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 d├ętente.

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.