Friday, May 23, 2008

Leaving The Shadows

Hi kids, Cliff here.

Me and Una are off on a week’s summer holiday tomorrow. We’re taking the sproglets somewhere where the sun shines brightly. Somewhere where the sea is blue. We’ve seen it in the movies and, to be honest, we just want to see if it’s true.

I’ve packed my small speakers, my tall speakers and my wall speakers. And I’m cruising around on my roller-skates as I type. Stereo into the breakfast show. Whoa-oh-oh-whoa-whoa-whoa.

It’s going to be really great, huh.

But there’s just one thing folks. While I’m away, if you see that guy from The Shadows – the one who dances funny while playing his guitar at nipple height – can you please tell him that I didn’t sleep with his missus.

And if I did it was only twice and it was so bad I have vowed never to do it again.

She was like a devil woman, ok, and me and God just can’t dig that.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You’ll Be A Man, My Son

The big news this week is that Tom has cut his first tooth.

Amid much screaming, many tears and multiple applications of Calpol, Mr Toofy poked his head up from the red welter of Tom’s gums sometime on Monday afternoon. A companion tooth – I can only assume a Mrs Toofy – is also well on her way to studding Tom’s mouth with some beautiful calcium based bling.

My first reaction was to sigh proudly and to announce that soon he’ll be shaving and riding unsafe motorbikes. They grow up so quickly these days.

Thankfully crawling, walking, potty training and coordinating the PlayStation controls (rather than chewing them) – not to mention an entire school career – are all still ahead of Tom so I guess I can look forward to having him at home for a little while longer.

It’s so nice to have a full nest.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Steakhouse Gryll

Quite by chance this month I’ve caught a couple of episodes of “Born Survivor” presented by Mr Nice Tough Guy, Bear Grylls. Yes. That’s his real name.

I’m hoping he has a kid brother called Radiator.

The premise is very simple. Bear Grylls, all round daredevil, adventurer, survivalist and, let’s not forget it, nice guy, is catapulted each week into some of the world worst hellholes there to survive on nothing but his wits and the Winnebago full of food that the film crew have brought along with them.

He’s yomped across desert, jungle and rough council estates; he’s captured and eaten raw lizards, scorpions, beetle larvae and KFC bargain buckets; he’s been up to his hips in quick sand, white water rapids and peat bogs... and last night saw him roughing it in the mountainous ice fields of Patagonia.

It was sterling stuff and no mistake. He dug an ice cave with his “bear” hands, urinated into his drink flask and used it as a hot water bottle, rapelled down a 150ft waterfall... all the while telling us what we should and shouldn’t do in these circumstances; leaving us in no doubt as to the amount of danger and peril that he was constantly in on our behalf.

And through it all I couldn’t help thinking: Ray Mears wouldn’t have done that; Ray Mears would have found a better way; Ray wouldn’t have taken such stupid risks in the first place...

Ray Mears you see is untouchable in the art of bush craft survival. Many try to encroach upon his domain but few can ever match him. I’m sure Mr Grylls’ survivalist credentials are absolutely impeccable but, unlike Ray’s programmes, there’s something just too unreal and contrived about Bear Grylls’ gritty offerings.

Suspended half way down a narrow glacial crevasse he shuddered at how far down he was, how terrifying it was to be stuck this far down a sheer ice wall... but my first thought was that the camera man was actually filming him from below and didn’t appear to be suffering from camera-shake at all. A little later he tried to build a raft out of drift wood to cross an ice cold lake... a few feet out it began to disintegrate and Bear had to bare his torso and swim back to shore before he lost all circulation in his feet and legs...

Gasp shock horror. Would he make it? Sadly, yes.

Now if that had been Ray he’d have chopped down a tree, hollowed out a canoe with his bush knife and woven a fully functional outboard motor out of nettle stems and crossed to the other side of the lake within the space of three hours with enough daylight left to shoot a moose with his homemade bow and arrow and have its kidney frying on a hot rock ready for the after filming party.

And Ray would have spent the entire night in his homemade camp with only his homemade campfire and his hand whittled camp equipment for company and nobody would have doubted it in the slightest. I can’t say the same for Bear. There are loads of reports that he frequently “roughed” it in hotels and glamorous Jacuzzis once the day’s filming was done.

Fair enough you might think. But to me it’s cheating. Don’t attempt to seize the mantle of hard-man wilderness survivor if you’re not prepared to sleep with the leeches and the tarantulas!

Bear, Ray would eat you for bloody breakfast.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Strange Fruit

It’s confession time, folks. And I am, I admit, a mite embarrassed by this one.

Now, I consider myself to be fairly au fait with new technologies. PCs. MP3s, mobile phones, digital cameras, data projectors, toilet eco flush systems... I’m familiar with the lot and have embraced them within the scope of my everyday existence. I even run a part time web design business for God’s sake. The internet is practically my living room, bedroom and office. But, er, let’s not discuss the bedroom part right here, ok?

So all things considered I’m a bit of a techno-head. A gadget geek.

But for the life of me I just cannot get my head around Blackberry’s. Not the device itself but the name. For some reason I have a real blind spot where the term Blackberry is concerned. No matter what I do it keeps coming out as Blueberry.

To the point where I now actively avoid discussing such devices in public because I know “Blueberry” will just slip out before I can stop it.

Is this how old age begins? Or Alzheimer’s?

Will I wake up next week referring to PCs as WCs? Digital cameras as those new fangled box brownie things?

Is there a help line number I can contact?

Via pigeon post naturally...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Girl Done Good

She’s suffered some stick our Catherine has.

In the lead up to the current series of Doctor Who poor Ms Tate’s name was dragged through the mud, trampled on and urinated over worse than one of East End Gran’s hand crocheted blankets.

And I have to raise a beautifully manicured hand and say that I too was guilty of unwarranted and heinous crimes against the red headed one.

To be fair though most of us were basing our opinions on the Doctor Who Christmas Special where Catherine’s character, Donna Noble, first made her televisual appearance. It was horrific. Donna Noble was brash, screechy, snotty and LOUD. Very loud.

But you know what? None of that was her fault. I blame the script writers. It was their fault. Shoot ‘em, I say.

Because suddenly with decent scripts, decent character development and an all round softening of her character traits, Donna Noble has transformed into the saviour of the show. I honestly feel that she’s the best thing to have happened to Doctor Who (“the new generation”) since Billie Piper started wearing lower cut tops in series 2 – or did I fantasize that?

And for that I credit the script writers. Allow them to regenerate, I say (with the possible exception of Russell T Davis).

Donna Noble is a mature, self confident woman as opposed to a flighty, easily impressed twenty-something and that fact alone has injected the show with something more solid and weightily resonant than a mere lovelorn travelling companion. As pleasant as Rose Tyler and Martha Jones were their moo-cow eyes began to grate on my nerves very quickly.

Donna Noble might be in awe of the Doctor but she doesn’t think he’s perfect. Not at all. She’s aware that he’s fallible. That he needs someone to rein him in, to hold him back. To question his motives. This creates a much more equally balanced relationship. The balance of power is as close to 50 / 50 as it’s ever been. There’s 2 way respect on the Tardis and that is always going to be far healthier than the alternative: a companion constantly falling into an admiring swoon while the Doctor looks on patronizingly... aah, good human, you’re so cute!

Donna ain’t cute and I like her all the more for it. She’s intelligent and doesn’t have to be led. She can jump to her own conclusions and work things out for herself. She can contribute intellectually and meaningfully. She can challenge. And my God does Tennant’s Doctor need that. He’s a great bloke and a great Doctor but he’s needed someone strong to restrain him for a long time. Tate is at last providing that strength.

And as TimeWarden has already pointed out, Tate also provides a vulnerability that is based on a sensitive assessment of any given situation rather than a mawkish, girlish response. She’s morally sussed. Intelligence and worldly experience are definitely the keys to her character’s success.

The other bonus of course is that without the soap opera storyline of unrequited love constantly getting in the way the show can concentrate on what we, the viewers, really want to see: decent, well thought out sci-fi.

Hoo-bloody-ray I say. Saturday night’s are halfway decent again.

All they need to do now is get the costume department to lower her tops...


Monday, May 12, 2008

Gardener’s World And Monkey Nuts

What a weekend!

Task 1: Karen and I purchased and collected a brand spanking second-hand car trailer from Meriden – our latest acquisition from eBay. You know you’re going up in the world when you buy a car trailer. You know you’re going down in your own estimation when you start getting trailer envy on the journey hone... “Hmm, they’re trailer is a lot bigger than ours...”

Task 2: We spent practically the entire day on Saturday using the newly acquired car trailer to ship the mountain of junk, trash, garden waste and assorted detritus that we’d cleared out of the shed the previous Monday down to the local tip. Three round journeys of approximately 120 minutes each. By the end of it Ranulph Fiennes had stomped off to mountains new and I was covered in bruises, lacerations and puncture holes... but enough of Karen’s “incentivizing techniques”...

Task 3: Far more enjoyable. We took the kids to Twycross Zoo on Sunday. Tom isn’t old enough to really appreciate either the entertainment value or the dodgy politics of imprisoning animals from different habitats in big cages in the UK but seemed to enjoy the experience of new sights and new smells greatly. Ben quite enjoyed it too but Karen and I both suspect that his personal Holy Grail was the acquisition of an ice cream at the end of the visit. This was confirmed by his opinion that looking at the animals was “all very enjoyable but you wouldn’t want to spend all day doing it”.

Ah kids. If it’s not got a joy-pad attached to it, it just ain’t cool.

Twycross for me, at least, was something of a trip down memory lane. (Cue brass band music akin to that used in the Hovis adverts of old...) When I was a young nipper my Nan and Grandpa took me to Twycross Zoo with my sister and I had a great time looking at all the monkeys but my overriding memory is that of buying a rubber spider on a piece of elastic. It was quite a big spider as I recall and covered in small rubber spines that made it seem both furry and springy at the same time. The elastic meant I could also bounce it quite menacingly into the face of any adult female that came within range (I guarantee I didn’t get my face wiped with a spat-in hankie that particular day, no sirree). Anyway, boys being boys – and me being a boy – the spider was taken on many joyous trips to school where me and my best friend at the time, John McCrae, would throw it to each other as high as we could across the school yard. Such fun and larks lasted until the flying spider found itself at last flung over the school wall and into the garden of one of the houses that abutted the school grounds...

Never to be seen again.

I mourned that spider for a good week. They don’t make them like that anymore I can tell you (I know; I’ve looked).

But now I am a man. And I have a car trailer instead.

Growing up sucks.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Off The Cuff

I’m in a buoyant mood this afternoon.

Maybe it’s because I have the day off tomorrow.

Maybe it’s because the sun is shining and myself and my work colleagues spent an extended lunchbreak in the park eating ice cream – Flake 99’s no less – and pretended we were school kids once more bunking off for the afternoon. Though they (the Flake 99’s) cost considerably more than when I was a boy.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve managed some decent quality time on my novel this week (yes that old chestnut... I’m still writing it). A grand total of 125,262 words and still growing. I’m entering the final phase of the story now. The final third. It’s becoming something of a beast. Something I have to wrestle with and force to assume the submissive position beneath me each time I work on it. Who’s the daddy, eh? Who’s the daddy?

Er. Not sure if that analogy is entirely apposite. I mean, what I do with my Friday evenings is my business, right...? Ahem.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve booked a week off the end of May so that Mrs Bloggertropolis and I and our burgeoning little dynasty can head off into the glorious hills of Wales and partake of some much needed R&R time while the rest of the crazy rat-race we call life goes on without us.

Who knows?

Let’s just let the good times roll.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Shed Love

Karen and I spent the Bank Holiday clearing out the garden shed; an onerous task that we’ve been putting off for ooh about a year. Ever since we bought the old homestead in fact.

To fill you in: Karen and I rented our house for about 2 years before buying it (not a long story, just a boring one so I’m going to gloss over it) – the upshot being that there were parts of the shed from which we were denied access by our then landlord (yes our shed actually has 2 rooms inside it). This wasn’t a problem. We just figured it was full of personal stuff – homemade porno, the odd manacle, perhaps the entrance to a hidden dungeon – and therefore left well alone. We bought our own gardening equipment and stored it in the portion of the shed that we could use and that was that.

Quite literally in fact. I have to say our gardening equipment hasn’t seen much action since we bought it (about the same amount as Prince William in fact) but that’s the subject for another post.

Anyway, a year after buying the place lock, stock and dungeon we finally got round to clearing out both sides of the shed to fully appraise ourselves of what we now own.

No homemade porno. No dungeon entrance.

Just loads of gardening equipment, including a complete lawnmower. Basically duplicating what we’d already bought ourselves which is rather galling but hey, at least our stuff is brand new as opposed to pre-1985. We also found we were now the proud owners of several large tubs of paint, several rolls of wallpaper, 15 panes of glass (which we shall sell on eBay) and a rather large bumble bee.

The bee seems to have set up home in a plastic bag which contained of all things a woollen Christmas stocking – the kind used for hiding presents in as opposed to naughty lady’s leggies – and was determined not to be moved. Even after the bag and stocking were removed the bee kept returning resolutely to the shed hoping to find it. It was quite affecting in a mildly impinging way.

Bees aside the task is at last complete. We’ve kept the good stuff and freed up so much space in the shed that getting access to the tools is no longer a problem. This bodes well for garden based DIY type activity this summer.

And we’ve amassed a huge pile of junk and detritus in the garden that Sir Ranulph Fiennes would be honoured to climb. This bodes well for several laborious journeys to the local tip.

None of which is terribly exciting but I was moved to record it here by Inchy’s recent post about garden sheds... and I felt the need to join in. Sheds are traditionally a bit of a man thing but I know that several humans of a feminine persuasion are also into sheds, my wife included.

There is something ineffably great about owning a shed. A garden with a shed is like a Bugatti whereas a garden without one is like a... a... well, the crap car of your choice basically.

I’ve got a shed with 2 separate rooms in it. 0 to 90 in 8 seconds, dudes. Vroom vroom. They're getting a hospital bed ready for Richard Hammond even as I type...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Buttered Too Thin

The second series of Heroes is like a fine whisky that’s been castrated by too much soda water. The first series had a kick and a potency to it that took your breath away but made you thirst for more. By the time the showdown with Silar was approaching I was a Heroes alcky, I was getting the DTs in between episodes...

But series 2 feels like going cold turkey.

Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it – I am; and God knows there’s eff all else on TV on a Thursday night and I’d be happy to watch Hayden Panettiere chop off her pinkies with a pair of scissors any time of the day but as a whole the show just ain’t grabbing me around the gonads like series 1.

The complaints and accusations of slowness from fans in the states have been well documented. That and the fact that the ratings plummeted like a damp squid at a cliff diving competition. I do wonder if my approach to the show has been somehow jaundiced by this knowledge; that I’m not giving it as fair a go as I normally would...

But no. It is slow. Heroes is missing its bite. And the plot twists are far, far too predictable – Peter Petrelli being alive; Takeshi Kenzo being a gaijin... I saw all these coming from a mile off. Mr Horn Rimmed Glasses also seems a weak incarnation of his former self. He’s gone from sinister, morally ambivalent secret agent to the dad from The Wonder Years. That’s not a good move.

The show lacks direction, it lacks dynamism. It’s like the plot denouement last series was so big it left a void that the writer’s just don’t know how to fill.

But, as I said, it isn’t all bad. Hayden Panettiere’s character and storyline are flourishing. I took me a while to take to her in the first series but she won me over in the end. She holds the screen effortlessly and the frequent displays of her often gruesome super powers are a highlight of the show. Masi Oka is also still a joy to watch but his return to feudal Japan, for all it might be essential to whatever plot twist is currently unfolding, is just tiresome. It feels like an unnecessary aside.

The worst thing about series 2 though is the God awful Irish accents exhibited by the clods that have taken possession of Peter Petrelli. He might have amnesia, he might even have brain damage but surely even he can twig that he’s about as far away from Cork, Ireland as it’s possible to get?

It seems to me that the recent writer’s strike in America may eventually prove to be the saviour of the show’s bacon. Allegedly the hiatus bought the show’s producers and writers time to reassess their goals and to take on board some of the criticisms. I hear tell that the second half of series 2 has been completely scrapped and they’re going to kick off afresh with series 3 in an attempt to return to form.

I do hope so. Heroes has a lot of potential. It would be a shame to see it squandered.

Mature it in a well seasoned oak barrel and I’ll order a double next time around. Promise.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I’m going to lift the lid a little on the neat(ish) four-walled container that is my domestic life in this post... nothing too saucy though: I honestly don’t think you’d be able to cope with the enormous, pulsating levels of un-depravity that occur beneath the roof of my house on a regular basis...

Instead I’m going to talk to you about the Blake Tea Ceremony which generally occurs once every 2 or 3 weeks and though it lasts barely ten minutes seems to impinge on my consciousness for an amount totally disproportionate to its importance in the bigger scheme of things.

Karen and I like a drop of Earl Grey. I’ll spare you the aromatic descriptions – we just like the stuff so drink it a lot. Now whether it’s a specific property of Earl Grey or a property of tea in general, I don’t know, but within 10 days the tea mugs are not just stained but are coated on the inside. A thick layer of tannin that no ordinary dishcloth will ever shift. The build up is phenomenal. If left for 2 weeks the volume of tea that the mugs can contain actually diminishes.

If left unchecked the mugs eventually come to resemble cross sections of one of John Prescott’s arteries or two very short, incredibly thick straws.

It’s at this point that I have to act. I just can’t bear it. The only thing that can cleanse the mugs back to their sparkling pristine state is a wire scourer. The result of all the subsequent scrubbing is that the dishwater ends up looking like a flood in a clay pit. Revolting. But suddenly the amount of tea that the mugs can accommodate nearly doubles. It’s amazing.

My only concern is what the hell the tea is doing to my insides? We’ve all heard about the acidic effects if coke... do I need to up my cola intake to ensure my oesophagus and my stomach don’t become congested with tea residue? Swallow the occasional wire brush to chip away at the internal build-up (not good for piles surely)?

It’s a small thing, I know. But it bothers me.

However, my psychiatrist says it’s healthy to air these things...