Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Le Munch Bunch

Audrey FleurotNormally I don’t do French.

Not unless it features Audrey Tautou anyway.

But after forays into Scandinavian TV drama the wife and I decided to expand our European wings, so to speak, and try a French police drama that had been recommended to us: Engrenages or Spiral as it has been translated over here (though my wife tells me Gears would have been a more accurate translation).

It has been something of an eye-opener.

I’m not sure how accurate a depiction it is but the Parisian police force in Spiral operate like something out of a Gene Hunt wet dream. Foxy, elven Captain Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) seems quite happy to have casual sex with her male colleagues – indeed seems decidedly unhappy if she finds herself in a situation where she is not getting any at all. And then there is stunning redhead Josephine Karlsson (the magnifique Audrey Fleurot - see picture above), a maverick defence lawyer who is unhappy unless she is accepting casual monies from all and sundry for activities that cross and re-cross the legal divide as often as she crosses and uncrosses her perfectly stockinged legs.

My wife will no doubt accuse me of gross injustice if I don’t mention the high male eye candy ratio but... nah. Can’t be bothered. Apparently there is plenty of boy-sugar floating around for the ladies but personally I don’t see it. I mean, they’re French, for Heaven’s sake! Urgh!

The women, however... well. They’re French! Va-va-voom!

But actually what impinges most on me about this portrayal of the French police is the sheer continuous nonchalant brutality of how they operate. Gene Hunt would cream his polyester slacks. I’ve lost count of how many suspects I have seen handcuffed to a chair and bitch slapped, pate slapped, hair-grabbed and kicked over onto the floor. In fact the only suspects I haven’t seen kicked off a chair are young teens and women and I suspect the only reason for that is that it would make for questionable telly viewing.

Interviews seems to be conducted in the police captain’s office without a lawyer being present and without benefit of some kind of recording device being activated. Occasionally the Captain’s superior might pop his head around the door, give a Gallic shrug and complain about the noise being a little excessive but otherwise anything goes. The suspect then signs his statement – handily written by the police – and is taken to Monsieur Le Judge where his case is weighed up and a decision taken as to whether it’s worth taking him to the Justice Courts where Josephine Karlsson will either get him off or drop him further into the merde depending on who’s paid her wages this week.

It’s brilliant.

I don’t want to stoop to national stereotyping but just as The Killing portrays the cool, calculating essence of the Danes so Spiral seems to capture the essence of the French. Or at least the essence of how we, the ignorant, arrogant English imagine the French to be: driven by physical appetites, yet somehow cold with a limited emotional range and with a total of 3 facial expressions: smile, frown, moue. The greatest and most used of these being the moue. The moue it seems can be used when faced with insults, teasing, accusations of wrong doing, a refusal to have sex, demotion, an acceptance to have sex, before and after sex, possibly during sex and when you discover your chief suspect has just been torched in the back of a Citroen a la barbecue.

Is this really how the French police force works? Are they really, genuinely that French? French to the power 100?

Whatever, it makes for great drama and whereas Season One was a bit patchy, Season Two which the wife and I are just about to complete has been absolument superbe.

Do yourself a favour. Try a little French tonight. You might like it. And if in doubt just think of Gene Hunt with garlic breath.

Got to be a winner, right?

Très bon!


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Monday, May 28, 2012

BAFTA

BAFTA AwardThe wife and I made the mistake of watching the BAFTAs last night.

I say mistake because the BAFTAs are a viewing pleasure that is by turns guilt inducing and frustrating.

Guilt inducing because you know this is a horribly cliquey, elitist, uber-lovey event that you really ought to sneer at and boycott. And frustrating because the winners inevitably do not match up to your own personal BAFTA winner’s list that you’ve drawn up completely ad hoc as the names of the shortlisted nominees were being read out.

In my BAFTA award ceremony Miranda Hart, Benedict Cumberbatch, Fresh Meat and Misfits were all winners. But plainly I am out of touch with the official BAFTA judges because they all came away with absolutely nothing. Not a sausage. And I very much would have liked to have given Miranda Hart a sausage.

Best part of the night was Rolf Harris getting some kind of fellowship award. Fellowship of the ring, perhaps? He’d certainly terrify the Orcs of Mordor with his impressive didgeridoo blowing. Worst part of the night was some actor twat (whose name I have intentionally chosen not to remember)  deliberately not reading out the names of the Best International Drama winners because they were Danish and he couldn’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce them. Of course, he didn’t actually say that. He just joked, “ho ho... I’m not even going to attempt to read out these names... ho ho... aren’t I cool?” Actually he didn’t really say that either but something very close to it. How rude. Learn the names of the winners next time, matey. Show some respect. The best part of it was one of the names was “Adam Price”. How difficult is that to pronounce? Obviously Mr Actor had lost considerable dexterity in his tongue after years of bum licking his way up the greasy poles of RADA .

So why do I watch the BAFTAs then, when all I do is sneer and sigh and stamp my feet?

Because I have a dream that one day I will be there, that’s why. One day it will be me getting the top writer’s award like Steven Moffat did last night (well deserved). It’ll be me expressing genuine surprise when I am called up to the stage by Miranda Hart to accept a prestigious BAFTA award because I really, genuinely was not expecting it, so much so that I haven’t even prepared a proper speech or anything but I would like to thank my wife and kids and [reels off a long list of showbiz celeb pals]. And best of all it’ll be me kicking twatty Actor chappie in the pants and telling him next time to get an effing language coach (no pun intended)!

Until then all I can do is sit and watch and sigh and gnash my teeth at all those who are lucky enough to be there right now but squander the opportunity with poorly prepared presentation speeches and crap jokes and smug looks to the camera because they are out on an industry jolly.

Grr.

One day these people will all be my friends and colleagues and I will have to play the game.

But until then I can say what I damn well like about them.

And surely that is as good as any kind of BAFTA award?


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Friday, May 25, 2012

Five Ring Circus

Olympic ringsI’m not a fan of the Olympics.

Or any kind of televised sports thing really. I don’t particularly enjoy Wimbledon. Horse racing gets my goat. Motor racing just sounds like a bunch of kids shouting “eeeooow” into a biscuit tin. Football I absolutely loathe. And golf is just stupid: a stupid sport to play, a stupid sport to go and watch and an even more stupid sport to attempt to televise.

I don’t do sport. I really don’t.

I even hated it as a kid. I hated playing it at school. Football, rounders and, worst of all, cricket. I’d be one of the last to be picked for any team. I was always in the last 4 which is great if you’re a contestant on The Apprentice but not so great when you have all the cool kids lined up looking at you, trying to work out whether you’re more or less useless than the Buswell twins or Alan Winyard who would inevitably be the three other guys left waiting with me. To my dubious credit I’d be picked before these guys. I could catch a ball and, in football, had a dogged but ineffectual determination which made me ideal defender fodder. I was like a gnat worrying a bull a lot of the time. But at least I did something. I could be patronized with the best of them too – I made man of the match once for scoring a fluky goal. But even that success didn’t convert me.

I hated watching sport as a kid too. Sport on the telly meant no cartoons or James Bond film. It meant painfully long Saturday afternoons in the 70’s with Dicky Davies and World of Sport. It meant my father watching football, motocross, rugby and then the interminable hour of the football results through teatime. I consider it progress that my boys will never have to suffer the hell of “Plymouth Argyll 1, Queen’s Park Rangers 2” uttered in a TV voice drier than Barbara Woodhouse’s ashes.

So I will not be getting on board for Olympic fever. Up until now I haven’t even bothered myself to write about it. It’s felt like the recession. It’s there, we all know it’s there, why waste our breath talking about it? But this torch thing. It’s everywhere. It’s coming to my home town. It’s coming past the building where I work although I’m not allowed to talk about that here. Every day there are updates on the TV about where the torch is right now and which paraplegic bus conductor is currently carrying it another mile on its journey.

Stupidly I thought there was just one torch and, in the true nature of a relay, it would get given to the next runner, and the next. But no. Everyone gets a new torch. Seems a phenomenal waste of money to me but then what a perfect metaphor for the whole event. I believe some of the torch bearers are even selling their torches on eBay. I’m tempted. I really am. You’d get a helluva lot of ice cream in one of those cones.

I won’t be watching the Olympics this summer. Aside from the opening ceremony, that is. That might be worth a laugh. I’m hoping Boris Johnson will leap out of a double-decker bus, naked apart from a pair of Austin Powers glasses and some novelty sock suspenders. After that I’m switching off. I’ll be hitting my DVD boxed sets or, if push comes to shove, Dave. I’m deliberately not coming to the party or joining in.

I suspect it will just be me, the Buswell twins and Alan Winyard but you know what? For once I don’t care. I’m deliberately not picking myself for the Olympic team. I’m happy to be left out. Happy to be less useful than those of you who can throw a ball straight.

Sport always kicked me in the shins and made me feel less worthy. It took away my dignity and my self-confidence. It made everything a competition that only the biggest and the fastest could win.

So I am boycotting the Olympics; boycotting it in honour of all of us who were too knock-kneed and too pigeon-toed to be any good at sport. I’m doing it for the Buswells. I’m doing it for Alan Winyard.

And most of all I am doing it for the British Olympic team.

Go Team GB! Go!

I know you won’t let me down.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moob Season

Moobs!25 degrees C and here in the UK the moob flowers are already a-blooming.

Everywhere you look, every vista is positively throbbing with field upon field of rubbery man teats. Everywhere you look. Little pasty ones. Sagging brown ones. Spotty breasty ones. Scary hairy ones. There are even moobs around whose owners have plainly seen Once Were Warriors and have impregnated their guy-jugs with ink in various manly designs. Once Were Warriors? Once Did Woodwork more like.

What is it about the British psyche that produces this almost Pavlovian display of undisplayable flesh? Why do our blokes think that the world wants to see their sweat smeared flesh every time the sun comes out? It’s like there is no shame. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just  a few blokes who actually worked out every now and then. I mean it would still be annoying and unnecessary but you’d think, OK, they’re ripped, they’ve got a reason to show off. But no. The human toasting-racks do it too. The tin-ribs. And also the manmoths. The guys with guts so big and chest hair so black and glistening it looks like a miniature slagheap is avalanching down their naval.

The sun comes out and suddenly every guy thinks he is an Adonis. Plainly the need to get a tan outweighs the need to be buff and trim.

And I know I’m a hypocrite. I’m not complaining about the skirts on women getting shorter or the tops getting skimpier. I know there is a double standard here. But skirts the width of triage tags aside, women still tend to keep a sense of decorum. They still cover up more than they show. In a weird kind of way I wonder if these men view their own bodies as less sexually potent as that of women and therefore there is less of a public indecency issue if they flounce their boy-nips about? As long as a guy keeps his gristle missile stashed safely away in its silo everything else is fair game.

But is it? Am I the only one who shakes his head and tuts at this ill advised exhibition of drab flesh? I mean, this isn’t corn-fed chicken we’re talking here. It’s beer-and-fag fed cock. We’re talking the kind of form normally only seen on Embarrassing Bodies. Do other countries share this phenomenon? I’m aware that you can usually spot an Englishman abroad in a hot country because he will be the only guy running around topless and red as a lobster whilst complaining that no matter where he goes he can’t shift the smell of undercooked hamburger and BO.

Maybe there’s some kind of macho thing that I’m missing out on here? Some kind of mating ritual akin to peacocks shaking their tales and Lyre Birds mimicking the sounds of chainsaws cutting through IKEA tables? Maybe these guys garner so much female interest as their lad-baps dandle in the breeze that it’s worth the inevitable sunburn and melanoma infestations later in life? I mean, a legover is still a legover, right? And what woman doesn’t want to have the outer skin of her lover left imprinted upon her after he has finished his love administrations? Everybody loves a peeler. They never quite leave you.

So. In case you are wondering. It is hot outside today. Finally. It is hot in the UK. But I’m keeping covered up. I’m wearing my (to quote Rigby from Rising Damp) ‘harvest festivals’ (all is safely gathered in).  My bod is for my wife alone. I mean to stay pale and interesting.

Moob season it might be... but for my perfectly formed nips it is definitely forever Autumn.

(Though I may issue photographs on request.)


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Monday, May 21, 2012

Real Boys

I was never a real boy at school.

I think I realized this most plainly when I encountered metalwork and woodwork for the first time.

While other boys took to the tools and the glues and the heat and the physicality of the work with gusto I felt my heart sink in my chest. Horrible, loud, dirty, brutish work. Urgh.

Which makes me sound like I was a fop. But I wasn’t. I was just a wimp. And like all wimps I was not at all confident with activities that required physical input.

It didn’t help that the two teachers for these classes were stereotypical old school brigadiers. Both had bristling moustaches and the haunted eyes of those who’d seen action in WWII. They had no time for wimpy boys. What they were forging and carving were not shoehorns and mug-trees but boys into men.

My woodwork teacher rendered himself unapproachable during the very first lesson by announcing that his name was Mr Pritchard and woe betide any boy who thought it amusing to remove the “c” and replace the “t” with a “k”. He gave at least half of us in that room an unasked for complex that bordered on Tourettes whenever we had to speak to him. In the end we just called him sir. But Mr Prikhard stuck mentally.

I can’t remember the name of my metalwork teacher. I only recalling him holding up a big metal file in our first lesson and announcing in a voice that sounded like it had been blasted by superhot metal filings that it was a “flat bastard”. This did not augur well for future learning under his hands.

For two years I persevered – until it came time to choose my options and I could drop both subjects. In those two years I produced a shoehorn (which I still have), a towel holder, a wooden tea tray that would best serve a teddy bear’s picnic and various misshapen off-cuts of wood and metal.

If nothing else it taught me that the factories of industry were not meant for me. I couldn’t drill a hole straight to save my life and could only saw wavy lines. If I’d been in the A Team I would have been the one making tea while everyone else built a tank out of a dustcart and an old fridge freezer.

I didn’t, in truth, like getting my hands dirty. And I still don’t. Oil, grease, grime, grit. They do nothing for me. Lord help me I even turned my nose up at glue. I think I built a total of 3 Airfix kits as a child and they, all of them, resembled something that had been cocooned by a giant funnel-web.

I just didn’t have the finesse or the dexterity. Or, just maybe, the will.

I don’t even know if they offer woodwork and metalwork at school any more. When my eldest boy starts secondary school in September it will be interesting to find out. I suspect his opinion of such things will be the same as mine but these things are not set in stone. I do know that precious few chose woodwork or metalwork as a study subject when the time came. Only those that saw them as an easy option. The same lads did “gardening” too though I daresay such pursuits would be termed Agricultural Studies now.

Do we choose our social class or is it foisted upon us?

I do a white collar job now. Never done blue. I would never have survived in a factory. Not back then.

And yet, I get an inkling every once in a while... a desire and a wish to learn a craft. Crafts are good. Maybe I have enough confidence in my own abilities now to actually make a decent job of that tea tray?

And as for the shoehorn... well, what can I say? It still works. Maybe more than Mr Pritchard’s name stuck over the years?

Maybe that bastard did something good for me after all?


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Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Have Lovely Eyes But I’m Not Expecting Sex

A friend of mine told how an old workmate of his, hitting retirement age, got himself
into trouble one day whilst carrying out some work he’d been contracted to undertake in a
suite of offices. Apparently he told one of the female workers there that she had “lovely
eyes”.

I must admit my initial reaction was, “there are far worse things he could have said”. My
mate’s reply was, “yeah, he could have told her she was effing dopey”.

I could see this conversation was going nowhere productive fast so I let it drop but
mentally it stayed with me.

Part of me thinks Mr Contractor was plainly of that generation that considered it
normal if not a man’s right to comment positively on a gorgeous filly’s attributes. I’m
sure he meant nothing lascivious about it and imagined himself as being rather charming
and gallant. But another part of me can see the other side of it. He was a stranger to
the office – an outside contractor – and his comments were over familiar and totally
outside the scope of his works... which I’m sure were along the painting and decorating
lines rather than “let me sell the wonderfulness of your own body to you Gok Wan style”.

And old boy or not he cannot fail to have noticed that things have moved on in the world
and people conduct themselves very different these days compared to the Carry On
shenanigans of the 1950’s and 1960’s. He plainly made the girl very uncomfortable and she
complained about it as was her right. And Mr Contractor got the type of dressing down he
wasn’t expecting.

Does this scenario sadden you or not though?

Is it sad that we can’t offer free, gratuitous compliments to the people around us? Lord
knows there’s plenty of people around happy to bestow the fruits of their negativity upon
all and sundry at the merest drop of a hat. Why can’t we offer niceties and good wishes?

The trouble is, I suspect, that deep down, such compliments as Mr Contractor was offering
weren’t entirely free and without imposition. Even if he were the most decent upstanding
guy in the world if you peel back the layers of civility and courtesy I’m pretty sure
you’d get down to the dirty little nub at the core.

Sex.

It’s a sad fact of life that guys tend to not show an interest in a woman unless he, on
some level, fancies her. You might disagree. You might argue. I’ve had this fact of life
told me by several different women who were quite blasé and even accepting of it and I
was hard pressed really to refute their claim. Most men I’ve met have merely replied,
“yeah?” to the accusation in a tone of voice that unmistakably says, “so what?”

So when a man you’ve never met before offers you flowers or smells your hair and asks if
you are or if you aren’t... it’s because deep down he wants to get into your knickers.
He’s looking for the compliment to be well received. He’s looking for that blush response
and a slight coquettishness. Maybe even a giggle and a bit of badinage. He’s looking for
an opening. He’s looking for that little green light which will lead him to imagine that
he is undeniably, irrefutably “in”. He’s still got it. He’s still The Man.

The chances of sex occurring is, of course, for most people absolutely minimal. But it is
sex that is at play undoubtedly.

And in this day and age to do the subliminal sex-thing is bloody dangerous. We, of
course, all know it as flirting.

But you know what? I think flirting should be a privilege of having got to know someone.
I realize context is an issue here and behaviour in a nightclub or a pub is vastly
different to our everyday living and working environments... but on the whole, flirting
should only be done with someone that you’ve already got to know. So you both know how
far you can push it. So you know where the boundaries are. So you are both comfortable
with each other. There needs to already be in place a foundation – an association – that
goes beyond simple caveman boy-girl attraction.

And in this context flirting is fine, healthy and can inject some enjoyment in what is
probably otherwise a very dull day.

If flirting came in a tin is would have the following printed on it: Men! Don’t try this on
strangers, you will merely come off as sleazy.


Flirting still occurs in the modern world but the rules of engagement have changed. And
changed for the better in my opinion.

See, if I tell you that you have lovely eyes I am merely solidifying our friendship. I
don’t want sex of any sort. I just want to buddy you up.

However, if I tell you that you’re effing dopey it’s safe to assume that you are not on
my buddy list at all.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When I Grow Up I Want To Be

I’ve been looking at my youngest boy lately and trying to discern what he might do with himself later in life. Career-wise, I mean (I have no doubt that, socially, he will be a party animal).

He is naturally green-fingered, shows an interest in cooking and likes fire engines.

I expect at 4 years old he is still too young to have had the thought “when I’m all growed up I want to be a...” occur to him.

I think I was 7 or 8 before I had a firm idea of what it is I wanted to be.

I wanted to be a crime-fighter. But no ordinary crime-fighter. I was going to be a crime-fighter with a kick-ass gang of celeb crime-fighters. This kick-ass gang comprised of the good guys from Star Wars, Charlie’s Angels and, for some ridiculous reason, Abba. Yeah. Like they’d ever get their gold lame dirty bringing some filthy crim to heel.

And we’d patrol the mean streets of Leamington armed with Star Wars blasters and light sabres in vehicles which I wanted to patent as “supercars”.

I put considerable thought into these wonder-vehicles. I mean, I had to fit the entire gang in there ‘cos, like, we were going to go everywhere together and do everything with each other. We’re talking a bond of brothers here. And sisters.

My ingenious plan was to have cars pulling caravans, but fused together with great sheets of bulletproof metal so that both vehicles were one, sealed whole. My thought processes even considered machine guns installed behind the headlamps and a rotating gun turret cut into the roof of the caravan. I drew plans and everything.

The design was a goer, I’m telling you. The crims of Leamington Spa would never know what hit them and the police would look upon us with pure envy in their eyes.

That I never considered how these metallic behemoths would be able to turn around corners or fit under low bridges or not blow over on the motorway in a decent gust of wind is testament to my youth and (at the time) unquenchable optimism.

I can remember feeling absolutely sure that I was going to do this. I just had to get the money; buy the metal and get welding. I mean, how difficult could it be? I’d even drawn the plans in biro and coloured them in with felt-tip. This was a commitment.

And then I remember quite clearly that moment in my early teens, not long after I’d started secondary school and the real world had begun to impinge on my mental flights of fancy – that soul-excoriating moment when you realize for yourself without someone forcing it on you – that you are talking absolute bollocks, the idea is completely stupid and childish and it’s never, ever, EVER going to happen.

Not in a million frigging years.

Welcome to the joyless world of adulthood.

I look at my little boy and I feel envy and sadness all mixed together. I smile at him carefully and keep what I am thinking to myself.

If you can accept this unforgiving minute then you’ll be a man, my son.

But if you refuse to accept it and live your dreams to the full then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be something more.


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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Authonomy

The Great Escapes Of Danny HoudiniI've taken the plunge.

I've uploaded my novel, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini, to Authonomy.

This is my one concession to e-publishing. I've resisted all other e-outlets due to my own misgivings and stick-in-the-mud nature. To be fair some of those misgivings have been fuelled by accounts of some agents not being fully on board with writer's who have sought to self-publish. You can see why after all... it potentially puts them all out of business.

I always judge it better not to bite the hand that may one day agree to feed you.

So on the whole I am going to pursue the trad route: postal / email submissions to agents that are open to new writers.

But Authonomy, run by Harper Collins, seems a sensible alternative. It sure as hell can't do any harm.

You can log in and read The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini by clicking on the picture above or following this link: http://www.authonomy.com/books/44092/the-great-escapes-of-danny-houdini/ - if you're already on Authonomy then if you'd kindly rate it / back it / add it to your "bookshelf" then I'd be eternally grateful.

I must admit, I'm not entirely sure what to make of Authonomy at the moment. It seems very friendly but also a little desperate and frenetic. It seems you have to do a lot of backscratching to get your book rated highly enough to be deemed worthy for consideration by the professionals at Harper Collins. And the backscratching comprises reading a lot of other people's books.

To be honest, I just don't have the time to dedicate to such a full-on project. Fine if I was at home all day with nothing better to do but I have a full time job, a family and a desire to write and only a small amount of time to do all that in.

Authonomy seems to me - and this is just first impressions - to be a little like The Apprentice. Everyone taking part needs the help of everyone else to win but at the same time you don't want your colleagues shining too brightly lest they eclipse your own luminescence. Do you scratch your colleague's back less hard than he's scratching yours or more?

So. I'm not sure how it's going to go. I've been on Authonomy 1 day so far and rose 8 places over night only to slip down again 6 since daylight. To get anywhere it seems you need to be permanently wired up to the system.

Must be great for Authonomy's web stats though... no?

Call me a cynic but I'll keep going with the envelopes and stamps. To that end I have just revamped my synopsis following some fabulous on-line advice ferreted out by the brilliant Sunny Side Up. If you're a writer you might find the following advice on synopsis writing (the bane of every writer) useful:

http://www.writing-world.com/publish/synopsis.shtml

http://www.annemini.com/?cat=1070

Other than than, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini is out there and available to be read by all those that care to. If you have the time to leave a review, well, I'll be your best friend until I inexplicably slip back down the rankings again.

Thanks.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Scourge Of The Gaming Classes

Maybe there is something wrong with me? Lord knows I found it difficult to fit in at school. But me and computer / videos games have always suffered a rather ambivalent relationship.

Not even “love/hate”. Its more “occasional like/hate”.

I hate the way they suck you in. The addictive quality to them. The way they impose on you fake, spiritually unfulfilling goals and aspirations. The way they give you a false sense of achievement when all you have done is sit on your arse for hours on end while real life and real opportunity has passed you by.

Most of all I hate the fact that what they truly steal from you is not your energy, or your intellect but your time. Your precious here-for-one-time-only time. Little slices of your life stripped away and tossed down the drain. If Poe were alive now it wouldn’t be sleep he’d be railing against. It would be the high tech soporific of the computer game.

I’ve had friends whose every waking thought, whose every financial expenditure and decision was influenced by the addict’s need to keep up with the latest computer games. Books and magazines were read for clues and cheats and “Easter eggs”. Online resources were tapped into with the dedication of an anti-government insurgent. Entire evenings and weekends were given over – not to interacting with friends or family; not to furthering the requirements of intellect or spirit; not to forwarding long-held dreams or life goals – but to trying to get their elf avatar to level up to High Elf Chieftain or slay a warrior class Orc.

And then they’d return to work on Monday bemoaning their lot in life and wondering why things – why their life in particular – never changed. Why they never seemed to actually do anything like other people seemed to.

And then they’d shrug their shoulders and spend the next few hours boring me with tales of how they’d escaped from some digital dungeon, slew a virtual dragon and earned so many electronic groats they were practically millionaires.

Gah!

Not that I’m completely without sympathy or understanding. I’ve been there; I’ve been sucked in. I’ve tasted the bittersweet sugar of game addiction. In my early thirties I got sucked into The Sims for a few months. I can recall the annoyance of having to obey the dictats of real life – go to work, see friends, eat meals – when all I wanted to do was play the game. All the time. It was like I was bewitched. Possessed.

But I cottoned on pretty quickly that the game had merely created a desire in me that was made of vapour and atoms so intangible Professor Brian Cox would cream his pants if ever he saw one.

Each time I gave up time to the game I was stabbing my dreams and ambitions in the back. Actually, worse than that. I was neglecting them; starving them. Letting them die through abandonment.

So I went cold turkey. I stopped playing.

More importantly I threw myself back into real life.

I took myself back to University. I started writing seriously again. I allowed real life ambitions to take me over.

I’ve never regretted it. I let my Sims friends die and found I did not mourn them.

And now, if I play any games at all, they tend to be cathartic shoot ‘em ups that can entertain me for no more than 20 minutes at a time before I get bored and switch them off. An instant hit. No commitment necessary.

I hurl any need for escapism into my writing.

But the hatred of full-on gaming stays with me. Which, in a family full of enthusiastic gamers, must make me a difficult beast to live with. I have no sympathy or truck with “but I just need to do this and then I promise I’ll finish...” or “I won’t be able to concentrate on anything else unless I get to this level...”

Responses like that make me want to smash the game consoles up; makes me want to shoot them chock full of holes with a plasma rifle or a photon cannon.

Now.

If they invented a game that allowed me to do that... then I would quite happily become addicted.


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Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Made The Shortlist

Brilliance In Blogging AwardsNo, not for the Man Booker Prize but for the Lit section in the BIBs – Brilliance in Blogging Awards.

I would like to thank all those of you that stirred yourselves to vote for me against an undoubted plethora of good reasons not to.

I’m not sure what anyone can do from this point onwards. Voting closed on 30th April; now I think the judges just cogitate and ruminate on the finalists before naming their champion of champions on the 22nd June.

I guess the last few weeks are up to me.

If I knew who to bribe and sleep with I’d be emptying my pockets in more ways than one and doing it. Alas, the most I could offer anyone is 39p and about 15 minutes (tops) of full-on pash. I’m not sure such gifts would at all be first prize-worthy so it’s just as well the judges are not known to me and are beyond my paltry reach.

All I can do is keep blogging and hope that the gods of blogdom eventually recognize my small votive offerings.

That and like the smell of the fatted calves that I regularly sacrifice on a stone altar for their vicarious blood-thirsty pleasure...


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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Is There An App For This?

Is there an app for cack-handedness? Because I need one. Desperately.

I have come to the stark conclusion that somehow the inbuilt ergonomic design of the mobile phone is no longer pandering to my natural abilities.

It could be an old age thing but in my defence (and my kids will back me up on this) when it comes to Lego building I still retain the dexterity of a 7 year old.

But mobile phones I can no longer handle. Literally.

The buttons are too small. Or require a precision of touch that seems beyond me. And what makes it worse is that I have a work mobile as well as my own “home” mobile so the problems are doubled.

Take the automatic keypad locking facility on my work phone. Every phone has one and will employ it within seconds of the phone last registering the caress of your fingers across it’s knobbly little body.

I cannot get my phone to unlock without a deal of hassle and stress. I press a key, any key, and it tells me to press * to unlock the phone. So I do. It tells me to press * again. And again. Seems I’m not pressing it hard enough though the amount of pressure I use seems to be fine for when I’m typing out a death threat. Did I say death threat? I meant text. Three or four attempts later I have finally unlocked the phone but by now I feel like stamping on it and crushing it into oblivion. I have the shape of the * button indelibly imprinted into my finger.

It would be easier to unlock Fort Knox than to unlock my phone.

And then take the touch screen key guard on my home mobile. Oh how I thought it would be marvellously “in” to have a touch screen mobile phone. Something I could smear and flick my thumb across and have it put me in touch with the entire world.

The key guard works fine in a non-urgent situation. I slide it down and my phone becomes instantly touch sensitive. I slide it up again and it becomes as unresponsive as Katie Jordan Price wired up to an MRI scanner. Total key guard protection.

But give it an “urgent” situation. An “urgent” situation being someone calling me on my phone requiring me to operate the touch screen in order to accept the call then the key guard decides not to operate at all. It’s like the phone can’t cope with having to do two things at once. What? Employ the ring tone and enable the key guard function toggle button? No way! This is a mobile phone not a multitasking device! Back and forth I slide the key guard switch and all that happens is that the phone vibrates, continues to ring hysterically and then eventually the caller either calls off or gets diverted to my voicemail.

Major phone answering fail.

This cannot be right. This cannot be in the designer’s remit surely – to sabotage a user from using their own mobile phone in the fair pursuance of the mobile phone’s basic fundamental duties?

Does this happen to everyone or is it just a conspiracy to prevent me personally from talking to other people?

Am I really that dangerous?

Next thing you know they’ll be closing down this here blo...


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Friday, May 04, 2012

Easy Rider

Easy RiderI like to think of myself as a cultured, educated kind of guy. I know my Munch from my Munchies; my Socrates from my sock drawer. I can string a few words together and sound vaguely articulate.

But this is all a lie.

I am at heart a popularist. A pop person. A middle of the road, representational, non-abstract, can-you-see-what-it-is-yet, the-medium-is-not-the-message, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of guy. I like paintings to look like something real. Music to have a tune. Lyrics to tell a story. And movies...

I like movies, even if they do nothing else, to just entertain.

And this gets me into trouble. Because my frustration threshold with movies is pretty high. I can take a whole heap of cheesy dialogue and improbable plot devices and still have a great time at the cinema. Because, at the end of day, I just want to be shown a good time.

The movie doesn’t have to be intelligent. The experience doesn’t have to be meaningful. The story doesn’t have to be worthy. In fact I’d much rather it wasn’t.

If movies were women I’d be up for a one night stand with the town bike.

I don’t want a relationship; something that will stay with me forever; something that will change me. I don’t want a trophy girl, or a rich girl or a high maintenance girl. Quick, cheap and nasty is fine. Behind the pub, up against the bins, no small talk. In and out, both our bells ring, ding-a-ding-ding. Never going to see you again... not unless you’re out on DVD for a reasonable price anyway.

That’s entertainment.

Which isn’t to say I don’t get pulled into worthy movies. To classics. Of course I do. I enjoy a steak as much as the next man. All I’m saying is, most of the time, when I go out to the movies, I’m happy with a hamburger.

It means I can forgive films like Immortals, Sherlock Holmes and Clash Of The Titans. I’m aware that other bloggers can’t. Bloggers with more taste and higher standards than me.

I’m a movie scumbag and I admit it.

I look at film posters for movies like Black Swan and Salmon Fishing In The Yemen and I can feel my guts cramp in boredom. I’m sure these are great movies. Well written. Pieces of incredible movie art. They’d enlighten me. Cause me to question my own linear, one-track existence.

But they make me want to shit bullets.

I want pizzazz. I want spectacle. I want escapism.

I don’t want misery and the dreariness of the human condition thrust into my face while I thrust handfuls of Mars Planets into my face.

I ain’t looking for nothing but a good time. I’m just an easy rider, baby. I’m out for a laugh and nothing more. Don’t get all heavy on me.

And if that makes me shallow and superficial, well, I can stay at home and self harm to Joy Division records with the best of them. I have as many depths and facets as everybody else. I really do.

I just leave them behind me when I climb into a cinema seat.

So I’m just saying... if you read this blog and you’re expecting choice movies reviews that are considered and sophisticated and erudite you’re going to be (or, more likely, have been) massively disappointed.

As long as a movie can stick it’s tongue down my ear and frottage me up, I’m perfectly happy.

So you Culture Show fans might want to get your movie reviews somewhere else...

Now shut up please – the Pearl & Dean presentation is about to begin.


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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Blue Plaque

Blue plaqueI want one.

I’ve decided.

I want a blue plaque erected in my honour and attached to the wall of a house I’ve lived in or a pub I’ve drunk in or an alleyway I’ve relieved myself in somewhere in my home town.

Because – maybe it’s just Leamington – but there seems to be blue plaques being put up all over the place these days, to all and sundry for a whole raft of endeavours that, at best, often strain the bounds of remarkability and noteworthiness.

Lord Isambard Moolah invented the screw top salt shaker in this garret in 1846. Sir Ivor Permanent Backache invented skiving off from work in this bedsit in 1954. Captain Smartarse created the world’s first time machine in this domicile pod in 2539. Etc. Etc.

Forget Facebook or Twitter (or whatever it is you young un’s are using these days to avoid actually speaking to each other), a blue plaque is what you need if you want people to know who you are, to notice you and – most importantly – to remember you.

‘Cos being remembered is everything. If you die and nobody remembers you, well, that’s like you never existed. You were there but you were like dark matter... just holding the bright stars in their place. But if your name is still on people’s lips, still being bandied around backstreet pubs and used as a gross insult in the playground then you have at least achieved some kind or immortality. Future generations will carry your name forth like some kind of socio-biological seed and who knows? You may yet influence the children of tomorrow in some weirdly perverse manner which will either raise humankind to the heights of enlightenment or (more likely) see it damned to the lowest circle of hell.

But the fate of the species is unimportant compared with having had a hand in bringing that fate into being.

Because it doesn’t matter whether you’re remembered for good things or bad things. Just as long as you’re remembered. Fame doesn’t give a shit about morality. Fame doesn’t differentiate between top ten hit singles or the number of people you stuff into a mass grave. History enshrines Hitler and Michael Jackson both on an equal footing (though I know who I’d trust to babysit).

So all I have to do now is decide how I’m going to get my blue plaque.

Will it be for some kind of Nobel prize winning endeavour? Novel writing? Poetry? Blogging even? It would have to be arts based because I’m completely crap at science (if you’re waiting for me to invent a time machine you’d need a time machine just to cope with the wait).

Or shall I choose the dark path? Become a plague to my fellow man? Visit upon him sores and pestilence and endless irritation?

Hmm...

Blogging it is then.

P.S. Just make sure they spell my name right.

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