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.