Saturday, December 31, 2011

And Don't Call Me Sherlie...

Noomi RapaceThree good reasons to go and see Sherlock Holmes 2 A Game of Shadows:

1) It's better than the first one even though that one was, in my opinion, brilliant.
2) It's fun, it's full and it's fast moving.
3) Noomi Rapace.

And not necessarily in that order.

Now I'm well aware that Guy Ritchie's take on the Sherlock Holmes legend has resulted in apoplexy in some and epiphany in others. There are just as many people trying to raise Sir Arthur C. Doyle from the dead to exact a terrible spectral revenge on Mr Ritchie as there are rubbing themselves off with fake deerstalkers in bristling Watson-esque ecstacy. I don't own a deerstalker myself but I will own my own opinion and say that A Game of Shadows is absolutly superb.

The plot of the first film - for all it was excellently executed and a wonderful cinema specatcle - was, all things considered, absurd. Magic, voodoo and hoo-ha. For many they had to suspend their belief a little bit too far. Not so with A Game Of Shadows. The intrigue here is good old politics, war and greed. Europe is on the verge of the first World War. The countdown to the world's darkest hour (no, not The X Factor) has begun. The machine of war is oiling itself up and getting ready to roar. And there are those afoot who are already positioning themselves to own both the bullets and the bandages. Those with vision, for all it is dark, realize the outcome is going to be war and profiteering on an industrial scale...

Cue neat segue to Jared Harris as Professor James Moriarty. He is an excellent addition to the cast. He seethes with intellectual malice and a gingery beard of the purest evil. Holmes has indeed met his match. Downey Jr and Law reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson with a glee that postively spills over onto the screen. There is real chemistry there and weirdly it feels right that Watson ends up spending his honeymoon with Holmes rather than his wife, getting shot at by a load of belligerent Germans. Bravest role of the film goes to Stephen Fry as Holmes's brother, Mycroft, and who bears his nipples, his paunch and his polished vowels with unabashed abandon in a scene of astonishing nudity. After that seeing Downey Jr's Holmes in a bonnet and lipstick is nothing to be concerned about at all.

The biggest pull of the film for me though was Noomi Rapace. Her previous incarnation as Lisbeth Salander has made her famous in Europe among Stieg Larsson's many devout followers (though probably less so state-side). And I have to say it was odd going to see her in Sherlock Holmes and passing a poster in the cinema foyer for the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and finding her not on it. How would she cope with a role as comparatively lightweight as a gypsy girl in Sherlock Holmes? I thought she was mesmerizing. She held the screen so brightly she almost set light to it. I wished Ritchie had made more of her to be honest. The steampunk priestess of piercings had transformed herself into a knife throwing, tarot reading Cadbury's Flake girl (minus the Cadbury's Flake) and, with apologies to Watson's wife, held her own against the big boys and saw off any other challenger. No double entendre intended. Though possibly one wished for.

I'm not going to spoil the ending for you but I thought it was a good move by Ritchie. It plays around with the original Sherlock finale but leaves any sequels open to throw off the shackles of the old and venture completely into pasture new.

Or does it?

I mean, after all, those gingery beards are legendarily hard to get rid off...

Cue echoey Victorian laughter...



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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crap Dad Or Great Dad?

I totally get that life doesn't have cheat codes. Totally. There are no shortcuts. No booster-packs. No level-ups. No invincibility toggle. (Of course, if you're a multi-billionaire you can ignore all that.) You makes the bed you've been given and you learns to lie in it.

You do the best you can with what you've got and try to learn the skills you need but don't currently have.

That's life. I get that.

It's a parent's job to encourage their kids to accept this and grapple with it from as early an age as possible so that they engage and stand a better chance of getting where they want to get quicker.

But Goddammit, 2 days of playing The Incredibles on PS2, trying to get to the robot battle level on behalf of my 4 year old (who only ever really wanted to play the robot level) was driving me frigging insane.

It's a brilliant game. Beautiful graphics. Superb playability.

But it's as hard as hell if you're not a full-time gamer. And the worst thing is, you fail and it sends you right back to the beginning of the level. I'd lost hours of my Christmas just getting to the halfway mark in level 3. The robot level was level 7. My 4 year old would be an old man before I got there and technology would have moved so far ahead that the PS2 would have become a museum piece.

I had 2 choices. Sit back and wait for natural obsolesence to claim me and the PS2 or do what normal, intelligent people the world over do.

Search Google for cheat codes.

I hit Google with gusto.

My 4 year old son is now happily pummelling the robot on level 7.

Life might not have cheat codes but sometimes, just sometimes, it's a parents job to cheat to make their kids happy.

And if that makes me a bad dad you can come and lock me up.



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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Every Little Helps My Arse

There should be a comma somewhere in the title but... oh, never mind.

I had every intention of writing a warm, sentimental, cosy-on-up type of blog post today, I really did. Something that would have had you all scooting up on the sofa just that little bit closer to your loved ones. Something that would have had you nuzzling up to each other like mewling kittens of Christmas love.

And then Tesco rained on my parade last night. Not hugely. Not diluvian by any means. But enough to make me feel like Mr Tesco himself was pissing down my neck.

The wife and I do our shopping on-line. Have done for years. Why spend 2 hours dragging the kids around a superstore at the weekend when 40 minutes on the computer can get it all done for you and then one of Mr Tesco's Little Helpers will deliver it all to your door on the day of your choice at a time you specify?

It's a wonder of the modern age.

Not that it is not without it's little foibles and foul-ups. The chief of these being the "substitute game". This is the one where your personal shopper in-store can't find the exact item you have requested and so substitutes if for something similar or approximating or something barely genetically linked.

This happens quite often. Sometimes we keep the substitutes; sometimes not. It all depends on the ability of our personal shopper to think inside the box and not come out with something so leftfield you wonder if he/she has had one half of their brain removed for medical experimentation.

But the point is, if Tesco haven't got what we want they have always done their best to offer us a consolation prize.

Until last night.

The night our Christmas shop was due to be delivered. The night our big Christmas chicken was being delivered ready for the big day tomorrow.

The delivery guys arrives at 8.00pm. He unloads. There is no chicken. There is no chicken at all. Anywhere. We check the print-out of what we have ordered - just in case the error was ours. But no. The chicken is listed. Along with the size we specified.

The print-out informs us it was not available. And no substitute has been provided.

None at all.

Nadda.

Even the delivery guy is amazed that Tesco have done this. Isn't it obvious that this is the main component of our Christmas meal? What if we were old, infirm and housebound? What would we do for our Christmas meal then? Make do with a couple of mouldy old Garibaldis from the back of the cupboard?

Thank you, Mr Tesco. That was really helpful. That has really warmed the Christmas cockles of our hearts.

I know, I know. They'd probably sold out. Had none left in the store. But we'd placed this order days ago. We'd put our dibs on a chicken and, as far as I'm concerned, had reserved one. I mean, we pay £5 on top of the food bill for this service after all.

The delivery guy recommended we ring up and complain. Assured us that Tesco would be taking deliveries tomorrow and more chickens would be in stock.

I'm sure he was right. But Karen and I had lost our faith in Tesco. We just wanted our chicken now - safely there in our fridge where we could see it's cute little parson's nose slowly defrosting. We didn't want to play Christmas chicken with our chicken and leave it until Christmas Eve when Tesco might let us down again. 'Cos plainly Tesco didn't give a fig(gy pudding) whether we had anything to eat on Christmas Day or not.

So Karen nipped out to Asda. They had a chicken. A big one. And they sold it to us.

It is now in our fridge and Christmas is saved.

No thanks to Tesco, though.

Tesco - Christmas or not - you can cock right off.



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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Language!

One of the unfortunate side effects of this time of year is finding yourself queuing at Argos; standing like a stranded penguin at Collection Point A, B or C, waiting for one of the backroom boys to hoof your internet-ready-teasmaid-DVD/Blu-Ray player out of the warehouse and onto those cheap looking shelves at the back of the counter that look like they were found in a skip outside IKEA.

It's amazing what you can overhear as you wait for your product to arrive for the clientele of Argos is a bizarre mix of every social strata known to mankind. I bet even Prince Wills pops in every now and then to take advantage of their AA battery multipacks.

So I am waiting. Trying to look like I don't shop here very often at all. And I hear a youthful voice piercing the "rhubarb-rhubarb" of the shop's natural ambience.

"Va-gi-nah!"

I raise an eyebrow and half turn.

"Va-gi-NAH!"

There is a boy who looks like the fruit of Fagin's loins sitting on one of the chairs. He can be no more than 10 or 11 but plainly has the vocabulary of a teenage barrow-boy. Hearing an impatient sigh to my right I deduce that his mother (25 going on 47) is stood next to me at Collection Point B.

"Va-GI-NAH!"

The call comes again and I briefly wonder whether the boy is merely pointing out an Empress's new clothes (but can see no evidence of public nudity) or is insulting a mortal enemy after swearing off four letter words.

His mother, turns and utters his name like it is itself an expletive.

"Kevin!"

Kevin clearly hears the warning in his mother's voice and changes tack.

"Pee-nus!"

Oh joy, I think. Sex education at the junior school level is plainly working. Let's talk about sex (baby). Let's talk about all the good thing and the bad things, etc, etc. It is after all what Collection Point A was made for.

The word penis is intoned a few more times, steadily rising in volume, like Master Pottymouth is the high priest of the great god, Nob before his mother finally kicks in with an unspecified threat.

"Kevin, if you don't shut up..."

Kevin shuts up. Though not before positing the argument that, "What? They're just words."

And for all I found his shameless genitalia obsession a little disturbing and worryingly unwholesome I have to concede that he has a point. They are just words. But I wonder what he was trying to communicate with them? What meaning lay behind them in his mind?

A cry for help?

A call for information on this topic, please mater, for it fascinates me deeply?

Or just a sad cry for attention to someone who can't even focus on her son long enough to formulate a decent cause and effect response to his inappropriate behaviour?

Who knows. My goods had arrived by that point and, it being Argos, I figured it was all bollocks anyway.




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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Remember Me?

BinswoodI came across the above photo surreptitiously (you can click on it to enlarge it). I say surreptitiously because it was not sent to me; I merely found it on an old school acquaintance’s Facebook page. I doubt they even remember me, let alone would have reason to send me a copy of the photo.

Because you see, despite this being a snapshot of my peers outside my old sixth form college, I am not on it. I don’t even recall this photo being taken. I was totally unaware of it at the time; the fact that somebody gathered this select few together, organized them, took the photo. I was not invited or even told about it.

That sounds bitter – and maybe it is – but that was undeniably my first reaction.

Followed swiftly by a “why the hell would they have invited me anyway?”

You see I doubt if most of the people in this photograph would remember me. I expect that most of them didn’t know who I was even at the time. They would have past me in the corridors, sat behind me in the classrooms and I wouldn’t have impinged on their consciousness in the slightest. Except maybe as “the really uncool kid”, “the nerd”, “the weird looking one”.

I doubt if I had a name to most of these people.

I was a wallflower at school. Complete and utter. And while my sixth form years were the start of me emerging from my awkward shell, I was still a long way off from gaining any kind of confidence or self esteem.

When I look at this photo I feel a painful sense of want. An agony of wanting to fit in and be cool and be popular. Kind of like Kung Fu Panda (before he discovered the secrets of Kung Fu) wanting to hang out with the Furious Five.

Only for me it was never going to happen.

A couple of my friends are on this photo. Tristan Fitzgerald and Steve Fox. It’s telling that they didn’t tell me about this photo being taken at the time. For them it would have been a pleasant but not particularly especial event. If I had been asked to join this group it would have made my entire year.

Well. It plainly wasn’t my year.

It’s weird to see how young everyone looks. So eighties. So dated. Faintly ridiculous. And yet this was the epitome of cool. This was a group of teens who thought they knew it all before University and Life proved to them how wrong they all were.

This was a group of teens who I envied, who I hated, who I adored and in a couple of cases – Sarah Cullen and Emily Sweetman – I would even have gladly drunk your bath water.

But I am not in this photo. I am somewhere else in the building. Probably in a darkened room writing trauma inducing poetry about not fitting in. About not belonging. About desperately wanting to. About how was I ever, ever going to get a girlfriend?

Looking at this photo now I can finally see how all that really didn’t matter. It was only me that made it matter; that hamstrung myself with it. All those useless hang-ups. All those miserable desires and the unfairness of not having them realized.

Looking at this photo now I wish I could go back in time and instil a different kind of world-view into myself. To not have myself care so much. To bother a good deal less about other people’s opinions. To have the scales pulled from my eyes. To pull these people down from the dais that I had placed them on. To stop wanting to be like them.

Because going my own way – as I eventually did – was always the right thing to do.

To not be on this photograph was always the best thing to be.

I just didn’t realize it at the time.

This is a photograph of me before I woke up to myself. Before I became me.

It’s only now that I’m smiling for the camera.



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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oi! Moffat! No!

Karen Gillan, superlative red headIt was the pressure. It was fear. The motivation was stinking lily-livered terror.

That’s my theory anyway.

It was announced last night that Steven Moffat – Doctor Who script writing major domo – has announced that the next series of DW will be the last to feature Amy Pond and Rory Whateverhislastnameis. They’re going to be written out via a “heart rending storyline”.

*furious sigh*

Well, I’m just sickened. Sickened.

Not just because Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is leggy and red-headed (actually that probably ought to be “not just in spite of”). Not just because Amy has been the best DW companion since Donna Noble. Not just because Amy is River Song’s mum.

But because I was planning to write a DW script in the New Year centred around Rory. I had it all planned out and everything. A nice WWII story set around the D-Day landings and featuring Rory’s (about to be invented by me) grandfather. I’d even begun to research odd happenings on D-Day so that I could have used a weird happening as a plot device to shoehorn The Doctor into proceedings.

But no. The uber-work has been nipped in the bud. The rose has been cut before it could bloom. My plans have been scuppered. Sabotaged.

Moffat heard about my plan. He must have. It’s the only explanation.

“Christ on a unicycle,” He probably said. “Steve is going to write a script and send it into the Beeb. The game will be up. I can’t withstand that kind of competition. I need to pull the rug out from under him.”

And thus he hit low and hard. Removed the two characters that were integral to my plot.

Karen Gillan I am sorry. I am so truly sorry. I feel so responsible for your having been written out of the show. And Mr Rory Actor (I can never remember your real name) I would have made you a star. And I would have learnt your real name off by heart. It would have been a fabulous story. Worthy of being the 2012 Christmas special.

But now I’m going to have to wait until after the next series. See who the new companions will be. Adapt my story to their personality and the way they speak. It’ll be 2013 at the earliest.

Because I’m not giving up. You hear me, Moffat? You ain’t off the hook yet!

I’m coming for you and there won’t be a Tardis big enough for you to hide in!



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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Women On The Telly Who You’re Not Meant To Fancy But I Do, Sort Of (Part 1)

Monica Galetti1) Monica Galetti.

Anyone who has ever watched Masterchef will know that Monica Galetti is Michel Roux Jr’s senior sous chef and right hand man. Literally. She is like the personal body guard to the godfather of food. This woman spends 90% of her time looking so fierce that she’s more of a serious Sioux chief than a senior sous chef. You mess up that jus or crash that ganache and this woman will have your trembling gonads plucked and par-boiled in a white wine reduction before you can say egg chips and spam. I have seen professionally skilled contestants on Masterchef quail and gnash their teeth when faced with the warrior palate of Monica Galetti. This woman does not pull her punches. This woman knows culinary karate. Offer her a dog’s dinner and she’ll fillet you in the most painful way possible. I suspect that even Michel Roux Jr himself is secretly terrified of earning Monica’s stinging disapprobation. But when a chef gets it right, when a contestant delivers the dog’s bollocks then one word of praise from The Galetti Machete is enough to reduce the hardest, toughest chef into a bubbling soufflé of sheer pleasure.

This woman is undoubtedly high maintenance. She is exacting and demanding and expects perfection every time. That would be enough to kill most men. But what a way to go. Because there is just something about Monica that does the business for me. There is something of the Amazon about her (and I’m not talking about express delivery and better DVD deals than Play.com). She is athletic in her brooding intensity. But I suspect that away from the harsh get-it-right-first-time plate-‘em-up pressure of a 2 Michelin star kitchen Monica is something of a Cadbury’s Flake eating Pre-Raphaelite fairy. Sort of floaty and into water colour painting and tantric yoga. Needlecraft and cushion making. The sort of woman who secretly wants to defer all decisions to a big hairy tattooed brute of a man.

Oh who am I kidding? It would be Monica on top every time with a carving knife against your throat and a garlic press up against your testicles. This woman cooks and, yes, I mean that euphemistically as well as literally.

Chef, I say, chef?! I think my custard has set!

Ruth Goodman2) Ruth Goodman.

I am, if I’m honest, hard pressed to state why I think Ruth Goodman is quite attractive. But I think she is. Yes, she has a pointy orc nose. Yes, her teeth are not perfect (but neither are mine). Yes, she is so freckly she must have the melanin levels of an entire Mediterranean country. But she has something that makes me go “Hmm” every time I see her. She’s clever. She’s into history and is not averse to squeezing herself into a corset (ah – that might be it) to provide televisual re-enactments of days gone by. She has also got, I suspect, a filthy sense of humour as evidenced by her butter making skills on Victorian Farm Christmas this week when she informed the audience that when butter has been successfully churned the correct term to use is that “the butter has come”. This woman makes butter come! I mean, come on! That’s got to hit the spot of every red blooded male for miles around (well, barring all those that are on Benecol, of course). She then inserted herself up a windmill in the same episode so that she could admire the grinding mechanism. She is plainly insatiable.

To be serious for one moment though, I think the most likeable thing about Ruth Goodman is that she’s honest. She’s on TV a lot but she doesn’t dress herself up or go in for personality fakery. She is what she is and she neither apologizes for it nor forces it down your throat. She’s the woman next door. The woman at the bus stop. Real and vivacious. In a corset and a Victorian bustle. And she makes butter come. Even Monica Galetti can’t do that (though I have no doubt that she can stiffen a soufflé).

Miranda Hart3) Miranda Hart

I’m not really sure if Miranda qualifies to be here in the sense that I think she is plainly very fanciable. It doesn’t feel as “out there” or as leftfield to say one finds Miranda Hart attractive as compared to the two lovely ladies above. I think this is simply because Miranda is warm and funny and smoothly spoken and kind and personable... I mean, just what is there not to like?

But a lot of people find her height and stature off-putting. I can appreciate that. After all, she is a majestic giantess of a woman. A colossus with an impressively deep décolletage. Her ideal partner in terms of physique would be The Cerne Abbas Giant. But what hillside would not be improved with an impression of Miranda Hart carved into the side of it? Hell, my own lawn is big enough and I’m pretty good with a hoe - if Miranda fancies a modelling assignment I’m free most weekends. I’ll even leave a few strategically placed dandelions dotted about the place. There may even be room for a vegetable plot. It would double the pleasure of seeing the legumes pushing through the topsoil next summer.

Miranda strikes me as being jolly good company for all occasions. She sounds posh but isn’t at all stuffy. She’s statuesque but delightfully feminine. She’s a comedy extravert and yet also winningly shy and demure. And, Godammit, she just has a very beautiful face and a smile that makes you want to hug her. She’s a gorgeous ‘gel’ and no mistake.

She’s given me a funny bone.

So, over to you guys. Who is your guilty pleasure on TV these days?



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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Get Out Of The Way

Harrison Ford as Dirk DeckardSometimes you just want to get home. Sometimes you just want to get from A to B through C (A = morning, B = evening, C = work / life / society) with the minimum of fuss and upset. You want to take the shortest, quickest, easiest route. The path of least resistance. As the crow flies.

Because you’re (to quote Shrek) a donkey on the edge. You are a Hadron collider of disenchantment molecules. One more straw on your back and you are going to get mediaeval on the world’s ass.

It’s not that you have anything against the world. No big beef. No real big issue. It’s just there. Today the world is there and you would much rather it not be there. But if it’s going to be there the least it can do is shut the fuck up and play ball.

That’s right. I want the world’s ass to play ball. Don’t get picky with my metaphors, I’m not in the mood.

So why is it, on these days, on these days when your mind is a hurricane of venom and antisocial energy that people, things, get in your way?

You’re just trying to get through to the other side as peacefully as you can but they – them – they get in your way. Constantly. Deliberately.

The phone call you know you shouldn’t answer but you do and it braindumps another load of crap onto your ass just before you’re about to go home. The people who insist on stopping immediately in front of you when you are rushing through town on an irritating, shit-kicking errand and they just stop dead and flounder and flummox and flop about wetly blocking your way even though they know you are there. The car at the junction that slows down in front of you not to let you cross but because they can’t be bothered to rush too much and so they slow but not slow enough for you to be able to cross in front of them and it’s raining but now you have to wait until Mr Air Conditioned Leather Car Seat and his kajillion decibel sound system on wheels rolls past you before you can cross. The shops who choose this moment – this exact moment – to run out of whatever essential item you need to buy on your way home when they have it every other sodding day of the year but no, not today, not at this hour, and now you have to go out of your way, walk longer, encounter more people, just to get this one solitary item from another shop which you don’t even like and which isn’t going to make your life any better but will feel like some kind of victory if you do actually get it.

Why? Why do all these get in your way?

Why do they choose today of all days to get in your face?

Why can’t they just stay the fuck away?

You know what I need?

A gun. A gun like Dirk Deckard had in Bladerunner. A huge fat jumbo jet sausage of a gun that shoots bullets the size of coke cans. Cos’ when Dirk pulled that piece and shouted, “get out of the way” people did. They got out of his way.

Well, that’s what I need. That’s what I want. It’s not a luxury. It’s an essential item. It’s survival, people, survival. I will die without it.

And it’s nothing personal. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to hurt you. Truly I don’t.

I. Just. Want. You. To. Get. Out. Of. The. Way.



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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Homing From Work

A lot of employers these days are saving money by encouraging (or ‘supporting’ as it is known in business parlance) employees to work from home. Some IT bod leaves his subterranean life denial system (otherwise known as the IT Services Office), goes round to the employee’s gaff and installs some software onto their home PC or laptop which enables them to dial into their work PC almost as if they were actually at work doing it in person. I guess a simple telephone monitoring system then enables the employer to sift official work calls from spurious demands to sex line numbers in order that they pay for bona fide work calls only.

Hey presto, your earnest young employee is now being paid to work from home but without consuming the employer’s electricity, gas, water, lighting, air, toilet facilities, canteen services or any of the other perks that an employer is wont to provide. The work gets done; the employee gets paid as usual but the employer saves a pretty bundle in consumables and fuel bills.

‘Working from home’. It’s a great lark and a wonder of the modern age.

But I feel the envelope has not been pushed out far enough.

I want to work for an employer who not only allows me to ‘work from home’ but also – more importantly – allows me to ‘home from work’.

I want to be able to sit at my workstation dressed in jimjams and even possibly wrapped up in an old blanket with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in my hand. I want to be able to spend 3 hours on internet prevarication before I actually commit myself to the task that I originally sat down in front of the computer to perform. Once this task has been completed (i.e. answering a few emails) I want to waste another few hours on Facebook and Twitter giving the entire world a blow by blow account of all the amazing things I am not actually doing.

Sat at my desk drinking cocoa. Where does the time go? Lol.

I demand daytime telly, lunchtime telly, afternoon telly and then one of those mid afternoon drama serials – Mid Somer Murders or some shit like that – something I can snooze off too. I’ll also need a steady supply of bread to make toast, accompany tinned soup and comprise the odd sandwich that I will need to nurture my delicate constitution towards the safe haven of the evening meal when I can at last relax and bask in the glory of another hard day at the office completed. Then, of course, I will want to snookem’s up in bed with a nice hot water botty placed lovingly upon my tendermost regions.

Bliss.

You may be wondering what benefit this set up will have for society? Well, the more of us that home from work the less social housing we will need. This will free up housing for those people who are unable to home from work because they don’t have a job and therefore have nowhere to live. I must point out that people who take busman’s holidays don’t really feature in my Utopia. The more of us who home from work in communal offices will use less fossil fuels en masse than we would if we were all living in separate domiciles – thus the ecology of the planet receives a much needed boost. We could also share TVs, fridges, ovens, PlayStations – again, reducing consumption of fossil fuels and the creation of CFCs. There would also be no need to drive to and from work – so further reductions in oil consumption and pollution are produced.

For the planet this entire set-up would be nothing but an out-and-out winner.

The only downside would be having no downtime at all from your employer.

*Sigh*

Bugger.

Back to the drawing board...



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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

All Hail My Hair

I’ve never expressed my love for my hair before but I feel it is time to get personal and say the words that are sprouting in the deepest chamber of my heart.

My hair, I love you. More than that I am grateful to you for sticking around for so long.

I know 42 years doesn’t sound much. Certainly not when Canadian Redwoods can live up to a thousand years and Bruce Forsythe’s grip on life seems to be eternal. But if I’m honest I didn’t think you’d make it through my twenties.

My dad showed distinct signs of male pattern baldness in his early twenties – receding hairline at front, sides and rear. The monk’s pate soon revealed itself.

I felt that Fate was surely waiting in the wings to cruelly crop my luscious tawny brown curls. It would only be a matter of time.

In my late teens I made the decision to grow my hair long. I’ll make the most of it while I’ve got it, I thought. And for the next decade I wore my hair down to my waist.

It thinned a little I’ll admit. I braced myself for that first small tell-tale hole in the carpet to appear.

But it didn’t. It wore thin. It got a little threadbare. But full depletion never occurred. I outgrew my long hair. In my thirties I got it cut and went for a more respectable, shorter, office friendly length.

I feared this sudden change in volume and weight might trigger off a seismic follicle reaction which would see my locks leaping off my head like hirsute lemmings.

But no.

Here we are over ten years later and – though various stray fibres make escape bids daily in the shower or on my comb – largely my riah has remained securely in place.

And now I’m getting my hopes up. I’m beginning to get confident that maybe my lugs are here for the long haul. That me and my quiff are destined to share a worm-eaten box together in God’s good brown earth, destined to be examined and carbon dated by a hologramatic version of Tony Robinson in the year 2678 (a date that I have just typed in at random).

I know that the odds are stacked against me: work stress, youngest boy about to start school next September, eldest boy approaching teen-hood, my complete and utter contempt of Grecian 2000... all agents of the dreaded demon of depilation... but I feel that the roots of my hair run deep. We are bonded in ways that are unbreakable. Unassailable.

Not even Delilah herself would dare mess with my mane.

My ruff is too rough to be ravaged by mere Philistines.

So take a good look at me, Old Age! I’m coming for you permed and preened like Jon Bon Jovi in his heyday! Look upon my locks and weep oh poor denuded ones!

Hair today. Hair forever.

Amen.

This was a public service announcement brought to you on behalf of my hair. Thank you for bristling.



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Friday, December 02, 2011

Me And Mr Clarkson, We're Like That

Jeremy ClarksonWe love a bit of hoo-ha in this country. A little bit of brouhaha. A little bit of outrage and apoplectic armchair slapping.

A little bit of whoa. A little bit of ooh.

On some deep perverse level all those people who complained about Jeremy Clarkson’s comments on The One Show (that striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their families) must have secretly enjoyed Clarkson’s comments. Been secretly pleased that he’d made them.

Because it got them excited. Made them feel alive. Got the blood surging through their veins and got their moustaches bristling in a thoroughly British bulldog manner. Here is some meat we can savage, Goddammit, get stuck in lads!

But really. It was a storm in a teacup. It was stuff and nonsense. It was nothing.

A comedy grenade tossed into the crowd to see which fellows it would take out and which it would leave standing.

Before I continue I need to make it clear that I am one of those striking public sector workers that Mr Clarkson would apparently like to see shot in front of my wife and kids.

Am I offended?

No. Not at all. I watched the show and took it all with a punch of salt. It was plain – absolutely plain – that the comments were off-the-cuff jokes designed to illicit nervous chuckles from those watching. Designed to shock. Designed to both offend and entertain. Frankie Boyle uses a similar kind of shtick though to greater effect (i.e. Frankie Boyle is actually funny). My wife wasn’t offended by Clarkson’s comments either though I’m pretty sure she got straight onto the phone to our solicitor to see whether she could amend my life insurance policy to include “death by publicity seeking celebrity”.

See. I made a joke out of it. It really isn’t worth twisting one’s knickers up about. The whole thing was tongue-in-cheek.

And I have sympathy with Mr Clarkson. No. Really I do. I’ve got into trouble on this ‘ere blog by people reading posts that were clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek and not-to-be-taken-at-all-seriously and then taking them very seriously indeed. And being offended. And, worse, seeking to be more and more offended by coming back for more.

Because, let’s face it, some people just like being offended.

So what are the alternatives?

Everybody is censored and is not allowed to say anything at all that could be construed as even slightly controversial? Well. We all better start wearing gags in that case and gimping ourselves up. None of us had better say another word. And where the hell do you draw the line anyway? Who decides what is offensive and what is not? Most jokes – even the genuinely funny ones – have a slightly offensive component to them. You could even argue that most things we find funny are built on someone somewhere being offended and offensive. Do we want to live in a world where humour is outlawed? Where no one can tell a joke because no one can take a joke?

I certainly don’t.

Get a sense of humour. Lighten up. Stop taking things so seriously.

If Jeremy Clarkson wants to drive past my house and take a pot shot at me from his Bugatti he is most welcome.

He won’t be able to get up my street anyway. The bin men were on strike on Wednesday and the roads are now chocka with crap.



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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Let’s Get A Handle On Hygiene

You know when news reports appear about food shortages or product shortages?

Well, I haven’t yet seen an occasion yet when there’s been a soap shortage. Or a shortage of wash basins. Or even, Goddammit, a shortage or paper towels. The food industry could go belly up tomorrow but we’d still be able to wash our hands.

So why is it that some of us don’t?

Why is it that some of us are just happy to smear our less attractive microbes over every communal surface possible in order to spread a little “germ love” to those we love and even those we don’t?

This is an age old complaint. I know it is. One day a fossilized stone slab will be found or possibly even a Mesolithic cave drawing that features some hang-dog caveman going about his toilet, not wiping his hands on a mammoth fur flannel and then being thrown out of the tribe for fingering the sabre tooth tiger steaks and scratching his back side with a flinthead axe.

And here we are in the 21st century and that hang-dog caveman is still around. The mammoth steaks and the flinthead axes might have disappeared but the not washing after using the toilet remains.

Countless times I have found myself ideologically trapped within a toilet facility. I have gone about my business. I have washed and dried and I’m ready to go. But a patron is ahead of me. A patron who has relieved himself of some intimate burden and then – for sheer want of any kind of civilizing influence – has vacated the premises without introducing his hands to soap and water.

Instead he has greased himself all over the door handle.

Which leaves me with a dilemma.

Do I try and grip the door handle at the point where I think he will have been least likely to touch it? This means trying to operate it only from its merest extremities – difficult when the door is heavy. Or do I wrap the handle in a paper towel and open it by way of a sheathing device? Or, even more dramatic, do I prop the door open with my foot and contort myself to the point of popping a hernia to reach the sink to wash my hands a second time and then barge my way out through the ajar door to gain my freedom and retain my germ free existence?

I don’t need this kind of conundrum when I want to use the bathroom! If I want more challenges in my life I’ll take up Sudoku.

Please, please, please, is it too much to ask that we all wash and go... after we’ve gone?



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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Cross Your Heart Factor

Katie McGrath as Morgana and Angel Coulby as GwenevereIs it just me or have certain elements in the current series of the BBC’s Merlin been, for want of a better expression, pumped?

Augmented? Inflated? Swelled?

And this isn’t a complaint – really it isn’t – but I can’t help wondering if the makers of Merlin are subconsciously trying to compete with the rather more adult telling of the King Arthur legend that appeared on our tellies earlier this year under the shockingly original title, Camelot.

‘Cos suddenly Gwenevere’s bosom (donated unselfishly by Angel Coulby) – hardly an insignificant landmark at the best of times – has suddenly grown into planet colliding proportions. It o’erspills. Her cups runneth over. She has gone from wanting to merely catch Arthur’s eye to attempting to skewer both of them out with a two-pronged attack. Run into this girl on a cold morning and you’ll end up with broken ribs on both sides.

I daresay Arthur (Bradley James) will consider that a jolly decent way to go but in terms of courtly love, isn’t it he who is meant to be running the good lady through?

I like Merlin. I liked it from the start though I will admit the first two series were a little too fairytale for me. Thing have got blacker and darker though since series 3 and this present series – the fourth – has seen things getting blacker still. Uther was bumped off in the second episode and Arthur is at last king. Morgana (Katie McGrath) has finally been converted to the dark side and has now (alas) spurned her usual neck plunging dresses and taken to concealing her own otherworldly décolletage behind charred sackcloth and a hairdo redolent of Amy Winehouse battling uphill towards an off-license against a force ten gale in Barnsley (going to wizard rehab? I say no, no, no).

I kind of miss Morgana’s finery. Her off-the-shoulder numbers. Her sneery lipped looks over a forkful of venison. Her twirly earrings that caught the candlelight just before she did someone a particularly bad turn. The show’s writer’s need to be careful that they don’t completely lose her va-va-voom amongst her recently acquired hovel paraphernalia and the pickled frogs she keeps in her medicine cabinet. Morgana’s appeal was always that she was a vamp. She was cold hearted and icy but she was nevertheless, undoubtedly, undeniably, a black hearted vamp. And a tease. The kind that lead a man to his doom without ever actually “putting out”.

Now she’s in danger of becoming a tramp. And not in a good way either. There needs to be some curve and some bosom mixed in with that eye of newt and tongue of lizard. After all the lady is a fox not an old bat.

But maybe this is why the show’s producers are building up Gwen’s part(s)? It kind of makes sense to have Gwen as Camelot’s ye olde pin-up girl. She is, after all, the legendary heroine who attracts all the knights of Camelot from far and wide to come and sup from the warm bounteousness of her round table, not Morgana. The balance of feminine power needs to be shifted – and not just in terms of a well fortified cross-your-heart bra.

Let’s just hope Arthur has got what it takes to locate her Holy Grail... keeping both these femme fatales from tearing out each other’s throats is likely to be very thirsty work indeed.

And I'll be more than happy to drink to that.



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Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Cock Vanishes

Foghorn LeghornIt's gone.

I woke up one morning expecting a familiar presence but it had disappeared. It was nowhere to be found, no matter how hard I looked, no matter how hard I strived to recover it... it just wasn't there anymore.

It had gone.

There is an argument that one should just accept this kind of thing. It happens, you know? Happens to everyone sooner or later. Or if not everyone then at least most.

But you get habituated, you get seasoned. You get used to having something there for you when you wake up in the morning. A reassurance that all is normal, all is well with the world. A rousing presence that seems almost as sentient as you are even though it is separate.

I was only aware that one of my neighbours was keeping chickens when the cock started crowing a couple of months ago.

At first, when I heard those first tentative rooster calls, I thought maybe I was imagining it. I don't live in the middle of the countryside after all. I live in a residential area of central Leamington Spa. It used to be farmland a hundred years ago but now it has semis, terraces, garages, corner shops and caravans that have become sculptures in honour of holidays that were never quite realized.

But each day the cock crowing got louder. Almost as if Foghorn Leghorn was finding himself. Finding his strength. Coming out of his shell (ahem). Learning to be a real cock rather than just a nervous chicken. There must have been chickens too I suppose. I mean one doesn't entertain a cock by itself unless one is really sad and lonely. But we never heard the chicks. They were ethereal in comparison to the volumed glory of the cock.

Between 6 and 8 every morning he'd offer his defiance to the sky. Greet the new day. Welcome the world.

I feared for him even then. People do not like to be woken up early in the morning by livestock in middle class residential areas of spa water towns. It didn't bother me and my wife - we have livestock of our own: two little monkeys who are wont to get up early and play in their bedrooms from 6am onwards. We were used to the early starts.

But the other neighbours?

Students. Labourers. Workmen. Dole-ites. Even a halfway house around the far corner of the block.

There was only going to be so much cock these people could take early in the morning.

And then, sometime this week, the mornings fell silent. No crowing. No calling. No cock a-doodle-doing.

I don't know what has happened to Mr Chook Rooster. There is no one I know well enough to ask and enqiry of the whereabouts of a stranger's cock is frowned upon in polite society. I hope Mr Rooster was found a home elsewhere where he can range free and wild in some immense morning wood. I hope his neck was not tugged by over-excited hands or disrupted by some cruel human's harsh chopper so that he came to a sticky end.

The mornings seem colder now. Duller. Adrenalin free. Devoid of natural pleasure.

I wish I could have done more for him but... I just feel so damned impotent.



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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Class

RAF boysThe way it was always told to me, not long after Chamberlain had declared war on Germany, my grandfather – barely 19 years of age – had hotfooted it around to the RAF recruiting office to sign up. He no doubt fancied himself kitted out with one of those stiffened scarves and leather goggles and chewing on a choice cigar from the comfort of his cockpit as he strafed a few Heinkels with a careless flick of his thumb on the joystick.

And who wouldn’t? The RAF, even before the Battle of Britain, had an air of the glams about it. I mean, dash it all, but those chaps were just plain dashing. Why yomp across France when you can sit at the controls of possibly the best plane ever built and let a Rolls-Royce Merlin carry you all the way to the theatre of battle in style?

But the RAF didn’t want my grandfather. They told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t have the brains to be a spitfire pilot or any other kind of pilot. He wasn’t made of the right stuff, see. He wasn’t educated properly. He’d made it through a decent enough school but he was indelibly working class. As far as the RAF were concerned he was a yomper if ever there was one. They no doubt looked at him through their steely monocles and muttered under their breaths, “Not one of us.”

And so despite, the urgent country-wide call to arms, the RAF declined my grandfather’s enthusiastic offer and the legend of The Leamington Baron was shot down before it even got off the runway.

If my grandfather was ever embittered by this show of classism he never showed it. He was resilient and perhaps just plain pragmatic enough to depart the RAF recruiting office with a cheery wave and an “Okay gov’nor” and hop over the threshold of the recruiting office immediately next door and find himself signed up by the Royal Navy. They snatched his hand off and had him rated as able-bodied before you could say “hard to starboard”.

He loved his time in the Navy. He loved the travel. He loved the camaraderie. Not that he was blinded by his love – he didn’t like the torpedoes, or the magnetic mines or the time his ship had its stern completely blown off and they had to rely on luck and the skill of their captain to limp them miraculously to the dicey safety of a Maltase port – but I can see from his war photos that the Navy changed him. It broadened his outlook. It completed his education in a way that a stint with the RAF would never have done. So he was never a member of a gentleman’s club or got a nickname like “Squiffy” or “Ack-Ack”... but he got to see India, North and South Africa, Malta, Iceland, even a few Russian ports.

He saw parts of the world that a boy from the working class slums of Leamington Spa would not ordinarily have got to see. And though the officers on board ship were just as high born as those of the RAF there was a closeness and equality (of sorts) born of spending months and months together in the equivalent of a tin can with no other company than the burly chaps around you. The respect that was engendered went both ways. In that respect war is a great leveller.

If it wasn’t for my Nan’s reluctance to travel I have no doubt my grandfather would have left these shores far behind him after the war and I’d be writing to you from South Africa. My grandfather loved his shore leave there and often spoke fondly of it in the years before his death in 2009. Not that he particularly regretted staying put in Blighty – he and my Nan gadded about quite a bit during their retirement years and saw as much of the world as they could – but I’m sure he occasionally dreamed of what could have been; if things had been different.

For all that though my grandfather did well for himself after the war. Yes, he did manual work but he was well paid for it. He aspired to be comfortable and he achieved it. He ended up owning his own house and car and was as far removed from those childhood slums as it was realistic to expect to be.

At the end he could have looked those RAF officers in the eye and got a polite nod in return. He’d earnt his wings.

The first casualty of war might be innocence but one of the last was class.



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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Ghost Of Christmas Post

OK. I’m waiting.

I have my arms outstretched upwards to the stars and my chakras open so wide a Higgs Boson could drive a ruddy great juggernaut right through the middle of them without touching the sides.

But it ain’t hit me. It hasn’t entered me. I am not speaking in Christmas tongues.

The spirit of Christmas has not seen fit to descend and use my body as a vessel for its gloriously tinselly commercialism.

I ain’t getting the Christmas vibe, man,

And I know I should be. The shops are selling their Christmas tat with the intensity of an Amsterdam window dancer. My home town had its big Christmas light switch on yesterday. Even Jamie ‘cheeky twatty’ Oliver is on the telly once more touting his mince pie flavoured ice cream (I kid you not: “individual ice creams wiv bits of mince pie in ‘em – even the pastry! Gor blimey, gov’nor!”).

The signs are there writ large upon the stars. Even the D list ones.

It is Christmas time (mistletoe and wine). It’s time to get jollied up. To get Santa’d. To get ho ho hoed.

But I can’t do it. I just can’t summon up the inclination.

It’s taken all my will power just to summon up a soupcon of enthusiasm to give my wife a Christmas wish list for myself – let alone trying to choose presents for other people.

I feel that spiritually I am shrugging with the burden of it all. I’m suffering from joy exhaustion or maybe more accurately “fear of joy commitment”.

Money’s tight. The health of the entire family seems to be dicey at the moment – if it we were a drink we would be Cinzano on the rocks without the Cinzano. Inanimate and domestic services are breaking down. My work colleagues inform me that Russell Grant got voted off Strictly Come Dancing. Things are on the verge of collapse.

Is this a good time to be having Christmas, I ask myself?

Might we not be better off postponing it until the Spring? ‘Cos Springwatch will be on the telly then and Chris Packham will be convincing us all that life is getting better because of all the birds and badgers producing young. The days will be longer. Jamie Oliver will have died from mince pie ice cream poisoning. I’ll have a modicum of hope in my heart that things will at least be getting warmer if not better.

This mid winter thing? I mean, is that really right for Christmas? Is it appropriate? Half of the world doesn’t think so.

Can we have a referendum on it, please? Put it to the vote?

Where the hell’s Jacob Marley when you need him?


P.S. This is my 800th post. That’s right: 800! 800 posts and still moaning...

Friday, November 18, 2011

No Place Of Safety

Speaking OutDomestic violence is an issue that we all, I’m sure, like to keep at arm’s length. It’s something that most of us don’t like to think about. I mean, hey, we know what it’s about anyway, right? We don’t want to be brought down about it. It happens but not that often and it happens to other people; people we don’t know.

Wrong.

I can guarantee that in your surprisingly wide circle of friends and acquaintances you will know several people who have experienced domestic violence in some shape or form. Several; not just one, several. Some will have been affected directly, some indirectly. Either way it leaves you feeling messed up.

My first encounter with domestic violence was when I was 18. I was young and naïve. I’m glad therefore that I was not directly involved because I would not have known what the hell to do about it. I was working at British Telecom at the time and had a friend that I shall only refer to as R. R was sparky, vivacious, funny and totally madcap. She was a couple of years older than me but seemed a lot older than that. She had an Asian boyfriend and both were heavily involved in the local band scene at the time.

One day she came into work sporting a split lip. She talked about it quite freely during a tea break. They’d been set upon, her and her boyfriend, by some white guys. If we thought she looked bad we ought to see her poor boyfriend. It had been a horrible attack. Undoubtedly racially motivated.

We all made the right sympathetic and outraged noises.

All apart from one of the older women among our colleagues who sat very quietly and said nothing.

I only know what happened next because R told me years later. While the rest of us had returned to our duties, this older colleague – let’s call her P – had sat still and asked R to wait. Once they were alone P had simply said, “You need to get out of the relationship now. He won’t change. This will not be a one-off. He will cry and he will apologize and he will swear that it will never happen again but he won’t change.”

When R finally told me the truth of what happened many years later – that her boyfriend had habitually hit her – the relationship was long dead. She’d finally left him after a couple of years. And P had been right. He had hit her again. And again. And again. Each time afterwards he had been sorry. Heart wrenchingly, heartbreakingly, genuinely (I’m sure) sorry. He had cried. He had sobbed. But he had not changed. He had not admitted that he himself needed help.

In the end he had exhausted R’s capacity for forgiveness. Thank God for that (despite the irony).

R had been lucky. She had found the courage to leave him. She had found the courage to admit to herself that it was a bad situation that could not be fixed. Found the courage to admit to me that she had lied about the racist attack to protect not just herself but also her boyfriend.

Because when you are the victim of violence you are hit with a double-whammy. Fear and guilt. And those are pretty effective weapons to keep someone silent. To keep someone complicit.

I often wonder now about P. How did she know? I was too innocent to pick up on the signs that R was undoubtedly giving out but not P. She saw the whole situation in an instant. From experience maybe? It’s hard to speculate. P was a strong character. I can’t imagine her being caught up in a relationship like that.

But why not?

It only takes falling in love with the wrong person. Nobody is born is a victim. Nobody chooses it.

But our most intimate relationships can bind us to the wrong people in ways that are very difficult to break.

And you can’t tell what someone is like just by looking at them.

You have to listen too. And even then, sometimes, that is not enough.

Today I and many other bloggers are Speaking Out about Domestic Violence. I was asked to participate in this campaign by Wanderlust and have been proud to do so. If you also wish to join the campaign or just to show your support it is not too late. Simply visit Wanderlust’s blog and sign yourself up.

Thank you for listening.




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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Greatest Invention of The 20th Century Was The Washing Machine

And I have proof. Incontestable, empirical proof. You cannot argue with Spongebob Squarepants.

My youngest son has a Spongebob soft toy. Spongebob lives in my son’s bedroom on my son’s bed. Or at least he does during the times when he isn’t being used as a makeshift ballista projectile or an odd shaped rocket whose sole mission in life is to take out the lampshade that surrounds the ceiling light.

Most of the time Spongebob enjoys a quiet, dry, calm existence. Occasionally he is airborne against his will but most of the time he is stationary.

One day this week, however, Spongebob encountered a new experience. A wet experience – which is rather ironic considering Spongebob is supposed to live at the bottom of the sea.

During one of his impromptu boy-assisted flights Spongebob made touch-down in my son’s potty. The potty was full. Spongebob came down into an ocean unlike any ocean that Spongebob was ever made to inhabit.

Spongebob was not happy. My son was cautiously amused.

Spongebob’s label said nothing about him being machine washable. Clearly though we could not allow the status quo to remain as it was. Spongebob needed to wash or go.

We threw him into the washing machine and gave him the works.

Cue both sons – the youngest and the oldest – sitting in front of the washing machine, watching obsessively absorbed as Spongebob was sloshed round and round the drum for the entire duration of the wash cycle. Pure, unadulterated entertainment.

God knows how many hundreds of pounds spent on PlayStation games, God knows how much spent on widescreen TV and digibox, even more spent on DVD players and handheld games consoles...

All wasted.

Want to know what my kids are getting for Christmas?

Laundry.

They’ll love it.



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Monday, November 14, 2011

Immortals

ImmortalsThere are times when you spurn the healthy option. When edifying foods with a high nutritional content are just not what you crave. Instead you want the hamburger. And you want it with cheese. Lots of cheese. You want it cheap and a little bit throwaway. You want it fun rather than worthy.

And so it was, in such a peculiar hunger, that Karen and I went to see Immortals on Saturday night. From the trailers we’d kind of sussed what kind of film it was going to be. Pure escapism. Not at all serious. Just beefcake, epic battles and spectacular effects. The only question was: would it be as excruciatingly wooden as the Clash Of The Titans remake or would it manage to recreate the magic of watching an old Ray Harryhausen movie on the telly when you were a kid?

I’m pleased to say it was more of the latter than the former. It’s not a classic. No one is going to get an Oscar. But neither was it tiresome and stilted. It was ridiculous, of course, but then it is impossible to portray Greek myths on the screen without them appearing ridiculous. As soon as you put muscular men and impossibly pneumatic women in skimpy gold costumes and flimsy togas – no matter how much they may appear to embody Zeus and Athena – they inevitably appear camp and like something from a Carry On movie. Couple that with the production people who gave us the 6-pack rich 300 and you have gratuitous violence as well as gratuitous musculature. If you’re a fan of fab abs and skulls being pulped with big golden hammers you’re going to love Immortals.

If Ray Harryhausen had had access to modern technology this is the kind of film I’m sure he would have made. Once you surrender to the Doug McClure-esque absurdity of the storyline it really does feel like being a kid again. Don’t fight it. Roll with it. This isn’t Shakespeare (or even the person who claimed to be Shakespeare). It’s a hamburger with cheese. It’s naughty but nice. It’ll put a couple of inches on your thighs but so what? It’s coming up to Christmas. You’ll have to diet in the New Year anyway.

Mickey Rourke gives good value as King Hyperion though given his bulk you’d imagine he would have been better placed to play Zeus. His performance is very physical. I think he is quoted as saying he didn’t get “all method” about it. I don’t blame him; there really was no need, though I can’t help but feel wistful about his surprisingly subtle performance all those years ago in Angelheart.

Zeus is played by the surprisingly svelte Luke Evans who looks bizarrely like Action Man, the one with the eagle eyes and grippy fingers but nevertheless convinces the viewer that he is indeed the father of the gods. Henry Cavill, fresh out of The Tudors, seems to have spent a few months down the gym and an equal amount of time on a sunbed but throws himself into the part of Theseus with gusto – which is odd given the luckless life Theseus seems to lead. Mother murdered before his eyes, he gets beaten up, finds a magic bow, gets his end way just once, loses the magic bow and then dies killing the bad guy. In between, of course, he does dispatch a great number of masked warriors with superlative spear work. One can’t help but think he is compensating for lack of opportunities elsewhere.

All in all this is great entertainment provided you don’t take it at all seriously. Director Tarsem Singh gives everything a slightly Indian tint which actually marries quite well with the original Greek blueprint though I was waiting for a Bollywood-style song and dance routine about halfway through.

Mickey Rourke does Bollywood. Now there’s a film I’d love to see.



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Friday, November 11, 2011

School Trip

Our eldest boy has gone on his first ever school trip away from home. I’m not talking about a day terrifying museum staff or a day leaving chewing gum under the pews of a big city cathedral. I’m talking proper sleeping-away-from-home-for-several-nights and eating-food-that-has-not-been-specifically-catered-to-his-extremely-discerning-palate.

It is a momentous occasion in the life of a child. And a parent. It feels like that first big developmental step towards full independence and eventual adulthood.

He’s ten. In some ways he’s older than his years. In some ways younger. Like all ten year olds I suppose.

He’s bright. He’s developing a nice line in cheek that will stand him in good stead in later years.

But nevertheless you worry.

A week away from home is a long time. What if his DS batteries run out? What if he loses his asthma inhaler? What if he doesn’t like any of the 16 choices of sandwich fillings that the adventure centre offers him?

He’s a fussy eater, Goddamit. Maybe we should have snuck a few tins of tuna into his backpack along with all the “emergency crisps” and the “fail-safe chocolate bars”?

He was braver than I was at his age, I’ll give him that. My first trip away from home was a hike to farmhouse a mere 2 miles away where we stayed for a paltry 3 nights. I cried like a baby on the first morning, didn’t like the food when we got there and was convinced my room was haunted simply because the branches of a tree were hanging down right outside my window.

My boy however demanded the coach driver keep his two bags together like a seasoned traveller, settled into a double seat on the coach like a pro and immediately plugged himself into his DS like he was still on our living room couch.

I’ve a feeling he’s going to go far. Literally. Probably backpacking around the globe and making himself head honcho of the global village.

Meanwhile, the wife and I are looking around us, unsettled by the slightly emptier nest that he has left in his wake. The house seems quieter. The biscuit tin looks depressed at the reduced opportunity for human interaction. The PlayStation is sobbing like a betrayed lover.

We are seriously considering hauling a stray kid in off the street and paying him to talk over all the TV programmes we’re trying to watch and complain about the amount of vegetables on his dinner plate. If he can throw in a few pre-teen tantrums and refuse to honour the bedtime curfew even better.

Our boy has left home for the first time.

It’s only been one day and his mum and dad are already homesick.



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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Technology Fail

StonehengeIf ever proof were needed that inanimate objects not only talk to each other but also conspire with each other, I have it.

The timing is too perfect. I have evidence of a well orchestrated campaign.

The inanimate world around me is crumbling, failing. It is falling to entropy with a gusto that can only be the result of enthusiastic collusion. All my gadgets are committing malicious suicide.

Take my PC monitor. It is barely 2 years old. A nice widescreen Cibox thing. It doesn’t need any drivers because I’m running Windows 7. It should just plug and play and indeed has done so for the last 24 months.

But it has now taken to switching itself off repeatedly within the first ten minutes of being turned on. Initially it would turn itself off just once. I feared something fundamentally wrong with the PC and rebooted each time. But then it started upping its game. It would switch itself off a second time. I soon sussed that the PC itself was still running. So I merely unplugged the power cable from the monitor and then plugged it back in again. Hey presto. The monitor came back on and showed all my work to be exactly as I’d last seen it. The PC is fine. It’s the monitor who is stabbing me in the back.

The damn thing is now switching itself off 4 times in a row before eventually stabilizing into the on position. I’ve come close to punching it twice but I remember reading in the manual somewhere that gratuitous violence can severely shorten the functioning life of a PC monitor.

And then my MP3 player discharged itself yesterday. I don’t mean it kneecapped someone. I don’t mean that it oozed something unpleasant from an orifice. I mean it somehow got rid of all the electricity that I had pumped into it a mere few days ago. Thus I had to do without the usual musical accompaniment that I am wont to enjoy on my walk home from work. Ironic when I was dying to listen to Cliff Richard’s “Wired For Sound”. Because I most certainly wasn’t wired for anything at that point.

The water heater fiasco you all know about.

But we’ve also had a gas fire that has mysteriously switched itself off twice. We have a fan in the oven that refuses to switch off but runs for a good 5 hours after we have finished cooking. We have a leaky shower unit that leaks so much water on the floor I could plant a paddy field. And the non-stick surface on our frying pan is no longer non-stick which is hampering the perfection of my fried egg sandwiches.

And all this before Christmas!

These things need replacing... Karen and I know this but sending / receiving them as Christmas presents to ourselves just seems bad form. And yet to spend extra money on them as well as budgeting for more luxurious Christmas presents is plainly economic stupidity.

We are being backed into a corner by the technology that is supposed to be making our lives easier! It is a conspiracy to undo us, I’m sure of it. Our mod-cons are out to get us. My frying pan wants me on the scrap heap rather than itself.

There is only one solution: to opt out (man).

Want to know what I want for Christmas?

A yurt. And a yak hair kaftan.

I’m going stone age, people. It’s the only way to beat the technology rap.

Expect to read my next blog chiselled onto the side of Stonehenge (be patient – it might take some time)...

Addendum: Thursday 10th November 2011 - the exhaust literally fell off our car this morning. I am not joking. I think a T2 might be after me...




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Monday, November 07, 2011

Being Crap

The thing about being crap is that you know, I mean really know, that you’re doing it.

But this knowledge doesn’t help you.

It’s not like other epiphanies. It’s not like when you think to yourself I’m being an arsehole and then you manage to rein in your arseholeness a modicum so that you are less areshole-like. It’s not like when you are stapling a work colleague’s tongue to the notice board and you get to the end of the staples and think OK, I’ve made my position perfectly clear now and you finally stop.

When you realize you are being crap the being crap continues.

I have two novels to proofread. One for publishing on Kindle the other for sending out to an agent. I need to be writing synopses and "Dear Agent" bum-licky letters. I have other people’s work to read and review. I have shop-bought books to read just because I bought them to read them for pleasure. I need to chase college who, bizarrely, have not yet confirmed that I have passed Sign Language Level 1 even though Level 2 is now so far underway it is pointless me trying to enrol and catch up. I have chores around the house – not particularly big chores – that need my attention. I have vague ideas for new writing projects that need solidifying, sharpening. I need to be thinking about Christmas presents. I have bills to pay. I have stuff that needs... stuffing.

But I’m doing none of these things.

I am being crap.

I feel like a severed tongue. I’m just lying here without any discernible means to move myself and I probably have poor taste to boot.

It could be post-novel writing blues. It could be pre-winter SAD. It could be sheer laziness or just inspiration famine.

But I am being crap.

And I am being crap very well indeed.

Result.

See. I knew I wasn’t a complete loser.



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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Major Infarction And General Anaesthetic

So my poorly hot water heater was given its pre-op clean Tuesday evening. The dust was scrubbed off. The old bottles of Domestos and Oilatum were removed from the top. The blood spatter patterns were removed from the sides (don’t ask). All in preparation for Dr Plumb to delve into its coppery innards Wednesday morning.

I told work I’d be in late. I needed to be on hand to wipe my water heater’s brow and whisper reassurances into its metallic ears as the engineer invaded it’s inner sanctum with a screwdriver and a rolled up copy of The Sun.

As it was the operation was cancelled. After an hour of fruitless waiting I rang Sureway to be told by the receptionist that Dr Plumb’s previous patient was currently dying on an operating table somewhere in Suburbville and would take a lot longer to resuscitate. I couldn’t afford to lose yet more time at work so had to reschedule the op for the next day. Thursday at 4pm.

Typical bloody NHS.

As it was the Dr Fixit who attended on Thursday was worth the wait. If we were fearing a greasy-handed butcher who would leave foreign objects afloat in my water heater’s tender abdomen (I believe it’s called retention) I was wrong. We had a lovely young doctor who prepped and cleaned the operating table beforehand and even swept up the rusty entrails afterwards too. It was like the NHS had been unable to attend and had sent BUPA instead.

He quickly ascertained the possible sources of the problem: either a faulty valve (replacement would be £170 – may as well get a new water heater if this was the case) or a worn diaphragm.

It proved to be the latter. Much cheaper to replace and very reassuring to know that my water heater has been indulging in safe sex for all these years without me knowing about it. Though it does explain why our shower unit always looks so perky in the mornings.

We now have the pitter-patter of hot water running throughout the house once more. Father and water heater are both doing well.

Thank you all for your get well cards, your flowers and your chocolates. They were much appreciated though very much more imagined.

I can now get myself up to my neck in hot water once again (in fact I must remember to tell this to my wife: she’ll be thrilled).



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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Boiler

I say “boiler” but actually the Sureway Heating operative I spoke to on the telephone rather tartly informed me that what I actually have is a water heater not a boiler.

Whatever it is the damn things is haunted or possessed or has had a section of its metallic intestines pulled through into an inter-dimensional wormhole because it is just not functioning as it should.

In fact it isn’t even functioning as the laws of physics say it should and, you have to admit, it’s got to have a hefty demon on its shoulders to mess with Professor Brian Cox.

Now, I’m no heating / plumbing engineer, but I know that basically what I have in the bathroom is a big heater thing that heats up the hot water passing through it and then transports it to various outlets around the house via a couple of pipes. We don’t have many outlets. Just two sets in the bathroom and one set downstairs. I live in a 3 bedroomed semi not Longleat House after all.

So. In simple terms:

Heater >> short expanse of pipework >> taps.

An elegant little flowchart. Not much room for error.

And yet things are not right.

We have hot water upstairs. The pilot light is on. The water heater blazes inside like a miniature furnace whenever the hot taps are turned to the full-on position.

But we have no hot water downstairs. None at all. The hot tap is turned on, the heater blazes, water gushes through the pipes but it ain’t (even half) hot (mum). It’s stone cold.

How can this be? How can we have hot water upstairs but not downstairs when all the pipes are fed from the same heater? It’s not like the pipes downstairs are several kilometres longer than the ones upstairs to give the water time to cool down. They don’t divert our water through Siberia or Antarctica on its way to the kitchen tap. Where is our hot water going?

The only change of circumstance that has occurred recently has been the arrival of a new bunch of students next door but they look rather sweet and not the type to siphon of hot water illegally from their neighbours. Borrow a couple of herbal tea bags, yes. Nick hot water, no. And besides. As we all know, students and baths / washing up / clothes washing do not mix. The only thing they know to do with hot water is to shove it into a Pot Noodle. And there isn’t a Pot Noodle hunger big enough to warrant the amount of hot water that has gone missing from my house.

So I’ve rung the experts. The guy I spoke to sounded a little perturbed by the problem and is going to send his best man out this week to take a look at it. OK. OK. He’s going to send a man out to look at it. And then we shall see what we shall see.

In the meantime, I’m breaking out the garlic and the holy water and calling a priest.

Our hot water heater has plainly got bad juju.



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Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Return Of The Doggy Hat

Tom's doggy hatThis post comes with huge apologies fitted as standard.

You may remember (those of you who are not chasing the dragon or hooked on crystal meth) that, back in August, I launched a global interpol-approved appeal to find my youngest son's doggy hat (please see the picture above). I described Tom's distress at the loss. I described how we'd retraced our steps in the hope of relocating a much loved item of head attire. I told how all our sleuthing efforts had been in vain.

The hat was gone and gone forever.

Some callous, unfeeling person must have half-inched it from where it had lain helpless on the pavement. Probably Keyser Söze - if you look carefully in the final scene in The Usual Suspects you can see Tom's doggy hat hanging out of his back pocket.

Or there's the one armed man in The Fugitive. He could have it too. Because just before he shoots Harrison Ford's wife (no, not Calista Flockhart) I saw Tom's doggy hat hanging off his prosthetic hook-arm-thing. It could have been a hankie but I'm pretty sure it was the hat.

And then we saw Tin Tin the other day and I was flabberghasted to see Captain Haddock wearing the doggy hat in the motorbike chase - only briefly. Blink and you would have missed it.

In short I was seeing the damn thing everywhere.

Never mind that I'd made you lot trawl the streets and the internet for a replacement. Never mind that Tom had finished with his grieving and had moved on. I just couldn't let it go.

And then during a bout of Autumn cleaning I found the blessed thing behind the sofa.

It had been there all the time. It had never been lying, abandoned in the street. It had never been stolen by persons callous and unknown. It had never made it into Speilberg's latest CGI animated extravaganza.

It had been brought back safely into the house and tossed nonchalently behind the sofa by an individual who, knowing not what he did, shall remain blameless and unnamed for all perpetuity. *cough*Tom*cough*

Apologies for the panic, people. Please stand down and go about your normal business. Situation is green once more. Abort fighter jets. Do not press the red button.

As you were.



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Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways...

Enemies.

They're everywhere. On the street. Down the pub. At work. On our Facebook pages. Tweeting us from the poisoned depths of their hatred addled minds. They infiltrate our social networks both real and virtual and we cannot escape.

We all have them. And you know how the saying goes, don't you?

Can't live with 'em...

...and, er, that's pretty much it really. You can't live 'em so it makes good sense to quickly dispatch 'em. And as horribly as possible.

If morality were not a problem, if justice was your bitch, if you had a greenlight to do whatever you wanted to your enemies and people would still give you a thumbs-up afterwards and say, "yeah, that was justified, they had it coming", how would you dispatch your vilest, most obnoxious enemy from off this mortal coil?

It is something I have been musing on a lot of late. Possibly there has been too much red meat in my diet. Possibly Dr Pinchworthy has done up my straitjacket a smidgeon too tight. Possibly I'm a donkey on the edge (thank you, Shrek fans, I'm here till next Thursday, please try the veal). But I have compiled my top seven list of ways to rid myself (and the world) of the malodorous, the malignant and the vacuously moronic.

1) Attach them to a 50ft bungee rope (think about this) and hoof them off the nearest motorway flyover. I guarantee a juggernaut will drag them a good 1.8 miles before the rope rips 'em back out again.

2) Hack into their computer, access various bomb-making web sites, change their email address to ObamaMustDie@hotmail.com and - hey presto - let the FBI do it for you.

3) Death By Botox - modify an iron maiden (available from any decent hardware store) so that the spikes are replaced with hypodermic needles that pump out an "above the recommended dose" of botox into every square inch of your enemy's body. Not only will they die horribly but their corpse will look like a doll made entirely from Walls' "thick pork" sausages. Especially effective if (a) your enemy is vain, (b) spent most of their life as mutton dressed as lamb and (c) they're vegetarian.

4) Death By Higgs Boson - as inspired by X-Men 2, inject iron filings directly into various body parts (the choice and number is yours) and cast your enemy into the heart of the Hadron particle accelerator just before it is activated by guest executioner, Professor Brian Cox.

5) Death By Perpetual Motion - insert a simple tube (akin to those used during colonic irrigation) into your enemy's anus whilst the other is attached to your enemy's mouth. A cheap pump should ensure that all matter produced is shunted upwards against gravity, creating a macabre Catherine Wheel of Delights that should keep you chortling for... ooh... hours. Good for those enemies who talk nothing but shite but think that every utterance that comes out of their mouth is Godly wisdom.

6) Utilizing the knowledge gleaned from your years of service with MI5 (which I know you all have), adapt and customize your enemy's make-up paraphenalia so that the lipstick, the eyeshadow and the blusher all secrete highly concentrated sulphuric acid. Merely encourage your enemy to pass a mirror and then sit back and - ta daa! - watch them rub themselves out. Why? Because you're worth it!

7) Staple their nipples to the ears of a rampaging cheetah.

Right, I don't know about you lot, but I am currently luxuriating in revenge fantasy bliss.

Do feel free to add you own delicious devices of destruction to the list - or even to nominate a few potential "clients".

'Cos one day, people, we will all have our revenge! They've got it coming! You hear me? They've got it coming!

Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

Thank you, doctor, is it time for my Tixylix now?



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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nothing Left To Write...

Well, technically.

Because after just over 12 months of quite intense writing I have now completed the first draft of my second novel, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini and - you've guessed it - I am now putting out the call for volunteer guinea pigs to read it, pick up on the typos I have missed and offer an opinion on which bin I should fling it into: general household waste or recycling?

Want to know more about it? Want the vital statitics?

366 pages in Word. 310,067 words.

A lot of them expletives. Most of them not. There's quite a bit of rudeness too. But not too much. There's comedy. There's romance. There's drugs and dirtiness.

This is the story of Danny Walker, a young man who is crippled with an appalling stutter but finds some steel in himself when he meets and falls in love with a Deaf girl called Thalia. However, there are a few flies in the ointment: his gross parents who seem to be stuck in the 1950's and his older brother, Matthew, who is intent on messing up his own marriage and the relationships of all those around him by his attempts at living a hedonistic lifestyle. But worst of all is Matthew's mate, the sneering Barry Wyton, who is intent on becoming the local drug baron and wants to pull Matthew and Danny into his sordid little world where they risk being buried forever.

There are laughs and TV references a-plenty as Danny constantly seeks to escape his grim reality by imagining he is on the telly. But this crutch cannot last forever and sooner or later Danny must abandon his imagination and face up to real life.

So, are you sold? Are you interested?

If you'd like to give the first draft a read I'd be eternally grateful. I'm not expecting an essay or anything back in return - even a simple "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" would be useful but obviously any specific feedback would be wonderful.

Thank you in advance to the few!

P.S. I sadly cannot supply hardcopies but I can email the word doc to your Kindle account (if you have one) if that makes it easier to read.



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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Aping God

The beautifully evolved Alice RobertsThere can be no finer proof of man's ascendency to near angelhood than Dr Alice Roberts back on our tellies once more in her new series, Origins Of Us. But tempting as it is to leap off the high dive board of swoonsome superlatives and turn a few half pikes in the air before hitting the waters of sycophancy that isn't what this post is about.

I'm about to get all serious on your ass.

After I watched the show on Monday - en elegant tour through the current evidence of man's development from ape-like hominid to tool-making homo sapien - I thought I'd give Dr Alice's blog a go on the BBC web site, especially as all my emails to her seem to bounce back these days (just a problem with her junk mail filter, I'm sure).

I started perusing the comments left by others (purely to scoff and scorn at their pathetic attempts to court this good lady's attentions, naturally) and was instantly horrified by what I found.

Now I need to be careful how I express this because I like to think I am a fairly tolerant person when it comes to other people and their beliefs. I'm not in the habit of denegrating people for their religious choices. If you want to go and live in a Yurt and weave yoghurt as an offering for the old god's that's up to you; your vegan diet means more roast chicken for me on a Sunday. Live and let live, I say, in this life and the next.

But surely Creationists are the most dumbassed people in the universe? I thought they were purely an American breed (sorry, America) but no, it seems, they exist (solely by the will of God and nothing at all to do with evolutionary imperatives) in the UK too.

There were several comments which (if I can paraphrase) ran along the lines of: yes, Dr Alice, you are very pretty and this show was beautifully photographed but you do know science is wrong and we humans did not eveolve from apes or come out of Africa but were created by God somewhere in the vicinity of Israel, don't you? Shame on you for not pointing this out to your viewers!

I confess my first instinct was to throw a couple of verbal molotov cocktails into the mix and set the blinkered world-view of these idiots alight but then I thought: what's the point? What is the point of trying to reason with these people? They wilfully ignore the crushing weight of scientific evidence stacked up against them. Worse than that. They go on and on about The Truth and yet when they are presented with it they see only the work of the devil.

How can you argue with people who think like that?

What scares me the most is that in this so called technologically advanced, civilized age of ours there are still people who cling to medieaval beliefs with the passion of the simpleton. The world is flat. The sun orbits around the world. And man is not an animal but is special and alone in his spiritually.

Gah. It honestly makes me spiritually sick.

It's the old dilemma, isn't it? Do you take religious texts word for word or do you accept that they were the products of a darker, much harsher, less enlightened world and therefore appropriately filter out the wildly imagined and the guesswork and retain the spiritually relevant? But then we have the problem of one person's interpretation being held above that of another.

But isn't this what is happening anyway?

The only difference betweeen religion and science is that religion purports to proclaim the whole truth without facts or evidence to back it up; science acknowledges it doesn't know the half of it but can prove what it does know.

In the final analysis, I'll cast my vote with science - though am keen to point out this does not mean there is a lack of spirituality on my part (but the details of that are my business).

Did man descend from the apes? The only evidence against it is that you never see apes fucking each other over or killing each other because of conflicts in their religious beliefs.

Maybe 'descend' is the operative word, here, eh?

Go in peace, people. Go in peace.



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