Thursday, October 30, 2008

Old Soldiers

One good thing to come out of my aunt’s funeral was that it put me in touch with an old relative – one of my aunt’s cousins. Despite living in the same town all our lives our paths have rarely crossed. Or so we thought. It turned out that his window cleaning company cleans the windows at the building where I work and I’ve been signing off his monthly invoices for the last 7 years without even realizing who he was. The world is small.

I wonder if I have to declare this family connection now? Would there be a case against me for backdated nepotism? Ignorance is no excuse or so I am told.

Anyway, I filled him (Alan) in on the birth of Tom – or “Thomas Arthur” as my granddad calls him: the Arthur named for my granddad’s favourite elder brother… And it turned out that through other convoluted family connections Alan had long been in possession of some of Arthur’s old effects. His old army spurs, a combination lock and a cigarette case, etc. He very generously thought that as I was a closer relative than he was himself they ought to all belong to me.

This was very generous and a bright moment during a bleak occasion. We swapped telephone numbers and in all honesty I didn’t expect to hear from him again. Not because I thought he would welch on the offer but because, well, life happens and the first thing that usually gets swept accidentally under the carpet is a good intention.

But, to prove me gratefully wrong, Alan came good.

He rang me up last week, arranged to meet and placed these previously unknown family treasures – plus some wonderful old black and white photos of Arthur – into my care.

The items themselves are very humbling and I’m deeply indebted to Alan for parting with them so generously.

The spurs still go round though the leather is now very age worn and the silver is tarnished somewhat. The cigarette case – although only silver plated – is still a wonderful thing to own. It’s engraved with Arthur’s name and his batallion – the 271st - and contains a number of small knick-knacks. A gold crucifix, a medallion again engraved with his name and batallion number. And weirdly a Sacred Heart of Jesus pendant. My granddad is as nonplussed by this as I am as none of the family are or have ever been Catholic. I’d love to know how it came to be in Arthur’s possession.

And lastly the lock. The lock – I assume some sort of bike lock – is both magnificent and deeply touching. It’s rusted and I doubt it would lock anything securely now. But the combination still works after well over 75 years. Just put in my gran’s name – ROSE – and it releases very sweetly indeed. The fact it has so long carried my gran’s name, I find very moving.

Such details speak volumes for a family closeness that came to a sad end when Arthur was only 48. He died of a stroke and it apparently took my granddad a long while to come to terms with it. I can still remember my gran telling me (many, many years later – Arthur had been long dead before I was born) about the first time my granddad went into the local pub that he and his brother used to frequent without Arthur by his side.

He simply collapsed with the grief of it.

You can see why then, “Thomas Arthur” has extra-special meaning for my granddad. The rest of us refer to him as just “Tom” but for my granddad it’s always been and always will be I suspect “Thomas Arthur”.

I shall safeguard these small family treasures for Thomas Arthur until he is old enough to appreciate their full meaning and care for them himself. In the meantime I’m merely passing them on very slowly, waiting for time to finish marching by.

Shoulders back. Head held high. It’s a form of salute.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just A Laugh

Having been on the nasty end of a stupid prank recently the news that Jonathan Ross and the bandy-legged Russell Brand are currently immersed up to their designer hips in hot water has struck a chord with me far more than perhaps it normally would.

Apparently, on Brand’s Radio 2 show, the pair left “sexually offensive” phone messages to old thesp, Andrew Sachs, claiming that Brand had slept with the actor’s granddaughter, Georgina Baillie (23), and that Sachs might kill himself upon hearing the news.

Hmm. As pranks go it’s pretty pathetic and the kind of thing that any half-baked sixth former could come up with in their wet-dreamed sleep.

Now I’ve done my own fair share of ringing up pubs and asking for “Mike Hunt” in my time but public humiliation on a national scale is something that – even in my selfish “the world owes me” teens – I would have steered well clear of. Forget the swing of a moral compass, surely your own common sense would tell you that this was a bad idea?

Sachs has taken it badly. His granddaughter has taken it worse and who can blame her? Personally I’d rather people think I’d shagged Jonathan Ross than Russell Brand but the poor girl has had little say in the matter.

What is interesting is that the prank was pre-recorded and approved by the show’s producers. The BBC initially defended it… but now that the media tsunami is hitting their sun loungers they are grovelling apologies in every shade of yellow imaginable.

There are calls for Ross and Brand to be removed from air.

I feel surprisingly ambivalent about it.

Should the pair be sacked? I don’t think so. As much as I dislike Brand (and have waxed vile about his shenanigans before) both of them have been very quick to publicly and vociferously apologize to the public and to Sachs and to his granddaughter for the joke.

Personal accountability goes a long way towards forgiveness in my book.

The gag was ill thought out and the producers – or somebody – should have had the brains to say no. “Sorry lads, this one is (a) just not funny and (b) is just going to result in a lot of adverse feedback – lets just stick to making adolescent innuendoes about the birds we fancy from the telly…”

The producers are just as – if not more – culpable. Maybe they are the ones who should be sacked?

A slap on the wrist, though ineffective and hardly a deterrent to Ross and Brand and not likely to satisfy Sach’s sense of justice is at the end of the day the only sensible course of action. Sacking them will solve nothing. Some other channel will only snap them up and make gold with the furore that they bring along with them.

The deed is done. They’ve owned up and apologized. Time to forget it and move on. It is the only wise way forward.

Hidden messages?

Who? Me?

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I apologise for the lengthy nature of my previous post as I don't usually indulge in great long tirades that last for days at a time but the event that sparked it was a little out of the ordinary. Thank you to those kind and supportive bloggers who have read it and responded so positively. It has, I must admit, kept my hand firmly on the rudder when the otherwise choppy seas were beginning to persuade me to drop this blogging malarkey once and for all.

Right now I'm taking in a big gulp of sea air and I ain't going nowhere.

There have been further developments though. The mystery hoaxer has stained my phone once more with another text this morning that simply reads: "Hi Steve, just to let you know that you have been blogged."

I'm assuming this means the anonymous jokester has composed his own blog post in response to mine. It also seems to suggest that, whoever they are, they think I read their blog regularly and will find it.

Well sorry to disappoint you, "old chum", but I've no idea where or what you're blog is until you have the decency to tell me. I wonder if you'll have the courage to own up and identify yourself rather than keep plaguing me with unwanted texts. Because to tell you the truth I'd really not rather hear from you again.

The worst of it is that by not owning up this little scrote is trying to encourage the finger of suspicion to fall on absolutely everyone - Is it a fellow blogger? Is it a friend? Is it a work colleague?

As tactics go they are cowardly and nasty and have nothing to recommend them.

Maybe this person has published an apology on their blog? I don't know until I am able to read it. Maybe they've merely ranted at my lack of humour over their jolly little jape? If so I'd rather, to be honest, just not bother at all.

I'm now having to consider changing my mobile number which is a pain and an expense I can ill afford right now. The whole situation is grotesque and comes at the end of what has been a very difficult time for my family.

I've tried ringing this person's number several times now to see if I can at last put an identity to the idiot and bring this situation to an end but the phone is either switched off or rings out forever.

Whoever you are, you're a coward.

But that's for you to live and deal with.

As for me, I have a lovely family and some wonderful friends. I've wasted enough of my life on you, mystery hoaxer, as it is.

Either own up or disappear.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No Friend Of Mine

There’s somebody out there reading this blog who thinks they are my friend.

They know my name, my mobile telephone number and, more significantly, where I work.

Yesterday afternoon they thought it would be funny to send me a text message purporting to be from the Chief Executive of the Authority that employs me. It invited me to attend a meeting with the Chief Exec to discuss “blogging tactics used by me against” the authority that employs me.

Serious stuff. The stuff that, if proven, can lose people their jobs.

My first reaction was shock. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything on this blog that would count as “cyber terrorism” or “cyber sabotage”. I was on my way to University at the time to attend a lecture and so the feeling of displacement compounded my sense of confusion. There was no way I could sit calmly through a lecture with this hanging over me so I caught the bus straight back into town and to work.

So – a waste of bus fare and an important lecture lost to me forever.

Maybe at this point this mystery person who thinks they are my friend is chuckling away to him/herself (though I rather fancy it’s a him). Disruption caused. Panic initiated. Target hit.

I returned to work and the first thing I did was to ring my wife who was lovely and calming and supportive. But nevertheless the worry was very real. This could see me out of a job with two young children right before Christmas and with the country sliding into recession. Worst case scenario, perhaps, but it had to be faced.

Are you laughing openly now, mystery friend? Now that you know that your little joke ruined not only my afternoon but that of my wife? It must be hilarious to put someone through that sense of dread while you sit smugly at home in your armchair, proud of yourself. Such a consummate joker you are. Jeremy Beadle must be spinning in his box with sheer jealousy.

I had a couple of hours before the proposed meeting. Ample time to calm down a little and think it all through. Things weren’t quite right, you see. Things were – the more I thought about it – decidedly fishy. The Chief Exec hadn’t spelt his own name correctly. The originating mobile number didn’t match that on the work’s contact list. The grammar and punctuation was appalling, little better than that of a child (I know you’re not a child, friend, but this is meant to be insulting). And why would the Chief Exec use something as crass as a text when he could ring or send an email?

Of course, it is human nature to rationalize things. Although I was filled with doubts and suspicions – and these were gathering pace – they were not enough to completely eradicate the feeling that I still had to take the summons seriously and attend. Maybe he was a bad texter? Maybe the contact list was out of date? Maybe by sending a text he was making an effort to keep things “informal”?

At the appointed time I went to the Authority HQ and reported to the reception desk.

Friend, you are no doubt thinking at this point, “Success!” You got me there, mouth dry, ready for a showdown with the big boss that could see me potentially out of a job. Would I erase my blog? Would I remove the offending posts? No. I’d already talked this over with Karen. I believe in the things I have written here. I’m committed to them. I believe in them and my opinions. Let the worst happen but my writing stays.

This eleventh hour, friend, is the hour when you could have redeemed yourself a little. This was the moment when you could have rung and launched into your “Ha! Fooled you!” speech. I would have sworn at you. Called you an irresponsible little turd and worse. But that would have been the end of it.

But you didn’t ring. You let it all go ahead.

Do you consider it bravery, this allowing the joke to run on to its natural conclusion? Do you think in some way it proves that you too have the courage of your convictions?

Thankfully I had enough about me and enough suspicions to not drop myself in the poo. I pleaded ignorance as to the reason for the meeting, explaining that I’d just had a weird text summoning me here at this time. They confirmed my suspicions very quickly. The Chief Exec had not sent any text (he wouldn’t send texts anyway) and was in fact in Coventry this afternoon. I explained my suspicions that I’d been the victim of a hoax. They were very supportive. It’s amazing how supportive real friends and even casual acquaintances can be.

Did I still have the number that sent me the text?

I was tempted to give it. So tempted. But in the end I said that I’d foolishly deleted it. Better to nip this in the bud right here, I thought. Too many questions and I could be under close scrutiny for real...

So you got away with it, friend. But I did that for me – not for you.

Of course, now all is calm again I can see that I had nothing really to worry about. Blogging is not illegal. I haven’t written anything I believe that is damaging to my employers. Indeed I have never named them or the people I work with. And as Karen later pointed out, this is England not Zimbabwe. I am allowed to have and voice an opinion. It is not a sackable offence.

I’m proud that when it came down to it my opinion meant more to me than my job. But perhaps this is more foolishness on my part – a backward priority – but then there’s a lot of that about, isn’t there? It’s rather akin to putting an opinion or an idea – or a joke even – before a friendship. People do it.

I returned to work after apologizing to the receptionists for wasting their time. The few work colleagues I’d confided in were pleased to see me back and more pleased to hear how it had all panned out. The census of opinion was the same. Who would do such a thing? As jokes go it wasn’t even funny and given the current economic climate it was actually very nasty. Did I have any idea of who it could be who was behind it?

Oh yes, I said. I had a few ideas. A few inklings.

Has your laughter now finally abated, friend? Are you rubbing your hands with glee and carving another notch into the arm of your chair?

You’re probably outraged that I’m making such a big deal of this. You’re probably thinking me a drama queen and asking why I don’t see the funny side. Well, that’s easy to answer, friend: there isn’t one.

Most of all, you are probably thinking that you are still my friend.

But you’d be wrong.

I don’t have time, energy or the inclination to keep friends like you.

This is truly where the joke ends.

See you. Wouldn’t want to be you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Meme-ories Are Made Of This

I haven’t responded to a meme for a long time but today I’m making an exception by answering one sent to me by lovely Lucy Fishwife.

Basically I have to list 6 random things about myself – preferably things that you don’t already know – and then pass the meme on to 6 other lucky-lucky bloggers. While I think about who to infect with the meme disease here are 6 interesting (I hope) but little known facts about yours truly.

1) I’m a “published” poet. Kind of. I’ve had about 30 poems published over the years in various poetry journals and anthologies. Sadly I’ve never had a collection published or won any major poetry competitions which would have blasted my name before the addled sight of the UK literati. Out of the 30 published I was only ever properly paid for one: £10 for a poem called “Love” that was published in top-notch poetry mag The Rialto. I briefly considered framing the cheque but the law of economics took over and I cashed it.

2) I was at school for much of my younger life with fellow blogger Tris and we still maintain regular contact. He is quite simply and quite honestly my oldest friend. An initial acquaintance and then a friendship which dates back approximately 30 years. I’m very proud of this.

3) I had a childhood crush on Charlie’s Angels. All of them. But primarily it was Cheryl Ladd who floated my boyhood prepubescent boat. This is odd as she is blonde and with very few exceptions I go for brunettes. I have a wonderful wife (brunette) who thankfully feels unthreatened by this early blonde obsession and bought me the boxed set of Charlie’s Angels for my birthday last year. It’s crass, it’s dated, it’s so unbelievably 1970’s (even though it was filmed in the 80’s) but Cheryl Ladd has still got “it”. Though she has now been usurped in my affections by Keeley Hawes. Gotta move with the times, right? (Yes my search to find something previously unknown and interesting to say about myself is becoming desperate.)

4) One of my most vivid school memories is of the school playing field being covered in daddy-long-legs at the end of September / beginning of October (back when the seasons worked properly). One kid in a year below me made the mistake of charging towards the seething mass screaming out loud. One disoriented daddy-long-legs – evidently its bearings lost or fancying a kamikaze-style last act – promptly flew into the boy’s open mouth. Folks, it really is possible for a human being to turn bright green.

5) I have never in my entire life eaten steak. I don’t know why. I don’t have anything against red meat (though I’d hate to see my own going underneath Gordon Ramsay’s knife). I’ve just never ordered or desired a steak. Does this mean I am not a real man?

6) I used to write stories as a young boy where I was a superhero called Donny Osmond (look, I saw an Osmond cartoon once and it made an impression, OK?) and I had a gang of superhero friends who ranged (unsurprisingly) from the lovely ladies of Charlie’s Angels, the good guys from Star Wars, Logan and Jessica from Logan’s Run and for some weird reason Abba. I still have the stories – all hand written in little exercise books – beneath the bed. One memorable scene features my grandparents flying X-Wing fighters to blow up a humungous enemy star ship piloted by the evil Witchy Woo Hoo. It is my life’s ambition to make it available in all good books shops.

OK. Now for the tagging part. With apologies I’m tagging Tris, Inchy, Kaz, Brother Tobias, Kate and Amanda though please don’t feel you have to.

And lastly – the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog
3. Write six random things about yourself
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Good luck and God speed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

To Cap It All

The discussion turned to hat wear in the office today. I’m not sure why but it sure beat the usual chatter of who’s nobbing who and sundry plots to bring down the management (P.S. thanks for reading, dear work colleagues).

I don’t wear a hat but like most non-hat-wearers I’d secretly like to.

Or rather I’d like to have the style and panache to get away with wearing a hat without looking like a complete dick.

Over the years I’ve tried several in my vain attempts to find some skull-wear that actually suits me: panamas, trilbies, the ubiquitous baseball cap, even at one time a Goth cowboy hat courtesy of a brief dalliance with The Field Of The Nephilim.

And I’ve looked an idiot in all of them.

Of course it may be that I look an idiot out of them too but nevertheless I have persevered faithfully in my search.

Until finally, last year, during a wet week in Wales, I came at last across my bonnet paramour in a tacky climbing / souvenir shop in Betws-y-Coed.

The good old fashioned Great British cloth-cap.

I think Karen was as stunned as I was. My God. Here it is. A hat that actually suits me.

I didn’t buy it.


I have a penchant for wearing proper waterproof hill-walking jackets having given up on the efficacy of umbrellas years ago (they’re just mini money pits). Couple such a jacket with such a hat and you have...

...Foggy from Last Of The Summer Wine.

Need I say more? I may not have much choice when it comes to fashionable head gear but credit me with some sartorial sense.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I’m getting old.

I can tell.

Not from the fact that my hair is going grey at the sides (though this is a definite indication of approaching decrepitude). Not from the fact it takes very little these days to give me a bad back. And not even from the fact that if I have to run anywhere I no longer take any pleasure in the sensation of getting there quicker.

I can tell I’m getting old because ‘young people’ annoy the living hell out of me.

Young adults. Youngsters. Teens... OK, OK. To be more exact: students.

I’m now into my last academic year of a part-time English degree that has taken me well over a decade to complete. When I started it back in the nineties I felt I had far more in common with the young full-time students who shared the seminars than the grouchy semi-retired mature part-timers. I felt I was still young and hip and wore my spring chicken-ness with pride along with my indie band t-shirts and my waist-length hair (oh yes, it’s all true).

Now I have short hair, wear sensible boots, clothes that don’t endorse anyone or anything at all and regularly armour myself with an unfashionable waterproof hill-walking jacket (hey, you just never know, right?) – and my trips to Uni make me so grouchy I must surely be walking around with a snarl big enough to make any student’s union rep wet their baggy-arsed trousers through to the gusset.

I can’t help it. They slouch around like they’ve got the whole effing day to waste (which they probably do) – while I’m having to rush around like a maniac to get to my seminars and then high-tail it back to work so that I don’t lose too many hours and therefore too much money. They punctuate every third word with “yeah?” and start every sentence with “Ok right...” They seem proud of the fact that they haven’t done the preparatory reading that I’ve slaved over for the last two days or attended the lecture that I panicked about getting to.

But most, most of all one of them actually complained the other day about getting up “early”. “Yeah, like, I woke up this morning at 8.30, yeah? And it was like, way too early, and I just thought, right, that I only had to be on campus for the New Lits lecture at 11, yeah? And I just thought, right, oh man, I just can’t be bothered, right? 8.30 is way, way too early so, like, I went back to sleep cos, like, I’d had about 7 pints the night before, right, at the union bar and I was totally wasted, it was too much...

For the last week I’ve been regularly woken up at 5.20am by my eldest boy. I haven’t had a lie-in (i.e. slept past 7.0am) since 2003. Neither Karen nor I stop from the moment we get up until the moment the kids are both in bed in the evening. And we do it day after day after day. It’s no big thing really. It’s just life.

Now I realize I’m probably being unfair and knee-jerk and reactionary and an old fuddy-duddy but I just can’t deny my feelings. And if it makes it sound any better I can honestly say that – hand-on-heart – I didn’t particularly like other teenagers when I was a teenager. They annoyed me then and they annoy me now.

So maybe I’ve always been old?

Or maybe I’m not getting any older at all – I’m just staying the same while the world gets younger?

Who knows? But if these young whipper-snappers don’t learn to get out of my way when I’m walking about in a hurry I shall tan the backs of their hairless little legs with the rough end of my walking stick and no mistake! Harrumph!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Butter Wouldn’t Melt

I can’t profess to ever having been a huge fan of punk, preferring myself the hippy undertones of Kate Bush or the soft pop synth sound of New Wave but I knew who John Lydon was and held a grudging respect – even amusement – for the man and his outrageous anarchist antics.

I still have fond memories of him flicking his V’s at the camera nearly a decade later on Saturday Superstore or Going Live or whatever woolly-jumpered guff the BBC was putting out on a Saturday morning back then. Cue pouts of outrage from Mike Read and Sarah Greene – how dare he besmirch our jolly kid’s show with his dirty punk fingers!

Meanwhile my sister and I were laughing ourselves silly like a couple of drains. It was almost as good as the legendary Five Star phone-in where an enterprising little potty mouth managed to slip through the BBC’s “real teen” censors and introduced kid’s telly to some rather choice four letter words. It was a remarkably succinct music review that has never ever been bettered in my opinion.

But I digress. John Lydon / Johnny Rotten was a somebody. He stood for something. He was spiky, dangerous and uncompromising. Values held in high esteem by any burgeoning teen / young adult.

So it’s depressing to note then that dear ol’ John has sold his anti-establishment ethos down the river in order to endorse / sell / promote Country Life Butter on our televisions. John loves Country Life Butter, you see, because “it’s British”. Cue clips of red buses, Morris Dancers and John himself in a nice tweed jacket sinking a large brandy in an old fart’s gentleman’s club. For a minute I thought I was watching the trailer for the next Austin Powers movie (John Lydon as Austin Powers: now there’s an interesting concept).

I realize Country Life are hoping to get themselves a bit of an edge by employing our John to hawk their wares in the Corrie ad breaks but to my mind it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t make me want to go out and buy a slab of Country Life Butter. It makes me want to hurl abuse at the TV screen. It makes me want to flick my V’s right into John Lydon’s pasty lily-white face.

John what the hell are you doing? Surely your mortgage is paid by now? Why?

It’s one thing to be a national character...

Quite another thing entirely to be a national caricature.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Decline Of Western Civilization

Is this the end of the West? The end of Western supremacy and prosperity?

I don’t pretend to know much about global economics or international stock markets but with all the talk of “credit crunch”, “fluidity” and “the shoring up of financial institutions” even I can suss that things are possibly going tits up in the world.

America is panicking. We’re panicking. Europe is flapping about and looking to Gordon Brown for advice (I’m panicking).

Could this be the end of the world as we know it?

Quite possibly. There’s no money, There’s very little oil. Our military forces and those of the US are stretched tighter than Sarah Palin’s fake smile and Bruce Forsyth is plainly losing it on Strictly Come Dancing...

All in all things are looking bad.

With a couple of youngsters gambolling about the house I’m finding that I’m worrying more and more about what the future holds (or rather what it doesn’t hold). The world they may come to inherit may be far more constrained than ours ever was:

  • No more easy travel as oil prices have rocketed skyward. (Or rather have floated upwards like a hot air balloon as no-one can afford the fuel for rockets). People now have to work locally as no-one can afford to commute.

  • Food prices increased so much that we start receiving aid packages from Zimbabwe. Suddenly everybody has a vegetable plot in their back garden and those who paved over their gardens to park two extra cars and a gazebo are now desperately digging them up again in time for planting.

  • House prices dropped to new affordable lows but no-one can afford to hire the removal men to make a change of address worthwhile.

  • Everybody on crap wages that are taxed to death in order to pay for the mistakes of the suited buffoons whose irresponsibility with the nation’s money led to this recession in the first place.

  • Bruce Forsyth, now well over his first century, continues to fluff his jokes on Strictly Come Dancing and throw in the odd tap step to hide the fact that nobody is laughing.

I’d emigrate but there’s nowhere unaffected by this chaos to emigrate to.

Whatever happened to “the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades”?

Friday, October 10, 2008

First And Last

Tom was one yesterday and we cremated my aunt.

And that, for me, has to be one of this year’s most unexpected sentences.

It was a day (to use a football analogy for the first and last time in my life) of two halves:

The first was lovely – Tom’s first birthday, Tom’s first experience of being given gifts to open and the last time he will ever receive birthday gifts without at all knowing quite why he’s been showered with them and without any hope or expectation of what they might be. Next year I suspect he will be a little more knowing, a little more sussed, and while that is fine and lovely too (and I can’t wait to see it) there was something very special indeed at witnessing his surprise and wonderment at this, his very first birthday.

And to use an old cliché, my aunt made her final journey – a slow, respectful last drive through beautiful October sunshine to the crematorium where a mere 4 years ago we buried her mother / my Nan. Last words and the last committal from the vicar and it was done. They say that each time you go to a funeral you remember all the funerals you’ve ever attended and everyone you’ve ever lost.

Well, let me tell you, it’s perfectly true.

Due to the ghosts of old family rows and resentments, the occasion was tense. Emotions were high. There were dark undercurrents and groundswells that only a true occultist would have been able to read. But nothing overt. And thankfully the event passed without a hard look or a snide comment from anybody. All as it should be. What use family arguments now? What use recriminations? Time to remember. But also time to let go and move on. Everybody has to deal with their own trouble. It’s best to wish them well and deal with your own.

It was good to get back home again afterwards, to the kids, to my favourite place on the sofa, to the next round of presents. To a precious normality.

Little boys with blue plastic diggers... what could be more happier and more right?

Birthdays are precious things.

I aim to be grateful for every single one.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Whilst sitting pleasantly comatosed in front of the TV last night one of those shiny happy femininely positive fashion shows came on and neither Karen nor I had the gumption or the energy to reach for the remote. This particular one was called Twiggy’s Frock Swap and was basically just a televised version of that newest of trends to hit the UK’s Bingo halls and beauty parlours... the clothes swap party.

Premise: get a group of glamorous ladies of assorted ages and sizes together in a warehouse with cartloads of their old clothes and cast-offs and let them swap their clothes in a vaguely entertaining fashion conscious eco-friendly way. The clarion calls runs along the lines of: ladies of Britain recycle your clothes don’t bin them (or send them to starving children in Africa) – it’ll save you money if not wardrobe space!

It was slightly more interesting than the cushion whose soft woolly surface my face was half submerged into.

But while I listened to the glorious voice of Lauren Laverne wash over me like a warm Geordie breeze I had the thought: why don’t they make programmes like this for men?

And the answer hit me almost straight away.

Picture the scene: Gok Wan cakewalks around a group of Weatherspoon’s throw-outs in his high heeled diamante winkle pickers.

“C’mon guys let’s get swapping those g-strings and string vests! Woohoo!”

One shambolic hoody steps forward offering up a pair of torn and faded baggy-arsed Levi’s. “Er. Yeah. I got these to swap.”

Some nerdy looking sci-fi junkie steps hesitantly forward. “Yeah. Cool. Er... I’ll give you a couple of Playstation games for them if you want... Grand Theft Auto and Halo...” He shrugs noncommittally.

Hoody, nodding Noel Gallagher style: “Yeah nice one. Done mate.”

Goods are exchanged. Silence reigns. The men nod mutely among themselves and fidget uncomfortably before the camera.

In the background Gok tears out his hair in long thin oily strips and collapses sobbing to the floor – obviously overcome with the intensely broiling testosterone. The producers meanwhile tear up the series' contract and head out to the pub.

Blokes, you see, we’d just be too damned sensible to be entertaining.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Faces Come Out Of The Rain

I thought I was writing in a void.

Well, not so much a void – more of an airport waiting room where only people from other towns and other countries ever passed through. The people in my blog list for example. Maybe a few pieces of stray luggage passing by as they desperately try to locate their owners. My wife on occasion when I nag her to read through what I’ve composed...

But nobody else.

But it seems I was wrong.

It seems that some of the people that I work with are reading this here very blog. They are taking my hastily scrawled words or irreverence and discussing them over their sandwiches in the staffroom.

And how do I know this?

My boss told me this morning.

You know that crash you heard? That was the sound of my jaw smashing clean through my mug of hot chocolate and an MDF table top. I now have blood, chocolate and teeth on my shoes.

I confess I didn’t quite know what to say. What went through my mind was: “How dare people I know read my blog – it’s only meant for friends that I haven’t actually met.”

The other thought was: “Shit, what the hell have I written about my boss?”

I’m a lot calmer now though. As the day has progressed my keel has gradually evened itself. C’est la vie.

And as the sun sets on this (in)auspicious day, the questions now are slightly different:

Am I the unofficial spokesperson for a disenfranchised and World Wide Web friendly workforce? Am I the übermensch and spiritual leader of a new breed of chat-room based cyber terrorists? Or am I merely a source of local misinformation for my work colleagues and fellow council officers?

I suspect – alas – the latter.

Ho hum. Infamy, infamy, they’ve got it in for me... what is an erstwhile propagandist to do (except keep tapping away)?

One last question though before I sign off:

Can I now continue to write in as free and easy a manner (hey, I might make it look easy but...) as I have done these last three wonderfully unrestrained years now knowing that people I have daily contact with are possibly reading my cyber meanderings and offering up opinions on them as they go about their normal work duties?

It’s a toughie.

I hope the answer will be yes. I hope I will adhere to the writer’s motto of: “I write what I like”. I’ve always been (I hope) circumspect and careful. So really it should be business as usual.

But, I admit, I do feel rather...


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Heroes And Villains

Taking the view that trivia often offers a modicum of light relief during a rough patch I present the following:

I caught the first episode of “Volume 3” of Heroes last night...

It’s never bothered me before but for some reason the whole “Volume” thing suddenly irritated me. I know it’s a reference to comics and books blah blah blah but it just felt a bit smug and pretentious when, Tim Kring, the writer / director bod was discussing his creation during the behind the scenes documentary. “In this volume yadda yadda yadda...” “Yeah in this volume we up the pace to breakneck speeds...” “In this volume it’s all sex and drugs and rock and roll...” etc.

Maybe I was just in a belligerent mood but I just kept shouting in my mind “Series! It’s a series – not a volume! It’s a series!”

Hmm. Maybe I need to get out more? Maybe I’m just transferring my current frustrations onto a safe non threatening target? Who knows?

By the way, sadly that last quote above was made up by me and isn’t at all real.

But as for the episode itself...

Totally back on form in my opinion. Straight in and no messing. The storyline engaged with several fast moving strands from the off and didn’t slow down, no, not once. And it worked. Gone is the stodgy, soap opera dialogue. Gone are the lengthy scene set-ups. Gone are the slow interminable journeys. Instead we move straight to the explosive arrivals. Instead the viewer is credited with some intelligence and some previous knowledge of the show and the plot simply drop-kicks you off a cliff and expects you to make your own way down to the bottom without complaining.

And I’m not. Well apart from the “volume” thing.

The good news is that Sylar is back and twice as nasty.

The other good news is that the affecting double act of Hiro and Ando is re-established and thus supplies the show with both its humour and its soul.

The best news of all is that Nikki is back although she’s now called Tracey and made her debut in this volume (grrr!) dressed in a white basque and suspenders (grrrowl!).

Er... I have no idea why that should stick in my mind more than the much improved post production effects that littered this episode like torn up Bradford & Bingley employment contracts but it just did, ok?

And something bigger is at stake in the Heroes' world now. Something bigger than a nancy global plague. Something bigger and nastier than a petty little nuclear explosion in NY.

We’re talking the destruction of the entire globe itself.

Or at least that’s what the hints dropped in last night’s episode have led me to believe.

There’s a darker feel to the show in this series. The intriguing darkness that was there initially at the show’s inception and then somehow got lost between the end of the first series and the start of this third has made a spectacular return. It’s back and it’s in a killer mood.

And I for one am glad that it’s back. The darkness really works for me. Save the cheerleader? Nah! Corrupt her. Twist her. Entertain us!

Heroes as villains...

Tim Kring, my man, you just may have got me hooked once more.