Tuesday, December 31, 2013

To Write About Nothing

2013 has not been a great year for this blog.

Several times I made the decision to stop writing but either through inherent inconsistency or perverse stubbornness (not sure which) I recanted and elected to continue.

In the lead up to 2013 my blog had suffered several attacks from work based sources (as a consequence I can no longer write about work issues) and also, most damagingly, was attacked by a close member of my family. A family member who dismissed this blog as self aggrandisement, self-publicity, a fantasy ego trip and bizarrely as a means of fencing memories and feelings that they plainly thought I had no right to air to the anonymous, fake "sycophants" who read every post that I write [I wish].

The aftermath of all this was that I began to question every flowering of inspiration, every issue that motivated me to write, every idea for a post that happened to impinge upon my brain.

I went from writing three posts a week to barely managing to cough up one.

I accept that for some of you that was a positive outcome.

For me it lead to a year when this blog stopped feeling like it was mine. When my voice was muted, censored, diminished. When it was no longer enough for a subject to be close to my heart in order for me to write about it; I had to somehow justify it to these "other voices" that had insidiously invaded my head and presented me with a list of rules and regulations that I had to obey.

It's taken me the best part 2013 to realize that these voices have no right to be in my head and I have no business at all to be listening to them.

In that sense 2013 has been a great year for this blog.

The blogging landscape has changed enormously since I began writing here in 2006. Many wonderful blogs have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by automated shop windows and market stalls. Blogging has become less about sharing the experience of the everyday (and sometimes the unusual) and more about selling product.

Call me a puritan but I believe the only thing that should truly be sold on a blog is the writing. The words. The language. [So do buy my books.]

The disappearance of wonderful bloggers means less wonderful readers around to comment and bolster the spirits of flagging writers. You few who visit here regularly are very definitely diamonds in the rough. I know there are amazing blogs out there but having tried to find them I can tell you it is like searching for a needle in a haystack that is made of straw pretending to be needles.

But I have come to realize that that too doesn't really matter. Chasing a readership is just another way of obeying a voice in one's head that has no right to be there.

So at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 - at the end of 1000 posts and hopefully at the start of another 1000 - it is time to rededicate this blog.

Not grandly or overly ambitiously. Not fakely or servilely.

But honestly.

To write as I see fit about things that matter to me and mine. To share and not to impose.

If you don't want to be here then - please, in the nicest possibly way - don't be.

But if you want to stay then know that you are most welcome.

Happy 2014 to you all.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chiliad

Nan and BampapIt's not that I don't think of my grandparents every day of the year but Christmas seems to bring their presence closer and far more piquantly than at any other season. The effect is both more subtle and more overt.

All my childhood Christmases are tied up inextricably with my grandparents. They were part of the structure and the magic of the day. For me they were the pillars of Christmas. Me and my sisters would get up around 7am - we were amazingly restrained kids - and head downstairs where my parents would have prepared the presents. They were presented in huge plastic bags that featured a huge portrait of Father Christmas on them. Lord knows where my parents had obtained them from. My memory tells me that the bags were enormous - positively cavernous - but logic now tells me I was just very small and my eyes were seeing everything through Christmas-goggles.

Once the presents were all unwrapped we'd have a quick breakfast - all eaten mechanically; who can concentrate on food when you are surrounded by so much Christmas loot? In those days there were no Christmas song compilation CDs or YouTube... in our house it was Radio 1 or nothing and every year the old Christmas favourites would be wheeled out and broadcast, usually by Terry Wogan or Dave Lee Travis. Slade, Wizard, John Lennon and for some reason "The Sun Has Got His Hat On"... not sure why that old war time song was played every Christmas but it was and yet strangely does not feature on any Christmas compilation that I can find.

About 10.30 my granddad, Bampap, would arrive to drive us all up to my Nan's - my sisters and I were allowed to choose one present to take with us (mine was always a Lego set). And that for me was the start of Christmas Day proper. My Nan's house would be strung about with colourful paper decorations and all their cards - hundred of them - would be carefully sellotaped in pleasing patterns on the glass panels of all the doors in the house. The grown-ups would have a quick drink and chat while we kids sat impatiently waiting for the go ahead to play with our presents - like I said, we were amazingly restrained. If we were really lucky Father Christmas would have delivered a few extra presents for us at my Nan's but even if not the best present of all was just knowing we were going to be here for the next 2 days.

Just after 11am all the grown-ups - barring my Nan - would head off down the pub. My Nan would stay behind to cook the Christmas meal and look after me and my sisters. My memories of this time are very happy: the whole day still ahead of us, a new Lego set to build and lots of jolly, friendly programmes on the TV and my Nan in her absolute element. Her time at the pub would come on Boxing Day when my parents would stay behind and look after us but Christmas Day itself was just us kids and Nan and the gradually deepening aromas of chicken and turkey being slowly roasted.

As I got older I began to get curious about "the pub" - what happened there, what they did - and indeed as I got older I soon got to the age where the Lego dried up and we were allowed to join the grown-ups at the pub. I won't lie; it was a disappointment. I've never been a pub person and although it was jolly and fun it was never Christmas in the way it was in those early years when it was just us and Nan and Christmas telly in her cosy front room.

The afternoon was usually a blur. The arrival of the Christmas meal seemed to take the brakes off the day and the afternoon and evening would always career away from me much too fast. We'd eat. Watch the Christmas film. My parents would both falls asleep on the sofa much to my Auntie Linda's mirth. We'd have a light tea and then Bampap would drive us home again, Christmas sadly, grievously over for another year. The only consolation was coming back to my Nan's again for Boxing Day.

I hope Karen and I give something of this type of Christmas to our boys. It's difficult. My Nan and Bampap knew so many people my sisters and I were overloaded with "aunts" and "uncles". My boys have precious few so Karen and I work hard to pick up the shortfall. Those Christmases of my childhood are long gone. They live only in my heart and head in pictures and sounds and smells that I cannot, with all the longing in the world, impart to my children. I just hope the pictures and sounds they are imbibing in these years will stand them in as good stead as my own and they will remember their childhood Christmases as lovingly as I remember mine.

And I hope you will remember yours that way too, both Christmases past and all Christmases to come.

May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

As a side-note you might like to know that this, dear readers, is my 1000th post.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Crank Call Ho Ho Ho

Crank callThe many vagaries of my job means I am pretty much on call 24/7 365 days a year.

Now this isn't as bad as it sounds as there are a quite a few procedural steps and procedural get-out clauses that for 95% of the time means I am saved from a small-hours walk to my place of work and the onerous task falls to a third party who is paid a hell of a lot more to do this element of the job than I am. I won't go into details for security reasons (i.e. I'd have to kill you all).

So. When the telephone rings late at night I have been systemically programmed to awaken and answer it not matter how tired or how previously unconscious I might have been.

I do not do this, as a rule, with any grace or magnanimity. I do, however, do it being of a conscientious mind and bent.

The telephone rang last night at 12.33am. Given the high winds I feared the worst - a smashed window or a blown open door at my place of employ; a 45 minute round dash out of the warm comfort of my own home and into the freezing cold elements just to close an effing door and silence and reset the alarms.

As it was, it was neither of the above scenarios. Neither was it that even more rare event: a genuine break-in.

No. It was a crank call.

And not even a crank call. A crank text / voice message.

Some joker (and I use than moniker very ironically) had decided to sent a text message to my landline which is then recited to me by a computer.

The message was innocuous but subtly malicious; something along the lines of: "Sorry. My mistake. I did not mean to call you. Boo hoo. Boo hoo. Boo hoo. I hope I did not wake you up. Boo hoo."

The voice messaging service is such that, had I not taken the initial call, the phone would have rung out again and again and again until the message was delivered.

I was not amused. I was awake. Awake and pissed enough to check my phone to see if I recognized the originator's number.

Because the cretin obviously did not realise that along with the message, the computer also logs the telephone number of the twat sending it and gives it out to the recipient.

The number was and is unknown to me, mores the pity.

Now, I have developed 2 theories to describe the night's events.

1) This was someone who was drunk, infantile and comedically challenged and who on a whim decided to waste their immorally earned money on a random text message to a random telephone number that they picked out of a phone book by flopping their infinitesimally small penis onto the yellowing page flapping in front of them. In short, I (literally) drew the short straw but may have inadvertently helped this small pewling, emotionally backward baby of a human being feel momentarily like they were king of the world. Or at least king of the bus shelter that they were trying to unsuccessfully masturbate into.

2) This is some lowlife scum who knows me, has got hold of my landline number, knows I am on call and therefore will be primed to answer the clarion call of the telephone and decided it would be funny to wake me and potentially my wife and children via a prank call that only highlights how pathetically passive-aggressive and emotionally stunted their entire existence is. Oh and they may have a have a very small penis too and / or saggy tits that droop down to their toenails.

Either way I don't really care.

But I do want recompense.

I am reliably informed that if you dial 141 before dialling someone's telephone number the call goes through anonymously. They won't be able to see your caller ID. This, alas, does not work for text messages but no mind. Normal voice calls are good enough.

The person who woke me so rudely last night has the following number: 07817 449153.

Now, I am not inciting anyone to do anything. Not anything at all. But should, you know, you feel like making a random late night telephone call or feel like signing the above telephone number up to services both dubious and ridiculous, well, who am I to stop you?

This person plainly has a marvellously over-developed sense of humour (alongside a curiously under-developed sense of personal data security) and would, I like to imagine, be well-up for some jolly japes of a likeminded manner.

Do go and fill yer boots, good people.

It is, after all, Christmas and the season of goodwill to all men.

Ho ho ho.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Nativity

Jamie nativity sceneI must have been in the nativity play every year that I was in infants’ school but the only single recollection I have is of being a sheep one year and having to wear a cardboard sheep mask that I’d made at school especially for the purpose. The role wasn’t demanding. I think I just had to sit at the side of the stage and not upstage the toy doll in the crib. I didn’t even get to baa. The speaking parts were always allocated elsewhere – to the more confident, gobbier kids who could project their voices loud enough to be heard at the back of the hall. Never once did the classic line, “There is no room at the Inn!” pass my boyhood lips.

And now it never shall. Unless I suddenly take up a career as a hotelier in a very small building.

There seems little chance it will happen vicariously either as in this year’s school nativity play my youngest boy pushed for and won the role of a star.

Literally a star.

As in twinkle twinkle.

And not even The Star, i.e. the main celestial protagonist in the nativity story. No, he was one of six generic stars that performed a dance routine in front of the manger about half way through this year’s school nativity production. You know, I swear to God these teachers take massive liberties with Bible interpretation these days. I’m amazed their photos are not publically burnt by American Mid-West Evangelists at gospel rallies more often… you know, the kind of thing these God botherers do to spread the ethos of loving thy neighbour and encouraging people to value religion as a unifying and harmonizing force in the world?

Anyway, he was very cute and I was impressed that he’d learnt what was quite a complicated dance routine – he plainly has a mind for choreography. He seemed chuffed to see his mum and dad in the audience and bestowed upon us a couple of waves. No more than that; he was very focused on his role and threw himself into it with all seriousness. A great acting career is bound to follow. Or at least a decent career as an extra. I look forward to seeing him in Downton Abbey next year as chief urchin.

And you’ll be glad to know that the Virgin birth went off without a hitch for another year though I couldn’t help but notice the complete dearth of sheep.

That was a huge oversight in my opinion. You can’t have a stable and shepherds without sheep. Do these teachers know nothing about the Bible?

If I’d had more notice I would have rummaged around in the loft beforehand. I’m sure I still have that mask stashed about the place in a box somewhere.

And I bet you a night’s stay in a five star hotel room it will still fit me.



Friday, December 06, 2013

Foam

culinary foam... or cuckoo spitMuch as I'm enjoying the current series of Masterchef I nevertheless find myself shaking my head in unpalatable despair at the current trend for flavoursome "foams".

I say current trend but the reality is foams could have been on the menu of high class restaurants for the last 3 years for all I know; I'm not known for patronizing either Le Gavroche or Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons on a regular basis and get funny looks whenever I get sniffy about the size of the bread sticks in Carluccio's. I'm hardly a professional diner.

But Masterchef has brought foams to my attention. Suddenly I have a foam radar and, really, I'm amazed I've got through life so far without ever having one.

I've lost count of how many foams I have now seen on TV.

Foam of quail. Foam of celeriac. Foam of DFS sofa.

Without fail they all resemble cuckoo-spit. Or worse: real proper human spit. A great big gooey lugey that somebody has hawked up onto the plate. For all the customer knows the sous chef has swilled his mouth out with cream of chicken soup, sucked on the cork from a bottle of cheap red wine and then gobbed out the scrapings of his molars all over the dauphinoise potatoes and then charged some poor hapless diner £78 for foam of coq au vin.

The poor diner won't know whether to sip it up with a straw or wipe it down with a napkin. Either way he's as stuffed as Scotch egg. Not so much et tu Brute as et tu veloute.

Is this really the way fine dining is going?

Foams? Essences? Sprays?

Are we going to end up with some hoity-toity overly-superior waiter spraying an aerosol can across our faces and claiming we have just imbibed spray of beluga caviar with a fine jus mist of sea bass and then charging us a four figure sum for the privilege? Couldn't I just save myself a load of money by eating the contents of my bathroom cabinet?

I've got a can of Lynx upstairs... mix that with foam of Bisto and I reckon I've got a meal that would set most people back a few hundred quid. Suddenly Old Spice takes on a different meaning too; I could save a fortune by boycotting Pataks and my curries will be the most fragrant in the street.

Maybe I just ought to let my mouth water more and get onto the gravy train?  After all, I could charge for the steam... I'm sure I could rustle up some foam from somewhere too... something with a very personal touch that'll get your umami taste buds a-tingling.

So anyway, next time you're about town and you see some lowlife spitting onto the pavement, just remember you could be passing up the opportunity for a free meal.

Don't be proud. Hunker down and enjoy.

Heston Blumenthal will be charging £150 for it guaranteed.





Saturday, November 30, 2013

Crossing The Thin White Line

Nigella Lawson cocaine use accusationI've written frequent posts about Nigella on this blog. Originally because I quite like the cake-making queen of tease and then later because I was quite happy to acknowledge that she was good for my stats. Even now "Nigella Lawson hot" is one of my biggest referral terms and with her name once more in the headlines I'm receiving more hits than usual.

Are these new visitors seeking edification and information? Or just a nice picture of the curvy brunette spilling o-er her cups? I suspect the latter but that's by the by.

I kind of feel I owe Nigella's current predicament some kind of comment even though I'm sure she would rather I kept my nose out of it (no joke intended) as at the end of the day the accusations of cocaine abuse are nothing at all to do with me.

But of course this hasn't stopped the world and his dog offering a multitude of opinions on what are as yet unproven accusations by her embittered and estranged husband. Do you think he might be biased in his attempts to discredit her?

Part of me thinks that this story is not at all in the public interest. What goes on behind the closed doors of a marriage should stay behind those closed doors. But then I daresay Mr Saatchi would like to have used the same argument when the infamous throttling story hit the headlines. Though of course he did this in a public place not in the privacy of his own home. Or should that be "allegedly as well as"? And to be honest, domestic violence should never remain hidden away in the dark where it can be allowed to grow and spread like a virulent fungus.

But being a public figure, of course, makes almost anything at all that happens to a celeb "in the public interest". For me the idea of "public interest" has long taken on a moral dubiety but we'll leave that aside.

I hope the accusations of Nigella's cocaine use are false. I haven't read them, I must admit, or even watched the news. And yet somehow, via social media and gossip, the gist of the story has spread. I find it hard to believe that a ten year cocaine habit could have gone unnoticed and gone uncommented upon for so long. Mr Saatchi claims he has only just found out. What a truly dreadful husband he must be then. (1) Nigella turns to drugs (I surmise) to make life with him more bearable, (2) he's so dreadful he doesn't even notice and then (3) he increases his dreadfulness by bringing it to the attention of the tabloids and throws the kids into the mix at the same time. What a wonderful husband and father he must be. Even if we could waive aside the sundry acts of domestic violence.

Cocaine is a distasteful drug. It makes arseholes out of all who use it and bigger arseholes out of those who are already arseholes. Nigella has never struck me as being an arsehole. Of course, I could be wrong - I don't know her after all - and chasing the white rabbit could validate the myth of Nigella's constant munchie-runs to the fridge for midnight snacks as perpetuated by her many cookery programmes.

But I'm hoping Mr Saatchi just can't tell his icing sugar from his Esnortiar. Despite being married to Nigella for years he doesn't strike me as the kind of man who spends much time in the kitchen but would certainly have seen talcum powder being smudged across a glass topped coffee table from time to time. Any white powder at all is going to produce a big knee-jerk reaction from him.

Personally, next time I would recommend he try Tetramethylenedisulfotetramine.

After all, if Nigella has a rat in her kitchen, what's she gonna do?



Friday, November 22, 2013

I’m Gonna Text You Up

So. New phone. Nokia Lumia 510.

My first ever smartphone. Email. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Skydrive. All in one place. I’m loving the sense of centralized connectedness. All these different ways of communicating with people literally at my fingertips.

Decent contract too given my traditional parsimonious nature when it comes to mobile phones. I get 500 minutes, 750mb of date and 5000 texts all for just £10 a month.

The data I might use – browsing, downloading apps, updating blogs and feeds, etc. The 500 minutes… hmm, doubtful but you never know when you might need to have a long conversation with someone.

But 5000 texts?

I must admit that had me rolling my eyes.

5000 texts per month?!

Who sends 5000 texts a month? That’s (on average) 166 texts a day! What can you possibly find to write about so frequently on a daily basis? Apart from sending someone a novel a line at a time?

“Hello, just sending you a text.”

“Hi again. Just me. Just another text.”

“Did you get my last text?”

“Not my last text but the text before that?”

“This is just a text to check that you’re getting my texts.”

“Please text a reply.”

“If you’re able. If you want to.”

“No pressure.”

“Have you run out of texts? You really ought to go to Tesco. They give you 5000 a month.”

“That’s 5000 texts.”

“Which is a lot of texting.”

“Erm…”

“Actually my finger is really hurting now. Do you mind if I just ring you instead?”

I don’t think I have ever sent 5000 texts in my entire life. Let alone in a month. And now I have an allocation. I kind of feel morally obliged to honour it. To share the minutia of my life with some as yet unnamed other in my address book as frequently as possible until they get so sick of hearing from me that they stop acknowledging my very existence.

Rather akin to blogging.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

My MRI

helium filled balloonsBefore you start sending bouquets of flowers and high class hookers to my hospital bed can I just point out at this point that I am not, in actual fact, having an MRI scan, I am not hospitalized and as far as I am aware I am pretty damned healthy?

That being said I am sure there are a great many of you who would be glad to accompany me to the hospital should an MRI scan ever be called for purely out of curiosity to see what the hell showed up on the results.

Some TV science programme earlier this year (actually, scrub that, it might have been The One Show) pointed out the startling fact that MRI scanners need helium to work. And helium is a very limited resource on this planet. It is incredibly finite and compared to other resources available to us helium is pretty darn rare. Worst of all, once we have liberated helium from the planet's core (or wherever it is hiding), if we don't make careful and painstaking attempts to contain and hold onto it, it tends to float up and up into the upper atmosphere and then free itself from all bonds of gravity and drift off into outer space where it is lost forever.

Forget oil, we are going to run out of helium pretty darn soon.

Now, I was in a greeting card shop the other day and like most card shops, the entrance was festooned with helium filled balloons. Loads of them.

And I couldn't help but feel a sense of chagrin at the foolishness of the human species.

MRI scans are a great technological leap. We finally have a non-invasive method for diagnosing whether invasive surgery is necessary without having to undertake invasive surgery to prove or disprove it. MRI scanners need helium to work. As a planet we don't have much helium in the universal scheme of things. And we are pumping tonnes of the stuff every day into little rubber bags that are then batted about at children's birthday parties or inhaled so that unfunny dads and uncles can perform a brief and unconvincing Chipmunk impression in the vain hope that their peers will see them as being on a par with Jim Carrey.

This is madness, surely? Stupidity, even.

So I did the only sane thing I could do.

I bought all the balloons. And then I moved onto another greetings cards shop and bought all theirs too. I'm going out again today. Quite where I'm going to store them all, I don't know, and the cats are already freaked out by all the bloated Mickey Mouses that are currently bobbing their way around the living room.

All I know is, when you or someone close to you needs an MRI scan in the (hopefully distant) future and the helium has all run out... you will know where to come. Sure, I'll charge you for it. I hate Disney so I'm paying a high price here for your future medical insurance. And, of course, I'll hold back my own personal supply.

And when, one day, I have my own MRI scan and you accompany me to see what is bubbling away inside my head, well, you'll be blown away by the sheer amount of business acumen.

That's if you can't see it already.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Knight Rider 2013

Knight Rider David HasslehoffIt is a well-known fact that the average domestic washing machine has more processing power than NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe. And it struck me the other day as I watched my boys play on their Nintendo DS’s that it must surely follow that there is probably more computing power in those annoying little games consoles than the original producers of Knight Rider could have ever envisaged for their crime fighting super car, Kitt, in the 1980s.

And then my own internal CPU got to working… What would happen if we brought Kitt bang up to date with modern computing technology (and conveniently ignored the fact that some daft producer in the US actually already did that in 2008)? Would Michael Knight and Kitt actually benefit from modern social networking and broadband Wi-Fi?


“Kitt, I need all you got on Mr Big – prison records, Interpol logs, all known connections to any terrorist cells!”

“Sorry, Michael, I’m playing Angry Birds on Facebook. How about if I PM him and see if he gets back to us?”

“Goddamn it, Kitt, I need that information now!”

“[Sigh] OK, Michael. I’ll Poke him.”


Or what about:

“OK, Kitt, let’s get Mr Crimelord down to the precinct. He’s gonna be banged up for twenty or my name’s not Michael Knight!”

“Sorry, Michael, I refuse to help you arrest that man.”

“What?!”

“He’s one of my connections on LinkedIn. I need him to endorse me for crime fighting and high speed car chases.”

“So in his case you’re not going to fight crime so that he can endorse you for fighting crime?”

“That does not compute. Screw you, Michael. I’m going to Tweet that you’re a pedantic, crime-ist asshole.”


Or what about during a high speed car chase and Michael presses the much loved (and completely over used) Turbo Boost button?

“Come on, Kitt, let’s go – Turbo Boost!”

[Nothing happens]

Michael presses the button repeatedly and furiously. “What’s happening? Turbo Boost! Turbo Boost!”

[Still nothing happens]

Michael starts hammering the Turbo Boost button with his fist. “Jesus – the bridge is out! I need that Turbo Boost now Kitt! What the hell’s going on?”

“Sorry, Michael. Please be patient. I’m buffering.”


*sigh*

The imaginary world of my teen-hood would have been so disappointingly different if I knew then what I know now.

Tune in again next week when I’ll pitch an idea to bring Baywatch bang up to date utilizing spy satellite technology…


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Giff Guff

I really loathe mobile phone companies.

Which, given the ubiquitous nature of the mobile phone and mobile phone technology, is pretty much akin to announcing that I loathe modern day life itself.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my departure from Vodafone when they essentially cut me off without a by-your-leave or thank-you because I hadn’t deigned to make any chargeable calls within a strangely random 3 month period. This despite my original purchase of a £90 phone precisely so I could go onto their  ”pay as you go” service plan which, to my mind, means it’s entirely up to me whether I make any calls or not. Stuff what is says in the small print.

Due to Vodafone’s subsequent offhand treatment of my plight I decided to take my custom elsewhere. I won’t say “valued custom” because, if I’m honest, no one is going to make a million quid out of me if I only make one call every 6 months but that’s not the point. I’m an occasionally paying customer and no business in its right mind should turn down the opportunity to make even a little bit of dosh.

The question was where. Vodafone was the only devil I’d known for the last decade; how did I choose amongst the others?

The recommendation came back: GiffGaff.

It looked promising.

Someone even gave me a GiffGaff SIM card. All I needed to do was activate it online, choose my payment plan and away I could go to not make as many calls as I wanted.

Only it’s been an epic fail.

GiffGaff won’t accept any of my credit cards. Payment is refused every time (I have made 9 attempts to date). There is money in my account. Everything seems hunky-dory at the big banking end. There is no reason for the refusal.

I have left messages online for the gaffers at GiffGaff (ironically there isn’t a phone number to call them on) but their electronic response has been hugely disappointing: “unresolved”.

That was it. That was their response. Unresolved. Well, I could have told them that. What I was looking for was “resolution…”

I put it to you that after 9 attempts to give someone my money and have it thrown back into my face I am within my rights – if not my sanity – to give them the finger.

GiffGaff you have fallen at the first hurdle. Goodbye.

I’m off to Tesco instead.

I’ll bet they take my money and say thank you for it with a nice (but knowingly avaricious) smile.

But that’s OK. That’s good enough for me. That does the job.

As Tesco say: every little helps.

Because at the end of the day they wisely know that it’s the little bit that doesn’t help that can and will cost you somebody’s custom.


Saturday, November 02, 2013

When Will They Ban Facebook?

Facebook bannedI used to loathe Facebook.

I'd sneer at it. Snarl at it. Use it sparingly, use it begrudgingly and know that I was being a hypocrite.

It seemed to embody the worst of social media: aggrandizing the trivial; making monoliths of minutia. It encouraged its users to market themselves as "social product" whose worth was tied into the value of their status.

I saw it as evidence of society's degeneracy; proof that any promise of revolution was being bought off with the sop of funny pictures, in-jokes, soft porn and distracting memes while Rome burnt beyond the little bubble of our individual internet connections.

Maybe though that was just me? Maybe I was only seeing the pretty lights on the surface; the Angry Birds, the Photoshopped pictures of celebs, the wool over my eyes?

Frequently when I log into Facebook now I am pleasantly surprised at how politicized it is. My updates are rife with international satire, news of causes, plights and global injustice. There are petitions. There is shared outrage. There is a sense of movement and speaking out. Of things not being allowed to be swept under the carpet. Illegal evictions in Kenya appear alongside stories of dodgy banking deals in the UK and the yet further developments of Operation Yewtree.

Somehow Facebook has become a news source.

Again, maybe that's just me?

Facebook, like anything I suppose, can be as trivial or an meaningful as the individual makes it.

I can't believe I'm going to say this but, thanks to Facebook - or rather thanks to those who use it - I feel a little more world-aware than I have been for a long time. I'm not saying I'm suddenly an activist with a balaclava and a wine bottle filled with petrol... but that little bubble of my internet connection seems wider and a little more all-encompassing than it once was.

As clichéd as it is: I feel connected. Connected with people who are as dissatisfied as me.

On Facebook we snarl now at a politicians. Take our celebs to task. Castigate lazy and misinformed (and misinforming) journalists. Share the traumas of people in far away countries that we will never meet but whose trauma touches us. People are speaking out. Shouting. Demanding.

Maybe society isn't as degenerate as I feared?

But I worry.

Despite the appalling behaviour of our journalists the conclusions of the Leveson Enquiry are, nevertheless, a blow for freedom of speech. Yes, there need to be checks and balances but the press also needs a certain amount of freedom to pursue those in power who are doing us wrong. I worry that as the gags start to be applied, where will it end?

Social media - our voice - is already no longer as free and unfettered as it once was. People have got into legal trouble on Twitter and elsewhere.

How long before the censors start carving up what we can and can't satirize on Facebook? How long before they stop us sharing information, our stories, our opinions, our Photoshopped pictures of David Cameron morphed into Iggle-piggle?

How long before the powers-that-be ban Facebook altogether?

Do we really want to go back to a blinkered life playing Angry Birds while the politicians and corporations stalk the streets outside armed with fire brands and petrol?



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Give Daddy Some Sugar

Please Sir, Kindly Take Receipt Of This $9 Million Dollars
To be honest I probably haven't pimped myself as much as I should have but some of you will no doubt have seen that I have a new publication out on Kindle.

Please Sir, Kindly Take Receipt Of This $9 Million Dollars is the first in a (so far) 3 part series of my, ahem, selected writings that I am self publishing (and, quite possibly, self reading). For the startling cheap price of £1 you can lodge in your electronic bosom such literary gems as The Homeopaths Guide To Drinking, iClaudius, Better Than Marje Proops and, of course, the now legendary Sex With Nigella. Plus a whole glittering literati of other topics. This is quite simply the equivalent of a literary vajazzle.

You know you want one.

And you won't have to spend the next few days swilling sequins out of your toilet bowl.

For those of you who have already been kind / senile enough to purchase a copy please, please, please can I ask that you leave a review on Amazon. A product without any stars or endorsements just looks sad, orphaned and unwanted. And therefore undesirable. Please sex up my book with your kind hyperbole. Even if you have to lie in order to do it. I'm not proud.

For those of you considering a cheap humour book this year (or just considering a charitable donation) please give mine a go and, as above, please consider leaving a ringing endorsement to encourage others to do the same.

I must also here give thanks to the creative genius that is David Metcalfe-Carr for designing and producing the front cover.

The second book in the series, Anger Management Glasses, should be published some time in the New Year.

This has been a pubic disservice announcement.

You know, I think my spellchecker is broken...



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tears For Fears

Ruby from the Great British Bake OffThe recent series of The Great British Bake Off has stirred up a lot of online debate and astoundingly none of it has been about buns, baps or crusty cobs. It has instead been about crying. About tears. About the expression of emotion.

I’ve read a number of blogs recently that have given Ruby, this year’s youngest Bake Off contestant, a hard time. She has come under fire for crying too much, for crying at the slightest little thing, for ‘crying to gain sympathy’. In short she has been accused of utilizing her tears as some kind of Machiavellian tactic to gain advantage over the other contestants.

Now, aside from the fact that she has gained no advantage at all and indeed I fail to see what actual advantage there is to gain, I find the accusations deeply disturbing, repugnant and unfair. Some of the comments I have seen directed Ruby’s way included the old gem, “oh she’s just putting it on; I knew girls like her at school – very pretty and they turn on the tears just to get their own way; they know exactly what they are doing.”

It took me a while to work out why that statement angered me so much – because there are a number of reasons.

The first (and major) is that the initial gut reaction of both my wife and I when we first saw Ruby was along the lines of: this person has had something happen to her which has left her a little bit damaged. We didn’t see someone who was deliberately manipulative or turning on the tears just for effect; we saw someone who was plainly fragile, had major self-esteem problems despite her looks (because, let’s acknowledge something here: just because you’re perceived as good looking by other people doesn’t mean you believe it yourself) and was severely lacking in confidence and a sense of self-worth.

I’m sure it will be argued that I am merely transferring my own experiences and (mis)conceptions onto Ruby. I would argue that people accusing her of being manipulative are doing the same. To dismiss her with the phrase “I have known girls like her…” is offensive, lazy, callous and reductive. Have you really known girls like Ruby? Isn’t everyone an individual? How can you judge someone who appears on a highly edited TV programme – someone you have never seen before – and decide you know them well enough to critique their entire personality? And as for these girls that you “knew”… how well did you really know them? Enough to judge their behaviour and condemn them for it out of hand? What if there were issues at home? What if there were traumas? Or did you really know everything about them to be able to say they had no reason at all for their behaviour except an inherent and apparently unjustifiable nastiness?

The other thing that bugged me was the implication that other people’s tears and ‘confidence wobbles’ on the show were genuine while Ruby’s were not. How the hell can anybody make a judgement call like that? As far as I could discern this judgement was based solely on Ruby’s looks. Ruby is very attractive therefore she must be supremely confident, must have an easy life with no trauma ever taking place and is not allowed to be attributed with any nervousness, lack of confidence or feelings of self-doubt and emotional negativity. People who are more plain looking, however, well when they cry and go through a confidence crisis that must be genuine because everyone knows that attractiveness = manipulativeness while plainness = honesty and integrity.

What simplistic, reductive rot.

You cannot allow that one person is genuinely upset and not another. There is a basic human right issue here that has nothing to do with looks, gut instinct or whether or not you find someone’s personality appealing or not. Human emotional responses are impossibly complex. Nobody can read them well enough to say exactly what someone is feeling let alone instantly dismiss them as being OTT or inappropriate. For Christ’s sake, if you feel something you feel it. It is not for others to deny you the rights to your own emotions or charge you with fraudulent behaviour. Imagine how crippling that is: you feel something strongly enough to make you cry but those around you shrug and say, “Nah, you’re faking it.” How do you feel now?

The last thing that piqued a response from me was the debate about whether there were too many crying people on TV per se. Whether there was an emerging crying culture generally that was, if not fake, then at least over-done and distasteful to those of us who battle on with stiff upper lips. Is all this free-wheeling emotion a good thing or a bad thing? Part of the argument again was based on the idea that people use tears as a means to an end; a moral gambit to win (or even just avoid) an argument.

I’m not sure what the answer is here except that I would rather a world where people were open and honest about their feelings than a world where people bottled things up, battled on until they either popped and took out half the street in a killing spree or popped internally and fell to the big C or heart disease. Surely the real issue here lies with how people deal with the tears and upset of other people? Isn’t a sighing, dismissive, disgruntled response (“Oh God, they’re not crying, are they?”) also an emotional response that is just as open to criticism?

Surely there is an analogy here to dealing with crying children? Certainly you don’t want to give in and give them whatever it is they want just to stop / avoid the tears… but you do need to talk to them because there is plainly an issue. They might not get what they want but, in the words of Mick Jagger, they might get what they need. At the end of the day we are all emotional beings to one degree or another – our place on the spectrum isn’t the benchmark. I don’t believe there is a norm and I don’t think a norm should be proscribed.

But we do all need to be better about how we deal with our emotions and how we deal with the emotions of other people.

Dismissing, castigating, denigrating and vilifying someone just because of how they express their feelings is not the way forward.

And that is something I feel most sincerely.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Vodamoan

Although my mobile phone has changed over the years I have retained the same number since I bought my first mobile phone back in 1999. It’s the number I give out to friends and colleagues. It’s the number I put on forms and web sites (the ones I trust). It’s the number I put on correspondence when I send my novels out to agents.

I’ve had it 14 years.

As far as I’m concerned it is my number.

My mobile phone tariff is Pay As You Go so as a consequence I have to buy my mobile phones outright – there is no contract with the service provider. So as far as I’m concerned the mobile phone is mine and I’m free to use the number as much or as little as I like.

Over the years I have used the mobile less and less. This abandonment has been exacerbated by the acquisition of a work mobile which, naturally, I now use to make most of my calls (as they tend to be work related). In fact, the only cost that has been incurred by my own mobile phone over the last few months has been incurred by the phone itself; it is a touchscreen and the “guard” switch frequently turns itself off to the point where the slightest accidental touch on the screen causes the phone to dial out. Thanks to Vodafone’s instant “£2 IOU credit” scheme I often found myself owing them money (despite my Pay As You Go tariff) for calls that I hadn’t actually made. I didn’t ask for the credit and didn’t want it. Personally I think it’s just another way for the phone company to screw money out of the slice of its customer base who are more pecuniary minded. So in the end, the last time I racked up a £2 “credit debt” I didn’t pay it off. Sod them.

That was possibly my mistake.

Because despite receiving a couple of phone calls earlier this week I suddenly turned my phone on one morning to find a “Sim card registration failure” message on the screen. A phone call to Vodafone revealed that as my mobile hadn’t been used to make any calls for the last 9 months they had decided the phone was no longer in use – this without checking – and they allocated the number (MY number) elsewhere. They would send me a new Sim card with a new number to reactivate the phone but my old number was now lost to me forever.

I have to say I am quite furious. I have my novel with a number of agents at the moment and my mobile number is all over the correspondence should they wish to ring me and make me an offer. The fact that they won’t is neither here nor there. It is sod’s law that this is the time an agent will bite and now won’t be able to get hold of me. Yes, they have my email address but you know… I’m thinking worst case scenario here: an agent who is e-averse.

How dare Vodafone remove my number just because I haven’t incurred any phone charges recently and do so without a by-your-leave or a thank-you. That phone is mine. I paid for it outright to make calls at my convenience not theirs. Overnight they have reduced it to a useless piece of plastic – which, if I had wanted such a thing, I would have bought a box of Mega Bloks (sorry – striking a blow for Lego).

I’m going to call Vodafone back (not from my mobile) and complain. I doubt it will do any good but my spleen needs to be vented. I’m now weighing up whether it’s worth the effort and expense to buy a new mobile tied into a different company just to spite Vodafone good and proper (like they actually care).

I suspect all phone companies are much the same but if any of you have any personal recommendations do please give me a call.

You have my number.


Friday, October 11, 2013

A Mug’s Game

It’s always nice when a friend emails you something funny and / or interesting with the excuse that “I saw this and thought of you”. It makes you feel special, that you’re on another human being’s radar and it allows you to cast aspersions as to what kind of person they consider you to be.

Take the following link that my good friend at Sunny Side Up emailed to me the other day: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/mumsnet_classics/1875847-Do-you-dunk-your-penis

Just read through the various replies and consider how this sticky subject applies to you.

For those of you too suspicious or too busy to follow the link basically it opens up a huge internet dialogue on the subject of post coital cleansing. It seems that one enterprising couple keeps a mug of water by their bedside table into which the man immerses his dirty appendage while his wife hogs the bathroom thus individually and simultaneously ridding themselves of the more uncomfortable aspect of the post lovemaking glow [i.e. the stickiness of sated appetite]. Personally removing the gimp mask is a higher priority for me but we’ll let that pass for now.

Of course, it begs the question: is this normal? Although that question is transmuted into the far safer and less politically fractious: do other people do this too?

As you will see from the comments and replies in the link, although the mug has a lot going for it in terms of convenience (providing the mug isn’t painfully shallow) there does exist a danger that your early morning mug of tea might be a lot milkier than you would normally take it if you do not exercise some care when selecting your first beverage of the day.

I must confess that I myself do not utilize a mug, bucket or trough but am happy to avail myself of a couple of wet wipes or even the shower (should I have been particularly adventurous and wild) and consider this to be pretty normal.

I am now wondering if maybe there is a missed marketing opportunity in the offing here. Not so much in the line of speciality mugs – I mean why pay a premium for a “special” mug when your favourite Willy-Wonka mug will do the job just as well for a fraction of the price? I’m talking speciality equipment. Some kind of nob hoover. Although I suppose a Vax would be a better analogy. Or even some kind of miniature washing device like a car wash that one could strap on, plug in and pour in the Mr Matey Bubble Bath and hey presto! Bang and the dirt is gone. Although on second thoughts maybe mixing water, electricity and genitals is not really such a great idea?

Maybe some kind of personal valeting service is the solution then? Someone with a strong stomach and a soft bristle tooth-brush? I reckon I’d clean up pretty well with that idea.

In fact I’ll place an advert in the local paper right now:

“Wanted: scrubber.”

That ought to get the right kind of person interested…


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Woofer

In truth I’m amazed this situation hasn’t risen before now.

For the last 5 or 6 years we have had an assortment of university students renting the house next door to ours. Each time a new troupe has taken possession of the house keys in September we have braced ourselves for what we thought would be the inevitable shockwaves of electronically amplified youth noise erupting through the intervening wall of our semi.

However, for the last 5 or 6 years the gods of white noise have smiled upon us and we have had relative peace. In fact I only recall being disturbed twice: once by some Asian girls to remove a rogue wasp from their bedroom (which was far too sweet to be at all erotic) and once by a guy last year who literally knocked on my door in an abashed fashion to ask for his ball back which had been kicked over the fence and into our back-garden.

This year, however, we have plainly angered the gods. Or they have just developed a taste for eardrum shattering drum and bass.

A couple of lads and a girl moved in a couple of weeks ago and right from the start, even when playing their accursed music “quietly”, it felt like we had an underground tube station suddenly routed beneath our feet. It was, however, bearable. They kept the volume low-ish and seemed to adhere to the unwritten “good neighbours 11am watershed for unwanted noise” rule.

Last Saturday though they had their first party.

I have to admit they diluted our wrath by bringing us a bottle of wine in the afternoon as a pre-emptive apology and giving us their mobile number so that we could advise them if things got “too noisy”.

“Too noisy” proved to be woefully inadequate but I was impressed with their attempts towards goodwill and to establish a decent dialogue. As my wife pointed out: their parents ought to be proud of them; they might be decibel terrorists but they are at least well mannered.

The noise of the party was quite frankly unbelievable. If I had been playing my own music at top volume it still would have been drowned out by the power outage of their industrial strength sub-woofer. I’m sure the baby gallstone that was forming in my kidneys was cured overnight just from the vibrations that tore through the walls and stirred up tsunamis on the other side of the planet. My youngest had a mini-freakout at the noise but thankfully was able to succumb to sleep and slept through the worst of the cacophony. My wife and I fared less well. I think I made a request around 1am for the volume to be reduced and received a text apology and notification that the sub-woofer had now been switched off. This cut down on the vibrations but not really the volume of the music and the weird screams and shouts from the back-garden. I think unconsciousness took me around 2am. My wife reported that party events were still unfolding at 5am.

We’ve spent the last couple of days feeling rather grainy eyed as we’ve slowly clawed back the sleep we lost.

I had another text from the boys next door yesterday apologizing again and hoping they didn’t keep us awake too long. I admitted we were shocked by the noise and my children had disturbed sleep but we appreciated the fact that they were talking to us about it; I was sure we could build on this and become good neighbours. They apologized again and admitted they would probably have another party “at some point” but would have a think as to how they could achieve a good time for their guests without disturbing us. I resisted the urge to suggest they hold the party in the next street. Or even that they have a “mime party”. I daresay sarcasm and charades are not a good mix.

So there we are. An uneasy détente.

Not sure where we go from here or what possible noise abating solution they can come up with before their next sonic hurricane disrupts the neighbourhood’s airwaves. If they start eating a lot of eggs I’ll know they are lining the walls with the boxes (apparently they act as very effective sound-proofing). Hell, I may even start making a few more omelettes myself.

Given the vibrations last weekend I have a box full that are already cracked.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

If Music Be The Food

I was woken up this morning by my youngest boy strumming the fret-board of my acoustic guitar and loudly intoning his ABC (he only got as far as G which musically is rather apt). I'm ashamed to say there isn't much of a story behind that guitar.

It hasn't accompanied me on the road in my teens as a I travelled across America on a Dylan-esque pilgrimage of self discovery. It wasn't used as a shield to fend off piss filled beer bottles as I belted out anti-establishment tunes in some punk dive in East London. It has never been strapped to my back like a samurai sword as I rode my hog to some Hell's Angel's meet out in the back of nowhere.

I bought it in Birmingham, brought it home to Leamington Spa and that's pretty much about it.

In my teens me and my best mate, Dave, decided we were going to learn to play the guitar. Just like that we were going to acquire the skill, form a band, make world changing music and overnight improve our chances of getting laid more regularly. Or, in my case, just getting laid.

Such optimism.

I was a complete failure. My excuse has always been that I was more into my writing than anything else and it is not possible to truly commit yourself to more than one discipline; music was always going to take second place. The truth is I was just lazy. I was unrealistic. I didn't put in the time so therefore didn't get anything out of it other than 3 clumsy chords and blistered fingers. Because I wasn't instantly and instinctively playing like a rock axe-man I got demoralized and invested less and less of my time and effort. I would rather dream the dream than live it.

Dave faired slightly better. At the time I just thought he had more natural ability (he could sing pretty well too where my efforts were, at best, suited to comedy) but I can see now that that dismissal was an insult to Dave. He put in more effort, more time. He worked harder. He stuck with it despite the blisters and pushed on until his fingertips hardened. He learnt to play songs. He learnt to play and sing at the same time. For a while his guitar became an extension of himself.

And yet ultimately we both failed to do anything with the dream. We didn't join a band. We didn't even think to form our own. I bought a cheap 4 track recording device and, sure, we laid down a few tracks but mostly we messed around, ad libbed and felt we were unsung (unsinging) comedy heroes. Ultimately we did nothing with that dream too.

We both got older. Settled down. Had kids. Got sucked into the rat race. Our guitars were put down, lay still and attracted dust. In fact I have no idea if Dave even still has his guitar. I'm not sure why I even kept mine. Certainly not as a permanent accusation; I've long reconciled myself to the fact that I am not a rock god. I think mostly I keep it as a memento to those wild, crazy days of my youth when I dared to dream an impossible dream.

I'm glad I've kept it. I'm glad my boys have passive access to a musical instrument - even if they never pick it up and ask to learn how to play it properly. If nothing else it will save them wasting money buying their own when they hit their teens. And there is a slim chance - a very slim chance - that maybe, just maybe, they will find a virtuoso talent lying dormant within their genes and then that train ticket to Birmingham all those years ago will finally have been money well spent.



Friday, September 27, 2013

Call Me Mr Science

Professor Alice RobertsI've toyed with the idea of legally changing my name many times over the years.

E.Z. Rider. Ace. Salami Tsunami. Juswan Cornetto.

All these names and more were considered and discounted as not being quite right. Not quite the real me. But finally I've reached a decision I can live with. A name with very material benefits.

Mr Medical Science.

See, it was Professor Alice Roberts that gave me the idea. It seems that, according to a recent report in The Metro, the glorious Professor Alice has decided to donate her body to medical science because she "hopes donating her corpse will help doctors and students to develop their surgery and dissection skills."

Laudable as that wish is I personally think screw the doctors and students I'm a far more deserving recipient. And the added advantage is that unlike the medical fraternity I really don't require Professor Alice to drop down dead anytime soon. I'd much prefer to have her body on weekend loan while it is still living, breathing and pumping blood around her exquisite arteries. She can have it back for work days and documentary shoots for the BBC and things like that. I'm not unreasonable. We can devise a rota.

My only real concern is what I do with all the brains removed from idiots and psychopaths all over the world which are now suddenly going to arrive on my doorstep...

Because I already have one of those.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Proof I’m Not An Axe Murderer

Me and Lady MondegreenOver the long years of writing this blog some of you have, on occasion, thrown yourselves shamelessly at me. Showered me with invitations to hook up and meet. Quick but passionate rendezvous in love hotels and back streets where the bins are secluded and not too dirty.

I have as a rule refused to acquiesce to your requests (means I said no).

This decision has been driven by two things: (1) a desire not to render the rest of your existence flat, drab and unappealing by comparison to the glorious sunburst of life that a meeting with me would engender and (2) I’m rather skittish about meeting new people and despite the fake protestation of (1) above I am actually quite paranoid that I myself would come across as flat, drab and unappealing compared to the literary personality that inhabits this blog. I fear I would not live up to the easily obtainable personality goals I have set myself because no matter how low I set the bar I can almost always be relied upon to not quite reach it.

I live in fear of personality fail.

So this has meant a lot of flattering requests over the years (well, 2 that I can actually recall) and the same number of disappointing responses.

August of this year changed all that when quite out of the blue a fellow blogger turned up at my place of work having journeyed all the way from New Zealand. I must point out that an interview with me wasn’t the purpose of the trip, just an aside, as the blogger in question – Lady Mondegreen – had family and friends over here in the UK whom she’d long been planning to visit.

She’d written to me a few times asking how I would feel if she happened to drop in and see me. I did that English thing of responding positively because I harboured the suspicion that it was just never going to happen.

Well, suddenly it had and it was. And actually I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And unless Lady Mondegreen says different I don’t think I performed too badly. I think I met and perhaps even exceeded the bar. We had a pub lunch and a damned good chat and it genuinely was like meeting an old friend. All very relaxed and easy and wonderfully life affirming. It proved that being open to new experiences and opportunities can be an enlivening philosophy and is to be recommended. Though I must here point out that all thoughts of love hotels and passionate bins were eschewed.

Lady Mondegreen is now back in New Zealand and neither of us appears to have been permanently scarred by our encounter. And so, heady with the bravado of success I feel the urge to extend an open invitation to all my regular readers. If you’re ever in the area and want to say hello – a quick coffee and a bite to eat, whatever’s your poison – then do feel free to drop me a line and make it a date.

I don’t bite. I make some effort toward entertaining conversation. I will try to be urbane and debonair. And I promise to keep my animal magnetism under control (but do keep me away from the pub bins just in case).



Friday, September 20, 2013

Are Yow Larfing At Moi Bruvva?

Peaky BlindersIt's rare that Birmingham - capital of the UK Midlands - gets to feature in any kind of television drama. Most of the time film crews avail themselves of the city because it is undoubtedly cheaper to film there than the nation's capital and then represent it as actually being London. The BBC's Hustle is a case in point. Most of the exterior city shots were filmed in Birmingham but sold to the world as being London.

So it's rather satisfying to see Birmingham featuring in a BBC costume drama and being sold as itself. Noisy, grimy, rough, tough and with that unmistakable Midland's twang that I grew up with. Not that Leamington Spa has much of an accent. Compared to the true son of Birmingham, the Leamingtonian accent is rather poesh and nice (as opposed to "push" and "noice").

Peaky Blinders kicked off last week and is the fictionalized account of the Shelby's, a gang of Birmingham crims who held sway in the city just after the finish of the first World War. I daresay the writer's have taken numerous liberties but I am not in a position to point out any factual inaccuracies as yet; I'll leave that to the numerous "Brum" academics who'll not be shy in voicing their complaints as and when any Birmingham based misinformation hits the slagheap.

Knowing parts of Birmingham well and others not at all I can at least say that there is a clever mix of real location and CGI that brings 1920's Birmingham to life; not to mention heavy use of the canal yard at The Black Country Museum. The accents, for those of is the know, sometimes veer from the true Birmingham "yam", but on the whole hold true. The actor with the toughest accent to crack is Sam Neil as Chief Inspector Campbell who has nailed his oracular flag to the mast of the Reverend Ian Paisley. Sometimes it jars but the script is cracking enough that you overlook the occasional dip into Walt Disney Oirish.

The star of the show is Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby (or Tommoi as he is referred to in our house), the leader of the Shelbys. The Peaky Blinders were so named for the razorblades they concealed in the peaks of their cloth caps that were then transformed into slashing weapons in a fight... but in truth Cillian Murphy could cut a man wide open with his cheekbones alone. He's a powerful presence on the screen and exudes an air of calm, urbane, gentlemanly violence that is somehow the more brutal for being measured and calculated. Helen McCrory too is a strong backbone to the rest of the cast and manages to slum her vowels into Birmingham's street talk with aplomb.

The show has everything; horses and bet rigging, stolen army munitions, pub fights, gypsy warfare, blood, sex, cheekbones and exortations not to "larf at moi bruvva." And best of all it is bigging up Birmingham.

The city up the road from me has a history that is just as magnificent and nasty as the one to the south.

Only our accent is better.

If yow can't get a rowm at the Premi-air Inn then jus' yow tyoon in to the Beebeeceee of a Thursdaaay and it's like yow is proppa in the Bullrinnng. Jus' down't look at us funnoi. Cos we down't loik it.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shoddy Comes Fitted As Standard

I have an age old problem with computers.

Or rather with the operating system itself. I admit my experience is limited to Windows and I know there are alternatives out there but nevertheless I am driven to persist with the devil I know.

It's the updates.

The constant updates that make my machine lag just when I need it to be super quick; the peremptory order to restart so that the new updates it has shoehorned into its electronic gizzard without my knowledge can be installed properly; the interminable wait so that Windows can "configure" itself (and then stalls at 37% for hours) before my own machine is released to me once more.

I sometimes wonder who my machine belongs to. I distinctly recall paying a whopping great bill for the actual physical components. I still have the receipt. But it seems that as soon as Windows was installed Microsoft then took ownership.

Kind of like a sitting tenant. Yes, you own the property but Mr MS is living here now and possession is 9 tenths of the law so sod off; if he wants to set fire to the wallpaper he jolly well will and there is nothing you can do about it.

Now I know you can turn off Automatic Updates and make it all manual but, really, we humans are all on the paranoid OCD spectrum so we leave it all Automatic in case we miss the update that plugs the huge security breach that Microsoft didn't realize was there when they first sold the software to us (as being the next best thing to sliced bread) for £100+.

And that is my problem. A new version of Windows is in the offing or at least on the brink of being offered. It will undoubtedly be huge, i.e. you are suddenly going to need a dozen terabytes of memory just to run it and a processor large enough to handle the data from the Hadron Collider. Inevitably we are all going to be forced to go back to the computer shop of our choice and pay out another large sum of cash to buy more machinery that Mr MS will then move into and take possession of.

But I don't want this new version of Windows to be bulked out with new services, new apps and new lights and flashing bells (or whatever). I just want it to be like the one I have now but finished.

Finished. Perfect. Not broken. Not with bits missing. Not with any security issues. In short, without any need whatsoever to have to continually update itself.

I mean, if I buy a car I don't expect to wake up one morning 2 months later to find a team of mechanics on my drive changing the tyres.

"Sorry, gov, you can't use the car for the next 3 hours until we swap the tyres over. Yeah, they suddenly decided that the original square tyres that were fitted when you first bought the model aren't conducive to high speed travel so now we're upgrading them all with these round ones."

"But I need to get my wife to hospital this morning - it's an emergency!"

"Sorry. But you chose to have automatic updates and once the process has started we can't stop until it's finished - otherwise the car won't be configured properly."

Ridiculous!

Surely there is an operating system out there somewhere that gets it right first time?

Otherwise, the simple fact is, in thousands of years of human history we haven't actually improved upon the abacus...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rat In Me Kitchen (And Me Bathroom)

Jack Nicholson Daddy's Home!It started with rhythmic scratching.

Something sharp being clawed against wood and brickwork.

I was the only person to notice it at first and was hard placed to positively identify where it was coming from. Somewhere around the back of the kitchen cupboards possibly. I even attributed it to next door at one point (they’re students; I wouldn’t put it passed them to hollow out a cavity in the brickwork on their side of the house so that they could curl up into a ball and listen to their Radiohead albums in peace without the cruel world impinging upon their listening experience).

But then the scratching seemed to hone in and centre on the part of the wall that disguises a run of pipework from upstairs. When I say disguises I mean the pipe is quite obviously boxed in and as a consequence we have a bizarre buttress effect in the kitchen that goes all the way up to the bathroom and from there up into the loft.

For some reason, possibly because I was watching Spring Watch at the time, I thought it might be a trapped bird.

But trapped birds tend not to live very long and the scratching continued.

And then got higher. And higher. Until we could now hear it plainly in the bathroom. Something right behind the tiles, scratching at the grouting from the inside.

The cats got spooked. And then got interested. And now they watch that little patch of buttressed plaster and tile like it’s the telly. They’re just waiting for whatever it is to pop its head out of the splintered plaster like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. To be honest, even if it was actually Jack Nicholson my money would be on the cats.

I am, however, 99% sure it is a rat.

And relieved. I think Jack Nicholson might be a worse pest to deal with.

My biggest fear is that the little blighter is attempting to gain entry to the loft. This would be bad news because we keep various family heirlooms and the boxes from my Lego collection up there. Did I say my collection? I meant, of course, my kid’s. Plenty of scope for rat mayhem.

I’m pretty sure all is secure but I haven’t yet ventured up there. But the time is nearing.

If you don’t hear from me for a while you’ll know it’s because “daddy’s home”.



Monday, September 09, 2013

If You Loved Me You’d Swallow That

Bill and Ben hot sexTempting as it is to wax lyrical about the old Bill & Ben joke of which the title of this post is a quote, today’s subject is actually less amusing but nevertheless still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Quite often on Facebook various quotes get bandied about and published on people’s timelines. They’re kind of like little badges; little sound-bites that people publish and then, if you happen to be "friends" with them, they appear on your FB page too so you can all see what sort of bandwagon we are all expected to jump on today.

This is fine. I don’t mind this. Sometimes these quotes are darn clever. Or just funny. Or actually have a point to them beyond entertaining the web user for a couple of nanoseconds. Yes, I’ve sometimes been freaked out by the thought that FB is on occasion thought provoking or spiritually enlightening but then I calm down and realize that it all depends on the calibre of one’s FB friends. FB just isn’t going to be a religious experience for everyone.

Sometimes though these badges get my goat. They get me riled and peed off.

I’m talking about the ones that attempt to hold your morals hostage. The ones that attempt to emotionally blackmail you.

And they work in the same manner as a chain letter. Only rather than some unspecified disaster befalling you and yours, you merely pronounce yourself as being a very uncaring person and not a true friend if you don’t go along with everyone else and “share” the badge on your own timeline.

You know the type of thing I mean, I’m sure.

“Let’s see how many of my true friends will take a stand against cancer by sharing this…”

“Only real decent people will have the courage to share this and help end child abuse…”

“If you are a selfish uncaring scumbag you will just ignore this and go on about your day without a care in the world while hundreds of babies dies because of your nonchalance BUT those of my friends with a beating heart will join me in publicising this to the great unwashed FB masses…”

Etc, etc, etc.

I’m happy to nail my flag to the poles of cancer treatment research, ending child abuse, bringing world poverty to an end… but as soon as I read that accusing, mock offended tone that presumes to point the finger without even giving me a chance to think, well, I’m afraid I do then ignore the propaganda and go on with my day. I go on with my day feeling slightly irked and sullied but go on I do.

I think what annoys me most is the recognition that when people are foolhardy enough to stick these snide bits of propaganda onto their FB pages that is about as far as their moral righteousness takes them. They don’t go out campaigning for these causes. They don’t head down to the charity shop to make a donation or get on the telephone to pledge some money.

They hit “share” on FB and consider it job done. Task for the day: responded to a moral knee-jerk reaction – tick. And now onto a funny picture about a half-naked cheerleader being photo-bombed by a yampy looking dog.

And nothing changes.

Except the individual’s perception of their own self-righteousness.

Well, I have my own perception of that… and, in my opinion, the currency has severely dropped in value.



Sunday, September 08, 2013

If The Cap Fits...

Cadbury WorldSo having taken the kids to Cadbury World and finding myself channelling a couple of comedy legends (a weird hybrid of Jim Carrey and Eric Morecambe) I thought it would be simply hilarious to pull a face on one of the rides that you simply have to go on while you're there.

No. You really do have to go on them. There is no way to get from one part of the factory to the other except by bizarre toyland tram-car through the disturbing dimensional rift that is Chuckleville.

Being an old hand at Cadbury World I knew there was a camera positioned halfway through the route that takes candid snaps of interlopers as they crawl their way through the alien landscape of chocolate bean land that you then feel morally obliged to buy and hide away in the loft (kidding yourself that this is the only copy and the good people of Cadbury World burn all the negatives).

Wouldn't it be a jolly jape, I thought, if I was gurning like a good 'un at the moment the flash went off and oh how we'd laugh when it came time to pick up the photos?

It having been a number of years since I last played the Comedy Club I was missing the uplifting shot in the arm that is reactive laughter so I thought, what the hell, I'd go for it. It might even cheer up some of the Cadbury staff who looked like they'd been injecting chocolate like a cheap form of botox.

We went on the Chockie Bean public transport system. The camera flash went off. The picture was taken. And we went to collect our photo.

To quote a Danielle Dax album: "Comatose Non-Reaction".

Nothing. Na-da. Not a titter.

"Hmm," I thought to myself, "Either the good staff at Cadbury World are one paracetamol away from suicide or I'm losing me touch."

I'd pulled my best blimmy and put my glasses on upside down and everything. That should have had them rolling in the aisles.

Instead there was not a dickie-bird.

When I got the photo back I could see why.

There was utterly no effing difference in my appearance from when I look "normal" to when I was pulling the face that Jim Carrey would have paid good money to be born with.

I looked exactly the same.

I'm not quite sure what that says about me but I have no doubt at all you'll all be queuing up to tell me.



Friday, September 06, 2013

Sex With Professor Alice

Alice Roberts - sexy science goddess.Well, the CD player is already purring with the best of Barry White and I’ve placed scented candles at strategic locations around the bedroom so that the reflection in the mirrored ceiling is warm and arousing. I’ve got champagne on ice, rose petals on the pillows and even a specially scented ice cube to do that “9½ Weeks” thing should she request it. I’ve even flung a copy of Nessa Carey’s “The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance” under the pillow just in case she’s up for a bit of post-coital research. Although hopefully it will be mid-sesh research and not post-coit; I am, after all, planning to perform all through the night.

I just can’t make up my mind between traditional white satin sheets or eezee-kleen black rubber… It’s so hard to decide. I mean one minute Professor Alice is all prim and proper like a prefect out of Mallory Towers and the next she’s like an attractively geeky love-elf out of… er… The Two Towers.

*sigh*

You can tell I’m nervous, can’t you? This has been on the cards for so long I’m in danger of exploding right here and now. I’ve wanted it for so long. Dreamt of it. Wrote of it. And then deleted what I’d written in case her lawyers ever discovered it. But finally it’s happening.

Sex with Professor Alice Roberts*.

I must admit I’m a little disconcerted that it’s being televised next Wednesday on BBC4 at 9pm. But hey, at least it’s after the watershed so I’m guessing she’s going to dispense with the camisole and may even slip into some science approved lingerie. And I accept it is for the sake of scientific research and not just for pleasure (though I mean to ensure there is plenty of the latter – and for Professor Alice too).

But even so. I’m looking forward to it.

She’s so coy, that Professor Alice. No hints or thinly veiled euphemisms. Not so much as a single flirty text let alone asking me out on a proper date. No, just thrusting it into the BBC programming schedule and trusting that I’d pick up on it; that I’d get the message.

Well, I have.

Professor Alice is presenting a programme about sex next week. And as sure as 2 plus 2 makes 4 and nucleic acids plus various proteins make the building blocks of life Professor Alice and I are gonna make lurve. Yeah yeah, I know it doesn’t mention me in the Radio Times but that’s just to prevent the press from camping out on my doorstep and putting Professor Alice off her vinegar strokes. And I know some of you think I am just hopelessly delusional and am reading far too much into a tiny synopsis printed in a TV magazine but I KNOW, OK? I KNOW in my heart that this is going to happen.

It’s all my birthdays and Christmases come at once. It’s the moment I have been angling and pushing for on this 'ere blog for at least 4 years.

And it’s finally all coming together. Just like me and Professor Alice, in fact.

So don’t spoil it for me.

Just tune in, shut up and watch. You may even learn something.

Just sayin’.

*wink* *wink*


*Sex: A Horizon Special: Wednesday 11th September, BBC4.



Friday, August 30, 2013

Me And Tel

Sir Terry WoganI had cause to be in Windsor a few weeks ago (full frontal family assault on Legoland) and, being rather partial to a cheap Italian (I just cannot afford Monica Bellucci; lovely girl but too high maintenance), the family and I repaired to the local Bella Italia to enjoy a late evening, post Legogasm, meal.

Nothing unusual in that; the brood and I often fine-dine in such kid family establishments and have been known to sample their various incarnations up and down the country.

This time though we were in especial company.

I’m not a huge follower of Sir Terry Wogan but I know enough to have chuckled at his less than charitable (but wholly accurate) verbal drubbings meted out to various Eurovision entrants over the years and I believe he had a TV chat show a few years back and may also be relatively familiar with radio broadcasting. So the opportunity to dine with Tel (as he insisted I call him purely by raising an eyebrow my way) was something that I just could not pass up. And his wife (at least I assumed it was his wife) did not seem to mind us inserting ourselves into proceedings and, in fact, carried on eating as if nothing untoward had happened at all. Looking back on it now I wonder if she did actually see us.

And Terry too for that matter. Conversation was rather sparse - unusually so for the normally silken voiced retired BBC star.

Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact we were sat at entirely different tables but you can’t let a simple thing like an uncooperative seating plan spoil a good anecdote.

Technically I have eaten a meal with Mr Terry Wogan.

And I can tell you he had the best seat in the house – window seat, overlooking the façade of Windsor Castle – seemed to be on good terms with all the waitresses and had the biggest ice cream sundae I have ever seen in my entire life. Lord knows we’re not fast eaters but the Wogans were still masticating and quaffing long after we had requested the bill. Our Tel must have the appetite of an ice age glacier and the constitution of Pete Doherty.

Anyway, I resisted the negligible urge to inveigle him in conversation just for the chance of a kind word and an autograph… I was with my family and needed a night off. If he wants a signed photo he’ll just have to approach my agent like everybody else.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Alcohol

I'm not a puritan (I couldn't give up sex and I don't like Cornflakes) but I drink so little I could be a teetotaller.

It has to be a special occasion indeed for alcohol to pass my lips.

Most of the time when I choose to drink it is not from a desire to take oral pleasure from the grape or the hop. There will undoubtedly be an element of peer pressure or the occasion itself will demand I allow my temple to be profaned with the bitter poison. A special occasion. Visiting friends and not wanting to reject their eagerly offered hospitality. A concession to "have just one" for the sake of appearances.

Secretly (though less secretly now) I would be quite happy if alcohol never entered my inner sanctum ever again.

It depresses me.

Alcohol literally depresses me.

It hit me earlier this week when I visited some very dear friends and shared a couple of pints of beer with them. At the time it felt fine. The taste was "ok". I would rather have had water or even a Coke but, you know, the occasion was one of those listed above and I accepted the offer of beer.

The trouble for me occurs the next day.

I felt depressed as all hell. Not hungover. Not ill. Depressed.

And it gave me a flashback to my twenties when I used to go out fairly regularly to pubs with friends and sink a few beers on a Friday night because that was what Friday nights were for.

I secretly loathed it. Not the going out. I could see that socializing was essential. It was the alcohol. The slavish adherence to "getting out of it" because that was what you were meant to do.

I rarely got drunk. Not out of a capacity to absorb huge quantities of alcohol and still walk a straight line but out of an internal mechanism whereby I find it very hard to let go and lose control.

But next day, Christ, next day the feeling of depression would incapacitate me every single time. So much so I would have to write off the entire day. I couldn't write. I couldn't trust myself to make any kind of decision. I'd just have to ride it through until the pall eventually left my system.

It got to the point whereby a simple equation (3 hours at the pub = an entire day written off) meant that I'd start to decline invitations to go out or find excuses to be elsewhere. For a couple of glorious years I'd just take myself off on my bike in the summer and spend my evenings cycling for miles and miles. I loved it. Sure it was solitary but being out and about in the British countryside was a real balm and, best of all, it gave me inspiration for the next day and I felt clean, hopeful and refreshed.

Alcohol could not compete.

For a while I tried to attach a moral payload to my choice not to drink but that was just dishonest. In truth if other people get genuine pleasure from drinking alcohol, good luck to them. For me it takes more than it gives and I'd rather not enter into the contract in the first place.

Does that make me a wuss? Maybe.

Personally, I like to think that it proves my hedonistic credentials. I like my pleasures to be unalloyed. A pleasure that you have to pay for later isn't that great a pleasure in my book. I want to have my cake and eat it.

Just spare me the accompanying glass of wine.





Monday, August 19, 2013

Wasp Flavoured Toast

Maybe he was depressed? Maybe he was just tired of life?

I'm not sure if wasps have any natural predators (aside from humans protecting their jam sandwiches) but it's possible his family had been wiped out in some random act of waspicide. Maybe the exterminator left him alive to spread the warning to other wasps? A cruel act of mercy.

I've run any number of scenarios through my mind this morning, trying to answer the simple question: why? It was such a horrible way to go. So senseless. So needlessly painful.

It's not like I make toast every day. In all honesty I'm not a toasty person. But once in a while the whimper of charred bread calls to my taste buds. Sometimes only beans on toast can fill that hole in my soul.

So there I am. Like a scene from a sitcom or a kitchen appliance advert. The epitome of domestic bliss. The bread is in the toaster. The toaster is on. The filaments are heating up; they're glowing red hot. Already the mouth-watering aroma of slightly burning bread is filling the air.

Enter suicide wasp stage right, through the open back door.

There's no preamble. He heads straight for the toaster like he already has an agenda. I make an attempt to wave him back outside again; it's instinctive even though I know wasps spurn any kind of direction or air traffic control.

And then before my eyes he immediately dive-bombs into the toaster. I mean he does a genuine kamikaze straight down the side between the filaments and the bread like the Millennium Falcon entering the Death Star.

I'm gobsmacked. I feel a little bit sick. I'm so shocked I can't even turn the toaster off for a few seconds. When I do I peer in gingerly.

I'm not sure what to expect. A blackened bubble of antimatter glued to one of the filaments maybe. Or half a wasp scorched into the toast like the remains of a victim of spontaneous combustion: just his wellington boots and the pipe he used to smoke left weirdly intact.

But there is nothing. Nothing at all. Even when I take out the slices of bread the bottom of the toaster is as it always is. Full of toasted bread crumbs. No sign of a blackened thorax or a smoking mandible.

I examine the toast. That too is as it should be. No unwanted sticky matter like superheated bubble-gum adhering to the surface.

Where the hell did the wasp disappear to? Did he incinerate completely? One clean flash of light and then gone forever? His every atom seared out of existence? There wasn't even any smoke or the pop and sizzle you usually get with shop insectocuters.

I confess I didn't enjoy my beans on toast after that.

I chewed every mouthful a little bit too carefully. Just in case something crawled out of the bread and made one of the beans start to buzz...



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pornification

Status Quo and sexy porn?So the Co-operative has issued an ultimatum to the UK’s lad’s mag publishers: cover up or push off.

Basically, the publishers of such literary gems as Nuts, Loaded and Zoo have until 9th September to start issuing their journals in “modesty bags” or risk a firm refusal from the Co-op chain to even stock the publications on its 4,000 shelves.

While part of me is smirking at the thought of the busty models on the cover of Loaded being forced into an opaque polythene chastity belt I can see that this is a complicated issue (unlike the content of the issues at the centre of the conflict).

I don’t think anyone would disagree that the sheer amount of virtual female flesh that is currently on display around the Western world is deeply disturbing in its volume. Bus shelters, newsagents, internet, calendars, television and computer games all over our technologically advanced hemisphere are awash with tanned cleavage and airbrushed thigh.

Time was when I was a kid you’d have to strain your neck up to the top shelf of a newsagent to see an exposed naval or the slightest hint of pokie action. Nowadays you have to shift aside glossy images of buoyantly racked soap stars and pop singers exercising their diaphragms by sitting legs akimbo just to get your hands on the latest CBeebies magazine for your children.

Now I am not a prude. I’m a normal, sexually dynamic bloke. If I see a picture of an attractive woman (doesn’t have to be a supermodel – in fact, personally, I have leanings towards the real woman end of the spectrum) I’m going to have the expected response.

But.

It’s a no-brainer that to commodify women and use them to sell product is morally, sexually and intellectually wrong. It’s actually worse when the product that is being sold is sex itself. There’s a weird kind of slavery ethos at work at that point that is worse because it is so insidious. Everyone is compromised by it. Everyone is cheapened.

I really don’t want my boys growing up in a world where one half of the human race is seen merely as a mass marketing tool and the other responds unthinkingly like the tools they undoubtedly are.

And yet I look at some of my blog posts – the last one is a good example – and it is plain that I’m not beyond throwing up a picture of an attractive actress to draw attention to my blog. Sure I don’t take the pictures and I don’t ask the models in question to pose so provocatively but I still use them to attract readers to my blog, to boost my stats.

I’m guilty as charged, milord. I guess it’s a good job my blog isn’t published as a glossy magazine because maybe it would be in a brown paper bag under the counter at the Co-op along with Zoo. Though I would hope that the articles contained inside mine would be a darn sight more thought provoking.

The issue at the heart of the problem is sex education. It hasn’t kept up with the march of progress. The hearts and minds of the young are ceaselessly influenced by the online world. And that world is, to quote shadow health minister Diane Abbott, completely pornified and the pornification has spread out into the real world too. This totally skews the attitudes of the younger generation towards sex, to each other and to themselves. Kids these days have far easier access to hardcore pornography than my generation ever did. Too easy access in my opinion. And it is barely regulated meaning that there’s a lot of nasty stuff out there being passed off as “the norm”. That is highly dangerous to an impressionable mind.

Sex education needs to catch up with this technological boom, catch on to what is happening and redress the balance. Because what is missing from this huge deluge of objectification and sex marketing is emotional content and emotional context – the most important aspect of any kind of sexual relationship. Without it objectification is inevitable.

With it the only thing that is inevitable is a just and righteous sense of outrage.

We need to teach people to re-engage with their hearts and minds – not just their genitals.

At best, chastity belts and modesty bags just sidestep the issue and make the whole topic even more fetishized. At worse they collude and allow the status quo to continue.

And surely nobody but nobody wants the Quo to continue?

Ho ho.