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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