Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mayday

Biggles Mayday KindleI haven't got a Kindle Fire HD. Yet.

I've just got a normal one. One that lets me buy, download and read electronic books.

But, I confess, the tech-head gadget-addict in me (that daily I virtually fight to repress) yearns for the ability to watch movies, play games, surf and read electronic books all at the same time. In colour. In High Definition. I mean, who wouldn't? At the end of the day this is how computers are going. A single highly mobile device that takes care of all your conceivable entertainment needs in a slim-line package small enough to be taken absolutely anywhere that you could possibly want to go on the entire planet.

The world is almost at the point where we can all have a captive genie in a bottle for under £300.

Just give it's eager screen a rub and magic things start to happen.

But just like a genie that magic is now going to have a conscience and an opinion and instructional advice and a role that is going to impinge on your world in a manner quite unexpected.

I'm sure you've all heard about the new Mayday button that is one of the new features on the Kindle Fire HD?

If not, the premise is basically this: you need help with your Kindle? You can't be bothered to read the electronic manual? You want your Kindle to do something but you're not sure if it is actually capable of doing it and you're not sure what search term to type into Google?

Just hit the Mayday button. And you will then be able to talk for free - in real time - with a Kindle operator / expert / customer service guru (in apparently less than 9 seconds) who will then converse with you via video chat and tell you what to do to achieve your goal.

Wow.

Am I the only person who is already thinking up ways of how this service could be subverted and abused? I can't be the only malicious joker on the planet, surely?

I'm sure the Mayday service has checks and rules and ways to limit misuse but even so...

You're telling me that they're not going to get regular calls from customers who are just lonely and want someone to talk to? "Er... yeah, hi. My name's Josh and, er... well. Is it OK to talk to you about stuff? I know you're busy but I really like you. I don't really fit in with my friends, you see? They say I'm different. Do you like Goth music?"

Let alone the teenagers and drunk idiots who are going to call the Mayday service from the pub or a phone box and demand to be told the colour of the operators knickers. Or worse. The dweebs that mistake the Kindle service operator (deliberately) for a web chat girl. "Hey baby, do you take Paypal?"

And what about all the psychos out there? The ones who are going to call at 4am in the morning and stare into the Kindle screen for about 10 minutes without speaking a single word while the Kindle operator erroneously tries to instruct them on how to change the microphone and speaker settings on their Kindle before the late night caller finally makes the following threat-laden statement: "I know where you work. I can reach you at any time."

My own personal favourite is going to be the hypochondriacs. The ones who will abandon Dr Google in droves for the chance of talking to a captive live expert who is as unqualified as a GP as they are. "Excuse me, I know this is a bit unorthodox, right, but I live alone and I can't quite angle the mirror properly. Could you take a look for me? I think I have a growth of some kind coming out of my ass. If I hold the Kindle steady could you take a screen shot and then email it back to me? Thanks."

Yeah. I'm definitely going to do that one.

Either that or I'm going to hire a Biggles costumes from the local party shop and pretend to talk into a flight mask as my imaginary airplane ditches into the cold North Atlantic... "Mayday! Mayday! I'm going to have the ditch the old girl into the drink! Bloody hun has shot me up from behind! Mayday! Mayday! Aaargh!".

Honestly. I bet they'll never ever get tired hearing that one. Ever.

So. How long do you think the Mayday service will last before they either close it down completely or start charging a premium rate for it (and then they really will start accepting Paypal)?

Just hit the Mayday button at the top of the page and let me know.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Red In Tooth And Claw

Missy ArtemisTo continue the animal theme (my last post was clearly flogging a dead horse) I’d like to impart a small tale to you of feline derring-don’t.

One of our cats, Missy, were she to be human would undoubtedly be a blonde bombshell. She has the feline version of Hollywood good looks and “salon quality hair”. Beautiful markings, well-proportioned and the ability to turn on the charm, she is hot and she knows it. I have no doubt that should the unknowable gods of the cat universe suddenly bestow the curse of humanity upon her she’d make a nice living for herself as a gold digger.

As it is, she is completely pussified for the moment and, due to the soft touch nature of the humans she allows to exist in close proximity to her utter greatness, lives the enviable life of riley.

One of the feline rights she lays claims to is the right to physical elevation.

The implementation of this right entails a fortuitous combination of her inherent ability to leap many times her body length in height and my ability to not move out of range fast enough so that my shoulders provide a convenient, cat sized landing gantry. 

You get the picture I am sure: in a previous life I was a pirate (possibly Black Beard, probably Cap’n Unknown) and Missy was my parrot.

On the whole I put up with the re-appropriation of my shoulders with a good spirit. Having a purring cat nuzzling your face tends to win over even the hardest of hearts.

But. I do draw the line at Missy’s shoulderobics when I am (to quote an old saying of my grandfather) “pointing Percy at the porcelain”. The thought of Missy – ever so surefooted 99% of the time – mistiming her jump and sliding down my frontage, claws out while an intimate part of me is about its work and in her direct line of descent makes me very wary of allowing her onto my shoulders when I am making my intimate water.

So I show her the hand. Literally. I put my palm into her face and directly block off her angle of launch. This has the result that she hovers on the bathroom sink, ears back, looking very peed off while I pee. Normally.

Not so last Saturday.

Last Saturday Missy got tired of “talking to the hand”.

Last Saturday Missy thought “sod it” and launched herself anyway.

Last Saturday Missy somehow managed to bypass my palm, make a failed attempt at entering geostationary orbit and impossibly hook a claw into the inside of my lower lip. Thankfully her purchase had not bitten deep and a split second later saw her disengaged and in freefall to the floor while I cushioned her landing with some robust air-filled expletives.

End result: sulky cat for the rest of the day and me with a cat scratch inside my mouth that had miraculously all but disappeared by teatime (the scratch that is; not my mouth – despite my wife’s fervent wishes to the contrary).

Still, it could have been worse. I could have ended up with a lower lip like Mick Jagger at a gurning contest. Or, worse, no lower lip at all.

And at the end of the day, thanks be to high Heaven, Percy was unmolested. Because that was still the priority, OK?

It’s just like my unmarried Aunt Ethel used to tell me: Percy’s and pussies don’t mix.

And with that sage advice a-ringing in my ears, I shall be keeping the bathroom door very securely locked in future.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Free, Gratis And Without Charge

Get a copy of my book for free!It’s not often I offer anything for free on this blog.

Not unless you discount the blood, sweat and tears of my life’s experiences, the sage and inscrutable advice I weekly throw your way and the frequent proposals for sexual healing that I am, from time to time, wont to make.

Aside from those I am not very forthcoming in the gratis department.

I don’t do bogof deals or coupons or clubcard points or voucher codes. I do, on occasion, succumb to bribery but, hey, who isn’t building up their CV for a potential career in politics?

Other than that, I have not offered you one iota of anything at all worthwhile for the joyous and soul enriching amount of £0.00.

Today that is about to change.

My poetry collection, Pitch Mandible Stone, is available on Kindle. It's not expensive. Given the superlative quality of the writing I’ve literally slit my wrists for the Kindle book buying public but does anybody appreciate it? Do they eff.

But that’s by the by. I have finally twigged that, actually, what would be more useful than the monthly pittance from the occasional sale of one of my books would be a tranche of 5 star reviews that would make it look like my book has actually been downloaded by somebody somewhere and is in demand. Even a 1 star review would be something (it would be a 1 star review).

But to leave a review one has to have bought the book. I can see that’s a big ask. Give me your money and your time and effort composing a love poem in honour of my product. It’s too much.

Although I must point out here that one of you – yes, one – did precisely that: buy one of my books and leave a review. I love this person. They know who they are.

But I now want to offer some love to the rest of you and hope that you will offer me some love in return.

From today (Sunday 19th January 2014), for the next 5 days only my poetry book will be available to download for free. That’s free, gratis and without charge. The magical price of £0.00.

For those of you that don’t have a Kindle, apparently you can download a free app for your PC that will enable you to download and read Kindle books to your heart’s content. Any Kindle book not just mine.

So. Please feel free to help yourself to a free book written by me.

All I ask is that you leave a review. It doesn’t have to be an essay. A couple of lines, hell, even one word would do. “Brilliant” is a great word for example. You can even suggest that I have blackmailed you into doing it. I don’t care. Just please leave something. A book for sale without a review or a star just looks lonely, orphaned and unloved.

Worse than that it looks unlovable.

So let’s you and me get into some free love over the next 7 days.

Thank you kindly (Kindle-y?) in advance.

P.S. I am still available for sexual healing every third Tuesday in the month.

P.P.S. My collection of humourous writings, Please Sir, Kindly Take Receipt Of This $9 Million Dollars, is also available for the unbelievably cheap price of 'one pahnd'. For some reason Amazon will not let me offer if for £0.00 no matter how much I bodge the on-line form. But, you know, if someone already has or would like to buy it, if they could then leave a review for it... that would be really great. Ta.



Monday, January 13, 2014

The Black and White Minstrel Show

Kristen Stewart in dwarf abuse shockThe wife and I watched Snow White And The Huntsman over the weekend… but this isn’t going to be a film review.

I’m writing because I was bugged by the dwarves.

Initially I was impressed by them. Amused. 7 dwarves running around offering various scatological jokes. As Hollywood dwarf effects go these celluloid dwarves did the business. I’d even go as far as to say that they out-dwarved Peter Jackson’s dwarves in Lord of the Rings and, as dwarf benchmarking goes, that’s setting the dwarf bar pretty darn high (for a dwarf).

Most amusing of all, these dwarves were played by some of the UK’s biggest and finest acting names: Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane to name but 3.

In short (ahem), as with Peter Jackson’s Gimli [Son of Gloin], these dwarves were all played by non-dwarf actors of high acting stature. Dwarfdom was temporarily bestowed upon them by the CGI gods of whatever studio produced the movie and Warwick Davis didn’t even receive a text let alone a telephone call*.

And that’s my problem with it.

Don’t get me wrong, our Ray and our Bob made excellent dwarves. There was comedic value in seeing their heads on dwarf’s shoulders. But I couldn’t help thinking: what about all those dwarf actors out there? Lord knows some of them are superb actors (Peter Dinklage springs readily to mind) and are wasted as it is, being typecast merely as dwarves in productions that just happen to need a dwarf as opposed to being accepted as fine actors who just happen to be dwarves in real life. But if they now can’t even get work as “dwarves” in fairy-tale and fantasy films what hope have they got to get work at all?

It’s finally happening: computers are putting people out of work.

OK.

I realize I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek about this but there is a serious point to be made here. Imagine if, for example, white actors were being blacked up via CGI and were then taking roles that legitimately should have gone to black actors… Imagine the outcry! Imagine the uproar! Or what about if male actors were being CGI'd into women and taking all the leading actress roles? I think Helen Mirren might drop a few F bombs at that turn of events. And quite rightly so.

So why is it OK to do it with dwarfs? Because they’re funny? Because their entire movie raison d'etre is merely to provide light relief and a bit of carnivaleqsue exotique?

Anyone who’s seen Peter Dinklage’s performances in Game Of Thrones knows how ultimately short-sighted and short-change-giving that view now is.

It makes intellectual pigmies of us all.

And, at the end of the day, aren’t we all supposed to be a bit bigger than that?

* I'm quite willing to accept that Warwick Davis and Peter Dinklage were both approached to appear in the film but refused, perhaps feeling that the role was beneath them.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Teacher Teach Me Something New

Back when I’d just finished my O Levels and still laboured under the misapprehension that I could be anything at all that I wanted to be I briefly considered the role of “teacher”. Admittedly this career choice sat well under other wilder vocations such as rock star, people’s poet, master of the kabbalah and vigilante crime fighter but, although less glamorous that these other roles, teaching did offer better holidays, a temporal structure that I was already brainwashed into thinking was the norm and removed the necessity to wear stupid clothes (I could stick to my everyday nerd gear and would still fit right in).

And throughout the proceeding years that option of becoming a teacher used to rear its head mentally in my mind’s eye and beckon to me with a tweedy jacket and a Tupperware lunchbox. Because even then, that’s what I thought typified a teacher. Films like Dead Poet’s Society and even Grease – in fact any film set in a school – would awaken a transient and vague desire in me to spend the rest of my life in a school building obeying the predictable ebb and flow of the academic year.

But I never seriously pursued it.

In all honesty, despite several people telling me that I was teacher material, I don’t think I ever was and I still don’t. I think other people see my bookishness and thirst for knowledge as the main traits necessary to become a teacher. For me I would say they were certainly desirable but something more is needed. Something bigger than all the knowledge in the world put together:

The guts, stamina and consistency of spirit to want to get into a classroom every day and teach kids who may not want to be taught, who are more cynical than someone their age has a right to be, to deal with bureaucracy and ham-stringing red tape on a daily basis, to put up with exponentially increasing workloads, insultingly crap pay and a syllabus that is battered, broken and bowdlerized each year by politicians who have taken the cream that the British educational system had to offer in the past and are now setting about denying it to future generations.

The sheer uphill struggle of being a teacher scares the bejasus out of me. I’m not strong enough. The fires that forge a teacher these days are too fierce.

And that’s a damned shame because a good teacher can change a child’s life forever and so far-reachingly that it is nigh on impossible to gauge. Who wouldn’t want to be part of something so profoundly wonderful?

And that’s the worry. How many would-be / could-be teachers are turning away from the call they feel to their ideal profession because successive UK governments have made the job impossible to do well? Have made in impossible for them to care about the profession they follow without ending up with a broken heart?

Lowell Milken puts it simply: “Only when society demonstrates respect for educators will the brightest and most capable students choose it as their profession.”

I think on an individual level we all of us look back at our teachers and, with the benefit of hindsight, respect them and pay them heartfelt thanks. Some of us even bless those teachers that are even now helping to shape and mould the minds of the children – our children – that we are currently placing into their care on a daily basis.

But as a society do we respect our teachers? Do we recognize their true value in shaping the society that is to come?

In all honesty, I don’t think that we do. Not enough.

And if that’s the case we all need to be educated to the contrary.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

‘Straining

Corporate FrankensteinTime was, years ago, I was training averse.

Far from seeing training as the free-lunch-supplied-jolly of corporate tradition I saw training as a stodgy corporate attempt to mentally and emotionally waterboard the prevailing corporate ethos into my captive psyche over the course of a working day (with a few egg mayo sandwiches thrown in for free).

A boxed set of The Office had also indelibly marked my intellectual flux capacitors with images of David Brent jerking his moobs to Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” and thus the mere mention of ‘training’ transported me psychologically through time to the worst excesses of both the 1980s and the 1990s and, really, no egg mayo sandwich, no matter how good, was ever going to compensate for that kind of spiritual trauma.

So I gave training a wide berth.

And as a consequence I stayed sane but also remained in a state of career undevelopment.

Not anymore.

The last few months have seen a sea-change.

Not sure why – possibly the promotion has re-engaged me and helped me slough off the mantle of stagnation and disenchantment – but suddenly I’m up for all the training I can get. Even Health & Safety stuff. Yeah. That’s how switched on I have become.

Of course, there might also be a survival instinct kicking in here. People in my sector are losing their job, subsisting on crap pay that is forever losing the race with inflation, a job for life seems about as realistic as living on the moon in 2020… training suddenly seems a quick way to arm myself with the knowledge needed to make me seem a viable prospective employee or an employee worth retaining. 

So I’m putting my name down for everything. Grievance and Disciplinary. Data Protection. Institute of Occupational Safety & Health. Fish Thinking. Mind Gym. Cresting The Curve. Killing With Papier Mâché.

Only one of those is made up.

I’m becoming a sound-bite hoover. A corporate cyborg. It is becoming ideologically impossible to waterboard me because my mouth and mind is always receptive and I can drink faster than they can pour.

I am, in short, becoming simply the best.

Fear me.

The creature I am becoming would give Mary Shelley the willies.



Thursday, January 02, 2014

Do Not Lend These People Your Ears

Katie Hopkins rent-a-gobI managed to navigate most of 2013 without once having my existence bent out of true by the verbal crowbar that is Katie Hopkins. Sure I knew who she was, could surmise what it was she was working so hard to be and what she was aiming to become but she was as a gnat on the giant arse that is UK reality TV. And I make it my business to have as little to do with that particular arse as is humanly possible.

And yet, come the end of the year, with every web site, newspaper and chav mag producing a 12 month retrospective, Katie Hopkins is leaping out at me from photos, from sound-bites and no doubt from tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappings too.

Katie Hopkins said this. Katie Hopkins said that. Outrageous Katie Hopkins. Katie Hopkins, how could she? Kate Hopkins rent-a-gob.

The latter moniker – rent-a-gob – I’ve seen in more than one publication. If I were her I’d copyright it right now; she seems the kind of girl who’d be up for making a fast buck.

My initial response was probably akin to that of many people: revulsion, a knee-jerk reaction to dismiss her as just another transient sneery mouthed reprobate. The shrew equivalent of a one hit wonder in the Gallup pop chart. Someone mad enough (and hard hearted enough) to make some money out of being universally disliked and then forgotten about.

But then it hit me that the most revolting thing about this kind of media event isn’t the poor hapless individual at the eye of the storm but the storm makers themselves. The thunder and lightning of the newspapers and TV execs who book her on their shows and shovel the excrement that falls out of her mouth into their column inches. The howling wind of the glossy mag editors who deliberately provoke her with irresistible punch-line issues and un-PC bandwagons that she can’t stop herself from jumping upon. And worst of all the all-pervading insipid rain of the general public that read and watch and Tweet and Poke and Klout about all the immaterial, unimportant nonsense that Katie coughs up just so she can watch us splutter and retch in joyous outrage and thus feel justified in doing it all again and again and again (and then smugly listen to the chink of cold coins falling hollowly into her deep, deep, soulless pockets).

I feel sorry for her.

She plainly craves recognition. Craves “fame”. Wants people to know her name, to know her by sight.

But it’s a bit like accepting the job of village idiot just because you can’t bear to be anonymous.

I daresay she’ll make a killing. I don’t know what the going rate is for appearing on a TV chat show these days but I bet it’s easier money than a real job. There’s already talk of her being on the next series of Big Brother. I’m sure they’ll make it worth her while just as she’ll make it worth their money. And then there’ll be the inevitable fall from grace. Then the carefully planned radio silence. And then the abashed, contrite, redemptive return. The cathartic outpouring of all her issues and how horrible it was to be so universally reviled. There’ll be a book deal on that particular horizon. Maybe even a regular appearance on kid’s telly or a TV magazine show with plenty of conscience.

And of course her opinion will be sought and bought on the next poor rent-a-gob that the media people will have temporarily shoehorned into the limelight by this point. Because there’ll always be another one. It's a fast moving queue. Like the role of Master of the Dark Arts in the Harry Potter books, nobody stays in the job for long; it’s cursed:

“So you want to be the next village idiot? Fantastic! We’re the people who can help you do it and we’ll all make a lot of money out of it into the bargain…”

Lord knows I’m more than happy for the village idiot to be reformed and redeemed but do we have to go through the endless pantomime of salacious baiting and vampiric bloodlust first?

Can’t we quieten the great god rent-a-gob once and for all by just choosing not to listen?

Because at the end of the day, who’s the greater idiot? The idiot who shouts or the idiot who drops everything to listen?

Oi!

Did any of you lot actually hear what I just said…?

;-)