Friday, August 29, 2008

One Foot Out Of The Nest

Karen’s maternity leave officially ends next Tuesday. After a year of being a full-time mum and house-frau she’s returning to work (part-time) with more than a little ambivalence.

Re-embracing the politics and work ethics of your place of employment is never a joyous occasion when you’ve been away for any length of time but this reunion is going to be even harder as it necessitates sending Tom – now 11 months old – to nursery 5 days a week.

I must admit Karen and I are finding the concept difficult to accept. But he’s so tiny... and so cute! He’s too lovely to be out on his own in the big bad world! Even though some parents (I won’t say quite happily) farm their kids out to nurseries from as early an age as 3 months...

It’s all been rather emotional. Tom has now had four “tester” sessions at the nursery over the last 2 weeks to help get him acclimatized to the new environment and to bond with his carer. And to be honest he’s doing ok. A few tears here and there but never for very long and he’s been relaxed enough to eat their strange food and even to nod off for a nap or two...

But despite his easy compliance Karen and I feel like we’re packing him off to Gordonstoun or abandoning him at a train station with a load of other evacuees... each gripping brown suitcases containing their favourite toy and a bottle of Calpol, wondering if the people at the farm will treat them nicely and when will they ever see their dear old mum and dad again?

Tom is developing quite a taste for Vera Lynn.

At the end of the day though Tom seems to be taking it all in his stride. I guess kids are very adaptable. It’s Karen and me who are taking it the hardest. Letting him go. Watching him stumble a few branches away from the nest before we snatch him back into the safety of our arms once more.

Growing up is so difficult. Certainly as a participant but definitely as a spectator...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hairy Cakes

Apart from Gary Rhodes TV chefs don’t as a rule annoy me.

Mainly because I find there’s something pleasantly soporific about watching someone cook. I guess it harkens back to the days when, as a boy, I’d watch my gran makes cakes and pies in her 1970’s deluxe kitchen. Even now, watching a Victoria sponge being lightly dusted with icing sugar just puts me in a good mood for the entire day and relaxes me into a state of goodwill to all men.

So a TV chef has to go a long way then to fully upset my apple cart.

Cue Simon King and David Myers, the two halves of which don’t quite comprise a whole in the shape of the BBC’s Hairy Bikers.

I’m gritting my teeth at the mere thought of them.

Their shtick seems to be that they’re hairy. They ride bikes. They’re Geordies. And they cook.

In that order.

Inscrutably, Karen likes them (hence this is how they find their way onto my HD-unready telly). And on the face of it they’re inoffensive enough. But for some unspecifiable reason they irritate the colon out of me.

They are essentially The Chuckle Brothers with beards and bikes. A male version of the Two Fat Ladies (and let’s face it, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson were practically bearded anyway).

They’re cooking isn’t particularly stunning in my opinion. It’s all a bit... pedestrian (which is very ironic given that they spend most of their time with their be-leathered thighs wrapped around the throbbing engines of their gleaming hogs).

It’s all a bit “blokey” and “roadie” and not expertly enough “chefy”.

But maybe that’s the point? Maybe they’re trying to get more blokey blokes to cook? An admirable campaign if ever there was one but there’s something ineffably flat and wishy-washy about the pair of them. And yes that is a deliberate pantomime reference. The pair of them could don dresses and it wouldn’t look at all weird. Unattractive. But not weird.

Hmm. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen the Hairy Bikers and the Two Fat Ladies in the same room together at the same time... though of course Jennifer Paterson’s death in 1998 shoots a rather large hairy hole in that theory.

I guess my biggest complaint about the hairy bikers is quite simply... the hair. Their jaw-lines and top lips are just too hirsute to make their food at all palatable. And this is from someone who is himself bearded. It’s very off-putting to watch them sinking their molars into a double crust yak and leek pastie and then try and sing it’s praises to the camera as flakes and shards of pastry and meat hang loosely in their beards and moustaches like miniature trapeze artists trying to escape from a Russian circus.

The inside of their helmets must look and taste like a Subway deli counter.

Oh please, people. A double entendre was not intended...

Monday, August 25, 2008

You’re An Embarrassment

Much as I’ve enjoyed Boris Johnson’s various idiosyncratic performances on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You and find it reassuring that even rabid Tories can have a sense of humour (and thus stand a chance of becoming human) I have to say I cringed during the Olympic handover ceremony yesterday.

Am I the only Brit to have found our Olympic reps utterly embarrassing?

Boris looked a complete scruff-bag. Whilst everyone else ponced about in suits so sharp you could slice bacon wafer thin on the lapels Boris shambled about in what looked like one of Patrick Moore’s old cast-offs. His suit plainly didn’t fit him. His trousers looked like they’d collapsed inwards at the knees and the jacket looked like it had been used to smuggle African elephants through Chinese customs. To make it worse Boris sauntered around with his jacket undone, his shirt scruffed up and even slouched around with his hands in his pockets at one point. What must the world have been thinking? Is this the best Britain can offer? Is this Britain’s much rumoured but rarely seen sartorial elegance?

When Boris grabbed the Olympic flag he looked like a tramp on a stick.

And then came our much-vaunted “artistic interpretation”, designed to whet the Olympic village’s appetite for 2012.

Jesus. I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life. Is this how we wish to portray ourselves to the world? Double Decker buses. Privet hedges. Umbrellas and David effing Beckham?

Is this a true representation of Britain? Of London? Is this all we amount to? An Austin Powers pastiche of lazy stereotypes and Mary Poppins tomfoolery?

I have real fears for 2012. Fears that we are going to embarrass ourselves hugely.

I can see it now. After the spectacular glories of Beijing the Olympic community will stand agog as they witness London’s Pearly Kings and Queens ‘rolling out the barrel’, gag as they consume their free bargain buckets of whelks and jellied eels, guffaw as Boris Johnson and all the Olympic big-nobs conduct their speeches from within the centre of a giant bouncy castle and all the athletes will compete dressed up as giant dogs and cats in the style of It’s A Knockout. Sooty and Sweep will host the televisual coverage and the relay race will be accompanied by multiple shouts of “He’s behind you…!”

Oh God.

Is it too late to apply for Chinese nationality?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Belatedly Batman

A week ago, as part of the spectacular birthday celebration that heralded my 39th birthday (apologies if the fireworks kept you awake) Karen took me to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. I’d quite enjoyed Batman Begins – as superhero movies go it was nice ‘n’ dark, gritty and packed a hard hitting punch or two. But for me the story was too fragmented, too intent on ticking as many bat-boxes as possible within the classic Batman framework... it tried to do too much and felt frustrated and frustrating. So despite the hype it was with some trepidation that I settled into my seat to watch The Dark Knight.

I needn’t have worried. It totally blew me away.

The sets, the backdrops, the stunts, the action... all on target. The story – despite the length of the film – felt tight and compact (like a well defined six-pack). And the humour... ah the humour was so dark it felt beyond black. I actually felt a twinge of regret when it was all over.

Michael Caine was a joy to watch and I’d at last fully accepted the bat-voice without wondering at what point in the movie Bruce Wayne had smoked a hundred Columbian cigars... Gary Oldman too was effortlessly believable as Gordon. The man is such a chameleon – he manages to change his physicality in every film I’ve ever seen him. How else can he go from the emaciated Goth cool of Sirius Black to the fustiness of Gordon and yet still look like himself?

But all this is just the nuts and bolts of the movie, the framework – the skeleton – albeit a very impressive one. The flesh, the heart, however is The Joker. Was Heath Ledger as good as the hype? For me: yes. Definitely. All the clichés are at least meaningful and fresh – a commanding performance, hypnotic, mesmerizing. In any scene where he didn’t appear I found myself pining for him to pop up in front of the camera.

I liked the fact his performance doffed its cap to the classic Joker and yet also managed to contemporize it so fully. The lies, the tricks, the surety that he will always, always play you false, the certainty that even the truth from his lips will inevitably be a lie. My favourite part of the film was The Joker’s self-deprecating speech to Harvey Dent: he dismisses himself as a mad dog, too chaotic to plan, to organize, he merely acts on his every whim, it’s not personal... it is the police, Batman, the authorities who plan and plot, who connive and conspire.

It is of course another delicious lie but one that hints at an interesting subtext of the movie. The Joker is the most organized agent in the story. To tell a good joke, to perform an effective trick takes eons of planning, post production, preparation... It is The Joker who connives and conspires more effectively than anyone. The Joker allows himself to be captured by the police or at least plans ahead for it – how else explain his henchman with the bomb-phone sewn into his guts?

The mad dog, the man who acts on his whims is, of course, Harvey Dent. Stripped of his suit and tie, the façade of law and order, he merely becomes another one of the Joker’s slathering canines, maddened, hungry, blindly animalistic but leashed and very carefully directed. Controlled completely by The Joker.

But isn’t Batman himself also a creature of instinct and whim? Isn’t Batman too something of a mad dog? He reacts emotionally, personally to all of The Joker’s plots and machinations. He considers giving up his Bat alter ego on an emotional whim and returns to it without a second’s regret. His explosions of violence match those of The Joker and he is just as apt to change the rules of engagement to suit his current requirements... The Joker was correct when he told Batman that he completed him (though it was a corny line). The correlation between these two characters is intriguing and gives the film its distinctive resonance.

Where they go from here in the regretful absence of Heath Ledger is a mystery but I’m awaiting the next film with a pleasurable amount of excitement. Just what kind of morning will follow this dark night? I can’t wait to find out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TV Eye

Maybe it was because we didn’t go away anywhere for any length of time but returning to work this morning after a week’s holiday was surprisingly easy. Though easy is perhaps the wrong word. I mean it wasn’t enjoyable by any means. But it was normal. It felt normal. It felt natural. The old just like I’ve never been away...

Which is odd really because while I was on holiday I didn’t give the place or any of my friends here a second thought. It’s like they all just dropped off my “give a shit” radar and ceased to impinge on my emotional awareness. Not that I wished them badly (well, maybe one of two of them). On the contrary. If I’d managed to think about them at all I would have wished them well. But I just didn’t think. Not at all. In fact I’m pretty sure that while I was away they all ceased to exist.

They all just winked out of reality.

The natural effects of solipsism to place it in a more philosophical framework.

And yet now look at me. Here I am being matey, swapping holiday anecdotes, exchanging TV based gossip and partaking in minor office buffoonery just to pass the time and get me to 5pm with my brain and my temperament on an even keel.

I’m just using them.

Chewing them up and spitting them out. Playing with them like a cat with a piece of string. Creating them purely for my own selfish entertainment.

God but this channel is shit. Where’s the sodding remote?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy Holidays

Sometimes you just have to ad lib. Run with the ball so to speak.

Despite Holiday Plan A being abandoned due to poor weather and most of Holiday Plan B being dropped due to ill health we have nevertheless managed to enjoy a pretty special holiday week.

And it’s all the more enjoyable because I still have 3 days of it left – I don’t actually return to work until Tuesday.

Although we had to scale down some of our more grandiose plans (we never made it The British Museum as planned – sorry
OC) we still managed to take in a small smattering of choice culture:

  • The hologram exhibition at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum – great for kids and grown ups alike.

  • The Dark Knight at the Coventry Showcase – superb. Deserves a post all of its own (which I may or may not write).

  • Visited my friend Anna and her new baby, Lila, in glorious Nailsworth – a really beautiful part of the world (t’other side of Stroud) and has got Karen and I fantasising about how lovely it would be to live there ourselves.

  • Visited my friend Annie and her family in Weston-super-Mare – just a terrific day catching up with good friends.

Doesn’t sound a lot compared to what we’d planned to do but it’s been just the break that Karen and I needed. So much so I’m beginning to think things worked out perfectly in the end after all. Karen and I needed a proper restful holiday – and camping is never that. Being ill at the beginning of the week kind of forced us to stop and rest and we’re all the better for it. Tom took longer to recover but today finally is back fully to his old self and firing on all cylinders and his nappies are no longer quite as scary as they were a few days ago... It also means he’s far more mobile so we’re hoping to do something exciting with the few holiday days left to us…

Parachuting, abseiling, military manoeuvres in Northern Afghanistan… who knows, but we’re ready for it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Unhappiness Is A Warm Lavatory Seat

Yes. The holiday has got off to a terrific start. Tom was sick and has produced copious diarrhea since Saturday morning. Karen, Ben and I came down with it yesterday evening. I was awoken at 10.30 last night to the splashing noises of Ben being sick over the side of his bunk bed.

It sounded like someone up-ending a rather large bowl of porridge.

It's uncanny that each time we've attempted to enjoy a holiday this year sickness has swept through the house like... well, like a plague, actually. Albeit a very geographically specific one. Is life trying to tell us something? I'm beginning to wonder.

Ben recovered very quickly and though Tom still has a "runny bum" (yes, that is the correct medical term) he's doing fine. Karen is still in bed having been hit the worst and I'm holding the fort like a gut cramping, sickie-burping soldier.

All plans for today are off.

This is not quite the start to the holiday that we had planned...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Summertime And The Leaving Ain’t Easy

I’m off from work for 10 whole days after today... and the original plan was to head west tomorrow morning at first light, journey for approximately 4 hours and then pitch our humungous 900 berth tent in the land of green valleys, male voice choirs and sheep.

Alas the weather reports for the week ahead are not good. They’re absolutely dire in fact. And though we are not usually put off by crap weather (being hardy English folk) our camping experiences in June left us rather indisposed to attempt camping once again in Monsoon conditions with a 7 year old and a young baby in tow.

So much as we love Wales, Wales is out.

Now the plan is to wing it. Day trips out to Legoland, The Heights Of Abraham, The Hadrian Exhibition at The British Museum among others. Plus drop-in visits to various family and friends who are scattered up and down the length and breadth of the country. I think Karen (my lovely wife) is also arranging a trip to see the new Batman movie at the cinema on my birthday next Wednesday too and possibly a slap-up meal while the kids are securely corralled by a babysitter.

So all in all, it’s not going to be a proper holiday this year. But as “not a proper holiday’s” go, it should be a good one.

Let’s hope so anyway...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Everybody who’s anybody in the office has disappeared to London today on a work jolly to see various exhibitions in the big city.

Which means anybody who’s nobody has been left to hold the fort for the day.

Guess where I am?

Yes. Major Moody here at your service, armed to the teeth with clipboard and biro and prepared to defend Pippin Fort to the last drop of Tipp-Ex.

I never get invited on jollies. And it’s not like I’m uninterested in art or history – (the boss has gone to see the Hadrian exhibition). I guess such trips out are reserved solely for the upper middle-management (ooh bitchy) and the museum curators. Building Supervisors are not meant to be interested in arty, philosophical, historical concepts and objet d’art. Maybe if it was a conference on loo brushes I’d be allowed the price of the train ticket and an expenses paid lunch thrown in to boot?

But that makes me sound bitter and twisted and honestly I’m not. Because with the rest of ‘em out it leaves very few of us here at base and we can pretty much do what the hell we like for the day.

While the cat’s away, etc.

Hmm. You know, I feel a coffee break coming on. Followed by brunch.

Jollies? I just love ‘em.

They really work for me...

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Hack And The Knack

A week to go until my summer hols and with typical good timing my nose is streaming and I’ve developed a hacking cough. I sound like General Grievous only with a slightly annoying Midlands twang. Now there’s a movie – “me an’ the lads ‘ave all been trayned actuall-aye in the ways of the Jed-aye...”

It ain’t nice and it ain’t pretty.

And it’s put me in a bad mood.

See, I should be at home putting my feet up, being waited on and reading a good book. But because I’m on holiday next week I kind of feel honour bound to drag my bones into work this week. Otherwise it just looks like I’m taking the pee and caning an extra week’s holiday out of my employers. Cos that’s what they’ll think, oh believe me, they will.

So I’m at work with my hacking cough and my streaming nose and am exhibiting a major case of the grumps and feel like I want to kill someone. Nothing bad has happened, you understand – nothing huge – but I’m being plagued by lots of petty gripes. A veritable hailstorm of trivial complaints.

Now let me tell you, a thousand wasps are far more life threatening than one solitary rhino. Or something like that.

The main cause of consternation in my peers is this: a lock has broken on a door. Not just any old door but the door to the main Art Store. And if that door won’t close properly it means we can’t alarm the building at close of business... so technically we’ve got a huge effing hole punched into our security measures and (more worryingly ) our insurance policies. So yes it’s a bit of a problem. But the door will close if you have the knack. The knack shouldn’t be necessary I admit – the door should just close and the lock engage all on its own – but that’s not how it is right now. You need to wiggle the handle a bit, tease the lock with the key. Caress the mechanism. Show a bit of love. Then the door will close and lock as good as gold.

I’ve told people this. You need to employ the knack until the locksmith arrives. There’s nothing to be done until then. Either use the knack or don’t use the knack. But don’t bother me with it. I need peace and quiet and space enough to cough up my lungs in a manner that befits my station in life.

i.e. All over my kennel.

Bloody dogsbody, me. Bah.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Magnum Ritual

Fear not good people this is not a reference to Tom Selleck and his magnificently furred top lip but a paean to that king of stick-mounted ice cream otherwise known as the Magnum.

Since the sun started beating down on the UK like a blast furnace it has become a daily habit of mine to abscond from the office sometime after lunch and hotfoot it round the corner to the nearest newsagent there to rifle through the ice encrusted glories that are kept well stocked within the grubby looking chest freezer in the corner.

The lady who owns the shop – a pleasant Asian woman who is inevitably talking very loudly to a family member on her mobile when it comes time to serve me – runs a mighty fine line in Magnums.

She must have every variety known to man – the classic, the double choc, the caramel and my personal favourite, the Ecuador. Not quite sure why it’s called the Ecuador as I’ve never ever found a line of coke in it... But anyway, simply put, the Ecuador is pure white vanilla ice cream surrounded very licentiously by thick plain chocolate and is a veritable delight unto the tongue.

And they’re a whopping £1.40 a go.

Now it’s hardly a heinous financial crime but I really can’t afford to be spending that amount of money every day on chocolate frippery. I need to be saving my money. Shoving it into a post office account or an ISA in preparation for the long dark slog through the recession ahead. But I just can’t stop myself.

I’m addicted.

My Magnum is the only thing getting me through the terminally dull afternoons at work. They’re practically medicinal. I ought to have them on prescription. I can’t not have one.

And yet I feel like I’m taking food off the table that is meant for my wife and kids. I’m denying them £1.40 a day in bread or milk or bacon or some other staple food. After I’ve finished my Magnum I can see their small emaciated fingers pointing to their wide open mouths crying we’re starving, we’re starving...!

Sigh. My Magnum addiction is evil. It’s selfish. It’s ego-centric. And I’m just off to buy another one.

Would you like me to get you anything while I’m there?