Friday, June 28, 2013

Sonic Doom

Keeley HawesI don’t, as a rule, like other people’s music.
 
This is a conclusion I have reached through a lifetime of empiric research.
 
“Other people” – certainly in Leamington Spa – invariably have poor taste, play 'up' and 'slow' tempo songs at times that are not appropriate to my mood or are white and like to think that below the surface they are Dr Dre’s main man and spiritual bro.
 
The above facts, on the whole, do not impinge on my life too much or cause me to impinge on others.
 
Except when, as happened yesterday, I was walking down the street minding my own business when the keys in my trouser pocket began to oscillate to some kind of sonic disruption that was fast approaching me from the rear.
 
To my eternal regret it was neither Matt Smith with his Doctor Who screwdriver or Keeley Hawes with a vibrator. It was in fact some teenager’s third-rate pimp mobile from the bowels of which was emanating the kind of low level bass frequency normally associated with fracking operations in Canada.
 
I felt the car’s approach long before I heard the actual music and longer before I heard the tinplate rattle of the engine. I swear the air shimmered in a sort of heat haze halo around the extremities of the vehicle. Like some kind of vibrato field had been created that would pulp anything solid that dared to cross its boundaries. Anyone with gallstones in the immediate vicinity would have found themselves instantly cured.

I cannot for the life of me tell you what musical track the guy was playing. There was nothing but a solid, constant bass rumble. The sound a black hole makes when it incessantly sucks all matter and light around it into its greedy maw. And let me tell you that this guy’s music etiquette certainly sucked like a black hole. He didn’t give a damn about anyone else. He didn’t give a damn about the asphalt powdering beneath the shadow of his passing. He didn’t give a damn about the rivets and bolts that were undoubtedly being shaken loose from the engine of the very vehicle he was enveloped within. He didn’t give a damn that even when he had driven four hundred yards down the road from me, the recycling boxes that the good people of Leamington Spa had left out for the sake of eco-conservation were still audibly vibrating from the residual shockwaves he had left behind.
 
That last is a God's honest actual fact.
 
The whole episode just made me want to sneer out loud. In fact I probably did precisely that but nobody heard me, not with the blood still pouring out of their ears.
 
Why do people do this kind of thing? Why? It is invariably men that do it which leads me to think that testosterone is a contributing factor. Are these tectonic plate shifting mega-rumbles the human male’s equivalent to birdsong and stags flexing their bruising antlers? Are women attracted by the possibility of having their DNA granulated at the quantum level by the bass line of Showaddywaddy’s “Under The Moon Of Love” played at a decibel level that can actually be heard on the moon?
 
Is that what women go for these days? Having their atoms split open by a sonic scalpel?
 
Is this both safe sex and its soundtrack?
 
I don’t know.
 
Once my eardrums had returned to their normal concave state I really wasn’t sure if I was coming or going. I only knew that the earth had moved for me and I was still not at all satisfied.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

You Have No Defence Output, Earthling!

alienJust in: shock news that will have America's mid-West sleeping even more frequently with loaded shotguns (and see David Bowie preparing for a good probing) - The Ministry of Defence has closed down its UFO desk because it feels its Pluto Population Investigation unit is serving no purpose at all and is diverting valuable resources from more important defence purposes.

In layman's terms that should mean less annoying PPI texts for us all and more coffee for other desks in the MoD. Ha ha ha!

Actually. I made that bit up about the Pluto Population Investigation unit for the sake of a lame PPI joke. And in truth, it sounds like there really wasn't any kind of a "unit" at all.

Just a desk. Probably at the back of a huge open-plan office. Right near the photocopier. Manned by some poor guy in a seventies bomber jacket who never ever got invited to join the office lottery syndicate.

And actually it's only the UK MoD. So probably the USA is totally unaffected by this decision and is still in a state of high paranoia. So no change on the sleeping-with-shotguns front then.

That aside, it is sobering news though. When you think about it.

The UFO desk offers "no valuable defence output". Their exact words.

Now that either means the person manning the desk is so inept at collating the tonnes of information he must undoubtedly receive every year that the entire system was just unworkable or - and this is entirely my interpretation - the MoD has admitted to itself that it just cannot defend us against alien invasion.

They are in fact, even as I type, diverting funds to make alien proof Anderson Shelters to save their own scrawny military arses whilst selling the rest of us down the river. "Look, Mr Alien, we freely give you 99% of the human race without any kind of resistance at all, just leave us poor whimpering guys in uniform alone and please don't probe us for unobtainium because we haven't got any."

I think this is a tacit confession from the MoD that as far as "life out there" is concerned we are probably outgunned, out-thought and totally outed in both a gay and non gay way and there is absolutely no point in throwing anymore money at Star Wars defence programmes or sending Chuck Berry records into outer space.

We are ripe for the taking. We may as well all offer our naked arses to the sky right now.

Go on. Just pull down your kecks, bend over and submit to the will of Emperor Ming. It may take some time but just remember there's a lot of us on this planet and it'll take a while for his probe to reach us all. Sure, the unbelievers are going to moan and may even call the authorities... but who's going to stop you?

The MoD?

No chance.

Those wussies have gone to ground. It's just you and me and we've got to accommodate ET's glowing finger as best we can.

Good luck, people. Live long and prosper.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Freedom Of Speech For All Or Freedom Of Speech For None

Deyka Ayan Hassan, the 21 year old student who stupidly tweeted that anyone wearing a Help For Heroes T-shirt deserved to be beheaded in the wake of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby, has been sentenced to 250 hours community service. She’d gone to the police herself after receiving hundreds of abusive Tweets in response to her own threatening to kill her, rape her and burn down her home.

The facts of the matter are simple enough but my gut response to it isn’t.

The whole thing makes me uncomfortable.

Morally the standpoint of the authorities and those who participated in the original Twitter exchange is on ropey ground. It is either a criminal offense to post / write / utter an abusive Tweet / comment / joke or it isn’t. And if it is what the hell has happened to the idea of freedom of speech?

Freedom of speech is something we very rarely think about these days. I possibly only think about it so much because I am a writer. For most of us it is like the air we breathe. We take it for granted because we mistakenly believe it has always been there and will always been there. It is part of this country’s genetic make-up.

It isn’t and never has been. It is a right that was hard won by our forebears and a right that is now slowly being wrested away from us under the guise of common decency; under the guise of protecting us and responding to our sense of outrage, disgust and, ironically, our sense of justice and morality.

Yes, Deyka Ayan Hassan’s Tweet was stupid and reprehensible. A joke that backfired and wasn’t really funny in the first place. The audience for gross shock-jokes is thin at best and very choosy even when it is at large – just ask Frankie Boyle. But are we really going to arrest people for making poor quality poor taste jokes? What common good would that serve? Protecting the rest of us from our own sense of anger and sense of disgust? Excuse me, but I don’t want Mr Cameron and the law courts inserting themselves so intimately into my sensibilities, thank you very much! I’m quite happy to process my own anger and deal with my own indignation. I just want to be protected from would-be murderers, thieves and rapists (and immoral politicians and non-tax paying corporations). I can deal with crap comedians myself.

Of course, in an ideal world everyone would always say nice things about each other. We wouldn’t have hate preachers, or racists or inflammatory orators. We’d all quote Wordsworth all day long and be utterly bored witless.

This isn’t an ideal world. But having the right to freedom of speech makes it not quite as un-ideal as it could be. We can mock our politicians. Satirize those in power over us. Challenge the law and the state when they behave ridiculously and fail to serve us, the people, as they’re supposed to. That is our TRUE protection. But freedom of speech also means that other people can disrespect us, our favourite band, our hobbies, our beliefs and our country itself. They also have the right to make disgusting jokes and be verbally offensive and utter absolutely any old crap that comes out of their mouths. There is no halfway house in this folks. We either can all say what we like or we can’t.

And it would be a much darker world if we couldn’t.

I’m thinking Hitler. I’m thinking Stasi. I’m thinking police state.

The most disturbing thing though about the Deyka Ayan Hassan case is the lack of consistency. Why were those threatening her with murder and rape - far more personally offensive attacks (with no chance of any of it being “a joke”) – not also condemned to community service? Why were they allowed to be abusive and Deyka Ayan Hassan not?

Because in this case the weight of public outrage was on their side?

Well, who decides how far and exactly when that particular pendulum has swung?

Because it certainly isn’t you and it certainly isn’t me.

Is freedom of speech now dependent on the opinions of the majority? Or just those that are in power over us? Do we now need someone else’s permission and approval to divine if what we want to say is in line with our peers and therefore acceptable to say?

When that happens freedom of speech isn’t worth the paper (or blog) that it’s written on.

And that is a true abuse.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Leamington Is Full Of The Strangest People, no. 4: Anti ID Theft Derek

Having enjoyed a hiatus from gazing at the inevitably hairy naval of my hometown of Leamington Spa, I thought it was about time I resurrected this short series of posts that throw a blogging super trouper onto the underbelly of Queen Victoria’s favourite Spa town…

Today is the turn of Anti ID Theft Derek.

I first encountered Derek in Tesco which in terms of meeting weird people has the highest weird-to-normal ratio of any other venue in the UK (not including Stringfellow’s or Spearmint Rhino or other establishments of that ilk).

Now, Derek is one of those people with a very definite sense of identity. If he was a mallard he wouldn’t be content with cobalt blue and electric green feathers, no, he would be blinging himself up with bird of paradise plumage and other peacockery. Derek, you see, likes a bit of bling. Gold chains (multiple) around his neck; gold chains (multiple) around his wrist and the lot topped off with a porkpie hat resplendent with a red feather erupting up from the headband like a miniature erection.

Identity is a big thing with Derek. You cannot miss Derek. And Derek, I am sure, never fails to miss himself – Alzheimer’s is never going to be in Derek’s genetic makeup though obsessive compulsive behaviour might be.

Now talking of bling has probably given you the impression that Derek is in his twenties. Some thrusting young buck with a uranium knuckleduster hampering his joystick skills. This is not the case. Derek is in his sixties or I am the unwanted love-child of John Lennon and Lisa Tarbuck.

An old(er) man with bling is never a good thing. For one thing it can really disrupt an MRI scan just when you really need it the most.

Anyway, what caught my eye about Derek (aside from the gold accoutrements and the red feather stiffy) was the way he paid for his goods (one bottle of vodka and a four pack of cheap beer). He paid by card – nothing strange in that – but when it came time to punch in the PIN he placed his wallet tight over the machine like a barrier and then sealed the top of it with his own face thus appearing as if he had on a welding mask and was about to administer some kind of industrial coup d’├ętat to the checkout machine. In fact he reminded me a little of that episode of Doctor Who where people had gas masks erupting out of their faces. I half expecting him to start asking the entire shop in a high-pitched voice: “are you my mummy”. Which the cashier would have had to answer no to as he was, well, a he.

Talk about paranoia.

Did he really think I was going to look over his tweedy shoulder, memorize his PIN code and then put it in The Times via some improbable crossword cypher or just publish it on-line in some easy-to-download format for America’s Prism surveillance programme to pick up on?

Plainly Derek has some real identity issues.

He’s scared people are going to want to steal his identity above all others and become the oddball glory that is him.

And I have to say, thinking about it, who wouldn’t want to swan around in a hat that comes complete with its own wafty hard-on?

Exactly.

I rest my case.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Soft Boiled

Simon Cowell over-eggedI’ve never watched Britain’s Got Talent – partly because a show like that tends to prove that Britain absolutely doesn’t and mainly because it just seems to be another star vehicle / cash cow for Simon Cowell. So it was with interest that I read that one of the participants had thrown some eggs at the judges live on last Saturday’s show.

To be honest my first reaction at reading that a woman had thrown her eggs at Simon Cowell was to think “blimey, that’s someone really desperate to have a baby but the alimony would be worth the 3 minutes of discomfort” (that’s the conception not the giving birth). And then all glibness aside I actually felt a pang of regret that I’d missed the glorious spectacle of Simon wiping egg smegma from his forehead onto the waistband of his trousers. It seems the young lady in question (I can’t be arsed to publicise her name) wanted to protest at the “dreadful influence” Simon has had on the music industry.

And much as I’d enjoy jumping onto the “let’s give Cowell a drubbing” bandwagon I have to say “hold your horses” at this point. The influence he’s had on the music industry? I daresay he’s had some. Once. Occasionally. But let’s not build his part any bigger than it has to be. He’s not that powerful. He doesn’t hold the entire music industry in the flat of his hairy palm. Anyone who’s at all serious about music views Cowell and his annual Cowell Bots as a bit of an irritating joke, surely? They rarely have any credibility and rarely last longer than the chocolate your Auntie Doreen bought you for Christmas. His influence is truly negligible. It’s just that, such as it is, it is well publicised. That is the result of 2013 celebrity sick Britain not the result of Simon being a god-like impresario.

And to be honest, if Miss Egg wanted to strike back at those who have ruined the music industry she’d have to take out half the population of the UK, i.e. all those daft buggers that bought the ruddy music in the first place and made Cowell’s crapola so popular.

That’s going to take a lot of eggs, believe me.

On the bright side, someone throwing eggs at Cowell sure beats millions of tasteless teenagers throwing their money at him… And I’m sure somewhere there’s a joke to be made about battery farming and Simon’s cheap celebrity production line that churns out so many rotten eggs each year… I just can’t be bothered to make it.

I just ain’t got the talent, see?

Friday, June 07, 2013

LOL. ROFL. AFK. ETC.

Language is the preserve of everybody and yet I often find myself falling into the trap my elders made before me: denigrating and sneering at the language of teenagers.

Teen-speak is an oddly fluid, cyclical, ever-changing, totally unpredictable thing. Now I recognize that all language is that to a point but teen-speak seems to evolve in ways that are counterintuitive to the way most changes occur to a language.

Teen-speak does not evolve through any obvious source of necessity – unless you count the necessity to be as different and “individual” as possible. Different in this case invariably mean different from all the grown-ups that teenagers secretly wish they were and individual in the sense that you fit in with your peers who are all speaking exactly the same lingo as you so that you feel part of a group or a gang or, that most wonderful of entities, a movement.

When I was a kid we had our own set of cool words.  “Cool” was one of them having made a post-modern ironic resurgence from the 60’s. I also recall “gnarly” was doing the rounds thanks to Bill & Ted and “no way / way” was popular thanks to Wayne’s World. We also had words like “eppy” for someone who was flipping out in today’s vernacular; “pleb”, “dickwad” and my own personal favourite “buttock-brain”. Of course, most of our special words were insults and a host of them survive today and have merely been added to by later generations. All were inspired by movies and TV, without a doubt.

Now “cool” is one of those strange epithets that has accrued a meaning beyond that of the original one. I’m sure it was as annoying to the older generation as “sick” now is to me. Lord knows I had enough trouble reconciling myself with “wicked” without having to take on board that “sick” now means “cool” which ultimately means something good and desirable.

I’ve noticed, however, that the internet and computing is now having a direct influence on the language of our young people.

My eldest boy, whilst chatting (read that as SHOUTING) with his mates via head-mic on X-Box Live continually refers to annoying players as “hackers”. It annoys the hell out of me because the activity of these people invariably does not involve them penetrating the mainframe of Skynet and bringing about the end of humanity and the rise of the machines.

And don’t even get me started on “LOL”. My boy says it constantly. And not even in an ironic sense either. I could cope with it if he said “LOL” drily in a situation or at a joke that was meant to be funny but plainly wasn’t. A “humour fail” (see, I can still get teen-speak) situation would be appropriate for someone to deadpan and say “LOL” as if they were speaking to an idiot who’d recited the same joke 50 times in the hope of cracking your reserve and finally making you laugh. Instead, “LOL” genuinely seems to stand in for actually laughing at something that is genuinely amusing. Albeit the kind of something that the rest of us would just crack a wry smile at or nod at bemusedly. It is in fact the kind of situation that does not require one ever to laugh out loud but just to feel amusement in a small quiet way. “LOL” now acts as a stand-in for a normal low-level humour response. What actually happens is that the use of the word “LOL” (is it actually a word?) strips the humour away completely from the situation whilst at the same time acknowledging that the speaker did actually get the joke. What is that? Ironic irony?

I’m just waiting for the inevitable development when the audience at a comedy gig no longer laughs out loud but merely utters “ROLF” under their breath every time their favourite comedian delivers a killer punch-line.

That will be the moment that teen-speak finally kills irony and humour and all intelligence forever.

You probably think there is no way that this could ever happen.

Well, I’m here to tell you:

Way.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Little Less Banky

According to their TV adverts Barclays are launching a great new gimmick.

Personalized credit cards.

That’s right. Anyone with a camera or a hooky copy of Adobe Photoshop can design their own picture or graphic to be printed onto their Barclays credit card which they can then use in any store, restaurant or Heritage site in the country if not the entire world. Apparently, Barclay’s idea is to be “a little less banky”.

A-effing-mazing.

Being of a puerile bent, my mind instantly leapt at the potential for comedic mayhem that I could unleash onto my favourite unsuspecting store cashiers. A credit card with my middle-finger, enlarged by enforced perspective, erupting in eye-watering 3D as my gurning face grins lasciviously behind it. Yeah, swipe that shop clerk! Or maybe something a bit more satirical… me dressed up as a stereotypical crook – black and white striped jersey and black eye-mask, hauling a bag of swag over my shoulder. How much for my weekly shop, Mr Tesco? Daylight robbery? You betcha! Or even better… the ultimate social commentary. We’ve all heard of Christmas party goers photocopying their bum-cracks during office revels. Well, that’s small fry and amateurish compared to your very own credit card proudly displaying your cranked open bum cheeks below the MasterCard icon. Yeah, I’ll take some cash back on that please, Mr Cashier. Worth every frigging penny!

I even went so far as to mock up some initial designs and break out my digital camera. I even thought about acquiring a “back, sack and crack” but figured you could take suffering for your art a little bit too far.

In the end my little comedy ship ran aground before it even left the port (kind of like the Mary Rose only without the overblown Tudor ego weighing it down). It appears Barclays, utter killjoys that they are, have stipulated a few “image guidelines”. Here they are in all their full unbroken-down glory (my additions are in italics):
 
 
1. You must own the image or have the permission of the image owner to use it. (yeah, der)
2. If your image includes another person, you must have their consent to use it. (ditto)
3. The image you choose for your card must not contain any of the following:
  • Trademarks or company names – eg, images marked with ® or ™ signs (so Jedi but not Star Wars)
  • Images or text protected by copyright – eg, images marked with © or other watermarks or notations (no quotes from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four)
  • Slogans, tag lines, branding, marketing or promotional products, services or images of companies (does that include “McBollocks”?)
  •  Images of, or the name or nickname of, celebrities, musicians, sportspersons, entertainers, public figures, film stars, cartoon characters, members of the royal family or other famous people (bang goes my Paul Daniels’ “you’ll like this but not” a lot idea)
  • Contact information – eg, telephone numbers, URLs, Facebook and Twitter usernames account numbers, addresses or email addresses (a major blow to call-girls everywhere and I can’t even poke the checkout girl)
  • Political statements or images relating to ethnicity or religion (so much for my “Jesus, that’s expensive!” idea)
  • Images of flags, except for the Union Jack/UK flag, St George’s Cross/English flag, St Andrew’s Cross/Scottish flag, The Red Dragon/Welsh flag and St Patrick’s Saltire/Northern Irish flag. If any of these are used, they can only be images of the original national flags and must not be edited, cropped or have any additional art work or writing on them (what about the Jolly Roger – is that not OK?)
  • Images, signs, symbols or text relating to money, currency, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gangs, hatred, graffiti, betting, gambling, or financial products and services (what? banking generally)
  • Provocative, lewd or sexual images or content (that’s 95% of images on the internet ruled out)
  • Nudity (does that include animals?)
  • Offensive material – eg, images, signs, symbols or text relating to violence, death, injury, racism, cruelty, profanity, obscenity, weapons, firearms, ammunition or terrorism (that’s all references to the armed forces ruled out)
  • Anti-social or obscene behaviour, or socially unacceptable groups (so sober pacifist tramps are OK?)
  • Content where drinking, being drunk, smoking or gambling is the focus (the Great British social scene down the pan)
  • Text, unless benign and in the English language (no interesting quotes from Chaucer)
  • Any image that might reflect poorly or might engender hostility toward company brands, including MasterCard®, Visa® or Barclays (that’s my bumhole right out of the equation then)
  • Any reference to the Olympic Games, World Cup or any other international branded event (no candid shots of the Ladies’ Bowls Tournament)
  • Reference to any bank, building society or other monetary institution (so much for my “HSBC is great” idea and I guess the Mafia is out too?)
  • Weapons, unless in a ceremonial context (what if I kill someone during a twenty-one gun salute?)

Right. Basically this rules out any idea that I have already had and / or any idea that I am ever going to have. I pretty much guarantee it. Apart from one. The word BORING in very large type spread across the face of the card.

*sigh*

Yet again, the bankers of this country have stifled creativity, public spending and the potential for economic growth.

Maybe the word “shameful” would be a more suitable design?



Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Porcelain Preservation Society

IKEA gnomesMany of you (unless you live in a yurt) will have seen the new IKEA television adverts that extol us to do away with boring old traditional garden furniture and splash out on some Swedish decking and a hot tub. And by boring old traditional garden furniture they expressly mean garden gnomes (weirdly no mention is made of conspicuous clumps of pampas grass); those poor, rashly fired clay figurines that clearly classify their owner as being (a) stuck in 1970’s sitcom land and (b) pretending and failing to broadcast to the world that they are actually middle class.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received a number of complaints about the myriad violent ways Mr and Mrs IKEA are shown dispatching the various garden gnomes that infest their gardens. In scenes that have probably made Oliver Stone puke his ring in sheer horror gnomes have been smashed against garden fences, eviscerated with high powered water hoses and skull-fucked with throbbing lengths of garden hoe.

Actually I made that last one up but it illustrates perfectly the 18+ tone of this gore-fest advertisement that glamorises war and extreme violence just to push a few deckchairs onto an unsuspecting public.
The ASA, however, have decided not to uphold the complaints as they feel that the “clearly fanciful and light-hearted” nature of the advert mediates the eye-wrenching, gut churning gratuitousness of the shlock violence.

And I have to agree. The only good garden gnome is a dead garden gnome and that’s all there is to it.

Of course, I am joking.

Garden gnomes cannot be killed. They cannot be killed because (and this may come as a bit of shock to the complainants) THEY ARE NOT ALIVE IN THE FIRST PLACE. They are inanimate objects. They are lumps of fired clay cunningly moulded to look vaguely like humanoid figures. They have about as much sentience as an IKEA barbecue fork. They do not have feelings, cannot feel pain and, I am pretty sure, do not have an aesthetic opinion one way or another as to the state of the garden they find themselves dumped in.

People have merely complained because of the anthropomorphic nature of garden gnomes.

Day in day out, all over Greece and in other parts of Europe, plates and cups are being wantonly smashed during the climax of Greek weddings. These poor plates have never even been eaten off; they have been denied the single, defining purpose for which all plates are made. Instead they have been made for one reason only: to be wedding fodder. They have been created to be destroyed, nothing more.

Where are these people when these innocent plates are being killed? Where is the “no plate born to die” campaign in the national press and on the internet? Wasn’t it Roger McGough who once poetically cried, “Monica, think of the saucers”?!

Why do these people not rush to defend these defenceless items of cheap porcelain?

I’ll tell you why. Because they are just plates. Because they are just manually manipulated bits of clay that have been unlucky enough not to be fashioned into little men with fishing rods and other spurious items of horticultural equipment.

Well, such hypocrisy and inconstancy really gets my goat. It’s time to restore the balance.

It’s time to stand up for teapots, claypipes and ceramic butter dishes everywhere. I am forming The Porcelain Preservation Society and I invite you all to join me in saying no to IKEA and yes to little clay men in galoshes. It’s time to love your mug, savour your gravy-boat and hug your jugs.

If nothing else we will do wonders for the Cornish pottery industry.

Now if you’ll excuse me, me and my Toby-jug have a titillating date with a hot tub…