Thursday, January 29, 2009

Proper Winters And Erin Gray

So is this a proper winter?

There’s been considerable debate in our house.

Well. Karen mentioned once that the temperatures this year have actually hit freezing a few times rather than just being “a bit chilly” and I grunted in reply that they still haven’t approximated anywhere near the arctic winters that I remember from my childhood.

But thinking about it I can only really recall one particularly arctic winter from the 18 or so that constituted my pre-adult life...

*(adopts West Country pirate-like accent for no good reason whatsoever)* Aar, it were the winter of ’82 and us young uns had to be carried through the mile high snow drifts like new born lambs in the arms of the bare-chested, ruddy nippled menfolk lest our poor shoeless feet should freeze solid like the last packet of rissoles at the bottom of the meat freezer at Iceland...

I think 1982 sticks in my mind because it was my very first year at Secondary school (the “big school”) and I had to tramp a mile or so there and back on foot which back then seemed akin to some poor African child walking 15 miles to fetch water from a bore hole and slay a gazelle or three on route, skin it and bring it home pre-butchered and ready for the village cooking pot.

Really I had no idea I was even born.

But the winter that year was genuinely very bad. A proper winter in every sense of the word. Snow that was several feet deep and lasted for weeks. Icy winds that froze ponds, streams, canals and rivers solid. Loads of days off school because either the boilers broke down or not enough staff / pupils made it into school to make a normal school day viable. And so bleak and grey outside that it seemed as if the sun had fizzled out completely like Jim Davidson’s telly career.

Going outside was frequently not an option that winter. I can recall in particular having to work hard to bend my parent’s arms to allow me to go for my usual Saturday morning walk to the papershop (we call them newsagents now) on a morning when the overnight snowfall had been extraordinarily heavy. Not going out that day was not an option for me. You see, every Saturday during this period I would religiously go to the papershop in the morning and hand over my hard saved cash – a piddling amount by today’s standards – to purchase a couple of packets of Buck Roger’s In The 25th Century sticker album stickers. I was very close to completing the album but the one sticker that I was most desperate to have and hadn’t yet acquired was the portrait of Colonel Wilma Deering that was to go on the very first page alongside Buck Rogers himself. My 12 year old self was very much taken with Colonel Wilma Deering – played by Erin Gray – and watching re-runs now it seems clear to me I must have had a thing about rather austere looking women with steely blue eyes and a slightly cold manner... though I will say she did look bloody fine in those tight jumpsuit things that they constantly crow-barred her into.

Crow-barred? I do hope not. I’d like to think that perhaps they oiled her up instead in order to facilitate her body’s smooth entry into that 1980’s smooth warm white Lycra... ahem. Oh yes. Where was I?

Well, this particular Saturday I finally got that much sought after sticker and it was fabulous. It was worth battling through snow drifts that were so high they swamped my wellies. It was worth enduring the biting cold that ate through my finger gloves like Kerry Katona eating her way through the last rissole at the bottom of the meat freezer at Iceland. It was worth the whole God damned ice blasted winter.

I still have the sticker album and no, it isn’t complete. I think once I got Wilma my incentive to buy the packets of stickers each week suffered a loss of impetus. I’d got what I wanted: Erin Gray in a tight blue futuristic zipper top smiling sardonically to camera. What a girl. Hard as steel but gorgeous enough to make the coldest of winter snows melt.

Which of course they did. Eventually. Leaving the world a rather grey, limp and drab place in its absence.


Now that folks was a proper winter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Will Be Done

I find myself in a weird position this week (no jokes about reading the Karma Sutra upside down again please). My aunt’s estate (the aunt who died back in September) is, I think, finally being sorted out on Friday. Certainly my mother has received a call from the solicitor to pay them a visit on this day to get things “finalised”.

Without going into personal and, frankly, uncomfortable detail the basic facts are these: the estate looks like being divided up between me and my two sisters as neither my mother nor my grandfather want a single penny of the money.

I feel rather ambivalent about the forthcoming “jackpot”.

On the one hand I won’t deny that the money – any amount really – would be a huge boost to Karen and me and could see us airlifted quite spectacularly out of the foaming waters of dire straits (as opposed to the foolish guitar licks of Dire Straits). It could see our debts cleared, the mortgage possibly lopped down to a more manageable size... maybe even a few improvements around the homestead and a holiday somewhere inland in the summer.

I have no idea of the amount coming our way and to be honest I haven’t felt comfortable enough to enquire... and yet, secretly, furtively, speculation has been running rife in the daydreamy part of my brain. I can’t help it.

If £££ I could do this and this and that. If... if... if...

I guess it’s only human nature and, after all, why not be grateful and just enjoy the breaks that life throws your way? Life isn’t routinely so generous... make the most of the opportunities, I say.

But it also feels distasteful. And disrespectful to my aunt’s memory. As if somehow she has been reduced down to some moderately impressive figure on the green screen of an ATM. Was this all she was good for? All this money and what good did it do her? Suddenly the £££ symbolizes a wasted life and opportunity after opportunity shunned out of fear and ignorance.

Maybe I’m just being oversensitive? It seems wrong somehow to benefit from death and yet, looking at it philosophically, somebody almost always benefits. That’s as much a part of life as... well, death, really.

Why, this time, shouldn’t it be and mine who find the golden ticket? When I think how hard Karen and I work and yet how little progress we seem to make financially... I think we bloody deserve it.

Ho hum.

I guess all I’m trying to do is convince myself that it’s ok to be pleased about what’s coming...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Post Rally

I was presented with an amazing document this morning. One of those documents that makes your head actually hurt with amazement and gives rise to the possibility that sheer disbelief could actually be fatal.

I can’t say too much about this document as – now that my blog has been “outed” (without my permission) at my place of work – I find that I’m officially bound to so many draconian security policies and secrecy clauses that your average Spook would get a hard-on just feeding the relevant files into the paper shredder.

Suffice it to say this document was a full and unexpurgated description of how to address an envelope properly. To make it efficient and cost effective and to ensure that it is indeed essential to the running of the corporate business machine because if it is none of these things it should not be allowed to infect the pristine arteries of the UK postal system which, as we all know, is the lifeblood of all business...

And it had a diagram – a graphic of such austere and precise geometry that it resembled Hitler’s plans to invade Poland – which showed the reader (should he be in any doubt) of the exact right way to lay out an envelope. I wish I could show it to you but I dare not lest the long knives come for me by night and present me with a well cratered wall and a blindfold.

The place for the stamp was clearly marked (the Royal Mail indicia zone). The place for the address was similarly indicated. The place for the company logo or as it shall henceforth be known “the indicia zone” was also carefully demarked (in battleship grey).

But there was more. Each zone was officiously stamped with a blood red letter of the alphabet which rather ingeniously married up with the same in an information key below the diagram which further expounded on the machine-like genius that underpinned this whole postal blitzkrieg.

But best of all the bare and empty no-man’s zone between all these other zones was also clearly illuminated. Illuminated no less by vicious cross hatching that practically goose-stepped across the page and brooked no protest or defiance. Achtung! Zis ist ver you shall not go, Englisher pig-dog! Ve require your utter und total surrender!

Even now I am desperately trying to furnish myself with a ruler, a set-square, a protractor, an octant and a micrometer in order that I may, from this day forth, correctly align any future envelope furniture in a manner most befitting of this New World Order.

That noise, dear reader, is the sound of my highly polished jackboots snapping together.

Next week I look forward to a missive from my Kommandant that will clearly prescribe the correct procedure for applying paperclips to multi-page documents and which precise setting to use on the corporate A4 hole-punch. My desk shall be tidy und laid out according to laser plumb line. Und my post-it notes shall be applied with an attention to detail und accuracy heretofore only usually located in the heady discipline of precision engineering.

Guten tag meine freunde! Ze new Europe has arrived.

Friday, January 23, 2009


What a momentous day this is. Ripe with glory and grandeur!

Forget Barrack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Forget the news that this is the first Official day of the UK recession.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my 400th blog post.

Yes. That’s right. 400!

Since this blog’s inception in late 2006 I have continuously and without mercy produced 400 blog posts of varying length and dubious quality, luxuriously peppered them with photographs slyly half-inched from the World Wide Web, and thrown them to you, the blog reading masses, as if they were high class crumbs from my overflowing banqueting table.

Such food for though has passed before your poor fatigued eyes! Subjects such as Nigella Lawson, politics, television, celebrity culture, music, Keeley Hawes, parenthood, Lego, work and even how to wash up a tea mug have all been righteously laid before you like the tenets of a new religion.

And how you have gorged yourselves, you lucky people!

No, no, please don’t bow or scrape, there really is no need.

But it has not all been bouquets and banners! Oh no! There were some – you know who you are – who thought this blog would never amount to anything. Thought it would die, bawling and howling in its infancy, a shrivelled negatively potentialled hybrid of overweening ambition and undergrasping ability. You thought I’d get bored within the first 6 months. You thought I’d get sidetracked by the flash-bang-wallop of hardcore internet porn and the gaudy lure of online Poker. You thought I’d be discovered by the Head of Writing at the BBC who would snap me up like the last green triangle in a tin of Quality Street and beg me, dry-humping my leg as the tears roll down his face, to co-write the next series of Doctor Who and officiate over the next batch of period dramas primed to emerge from the pen of Andrew Davies.... no, no, Steve, you must give up this blog writing malarkey immediately, Hollywood beckons for one such as you, don’t cast your pearls before swine, your seed onto barren ground (you must leave the internet porn alone)... you must step up to the plate, dear boy, scripts must be written, book deals signed, an e-book autobiography with Flash and interactive content must be penned (keyboarded)...

But I said “nay!” And lo I sayeth “nay!” again.

I am going nowhere. This blog shall not be moved. This blog shall stayeth forever. Yay e’en unto perpetuity and the electronic eternity (server functionality excepted). Have no fear that I shall desert you, dear reader. I shall turn my back on all offers of wealth, stardom, critical acclaim and cheap easy sex with breast heavy celebrities who present property shows on Channel 4. I shall keep the Bloggertropolis standard held aloft and rippling in the breeze and my mind purely on the blogging tasks at hand for now and for ever more.

No need to thank me. This is simply what I do. Be confident and assured. Rest easy, dear reader.

I am going nowhere.

Absolutely. Effing. Nowhere.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whiner Diner

Apologies to my international readers (oh what a thrill to be able to say that) who won’t have seen the relevant programme but I’m greatly enjoying “Big Chef Takes On Little Chef” at the moment.

I don’t usually go overboard on cooking / food TV shows (unless they feature Nigella Lawson’s oscillating bosom as she hand whisks a soufflĂ©) but this particular outing has reeled me in hook, line and sinker.

For those of you that don’t know, celebrity chef of international renown, Heston Blumenthal, has been engaged by the big boss of Little Chef to revitalize the company’s ailing fortunes by souping up (ahem) the old hackneyed menu and injecting a bit of dynamism into their geriatric “business model”.


Apparently, in its heyday, Little Chef was a motorway restaurant of world class reputation.


Yes. I was surprised by this revelation too as, even in my childhood, Little Chef was only ever viewed as a toilet stop of the very last resort on long motorway journeys rather than as a place in which the human body could be effectively nourished – and, to be honest, you had to be faced with some pretty scummy hedgerows and embankments to prefer the dubious environs of the Little Chef latrine to spraying the contents of your bladder over the passing wildlife.

But I digress. The Little Chef boss – a man both improbably vacant and impossibly conniving whose name I have deliberately forgotten (let’s just call him David Brent) – has drafted in Heston to “blue sky think” his company back onto the fast track to fame, fortune and Michelin starred glory. Mr Brent – let’s not think of him as a company director, more of a chilled food entertainer – wants pizzazz; he wants culinary extravaganza, he wants the wild, the wacky and the wonderful. He wants some of the “out there” experimentation that has put Heston’s own restaurant – The Fat Duck – onto the global map. And he wants it all for under £10 a head in a greasy motorway restaurant who’s kitchen equipment doesn’t extend beyond a griddle and a microwave and staff who have no idea how to operate a saucepan (“where’s the effing button to turn it on?”).

Mr Brent’s utopian vision of culinary excellence ran into one or two fundamental obstacles right from the start.

1) The “out there” experimentation at The Fat Duck costs punters approximately £250 a head (to quote an unabashed Heston) which is a little out of the price range of the average Little Chef punter...

2) Heston did what Mr Brent should have done, i.e. some real actual market research which quickly confirmed what was bleeding obvious to everybody from day one: Little Chef customers don’t want to be chowing down on snail porridge or beef hotpot with oysters floating around in it. They want the legendary Olympic Breakfast. They want ice cream that’s cheap and cheerful. They want fish fingers and chips that look like fish fingers and chips. And they want baked beans with everything.

Heston, to his credit, realized immediately that his normal fare would never be acceptable in the kind of establishment that Little Chef epitomizes and reined in his humungously large creative flare to come up with stuff that was far more suitable and appropriate, i.e. ideas that stood a chance of actually being implemented by the socially lobotomized staff on the front line.

Good ingredients, fresh and nutritious, cooked well and served fast. Shazam!

The basics of any successful restaurant business surely?

Mr Brent didn’t seem to get it though. He was disappointed with Heston’s ideas. In fact he rather insultingly told him that “any celebrity chef could have come up with such a menu”. Cheeky get.

I won’t go on. Suffice to say that it is surprisingly addictive viewing: Heston trying to maintain his integrity in the face of political manoeuvring behind closed doors (and frequently off-camera) and soldiering on in the slow-dawning knowledge that the Little Chef upper echelons are merely using him as a marketing ploy without any real commitment to re-branding their product. And Mr Brent’s constant media speak and blue sky malapropisms.

The show highlights where the problem lies with most ailing businesses these days. Forget the Credit Crunch, the fault lies in the fact that they are invariably run by sad little egotists who are accountable to nobody but their own shareholders and who are obstinately out of touch with what their customers really want.

It’s no wonder that so many of them are going to the dogs.

And I have to say, the hedgerows of the M40 are looking better by the minute...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hart For Art’s Sake

I’ve only got to think of Tony Hart and I hear the tones of a lovingly polished xylophone reverberating smokily within my mind. Similarly I’m also presented with the mental image of a rather debonair, slightly effeminate uncle type figure smiling above a well turned cravat, waving a chisel shaped marker pen around nonchalantly in the air. That same marker pen would then be directed, both carelessly and lovingly, around a humongous sheet of coloured paper, conjuring out of nowhere the fabulous outline of a ballet dancing elephant in swimming trunks.

Forget Paul Daniels and The Great Soprendo – this was magic for me as a kid.

Tony Hart had a quality that few kid’s presenters these days even know exists. Johnny Ball had it. Even, dare I say it, Keith Chegwin had it. A genuine enthusiasm for the TV task in hand – for having fun – for engaging with children and extracting as much positivity from them as possible. There was never anything patronizing about Tony Hart. His “Gallery” was just as likely to feature a finger-painting by a kid with ADHD as a work of genuine art by a child genius.

There was never any pressure with Tony, either. Art was fun, to be enjoyed. Just give it a go. It doesn’t matter if you mess it up. Each week he’d roll out ideas for creating art work out of the most basic of household detritus. Yogurt pots, newspaper, plastic bottles – all the things that any kid could lay their hands on without much effort. Art wasn’t an elitist activity. It was for everybody.

I can recall my A level art teacher being rather scathing of Tony’s credentials one lesson – his contempt no doubt had it roots in the way Tony had attempted to popularize art and make it accessible for the masses. This wouldn’t do at all. Art was for the brave, for the special, for the tortured and for the worthy.

Not for kids with bottle top glasses and snotty noses.

Sod that.

Tony died over the weekend. 83 years old. Not a bad innings as it goes. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it today has responded with genuine sadness. It really is like losing a favourite uncle. When I think of Tony Hart I think of Morph (in the pic above), that defiantly hackneyed cravat, glorious summer holidays and that all too brief very childish belief that I could do absolutely anything at all – provided, of course, it required the use of a sheet of a A4 paper and a Stabilo Boss marker pen.

Thank you, Tony. You were a true gent.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Staycation


I've been hearing this word a lot in the media recently and I suspect it's an occurrence that will only increase in volume as the chipperly named "Credit Crunch" continues to bite.

Basically people can no longer afford holidays abroad anymore. Even more basically people can no longer afford holidays in their own country anymore.

Bognor... Blackpool... Lyme Regis... Centre Parcs... Butlins...

All too damned pricey in this current climate, mate, and that's even before you've counted the cost of getting there, meals, ice creams every day for the kids, the odd spot of bungee jumping, the "penny" arcade, watching Roy Chubby Brown harrumphing his dead horse of an act across an unwashed, ply wood stage...

Much cheaper to stay at home. And more convenient. The kids can have the PlayStation: they're happy. Mum and dad can have a lie-in without the fear of having to mug up on the artefacts in the Museum / London Dungeon / Art Gallery that inevitably constitutes the compulsory "cultural" part of the holiday: they're happy. And the car doesn't break down on the hard shoulderless stretch of the M40: the AA are happy.

Nobody is really missing out on anything.

I must admit, Karen and I abandoned plans for a week away last August and instead pottered around the house, visited friends and tried to spend as little money as possible whilst extracting the most amount of fun from our time off together. I have to say I really enjoyed it.

Not that I've hated my holiday times in Wales, or Italy, or... er, the hundreds of other places that I've been to. But sometimes - let's be honest - holidays can be exhausting. How many of us have come back from a holiday so tired that strictly speaking we could do with another week off just to rest and recover?

So why not just have the week's rest? Why not have a week at home doing something that you rarely get a chance to do in life: enjoy being at home (without being "off sick")?

You could save more than just a few pennies. You could save your energy, cut down on stress and improve your health.

Now I realize I'm probably not doing my bit for the economy by discouraging people to spend their money and I'll be the first to admit I'm flicking my V's at the current batch of gormless Thomson's adverts that are doing the rounds on TV ("...go on, book a holiday with us, you're money is safe, honestly, we're not going to go bust...") but, much as I enjoy foreign travel (and I do), a staycation is just right up my street.

Quite literally.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Cock Tree

This newest of Leamington landmarks appeared, proud and ready erect, sometime in the run-up to Christmas.

One morning the tree was inoffensively asexual and passive and the next it was unmistakably male and “up for it”.

The worst thing about this most unimaginative bit of graffito is that it lies (stands?) smack bang in the middle of my route home from work and is absolutely unavoidable unless I take a detour of several hundred miles (a bit of an exaggeration) in order to avoid the accusing stare of it’s malicious helmet.

When you are on foot after an exhausting day at work such a detour is, quite frankly, unpalatable and so I inevitably run the gamut of the helmet and find myself tutting at it every single time.

Lord knows I’ve tried to see the funny side. I mean graffiti can be entertaining. Even educational when it’s produced by someone with a brain cell that can rub its shoulder up against another one.

Maybe there is some hidden pagan quality about this site that I am in complete ignorance of? Maybe it is a site of extraordinary virility like The Long Man of Wilmington? Scores of barren women come to this tree by night, drop their camisoles and sit praying meditatively for a patient and cold buttocked half hour on its gnarled and horny roots (steady!) in the hope that the old gods of the forest will make their wombs fruitful and overflowingly productive?

Maybe this graffito is an emblem of an all male secret society that I have patently not been invited to join that celebrates the leaping vitality of the male member in various (inevitably) homo-erotic rites that would, to quote Morrissey, make Caligula blush? They meet by night, swigging bottles of Diamond White and cans of Special Brew, and there by the light of the full moon they sing carousing songs of maleness, pledge allegiance to Old One Eye and prove their devotion to the cause by dropping their hoodies to reveal their... er... hoodies...

Sadly I suspect not.

Sadly I suspect the real story is that a rival gang from one of Leamington’s neighbouring towns – Warwick or Kenilworth perhaps – decided to make a foray into enemy territory late one night and tarnish the reputation of us resident Leamingtonians by implying, pictorially, that we are all great big nobs. Let’s face it, it could even be the handiwork of a disenchanted and disenfranchised local boy who, tired with his lot, tired with the fact that his own town refuses to see his celebrity potential and burgeoning star quality decided to hurl his overlooked artistry into the cold, uncaring faces of all those who lived and worked around him before hurling himself, aerosol can in hand, onto the train tracks at the back of Flavel’s factory, there to be squished under the locomotive wheels of the 9.25 to Dorridge.

This penis could be his final testament. His last will and willy to the world.

Oh who am I kidding?

It’s just no-good, scruffy, bored kids isn’t it? They’ve disfigured what was a very beautiful tree just for the sheer hell of it and I have to look at the damned thing every time I go home from here to sodding eternity and there is nothing that can be done about it – no cleaning agents that can remove it without damaging the tree, no way of eradicating the graffiti short of felling it’s living host. Curse them. Curse them and their amoral can of plebeian aerosol paint!

They’re great big cocks the lot of them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Shit Sandwich

The shit sandwich is a day where nothing goes right.

Actually that isn’t enough for a shit sandwich. It’s a day when everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And all the things that can go wrong delight in their wrongness at exactly the same time.

You get a deluge of wrongness.

If you’re feeling ill and have slept badly the night before that’s even better because then the shit sandwich becomes a club shit sandwich.

Extra big filling. With mayo. Ooh great. Just for me? How kind.

The club shit sandwich also has vicious peppercorns in it that lodge painfully between your teeth and gums like explosive grit. You carry the taste around with you all day. So much so that everything else you experience on that day also begins to taste like shit. It’s like the shit sandwich is spreading or... even worse... breeding.

And shit sandwich begat shit sandwich and its name was 12th January 2009...

The last thing you want to be doing when chowing down on a shit sandwich is gnashing your teeth but alas the Biblical allusions demand that this is done. So you gnash. And gnash. And it’s shit.

And it’s all yours.

Because people will share your lunch, your politics, your office stapler, your darkest secrets but nobody – nobody at all – will willingly share a shit sandwich with you. If you’re packing a shit sandwich you’re eating alone. It’s got your name all over it. Just your name. Just you.

Yes sirree. Sure looks good but if you don’t mind I’ll just stick with this here ham and lettuce... mm mm!

And you can’t blame them. You can’t blame them at all. Everybody gets a shit sandwich every now and then. It’s the way of the world. When it’s your turn to get a shit sandwich it isn’t a cup that can be passed on to someone else.

It’s bequeathed to you by life itself. You’ve just got to grit your teeth and make your way through it. Neck it down right to the last few flaky crumbs of the crust and hope that tomorrow it finds itself in someone else’s lunch box.

Because a shit sandwich isn’t like lightning. There’s no law that says it can’t strike in the same place twice...

There is after all such a thing as a double-decker shit sandwich...


Pray for me, people. Pray for me.

I’m really not sure I have the stomach for it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Happy New Year (Slight Return)

Not sure why this has stuck in my memory.

I guess being back at work for a week is a milestone of sorts and makes you look back at the Christmas interlude with fondness and see it as a thing entire to itself. An ideal and an idyll. A little island of warm safety in the midst of a cold sea. A mnemonic antidote to the cruel, cold, credit crunch period that is now lying ahead of us naked and war-like, without the consolation of Christmas to offset its callous advance.

Despite my natural curmudgeonliness Christmas was good. Despite Tom being ill on Christmas Eve... Despite Ben having an asthma attack on New Year’s Eve and having to be taken to the local hospital in the neighbour’s car as ours refused to start... And despite Tom getting an eye infection on New Year’s Day that made his left eye swell up like a golf ball...

Yes despite all this Christmas was good. Cool pressies. Decent TV. Lego. A fab array of new DVD’s to choose from. Fantastic food. Quality family time. And a 10 day break from work.

But what sticks in my mind most of all is a lone walk I made to Sainsbury’s on New Year’s Day to pick up a prescription for Ben. Sainsbury’s wouldn’t necessarily have been my destination of choice except that it was New Year’s Day and they were the only place open.

Nothing momentous happened. I didn’t experience an epiphany or see coloured lights in the sky or get invited to a party by a semi naked Keeley Hawes.

The last of the daylight was leaving the sky. There was a grey blue fog over the outskirts of Leamington and yet the sky above was clear enough to see the pale start of a few early stars. I took a shortcut over some wasteland in the middle of The Shires industrial estate. There was very little traffic. I was surrounded on all sides by the strangely quiet behemoths of warehouses and out of town distribution centres. All their lights off. The car parks empty. Their thin miles of wire fencing locked tight and secure.

All industry shutdown for the day. Everybody at home. Or disappeared completely. It was easy walking through that blue darkness to imagine myself the only person left in the world.

All of this will I give to you; just bow down and worship me...

And then into Sainsbury’s. A pleasantly muted shopping experience. Just a few hardcore purchasers searching out a few post Christmas bargains. Half empty aisles. The ghost of Christmas humming carols to itself over the tannoys. Cut price chocolates. Half price toys. I had a punt. Got New Year’s Day pressies for the kids and for Karen while I was there. Got something for myself too. Why not? Start the year with a treat.

Checked out. Paid for my goods. The world seemed normal and yet not normal. Quietened. It was nice. I found myself half wishing it could always be like this. The panic and fury gone from people. The rush and the haste eradicated.

And then back home across the wasteland. Getting annoyed every time the headlights of a passing car illumined the road and the hedgerows ahead of me as they spoiled the illusion that I was the last man left on the planet. An oddly reassuring fantasy as I knew that it just wasn’t true and there was a loving family and a warn fire waiting for me at the end of my journey.

And that was it really.

Writing it all down above I feel like I should have been moving the piece towards some sort of earth shattering denouement, shaping it, moulding it with some final revelation in mind. But there just wasn’t one.

There wasn’t one.

And I’m still not sure why it has stuck in my memory... but I’m very happy that it’s there.

I’ll carry it with me for a little while longer.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

To Grit Or Not To Grit?

Back in the good old days when men wore cloth caps, drank real ale by the cartload and went to bed in hobnailed slippers icy roads and footpaths were rarely the source of major moral dilemmas. They were certainly not problematic enough to put you off your woodbines.

I mean the solution is simple, in’t it? Yer just sling a bit o’grit or salt down and tell people to walk proper careful like... It’s bloody winter what do you expect?

And should passersby still go arse over tit in the slippy conditions well... it’s only a laugh in’t it? That’s just the way life is. And if you end up in th’ospital wi’ a broken ankle or two we’ll drink ter yer good ‘ealth in pub later... no ‘arm done, like.

All sounds very sensible and civilized to me.

But alas, the good old days are no more and instead we find ourselves mired neck-deep in the modern age of political correctness and litigious opportunism.

You see gritting the pathways these days is a can of worms or a hot potato that few are brave enough to handle and in dear old Leam (from which I hail) such moral dilemmas cause many a frilly knicker to be entwisted.

In the modern age it seems one (and by one I mean an individual or a corporation) can be successfully sued if one decides to grit an icy pavement but a passer-by still falls over upon it and splinters a rib or three on a frozen dog poo... whereas if you do nothing at all and they fall headlong into a storm drain and break their neck they can’t touch you for a single penny. You are not responsible.

Crazy but true.

And I have it on good authority that this bizarre state of affairs is just as applicable to home gritting / salting. If you grit your pathway and your friendly neighbourhood postman cracks open his knackers in a spectacular pratfall that sees a recorded delivery parcel inserted somewhere tight and moist he can sue your ass to kingdom come. But if you leave the pathway as nature intended and he still anally ingests your brown paper wrapped package from Holland well it’s just tough titty cos he can’t touch you for a rusty farthing.

As true as I’m sitting here at the foot of our stairs.

Now, am I the only person in this country to think that such a selfish, mealy mouthed, spiritually impoverished outlook is a national disgrace? Indeed, is it a national disgrace or is such jobsworthy (mis)conduct just a local (in)delicacy confined to the ice-covered streets of Leamington Spa?

Surely as a nation we are better than this? Surely to do something is always better than doing nothing? Don’t we have a responsibility to each other as well as to ourselves? Isn’t there such a thing as a communal duty of care?

Do we really want to see Mrs Scoggins from number 73 cracking her spine in half performing an ice skating move worthy of Torvill and Dean in their heyday as she takes a walk to the local post office to buy a second class stamp?

Ladies and gentlemen, your thoughts please.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Go To Hell

ITV do bad sci-fi.

This wasn't always the case. I have very fond memories of Sapphire & Steel as a kid but I'll be the first to admit that my powers of discernment were a little erratic when I was 10 years old (I also rated Chorlton & The Wheelies among my favourite shows).

But in later years ITV has consistently failed to produce / buy-in a decent sci-fi show. God knows they've tried. For example, in recent years we've had the God-awful Primeval. That show tried so hard to attain the level of "sci-fi cool" it was too painful to watch.

And now - broadcasting for the first time last night - we have Demons.

I'm sad to say that it suffers from the same malaise as Primeval. Stilted, amateurish scripts, transparent plotlines, sketchy characterization and a too heavy reliance on CGI effects and rubber latex (as in face make-up rather than anything kinky in the bedroom - alas).

It's a pity. It has some winning ingredients: Philip Glenister; that sexy doc girlie from Survivors (Zoe Tapper). And, er, that's about it.

But really that should be enough. Glenister is just cool per se. He holds the screen like a Hadron Collider magnet. And Tapper just oozes a rampant snoggability that promises to set the screen alight.

So why doesn't it work?

It doesn't work because the writer's at ITV are plainly clueless in the art of using an asset to its full potential. They lumber Glenister with a "rilly stoopid" American accent. Glenister is a fine actor but he ain't no Chicago street punk. And for some reason they've decided that Tapper's character should be blind - which means most of her dark, smouldering looks are directed at various inanimate objects such as vases, pillars and Ikea bookcases. What an effing waste!

But worse still is the sad, creatively bankrupt adherence to a sci-fi formula that ITV have yet to realize doesn't work: young pretty boy in the male lead and young pretty girl as his counterpart (and "will-they-won't-they" love interest). The trouble with pretty young-things (especially when they're virtually unknown) is that it is damned hard to care a gold-plated fart about them. I spent much of the show hoping they'd both get dragged down to Hell and demoned up like Pinhead from Hellraiser.

Alas it was not to be.

The entire episode felt like it was a first draft (or an idea from one of those annoyingly funny Orange cinema adverts)... It was clumsy. It was cynical. It just doesn't work.

The BBC are far more subtle in their approach to sci-fi drama. Whatever misgivings one may have about Doctor Who or Torchwood I have to admit that they're casting has been consistently good and they're not afraid to cast against type and allow actors to surprise us with their range. ITV, however, consistently play it safe and what we get is a wishy-washy, story-by-numbers, spooky horror story that is kid friendly but hopelessly mediocre if you're an adult.

And as for the demons... geez, they're not scary at all. They're grotesque, yes, but in a comical Carnivalesque sense. There's no sense of unholiness or otherworldliness about them. I like my demons to be genuinely unsettling - think Clive Barker or Aleister Crowley. Not people daubed in weird latex and plastic that appears to have been transported through time from the 1970's.

Which brings me back to Sapphire & Steel.

Was it really any good? Or have ITV always sucked at sci-fi?

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Completely off topic this (in that this post is going to make scanty reference to it being the first day of 2009 and all that "New Year Resolution" kind of jazz)...

Whilst sitting monged in front of the telly during this festive holiday I recall hearing some news that both filled me with despair and inspiration. Well, inspiration of sorts.

Apparently Davina McCall has been quoted as saying that she believes that Big Brother can "run and run and run". I.e. Forever. For perpetuity. Until the End Of Time.

Naturally, being the presenter of the UK version of the show this is more than likely Davina's most fervent wish but my first reaction was "Oh God, is this nation never going to grow up and move away from reality TV smut and tawdriness? Are we forever going to be obsessed with the psychological ingrowing toenails of dysfunctional people who plainly do not know any better?"

Reality TV is the dark stain on the modern psyche. Some people are honest and just admit that they love it. Other people - people like me - profess to hate, loathe and despise it and yet eventually get sucked in. Even if only for a little bit.

It's impossible to ignore. The media goes wild for it. It's on the news, in the papers and, most insidious of all, in the workplace.

With a new series of Celebrity Big Brother about to hit the small screen I just know that the sole topic of conversation at work for the next month or so will be the luridly ridiculous shenanigans of the new series of CBB.

And although I'll resist at first eventually I will succumb and plunge into the whole tawdry circus because I will want to have an opinion.

And that, folks, is how it gets the likes of you and me.

Because suddenly we care. We care even though in three month's time we know that we won't care at all.

So I've come to the startling conclusion that Davina (God bless her) is right. Big Brother will run and run. We'll never be free of it. It's become as essential a component of modern living as the mobile phone. It's the norm. Like Christmas in fact. They'll soon start publishing the broadcast dates of future BB series on retail calendars that we can buy in the shops. There'll be Bank Holidays planned around it.

So if we're going to be stuck with it I've decided to throw my hat into the ring and offer some BB themed suggestions to any programme producers out there who might be reading this post this morning and are willing to take a punt or two in terms of hard ready cash to see them "realized" on TV.

1) I'd like to see a politician special. Just politicians. From all parties. But rather than having them cut off from the outside world I'd like them to be hardwired / bluetoothed to the outside world. I'd like them to continue working. I'd like them to continue working in an environment so transparent that not only can their opposing party counterparts see what they get up to but so can we. Now that would be a social experiment worth conducting surely?
Too dry? Too heavy? Try this...

2) How about all the presenters of CBeebies doing a CBB (CBeebiesCBB?) special? Chris Jarvis, Pui Fan Lee, Andy Day, Sidney Sloane all locked into the house with Mr Tumble for 3 agonizing months... Think of it. They're so pure and seemingly innocent when they're singing songs on Kid's Telly and putting their teddies to bed in the CBeebies studio every evening... but what and who will get put to bed after they've been holed up in the CBB house together for months on end? Will Pui wear her Tellytubbies costume and drive Mr Tumble wild with desire? (Eh oh?!) Will Chris Jarvis wear her cast-offs and fess up about his exact location on the nation's communal gaydar? Can they all really be that cheerful and chipper all of the time? We need to know!
Hmm. Too sleazy, perhaps? Too sick?

OK. A final punt then:

3) We dig up all of the long dead comedians and great entertainers of yesteryear - Eric Morecambe, Leonard Rossiter, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard, et al - and place their corrupting cadavers (or little urns - geddit?) in front of the cameras for 3 months and watch a show that will undoubtedly prove to be far more entertaining and edifying than the sad batch of Z list celeb wannabes that Channel 4 has currently got lined up for the new series of CBB this year.

I'm done.

I rest my case.

Oh and did I mention...? Happy New Year to you all!