Only when they are gone and pewling helplessly from inside their snowy tombs do we finally value them.

Poor little soldiers of Leamington Spa. I salute you.



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Friday, December 17, 2010

We Need A Hart To Hart

Miranda HartThere is a long tradition in this country (in any country in fact that sports a Royal family) to take the p out of them, make snidey comments and satirize their many foibles. It is a healthy tradition and one that should be defended to the hilt regardless of whether you are a Royalist or an anti establishment Royalist hating Emo.

So it was with some dismay that I read that dear Miranda Hart – surely the world’s most likeable comedienne – has flown into some flak for a gag she made on Have I Got News For You last week. I actually watched the show but my recall of the offending joke is a little hazy because, to be honest, it was a pretty innocuous joke. Basically, whilst talking about the well-known and widely accepted racism of Prince Philip, Miranda made the gag that the world should move past making racist jokes and someone ought to tell that Greek twit and his Kraut wife about it.

Now, let’s be honest, it was a pretty obvious joke to make. It’s almost a given. Even me in my secret desire to be a stand-up comedian would have jumped on that kind of feed and responded with a similar line. It is a joke about the racist stereotyping used in racist jokes. I don’t think it was meant to be a racist joke about the Queen per se. Or am I the only one splitting that particular hair?

I should point out at this point that I am not a raving anti monarchist and am quite content with the Royal family’s continued existence in this country’s status quo.

Apparently 5 people complained to the BBC and a few more managed to fart themselves out of their armchairs and put finger to keyboard to offer their cholesterol marinated opinions on various internet forums.

They didn’t get the joke. They didn’t think it was funny. They thought it in poor taste, racist and that the Queen should be mollified with a strap-on wielded by Miranda Hart herself. Actually that last bit is a lie and a bit of a fantasy.

Personally I can’t see what the fuss is about. I don’t think Miranda Hart is racist and I don’t think the joke was racist. It was satirical. In truth the joke wasn’t even that funny – but only because it was so obvious. But it had to be made. It was the cymbal crash after the drum roll. The digestive after the cup of tea – ‘cos a drink is too wet without one.

Poor Miranda. There’s something quite harmless and inoffensive about her – the poor woman must be mystified by all the hoo-ha. I have to say I like Miranda Hart and my family is greatly enjoying her eponymously named sitcom, Miranda. It makes us all laugh including our 9 year old who nearly split an intercostal muscle at this week’s show despite being surely too young to get most of the jokes. She has somehow revived the sitcom ethos of the 70’s, made it cool again and exhumed the much missed ghosts of Frankie Howerd and Eric Morecambe with her asides and to-the-camera gurning.

She is a striking looking lady – easily over 6ft, and solid. A veritable shire horse of a woman. But you know what? Strangely attractive. And in an attempt to subvert a minor tradition of this blog, stick two fingers up at those poker-faced, Hitler-youth loving Royalists who can’t get their malformed senses of humour around a simple joke and strike a blow for big beautiful women everywhere I am going to make her my TV Totty Of The Week.

Miranda, you can dress up as a Nazi and pratt-fall into my lap anytime. I think you’re lovely.



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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

William Wallace Has Stolen Our Presents

I have in the past gloated about the ease by which one can perform online shopping, the effortlessness of one-click ordering which at this seasonal time of the year means one doesn’t have to wade through the insulated body fat and BO of thousands of fellow Christmas shoppers as they fight to grab the last Toy Story 3 DVD from off the shelves.

But it has its drawbacks. Particularly in a wussy country like the UK which describes moderate snow fall as “unprecedented” and “unexpected” despite there having being snow in some form or other for every one of my 41 years in this country and the weather forecasters actually getting their predictions uncannily accurate for this year (anyone would think there is some kind of science behind this meteorology shit).

A whole heap of presents that Karen and I have ordered through Amazon and other online shopping companies are currently stuck in a post office distribution warehouse in Fife. This despite them being ordered in the last week of November so they’d be dispatched – ha ha ha – in plenty of time for Christmas.

It is now 10 days to go until the big day and things are getting down to the wire. The parcels show no sign of moving. I hear rumours of the postal service being so inundated it’ll take them weeks to work through the backlog (‘cos this level of post during the Christmas period is undoubtedly unprecedented too, right?) plus as most Post Office’s these days are down to one delivery per day anything that doesn’t get delivered for that day gets taken back to the PO and left for the next day where the same thing happens over and over again... or so I’ve been told.

Now, short of invading Scotland and grabbing our parcels ourselves there is little we can do. Karen has emailed Amazon but, to be honest, once the parcels have left their distribution centre they are in the hands of the Post Office gods who in turn are at the mercy of the weather.

And there’s more snow on the way apparently – end of this week and all through Christmas.

The kids have been primed that they might not get all their presents on the day this year. They seem fine with it but, let’s be honest, getting an IOU instead of a brand spanking new PlayStation game just isn’t the same thing.

And I daresay this scenario will be a very common one up and down the country this year. We won’t be alone in our present want.

It’s saddening. Very saddening.

But mostly it’s annoying. Annoying that it takes so little for the various services of this country to breakdown and grind to a complete and utter halt.

But I guess I should be used to it by now because, let’s face it, such breakdowns in service in themselves are hardly what anyone could describe as unprecedented. The wind blows from an unexpected direction in the UK and everyone wails and takes to their beds to recover from the immense shock.

I strongly suspect that lying at the bottom of all these abandoned parcels is a very special package indeed. Something this country has long mislaid and long forgotten is missing. It’s backbone.

If William Wallace wanted to invade now he could just wait for a light drizzle of snow and walk it.

And if he can bring my presents with him when he comes he’ll be sure to receive a right royal welcome at my house.



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Monday, December 13, 2010

Siege Mentality

The dust is being shaken from the ceiling beams here at Blake Towers. A battering ram is attempting to splinter the wood of the drawbridge whilst evil machinations are under way to circumvent my portcullis.

I’m manning the arrow slits and I have boiling oil on standby but I fear it is only a matter of time.

Outside, beyond my moat (replete with fishing gnomes and ornamental carp), is an army blacker and more perfidious than the entire horde of Mordor / Voldermort / X Factor (choose your own poison and insert it here):

Seasonal illness.

For the last 2 Christmases one or other of us has been ill. 2 years ago not only was Karen ill but the good nurses at the NHS conspired to give Tom his MMR jab at just the right date that his reaction to it would fall on Christmas Eve / Christmas Day. Thanks a bunch. And then last year Tom was ill again without any help from anybody except maybe the many agents of illness who, let’s be honest, it is difficult to avoid. I mean you might be one right now without even knowing it.

I’m desperately hoping for an illness free Christmas this year. A Christmas where the kids are happy not grumpy. A Christmas when Karen and I are not exhausted because we have not been up the night before tending to sick offspring.

But the signs are not good.

Karen was hospitalized last week and though she is back home she can still not be awarded a clean bill of health. Recovery from any illness at our age with 2 kids running amuck is necessarily slow and hampered. And then Ben was sick over the weekend. Literally sick. Vomit City. He did that typical kid thing of announcing he felt sick 3 or 4 times, wasting a good minute as he did so and then walked through the kitchen – past the sink which although not designed for such things is an ideal receptacle for one’s emerging stomach lining – and instead positioned himself over the nice white living room carpet. A Jackson Pollock ensured. He then stepped a couple of paces forward and added a side dish to the hall carpet. Two birds with one stone so to speak.

Tom thankfully has not been sick (and I am saying that quietly unless I tempt Fate) but has had a “runny bum”. This may be down to a spot of teething, the same bug that Ben may or not have or even another bug entirely. Who knows? There are so frigging many.

Now believe me. I am trying to count my blessings. Because there are many this Christmas (and indeed all the year round) who would be happy to be suffering from mere stomach bugs and colds. The odd bit of temporary vomiting would be light relief. I don’t know how good I’ve got it.

But for the last few months I feel like my household has been sucked up Doctor Who style into a time vortex and deposited in the middle of a Cholera epidemic.

I am sick of feeling sick. And sick of cleaning up sick.

All I want for Christmas and all I wish for mine and yours is good health, cheer and excellent spirit.

(Though a Lego set would be nice.)



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Friday, December 10, 2010

HP Heaven

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1I’ve heard and read a lot of mixed reviews about the latest Harry Potter film. Overlong. Shouldn’t have been divided into 2. Too complicated. Over-plotted. No character development. Etc.

So it was with some trepidation that Karen and I went to see The Deathly Hallows Part 1 on Wednesday night. Trepidation because, actually, we love the Harry Potter films. All of them. And I say that with a note of defiance in my voice to those who would denigrate them. But that doesn’t mean I am going to take kindly to spending near enough £20 on a shite film.

Thankfully I spent £20 on an excellent film.

I loved it. Having read the books I can say that for me, The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was spot on. Exactly as I’d imagined it.

Overlong? No. Not at all. I would have been happy to sit through another hour.

Shouldn’t have been divided into 2? No. To make one film – even one that stretched to 3 maybe 3 and a half hours – would have meant curtailing and abridging the story horribly, pointlessly and dishonestly. It would have cheated the audience.

Too complicated? I’ve read the book so knew what was going on – so I can’t judge. But my wife, who has not read the books, found this one easier to follow than its predecessor, The Half Blood Prince.

Over plotted? Nope. Everything that was there was necessary. If anything they missed a few things out – but nothing of any importance. For example, in the book, Mr Weasley lays into Harry’s foster parents for their coldness and cruelty towards him but Dudley, their spoilt brat of a son, makes his peace with Harry and wishes him well. Given the moral overtones of the story it would have been nice to have had this scene kept in but I can see it would not have served to progress the story along so it was probably right to leave it out. There were a few other minor omissions like this but hell, you can’t fit a whole book into a film.

No character development? Hmm. This is Harry Potter guys, come on! The entire series has been about him growing up and getting to this point! Finally Harry, Hermione and Ron are standing up on their own. There is no help from Dumbledore – well, no direct help. This is Harry facing his enemies without protection – only his own skill, nerve and courage. This is him becoming a man. And for what it’s worth I thought this was a surprisingly adult film. Surprisingly scary too. And very dark... and set to get darker still. The body count is rising. The stakes are getting higher.

It was always going to be difficult to draw the first half of a story to a close and do it in a manner that is cinematically satisfying – but they managed it. The conclusion leaves you feeling cranked up and ready for the last rush of the rollercoaster to the unavoidable termination.

I loved this film. I’d be happy to go again to see it. I can’t wait for Part 2.

To be honest, if you’re not a Harry Potter fan there is no point you going to see this film and expecting to like it. If you haven’t liked the others or you’ve picked fault with them, save your money and go and see Tron. But for those of you that are Harry Potter fans I found nothing in this film that would disappoint or let you down. It serves both us and the story well.

If Part 2 maintains this standard it will be a fitting end indeed.



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Monday, December 06, 2010

The Weekend That Wasn't

We had a number of plans for the weekend. Nothing earth shattering or mind blowing: a little winter cleaning, a little life laundry, etc. Mainly we just wanted to get the Christmas decorations and tree up and to make an occasion of it for the kids.

Instead the weekend ended up with my youngest boy, Tom, wearing a cardboard bedpan on his head at the local hospital because to him it was not a bedpan but a cowboy hat.

How did we get there...?

Well, my wife, Karen, had been feeling rotten all last week and towards the end was too ill and too uncomfortable with stomach pain to go into work. Unfortunately there is a hell of a lot of stomach bugs going round at the moment so our local GP was not unduly concerned. By Friday, however, she'd taken a turn for the worse and the GP requested she attend the surgery before it closed for the weekend.

The last thing Karen wanted to do was get out of bed and go into the snow to be poked about by the doctor but, thank God, that is what we eventually did.

The doc wasn't happy and diagnosed, "hospital".

Now given that Karen was unable to drive because of her condition and I am unable to drive because I have never taken my test we would have been stuck indeed but instead are indebted to our neighbour and to a work friend who between them both have ferried us all around since this whole thing kicked off.

So Friday night we all - me, Karen and the boys - found ourselves stuck in A&E for 5 hours while they prodded, probed, removed blood and X-rayed Karen in their attempts to form a proper diagnosis.

None of these tests went to waste. The final diagnosis was Colitis - inflammation of the colon. And severe dehydration. Severe enough that she has still been on a drip today. Thank God we went to the doctors - I think the outcome could have been far worse if we'd delayed any longer.

So that rather changed the structure of the weekend. I've been a single parent for about 3 days (and counting) and though I am coping (i.e. the boys are wearing clean clothes, eating proper meals and going to school / nursery as usual) I am frazzled to say the least. It hasn't left much room for writing or "me time" and I deeply admire those genuine single parents who manage to balance family responsibilities with responsibilities towards the self.

Karen is recovering well. I have been to see her again today and the doctors are talking of allowing her home either tomorrow or Wednesday but she is officially signed off work until next Monday. I'm off work until Wednesday - my boss has been very understanding.

The boys are fine - the oldest, Ben, has taken refuge in his DS (a coping strategy I am sure) and the youngest, Tom, has occasional sulky moments when he grabs my face, fixes me with a hard Paddington Bear stare and demands, "where's my mummy; not fair, want mummy". I think I have impressed on him that mummy will be home soon. He's been ambivalent about his trips to the hospital - no kid likes them, let's face it - but he did enjoy playing with the bedpan (unused) and that has been the light relief for this interminably long weekend.

I am praying that normal service - on all fronts - will be resumed very shortly.

P.S. To those Bloggers and Tweeters who already knew of these events and offered their support and warm wishes - a heart felt thanks.



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Friday, December 03, 2010

BloggiLeaks

In a Data Protection foul-up that can only be compared to an IT version of that fight you had outside the chip shop with your best mate when you were 17 I can now reveal some of the world’s most high profile secrets. Be aware that I am putting my life at risk by publishing these revelations but I feel that the truth should be known and my blogging stats should be the ones to benefit from the revelations. Just remember that for all I might make a few fast bucks selling advertising space on this blog as a consequence of the increased traffic I am the one who will have to wear a scarf over my face every time I want to buys a Mars bar from the local newsagent lest I be identified and summarily lynched.

1) Despite my sunny demeanour I secretly hate all of you and bad mouth the lot of you as soon as your backs are turned. Had someone trolling on your blog? That was me. Had someone bombard your comments box with spam selling cheap Viagra and Russian sex web sites? That was me too. Yeah, and I’m glad I did it ‘cos I know it really wound you up.

2) The above is just a cover story for the fact I love you all and secretly fantasize about sleeping with all of you – yes, you included, Rol. I have already composed a sexual shopping list individually tailored to each of you and designed to bring you all to the height of ecstatic abandon and I am going to publish it in your local newspapers next week. Oh. And email it to your mother / father / children / employer. With photos. And hair clippings.

3) All the world leaders see me as an agony uncle and regularly write to me for advice on how to deal with world matters and issues of national security. The current state of the world is all down to me. But before you start slagging me off just bear in mind that I have prevented a nuclear war from occurring on numerous occasions and single-handedly stopped a custard bomb from exploding in the heart of London last month. Yeah. You didn’t know that, did you? After encouraging Arab Leaders to get into Bugsy Malone the new weapons of choice are batter guns and custard bombs. I can also reveal that the Yanks are developing a full-fat mayonnaise grenade. Take my advice when travelling to America: arm yourself with a good salad.

4) The Yanks do not see our politicians as light weights and non-runners but rather hero worship them in an abandon that can only be described as orgiastic. In my role as diplomatic major domo I have frequently had to shoe-horn American politicians into and out of some choice English politico’s butt. It’s a dirty job but I get well paid for it. So yes. If you want to view it in those terms, I pimp out our MPs to the likes of Barack Obama and Sarah [im]Palin. I have photos on my mobile phone to prove it including one of Nick Clegg being happy-slapped by American Vice President, Joe Biden. Boy, does that man take his job title seriously.

5) The BP oil disaster was down to me. I honestly thought building a well cap out of Lego would be a great idea. Possibly the castle motif on top with a working drawbridge weakened the structure but hey, what was I to know? I’m not a friggin’ engineer!

6) The World Cup. The Russians paid me handsomely. That’s all I’m saying. Frankly I hate football and think it a shite game. Overpaid, oversexed and now over there in the frigging ice fields. Serves ‘em right. All you footie fans travelling to Moscow...? I’m planting counter-intelligence evidence on the lot of you. Don’t waste your money on plane tickets home ‘cos you won’t be leaving. The rest of you can write to the Queen – there’s still time before the honour’s list is published.

7) I’ve wasted enough time / energy / brain cells composing this for your entertainment and to be honest I’m not sure any of you are worth it.

8) Please see no. 2. I shall be doing you all in alphabetical order. Please ensure you all shower first (and, yes, that includes you, Rol).



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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Am I An Old Perv? No, Don’t Answer That

Dani HarmerSo it’s Saturday and I’ve been sucked into kid’s telly and I’m watching Dani’s House with my boys and I’m marvelling at how the girl that used to play Tracey Beaker has (seemingly overnight) blossomed into a hot young chicklet and the TV gets turned over because other household members (how dare they usurp my ownership of the remote control) have decided that 3 back-to-back episodes of Dani’s House is 2 episodes too many (hey not my fault if the BBC resorts to lazy scheduling at the weekends).

“Hey, I was watching that!” I cry.

“I’m sure you were, you old perv!” Comes the reply.

What? Old perv? Me?

I’m about to spew out the kind of retort that would have had Oscar Wilde creaming his fustian trousers when I stop short.

Am I an old pervert? Is the accusation well based?

Because suddenly I’m aware of a whole body of evidence stacked up against me, most of it (it has to be said) penned by my own hand. This here blog.

Post after post extolling the virtues of various TV stars. Katie McGrath, Alice Roberts, Lucy Griffiths, Cheryl Ladd, Emma Watson, Julia Sawalha... the list goes on and on.

The trouble is, right from a young age, I had an eye for eye candy. At 9 years of age I was heartily in love with Charlie’s Angels. All of them though Cheryl Ladd was definitely my queen bitch.

And this penchant for giving the glad eye to TV babes continued through my teen years and my lonely twenties. But it was fine back then. Acceptable. It’s what lonely guys who can’t get a girlfriend do. Er, so I’ve been told.

And then I hit my thirties and, gulp, despite getting myself all-girled-up I’m still casting a roving fantasy eye over the TV and the cinema. But hey. That’s us men for you. And, by Jove, you women too ‘cos I know from reading around the blogosphere that you lassies are also prone to a bit of butch visual confectionary.

It’s normal. And I’m at pains to point this out because it is my only defence.

But now I’ve just tiptoed into my 40s. And suddenly the balance has shifted. It’s starting to feel uncomfortable. Back when I was younger fancying a young bit of stuff on the telly was acceptable. Hell, Juliet was only a teenager and Romeo (so I’m led to believe) only in his twenties. And when I hit my thirties, well, if old goats and young lambs were acceptable to Jane Austen why should it bother me?

But now I’m in my 40’s and my 50’s are beckoning from the other side of the hill the fantasy element is beginning to become untenable. It’s beginning to verge on socially unacceptable.

And yet TV and the media are geared up to sell us sexy young things. We’re hit with it every day. It’s hard to resist.

I mean take Hermione from Harry Potter. Even Jimmy Carr makes gags about when it became acceptable to admit that you fancied her.

So. My question is: does acknowledging the beauty of much younger women make me an old perv? Should I perhaps be retraining myself to tune into eye candy of a different, much more mature sort? Should I be composing paeans to Thora Hird, Anne Widdicombe and Gillian McKeith? If I start mooning over them will that make me less of a pervert?

Or one that is far less easily understood?

Answers on the back of a lad’s mag to the usual address please...



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Monday, November 29, 2010

Losing Face

Lord knows my relationship with Facebook is strained at the best of times (it’s a mere marriage of convenience; a sham, just for show, there is no intimacy or bedroom relations) but the recent news that Facebook is, to quote the BBC, “a few steps away from trademarking the word face” has left me grimacing with disgust.

They want to trademark Face in the same way that George Lucas has trademarked Star Wars.

Now the latter I can understand. Think what you like about the recent trilogy, George Lucas created a bestselling brand. He has a right to trademark it.

But Face?

How you can trademark Face for God’s sake?

The fallout from such an action with obviously adversely affect other social network sites and services, for e.g. Apple’s Facetime. If Facebook are successful Facetime with have to change to Visagetime or Mugtime or Interfacetime. I’m sure you can think of plenty of your own.

Now, while I can see that Facebook are bristling at the use of the word Face, thinking as they do, that it seeks to emulate or cash-in on their own brand, to trademark it exclusively as their own smacks of greed, unfairness and, yes I am going to say it, big brother style bullying. It also insults the target audience who all to an Emo scarred teen know the difference between Facebook and Facetime and know that one is not interchangeable with or the same as the other. So there is no harm done with other services being named Facepage, Facewad, Faceityou’realoser.

There is no need for Facebook to do this other than to flex its oversized muscles and stamp all over the rest of the social networking market.

Arseholes. Sorry, Faceholes.

But my big question is: where will this end?

Are Boots going to trademark Boots forcing millions of shoe retailers to rebrand all footwear that exceeds the height of the average human shin? Are Ann Summers going to lay claim to summer forcing us to rename the period between June and August as ‘that period of warmer weather where it rains less, the UK excepted’? Could Woolworth’s have saved itself by trademarking the word Wool and reaped millions of pounds in copyright payments from the knit craft industry?

And what about Adult Sex Shops? Are we going to have to come up with another name for human sexual intercourse (for example: human sexual intercourse) should they trademark the word sex? Or should I perhaps get in first (no innuendo intended) and trademark it myself? Force them to pay me to use the word? Force all of you in fact?

Hey, I could be onto a winner here (unless Michael Winner has trademarked that without me knowing about it).

Hmm.

You know, I may have to rename this blog.

Faceblog sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it?



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Friday, November 26, 2010

Goodbye Cruel World (Oh You’re Still There)

It came yesterday.

I was waiting for it.

The rejection. The thank-you-but-no-thank-you. The you’re-not-good-enough. The remove-your-begging-face-from-our-window-and-never-darken-our doors-again.

The eff-off-inconsequential-worm.

As soon as I saw the envelope, I just knew. Having been in the writing game since I was a nipper (well, on the substitute’s bench at the very least) I’ve developed a sniffer dog’s instinct for the standard rejection slip. I even told my wife to flush it down the toilet without opening it because I just knew Goddamnit.

But she made me open it. Just in case. Because that’s what you do. Just in case. Because what if it was an actual acceptance?

I opened it.

It was a thank-you-but-no-thank-you.

Gaah!

So. The first hurdle has been leapt over. My first novel has received its first rejection slip.

Do I feel gutted? Eviscerated? Suicidal?

Actually, no. I feel pretty even-keeled about it. Having fought tooth and nail to get a total of 30 poems published in my twenties I’m well aware of how many rejections you have to go through before you get the acceptance. I’d say it’s about 40-1.

With novel writing the odds are going to be longer. Well, fine. I’m hardened to it. I can take it. Right on the chin. Doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. But I’m not going to be cowed by it.

And as rejections go this was a pretty good one. The printed slip clearly stated that the agent in question was unable to give personal feedback or a personal reply. And yet at the bottom of the slip was precisely that. Personal feedback. And good feedback at that. “Very well written”, “interesting concept”. They didn’t seem much of a consolation at first but my wife has pointed out that the agent didn’t need to write any of that. They could have fobbed me off with the printed slip.

And there was more. She felt the novel progressed too slowly for her. So there’s an option for me to review it and cut cut cut perhaps? She also felt it was mainstream literary rather than genre which is where I’d placed it. So maybe I just stuck it in the wrong pigeonhole? This changes the range of agents I can now approach. Widens the field.

So. A rejection.

But more a kick up the arse than a kick in the teeth.

As rejections go, that’s not bad.



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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Barter Or To Thieve?

Susannah ConstantineLord knows we’re all having to cinch our belts tight these days (those of us that can afford belts; personally I’m making do with a bit of string and an elastic band) but I really object to people half-inching my kid’s clothes!

I’m sure it’s not a deliberate act of thievery but it does happen quite often.

We’ll send our youngest off to nursery dressed up like a style guru or a miniature version of Huggy Bear and, in the course of his executive play activities, a little accident of varying moistness will occur. A leaky nappy or a beaker spillage.

Thankfully one of the nice nursery girls will rescue him from whatever puddle he has found himself in and change his clothes (we send him off with a spare set every day for this eventuality).

All well and good.

At this point what should happen is that the dirty clothes should get bagged up and then sent home with Tom when we come to pick him up so that we can get them all clean ready for their next encounter with rogue Ribena.

But what often happens is that they don’t get sent home with Tom at all.

They disappear.

They – and I suspect strongly this is the case – get sent home with another kid whose mum takes a look at them and thinks to herself, “ooh, these Star Wars jeans from H&M look pretty trendy, I wonder how they’ve ended up with my Joey, oh well I may as well hang onto them now.”

And suddenly the fortune my wife and I have spent on nice clothes for Tom finds itself tailoring some other little kid who won’t appreciate the Trinny and Susannah discussions my wife and I had to select that particular item of clothing in the first place. (I am Susannah, thank you for asking.)

Now, I like the nursery where Tom spends his week days. It’s great in so many ways. But this constant trouser drift annoys the hell out of me. Because it is now getting to the point where Tom hasn’t got enough decent trousers to see him through the week. Even though the wife and I spent a lot of money ensuring he would have.

It’s getting to the point now where, when we find mystery items of clothing in Tom’s bag – nice woollen tops and jumpers, the odd pair of socks, etc – we no longer do the honest thing, i.e. wash them and return them back to the nursery. Instead we wash them and keep them and add them to Tom’s constantly yo-yoing wardrobe. He might be poor in trousers but at the moment he’s got more tops than he could feasibly wear in a 2 week period no matter how many times he douses himself in orange juice.

I’m tempted to look on it as a kind of unofficial bartering system. Someone gains his trousers, we gain someone’s hooded top. Fair exchange and all that. I suppose we ought to be thankful he hasn’t come home with a dress or 5 magic beans.

But it isn’t right, is it? Call it bartering all you want but technically it’s theft. Theft by virtue that we and (presumably) other parents are knowingly keeping items of clothing that clearly don’t belong to us. We’re also possibly depleting the nursery’s own supply of spare clothing. Or are they replenishing it by accidentally nicking our stuff? Not that I’m too worried by this as once Tom has grown out of his toddler clothes we’ll donate them to the nursery anyway. But do they have a right to pick and choose in advance?

And what the hell has happened to Tom’s Star Wars trousers? We want them back! There was a Yoda patch on the left knee and everything!

Where the hell is Shaw Taylor when you need him? Help!



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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shooting From The Hip

+++ APOLOGIES +++ MINORITY INTEREST POST +++

Stella EnglishThere have been but 3 choices of conversation in the work office this week. (1) I'm [hoping to be] A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here; (2) The Royal Wedding-to-be and (3) The Apprentice.

Now given that (1) and (2) make me want to vomit my sphincter up through my nose this has left me very little in the way of conversational light relief with which to lighten my interminable workload. I did make an attempt at no. (2) by joking that Will's would probably follow his old man and dump Kate in ten years time after finally admitting to a lifetime love affair with Barbara Windsor but that gag was met with tumbleweed so prickly I practically had to roll myself into a little ball and hide under the nearest hedge. The good ladies of the office then resumed their discussion about what colour dress Kate might wear for her big day as if I had never been born.

So. On very different wavelengths there then.

However, the Babs Windsor gag/gaffe does bring me neatly onto subject (3) which I feel I can talk about with impunity and without risk of offending anyone. Except possibly Lord Sugar. But I'm sure he's man enough to take it. You see Babs Windsor has been quoted as saying that the first time she met Lord Sugar - back when he was just Al and not even SrAlan - she came over "all giggly". Why? Because he "reminded her of Sid James".

Sid effing James?!?

What? Did he spend 30 years trying to get into her knickers and then once he'd finally achieved it spend the post coital hours sobbing into her voluminous breasts and using her belly button as a tray for his brandy glass?

I really don't want to think about Sir Alan getting down and dirty with Barbara Windsor. I mean, can you imagine?

"Ere, Babs. I've fired."

"Already? Blimey. And I thought Sid was quick."

Boom boom as Basil Brush would say.

Lord SugarNo, let's skip this. My contribution to the work discussion this week was to posit the theory that Sandeesh Samra's firing on The Apprentice was an act of wanton robbery and that Stella English is my favourite to win. Sandeesh because those wild Pharaonic eyes and hawk-like nose make her look like an exotic bird of prey about to Stuka dive onto a small mammal wearing cheap Marks & Spencer Y-fronts and gobble him up for breakfast and Stella because she's smart, sassy, sussed and well tasty. Plus she used to be a model (as you can see from the top picture) and hang around with hard nuts in the East End (so she and Lord Sugar are possibly old pals). (So. Another Babs Windsor connection there then.)

Sandeesh SamraPlainly then it has been a quiet week on the telly when I am turning to The Apprentice to bolster my flagging Blog stats by selecting a couple of the candidates to join the pantheon of babes that already make up my highly irregular TV Totty Of The Week slot. (Blame Merlin - Katie McGrath was hardly in it this week and her absence was keenly felt.)

So, believe it or not, it really is a toss up (no, don't even go there) between Sandeesh and Stella. Only one of them can get the job. I am offering a 6 figure salary (in old money: £12 10s 11d) and a chance to work with me on a new range of shitty computer products to be promoted under the umbrella name SteveTrad. It is, I am sure you'll agree, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Now normally, Sandeesh being a brunette would be the favourite to win and those mesmeric eyes would certainly make her an ideal Sith apprentice but... just as in the show... she's sadly come into the boardroom with a very strong contender. Being a fickle kind of fellow I do occasionally plump for blondes and Stella, by virtue of being incredibly intelligent and laying into Stuart (this series' resident arsehole) with aplomb and an untouchable sense of her own self-esteem has just pipped Sandeesh to the post.

I know, I know. It's a double blow for Sandeesh. Fired twice in one week. I may have to find her something to do in my back office to keep her mind off it. In the meantime, Stella English (a porn name if ever there was one), you are this week's TV Totty Of The Week and my 3rd nomination is this pathetically puerile series of blog posts.

See: 3rd! And you guys said it would never run.



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Friday, November 19, 2010

Sex With Nigella

Nigella LawsonI was thinking about it the other night and I’m not sure it would work.

It’s not that I don’t find the amazingly bosomy brunette chatelaine attractive. I do. She cooks (both literally and euphemistically). She’s hot. She’s brunette. She’s bosomy. And she can fellate a dessert spoon before the 9 o’clock watershed and it’s fine by absolutely everyone (except possibly the sexually uptight nerds in the Environmental Health sector).

And according to all of her cookery shows she seems to indulge in a lot of post / pre coital midnight snacking. At least that’s my interpretation of all her night time runs to the fridge to chow down on half a cow’s leg soaked in homemade plum sauce. Now that could be well useful. “While you’re there, love, you couldn’t bring me up a couple of cans, could you? No, not the cheap Tesco blue-line ones, the posh ones you had flown in from Bavaria...”

Night time appetites well sorted as we say in me ghetto, innit, homie?

But it’s the talking that puts me off. The language. The flowery hyperbole that seems to ooze from her mouth like salival secretions down the trembling shaft of a Cadbury’s Flake. I mean, just listening to her show is like trying to divine the meaning of a bit of Longfellow or even a bit of Wordsworth. It’s off putting. My problem with it is that it is plainly meant to be sensuous but just comes over as too literary.

And that ain’t sexy, not for any ho, you get me?

I mean, just imagine. You’re getting down and dirty with Nigella. She’s beating out the rhythm she’d like you to follow with a bloody great wooden spoon on your chest and just as you’re getting into the groove (cheers Madonna) she opens those luscious red lips and says:

“Oh yah, envelope my Rubens-esque proportions with your exquisite squidginess...!”

“Eh? What did you say?”

“The slightly caramel coloured patina of your skin – especially around the brisket area – is crying out for my homemade Italianate mulberry sauce...”

“Do what? Do you mean you’re nearly there...? Shall I speed up?”

“Oh deflower me like a ripe rosehip, crush my basil leaves over the hot pizza of your desire and layer the inner sanctum of my queen of puddings with an indulgent oozing of tangibly salty mozzarella...!”

“Erm... you’ve lost me there, love. Look, I’m not really in the mood now. You couldn’t pop downstairs and make me a cheese and pickle sandwich, could you?”

“Oh you foul mouthed ruffian! I love it when you talk dirty!”

*sigh*

See, all that high-falutin Oxford poetry-speak might be good for her but it would be absolutely crap for me.

Not unless I could gag her.

Oo-er. *thinks it over*

Now that could bloody well work...!

*face assumes pervy Rik Mayall-like expression*



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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So. Freeview. It’s A Bit Shit

It’s been about 4 weeks since we ditched the cable TV package and bought a mid range, mid price set top box from Argos. More than enough time for the new system to bed-in and outlive the initial honeymoon period.

Sure we can record one channel while watching another. Sure we can even record two different channels at the same time while watching one of them. Or we can even record stuff while watching stuff we’ve already recorded. And the rather capacious harddrive means we can store entire series and entire film oeuvres and still have room for the odd sitcom or two shoehorned on top.

Long live the great god Technology.

Except the reception is patchy and intermittent. This despite blowing the best part of £200 on a brand spanking new TV aerial and “booster box” – apparently the latter was necessary because our house is in a “slight dip” which is further aggravated by the presence of a 3 storey apartment block a couple of roads away whose sole purpose in life (aside from acting like a Chav hatchery) is to block out the TV signal that legitimately should be ours.

But here’s the thing: the reception seems to go at more or less the same time every night. 8.0pm approaches and the picture pixelates and the sound pops and jumps like that annoying comedian from the 70’s who’s main shtick was to pretend to have a dodgy hearing aid and would thus speak like this: “-llo can y- h- me? I’m h-ing tr-ble w- my h-ing ai-“

Yeah, right, ‘cos the ol’ voicebox is controlled by a device you plug into your ears, isn’t it, you st-pid b-st-d?

We’ve tried turning it off and on. We’ve tried changing channels. We’ve tried blowing onto the box in case, you know, it’s overheated playing back The Sarah Jane Adventures to the kids (well, Rani is a bit of a babe).

But all to no avail.

Reception is scrambled.

So something must be occurring around the same time every night and interfering with our TV reception. My money is on the students next door. I daresay 8pm sees them opening their coffin lids to finally start their day and all logging-on en masse to Windows Messenger and Facebook to see if anybody actually gives a shit about their status (“drank 8 bottles of tiger beer last night am well wasted”).

I can’t think what else it can be.

Either way if my Freeview box can’t cope with a little bit of interference then the great god Technology is dead and buried in my book. I mean, we never had reception problems like this when I was a kid. We only had 3 channels and they all worked fine. The only time the TV would go on the fritz was when a seagull would sit on the TV aerial or there’d be a thunderstorm somewhere in the Birmingham area.

Freeview? What a misnomer. It’s anything but free and half the time you can’t view anything.

Still, at least I can record static and white noise from 2 different TV channels whilst watching a digital snowstorm on a third.

Every cloud, eh?



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Monday, November 15, 2010

Pride

war medalsI haven’t been to a Remembrance Day service for donkey’s years.

It is something I am uncomfortable admitting to because I can’t quite pinpoint why that should be. I used to go every year with my granddad and was very proud to do so. We would take a place among the crowds as close to the Town Hall as possible as this was where the companies from the various armed forces would be on parade and would begin the march through the main street.

Naturally I only had a child’s understanding of what the parade meant. I knew what soldiers were and what soldiers did. I knew that my granddad had been in the navy during WWII and that he was quietly proud of it. I was proud of him. And yet I never questioned his decision not to take his place with the veterans who would also march in the parade.

Year after year these old boys would march past us, their medals making rainbow lines on their jackets, and a few of my granddad’s pals would hail him as they marched by. “Hey, Stan, why aren’t you taking your place here?”, “You gonna join us next year, Stan?”

He would just smile, acknowledge them with a quick word or shout that he was fine where he was. I recall him moaning one year that he wouldn’t join the parade because he felt the government had let the old veterans down with their policies – I don’t think it matters which year it was or which government. I think that sense of being let down, of promises not being kept was constant. Looking back now though I think his real reason for not joining the parade was a sense of modesty. Although he was proud of his service he felt he’d done nothing special. And his pride was tinged with sadness always for those young boys, his mates, who never came home again.

He had his campaign medals and spoke of them often but they were rarely seen. I think I only saw them twice in the whole of my childhood. They were kept still in the envelope that they’d been posted to him in. And that envelope was kept in a Huntley & Palmer's biscuit tin. The tin and its contents are now in my possession and are in the same state that they’ve been in for the last 60 years. The medals in the envelope, alongside his demob papers and his ship service record, all safe inside the biscuit tin.

Though my understanding of Remembrance Day was basic I do recall feeling very emotional as a child – especially when the Last Post was sounded and the silence began. I can remember one year feeling quite on the edge of tears but holding it back lest I shame my grandfather by blubbing like a baby. Looking back now, I doubt such an act would have shamed him. I’m not sure why it made me so emotional. Something about the meaning of the event touched me, I guess, in a way that didn’t need a man’s understanding of war to confirm that, actually, my reaction was the right one.

And then one year we didn’t go. I think he’d reached the age where standing up in the cold for any length of time was just beyond him. He could watch the service on the TV in the comfort of his rocking chair and attend the same service as the Queen. No contest. I wish I’d voiced my disappointment but for some reason didn’t. I didn’t want to put him under pressure, I suppose, and I felt he had more of a rightful say about Remembrance Day than I did.

Even now it amazes me why I just didn’t show a bit of spark and go myself. But there you go that’s me all over. And now, each year, it catches me out. It seems to have dropped off my radar. I solemnly and without fail obey the 2 minutes silence on the 11th but the parade passes me by. Always afterwards, too late, I think to myself: I should take the boys along... I really must make a point of doing it next year.

But the real reason I don’t go, I suspect, is because part of me will be looking out for my granddad. Not in the parade itself - for he was never there - but in the crowds of on-lookers and knowing, with a deep, deep regret, that he is not there, not now, nor will ever be. And his old war mates cannot call to him any longer nor he answer.

I hope it is not just me who remembers him.



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Friday, November 12, 2010

My 4 Year Old Daughter Is Dying From Brain Cancer Please Can You Help?

And if you’re a normal feeling, compassionate human being that’s you sucked in right there.

What do you have to do to help? Well, apparently you just have to forward a very mawkish email on to everybody in your address book. And you mustn’t break the chain. In fact you won’t because I’m going to insert a picture of a small child lying in a hospital bed with a tube coming out of their nose just to yank those heart strings of yours a little harder. If I’m being feeling really manipulative I’ll ensure the child is bald. Just to bring home their plight and add a few more unconscious associations into the mix which is currently making you feel both guilty and responsible. Cancer. Chemotherapy. Great Ormond Street.

And it’s not like I’m asking you for money. I’m just asking you to forward an email. AOL or Google or some other fantastically generous internet company will donate some money every time the email is forwarded. Because they are going to take time out from their busy schedules to track the email. Isn’t that amazing? You can save my child’s life just by forwarding this email. Just by launching another distasteful dollop of internet spam into the electronic ether and clogging up everyone else’s In-Box with another perfect example of pointless emotional blackmail.

Because if you had half a brain you would simply do an internet search on the first line of the email and be directed to one of any number of email hoax sites which would confirm that the email you have just received is the biggest load of old bollocks to hit your PC screen since you erroneously accessed The Swinging Seventies web site. It’s crap. You’ve just needlessly upset all your friends and work colleagues and proved yourself to be a chump of the highest order.

I get emails like the one described above quite regularly. I can usually smell the bullshite emanating from the first line but I always do a Google search anyway just to confirm. I have never yet received a genuine ‘you can save my child’s life by forwarding this’ email. I then reply to the sender pointing out it is a hoax and supplying a link so they can confirm it themselves.

Two things make me mad.

One is the stupidity of the person who sent the email to me in the first place but, hey, we all get caught out at one time or other, don’t we? So I’ll let that pass.

Two – the cynical, screwed up, emotionally backward, ego shrivelled little turd who spent time crafting this email in the first place and then spewing it out into the real world. What on earth do they get out of it? What possible pleasure can you glean from the thought that millions of people are going to feel upset or saddened at the fictional plight of a made-up kid lying in a non-existent hospital bed?

Because what makes me really mad is the sure fact that, the law of averages being what they are, one of the recipients of this email is going to be some poor mother or father whose kid really is in hospital fighting for their life. And this poor mother and father won’t think this email is a hoax – I doubt such a thought would even enter their head while they are holding their child’s hand through the portal of an intensive care screen. They would no doubt think: those poor parents; going through what we’re going through, we must help them. And thus they take time and emotional energy away from the plight of their genuinely ill child – time and energy they can ill afford – to forward on this selfish, nasty, emotionally stunted piece of forgery to all their friends and family, who knowing of their friend’s plight will also forward it on in their honour.

And thus the chain is established.

I’m not sure what can be done about this type of email abuse, except to voice the hope that I am not the only person in the world who is suspicious enough to check these missives out for myself before hitting the Send button. Possibly there is nothing of any real consequence that any of us can do.

Instead then, I invite you all to join with me in hoping that there is a very hot, very ferociously cruel inner circle of hell set especially aside for the people that create these emails and send them out into the world in the first place and that Old Nick receives them all as a celestial email attachment very soon.

Hey Satan – you’ve got mail!



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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How To Win Friends And Influence People

Do I really have to lay down some ground rules?

It seems that I do.

This is my blog. It's my forum to moan, celebrate, criticize, lampoon, fantasize, parody, showcase and divulge whatever happens to be manifesting in my tiny mind at any given moment. It is not your blog and I do not take kindly to attempts - especially anonymous attempts - to hijack it in an attempt to perpetuate yet another blogging war that I have had no real stake in. If you have a beef that you want to shout about then kindly get your own blog and use it.

I am sick and tired of all the back-biting and bitching that is currently infesting the blogging world like a case of Herpes. In the last month I have heard of 4 blogs / bloggers who have been attacked, ganged up on and have suffered internet campaigns against them along the lines of attacks on public forums and bad reviews on StumbleUpon, etc. Their crime? Expressing opinions they are entitled to on their own blogs. At least one of these bloggers has closed their blog as a consequence after offensive comments were even directed towards their children. For Heaven's sake! What is wrong with you all?

Do you know why I started this blog? It wasn't to make friends (though friends I have made). It wasn't to achieve fame or notoriety. It wasn't to make money or sell other people's products. I really don't give a shit about any of that. It was simply to write and have my work read by (hopefully) likeminded individuals with similar goals. That is still my aim.

I am not interested in who did what to whom or who said what or even who is right or who is wrong in any given spat. I am not interested. And neither is the outside world.

I had the misfortune to get caught up in a blogging spat last month and without doubt it was the most tawdry affair I have ever been involved with during my time writing this blog. In the end I wrote about it (no, I am not linking to it: it's done and dusted as far as I am concerned) and received over 80 comments; the most comments I have ever received for a single blog post. At first I was pleased. So many supportive comments from people, most of whom I didn't even know. But then slowly the comments became darker. They were from people who just wanted to add their own twopenethworth to the row; to have a pop at so-and-so and perpetuate the whole nasty affair. These people have never been back to my blog since the affair died down and have not bothered to comment on any of my other posts. That says a lot doesn't it?

Well, I don't want these people back. They plainly have no interest in my blog or what I write. I'm not so in love with my stats that I'd regularly court that kind of trouble.

A couple of days ago another blogger wrote a post about the trouble I'd had and the trouble another blogger is currently having. The post expressed their dismay and was far gentler in tone than the one I'm writing now. It was a fair post too. However, they too have now been attacked and effectively blackballed. I received an anonymous comment last night on my previous post from the "blackballers" basically defending their position. They expressed no interest in my post at all; they just wanted to use my blog as a wall upon which they could scrawl their graffiti.

Well, I'm not interested. And I'm not allowing it on my blog.

This behaviour is petty playground tactics, people. It is not what I came to blogging about and it is not what I want to blog about. And if that means I get a bad review on some web site somewhere so be it.

I am happy with my little coterie of like-minded bloggers. I'm not interested in upping my stats or endorsing consumer products. I'm not interested in blogging awards or getting in with the blogging "in-crowd". I'm interested in the writing.

If you're not then simply go read someone else.

Take your gang warfare where it belongs - back to the gutter.



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Friday, November 05, 2010

Burn In Hell

I’m a curmudgeon. I freely admit to this. I even celebrate it.

Certain things in life will always trigger a curmudgeonly reaction in me. Music in cars so loud it shatters the tarmac and the eardrums of passersby. Mobility scooters travelling at 40mph on pavements. Student parties in the house next door. And fireworks to name but a few.

So, as you can imagine, this time of year sees me spewing so much bile I’m sweating vinegar.

Possibly it’s wrong this curmudgeonliness, but I really don’t care.

Because when the dickhead students who live next door to me decide to have a firework party at 10 o’clock at night I am so at one with my curmudgeonliness it is practically a karmic state that transcends the rest of reality and certainly everybody else’s opinion.

10 o’clock.

10 o-sodding-clock.

That’s bedtime for me on a normal night, big wuss that I am. On a night when I am bone tired and exhausted – as I was last night – it is even more my bedtime. It is desperately, essentially my bedtime. So much my bedtime it is listed in the minutes of the Geneva convention that to deny me my rightful bedtime is a gross act of torture and human rights violation on a par with the Nazi’s murdering half of Europe just to gain access to a beach.

It ain’t gonna garner a positive response from yours truly.

Now, I dislike fireworks with a passion anyway and have written about it here, here and here but even I can see – even in the midst of my curmudgeonly prowess – that people have a right to burn their own money if they want to and are brain-dead enough to do it.

But surely people should have the sense to pick a reasonable time? 6 o’clock. 7 o’clock. 8 at a push. But 10 a-bleedin’-clock?

Surely even some self-centred, doped up, away-from-home-for-the-first-time student can see that 10 o’clock is too late? That there might be other non-student people in the vicinity who unlike him who can lie in bed until 1.30pm the next day have to get up before 7am to go to work and get the kids to school? That people who lead a worthwhile, productive life need their sleep?

Not to mention the kids. My poor kids. They must have thought they’d gone to sleep in Leamington and woken up in Afghanistan. The fireworks, the window shattering detonations, the students guffawing and haw-hawing at the tops of their voices from their garden and even the roof of their kitchen extension were right outside my boys' bedroom window.

There was no escape.

Few things can engender temporary insanity more that lying down to sleep, so exhausted you physically can’t keep your eyes open but unable to drift off into the comforting slumber of unconsciousness because of noise and hullabaloo so loud it feels like the mob are actually in bed with you.

I fantasized acts of violence and retribution. Pulp Fiction style speeches just before I let rip with our hosepipe (after remembering to remove the sprinkler attachment). Maybe even a bloody nose or two to wake these student-types up to the real world of men and dominance of the strong.

I was so screwed up and desperate for sleep I even, Heaven forgive me, considered sneaking out to the front of their house and scratching words of damnation into the paintwork of their paid-for-by-mummy student cars.

LET US SLEEP!! -------------------------------------

And that long gouge ensuring the body work is ruined right down to the stupid pimped up tailfins.

But then I thought: no. That would give them a clue as to who their righteous persecutor was. I might be leaving myself open to reciprocal attacks. I would have to protect the identity of my bicycle.

So then I came up with an idea of utter genius. I would scratch their car but leave a message so misleading and cryptic they wouldn’t even connect the car scratching with their ill timed blitz recreation party.

LEAVE MABEL ALONE --------------------------------

I mean what could be more confusing to a student than that?

I felt good – evil but good – just thinking about it.

And then the party broke up at half past 10 and they all dispersed and went home and the street fell back into silence.

Bleedin’ lightweights.



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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

British Sign Language

The loss of our eyesight or our hearing is something most of us only give a cursory thought towards. How would I cope if I was deaf? What would it be like never being able to listen to music? Horrible, we think to ourselves and then we quickly move on, possibly hitting the shuffle function on our iPods with a slightly more piquant sense of gratitude.

Bizarre that the first thing we think about is the loss of music from our lives rather than the question of how the hell we would communicate with other people and the outside world. Maybe because we take our ability to talk so much for granted?

I’m almost ashamed to say that it has taken a writing project to make me bend my thoughts more seriously towards these issues. I’m 25,000 words into my second novel and one of the supporting characters is deaf. The main character has a disabling stutter and hence hates speaking. Through learning sign language though he is able to finally express himself and embark on a more fulfilling lifestyle. Yes, it is something of a rom/com for those of you that are interested but also, hopefully, a gritty piece of social commentary. Anyway, I’m not here to big up the novel. I’ll save that for when it’s finished.

The point is I quickly realized that to write effectively and realistically about Deaf Culture I needed to embark on some serious research. I bought books. I contacted someone at the Deaf Arts Network who very kindly spent weeks answering all of my (no doubt very crass) questions and supplying me with real life anecdotes – Lisa, if you are reading, a big thank you once again. Eventually I realized that to make the deaf character real and believable – not to mention her dialogues with the main character – I would need to learn sign language myself.

Because it is a complete language in itself with its own sense of dialogue and its own idiosyncratic mechanics. It can’t be replicated by guesswork; you have to know it.

Thankfully the local FE College here in Leamington offers the Level 1 course. Depressingly it is very expensive. £450. Level 2 is over £600 and then there is Level 3 and 4. But that’s jumping the gun. I nearly abandoned the idea there and then as there was no way I could afford the best part of £500 on an evening course. But help comes from surprising sources sometimes and my employer stepped up to the plate and is funding Level 1 for me; the idea being that it will be useful for the local authority here to have an employee who can communicate [albeit at a very basic level] with any deaf customers.

I started the course about 6 weeks ago. Without fail I am exhausted before I even get there – I’m not a night person – but every Tuesday I drag myself up to the college and try to make myself as receptive as my lazy brain will allow. And without fail I leave 2 hours later buoyant and buzzing and bouncing with the sheer exhilaration of it all.

It is a wonderful course and a beautiful language to learn. It is as fluid, rich, dynamic, intriguing, and expressive as any spoken voiced language. I’d even venture to say it is more expressive. It has its own set of pictorial semantics which are often as funny as they are clever. There is something organic and interconnected about the language too. The sign for ‘milk’ for example is redolent of milking a cow. Every sign is pregnant with meaning and has an ingenious grace to it that makes you want to master every word and phrase.

And it’s easy to learn. Amazingly easy. The entire class had mastered the finger-spelling alphabet within the first hour. There is something instinctive about it. And now armed with those few rude basics you can at last communicate and make your point known.

So it amazes me that the basics of sign language aren’t taught at all schools. Just the alphabet and a few signs would hardly over burden the current curriculum. The benefits would be enormous both to the Deaf Community and to the hearing community, both in terms of increased accessibility for the former and inclusiveness for both. Because it was not until I embarked on this research that I realized what a closed culture Deafness is. It is very enclosed and self contained. Not because Deaf people want to be separate but because if no-one else speaks your language you have no choice but to be separate and a world apart.

And given that we all share the world and are all human, that seems a very great shame.

Not being able to hear music is actually the smallest loss that Deafness bestows upon you. Not having the ability or the opportunity to make yourself ‘heard’ is far, far worse and deeply, hurtfully isolating. And yet the remedy is so simple.

Come on, Education Minister; put sign language onto our school curriculum! Or for those of you that understandably can’t wait for that great day or are past school attendance age... I know a great way for you to put £450 to very good use. I guarantee you won’t regret it.



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Monday, November 01, 2010

Birk & Nagra

The screaming you heard over the weekend wasn’t the climax of a witch’s sabbat but the sound of my wife wrestling money out of my wallet to take us to see Burke And Hare at the local cinema...

I love going to the cinema but when times are tight it is usually the first luxury to fall by the wayside.

So was it money well spent?

On the whole I’d say yes. The film is a comedy in the Ealing vein but is also gritty and a mite grim. Difficult for it to be otherwise given the subject matter – dead bodies, corpses, anatomical science and murder (to be said with both r’s rolling furiously like in an episode of Taggart) – and the historical ending of the story leaves little room for it to mutate into a chick flick: William Burke was roundly hanged, dissected and his skeleton put on view for all to see in the Edinburgh University Museum. Apparently it is still there.

But comedy it was and by God it was a who’s who of British comedians. Practically everyone was there with the notable exceptions of Ricky Gervais and Jim Davidson. So there’s 2 reasons at least to go and see it. Almost the entire cast of Spaced appears in the film and there was even Ronnie Corbett to boot though Karen and I both think the tiny little chap is recovering from a stroke given his slightly slurred delivery of his lines... but then again he was playing a Scotsman so the slurring could have been entirely deliberate.

Jessica HynesAs for the all important eye candy... well, there’s little to appeal to the ladies. Much as I like Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis they are hardly a pair of Adonis’s (Adoni?) and having them waddle around dressed in the cast-offs from Oliver Twist is hardly going to boost their sex appeal. For the lads there was Isla Fisher who I’m sure debuted on our screens in Home & Away. What can I say? She’s pretty enough but does nothing for me. So little in fact Burke and Hare could have carted me off to the butcher’s slab and I wouldn’t have noticed. Possibly it’s a testament to how much I adored Spaced but Jessica Hynes did far more for me. Even though she spent much of the film spilling her impressive bosom into a bowl of porridge and cheap ale. I guess that says a lot about what floats my boat.

Isla FisherHynes also has the best laugh-out-loud scene in the film – as she and her on-screen husband, Serkis, are rogering each other with a fury that would possibly cause a tsunami off the coast of Skye they come up with their master plan – to move away from murder and into funeral parlours (the reason being people bring their dead bodies to you rather you having to engineer them yourself: genius). To be honest if I was going at Jessica Hynes like a threshing machine on moonshine the last thing I’d be thinking about would be funeral parlours ...but if I were to have Andy Serkis’s rubber lips flapping over me like Mr Ed reciting the alphabet then thinking about funeral parlours might be a very welcome diversion.

Anyway, my opinion aside, the film was not well patronaged when Karen and I went to see it and much as I’d like to see the film get a wider audience for patriotic reasons I can see that its appeal is limited. I don’t think the humour or the accents will travel well. Which is a shame.

And as for the title of this post: Birk & Nagra are a well established firm of chemists in Leamington Spa and, because my mind works like that, they are all I can think of when I see the names Burke and Hare. Any other association between the 2 is purely coincidental. Ahem.



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Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Looking

Workmen leering at tasty looking womanWe all do this, right? Give someone the once over, the double take? You’re walking around town and you see someone who is a bit of alright and you do the ol’ double take; risk whiplash injury just to feast on a cat-like walk or breasts that appear to be full of helium or, if you are of the other persuasion, visually nail a pert bottom or a tight 6-pack to the mast of your imagination for the rest of the day.

There is no crime in looking. We all do it – both male and female. Neither my wife and I believe in thought crimes. An instinctive look at “a looker” is fine. It’s the acting on it that is morally reprehensible. But I’m not here to talk about extra-marital naughtiness (no, I’m saving that for my autobiography... Joke. It would a single page document, totally blank, ‘cos as Hall & Oates once memorably sang: I can’t go for that, no-o, no can do).

So I’m walking past a building that has just had some renovation work done on it. And the scaffolding team are all over it like the spiders on my bathroom wall taking down their magnificent erection of scaff poles and walk boards. And on the other side of the road a lovely leggy brunette walks by. She looks about 18. She has a canvas bag draped over her shoulder. I take one look at her and think grumpily to myself, “student,” which tells you where my headspace was on that day, and I carry on walking.

I can’t help noticing, however, the sudden very pregnant hiatus in the endeavours of the scaff team. It’s like some villain from Doctor Who has flicked a switch and the secret aliens they’ve been hosting inside their beer-ballooned bodies have suddenly become active and, as one, have taken over their minds. The Midwich Cuckolds are alive, well and drooling over the plaster crapped surface of their flatbed truck. One of them has a scaff pole down the front of his trousers so big it isn’t going to be taken down any time soon, I can tell you.

And I think to myself: poor girl. Because she knows she’s being eyeballed. There’s a sudden awkwardness to her gait that wasn’t there before. A nervous stiffness to her stride. She is shrivelling, red-faced, beneath the look these bozos are giving her en masse.

Because this is no Dusty Springfield Look Of Love... this is a Sir Les Patterson look of pure lust.

And I kind of got the idea that it didn’t matter that, really, truthfully, this girl was a bit of a plain Jane. She was OK but not a looker. Pretty – but normal pretty. The kind of girl who I hope will meet a guy who’ll fall in love with her properly and for herself and not just for her external prettiness. Not a supermodel whose looks ultimately will be her undoing as she ends up with some shallow third division footballer dickhead. An aesthetic benchmarking of her looks didn’t come into it. To the guys on their scaffold tower she was female. She was female and showing a bit of leg. She was sexual entertainment. She was fair game for a going over in the same way that the well bazooka’d lass on the 3rd page of their daily tabloid was there purely for their hormonal amusement. These guys must surely spend their days lurching from one instance of testicular quickening to the next.

But – and this is where I felt uncomfortable – is this how I appear when I take a gander at a lovely little lady walking by? Because, somewhere in the back of my tiny little mind, I assume I look at a passing vision of beauty in the same way I’d look at a vision of beauty in an art gallery. Yes, it is an objectifying look but in this instance isn’t that better than the overly personal leery looks that these builders were dishing out? Or is there no difference between our looks at all?

Because I have no idea what I look like when I look at someone. Do any of us?

Now I know I’m fastening onto the dirty male gaze here but, let’s be honest about this, women look too. And I have seen some women look at a man the same way these guys were looking at this poor girl. And it is just as ugly. The intent behind it is just wrong.

So now I’m wondering: is it always wrong to look? Or are some looks more wrong than others? What makes them more wrong? Are there, after all, thought crimes that some people should be duly admonished for?

What do you think?



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