Friday, May 29, 2009

Robotic Bin Men

According to a News24 news item this morning boffins in Italy have developed a robotic rubbish collector.

Customers can send a text message to the robot when they leave out their bin bags and then he/she/it will happily trundle along, scoop up their bin bags and take them to the appropriate trash sorting centre. It sounds great. Bin men on demand. No more rubbish lying around rotting for days on end while we wait for the bin men to finally get round to performing their weekly pick up. One text and you get instant service.

Presumably as many times a day as you need it.

Of course for it to work in the UK there are certain modifications that would have to be made and certain social problems that would have to be overcome.

You just know that the poor little robot would end up mercilessly tagged with graffiti as it went about its business or, worst case scenario, hoofed into the nearest river or dropped off a railway bridge to be neatly (trash) compacted by the 9.25 to Birmingham Moor Street.

So security for the Brit version would have to be beefed up. Armour of some kind. Anti tamper mechanisms. Anti graffiti paint. Smoke canisters and rubber bullets fired out of its electronic anus. A direct line to the ASBO department of the local constabulary. Possibly a random selection of Gene Hunt quotes broadcast through an on-board amplifier to deter potential attackers.

“You’re making as much progress as a spastic in a magnet factory...”

"You look as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot...”

"You so much as belch out of line and I'll have your scrotum on a barbed wire plate..."

That sort of thing.

As for modifying its behaviour to fit in with British bin man culture, this should be easy enough to do.

It would need to be reprogrammed to be as untidy as possible – to spill litter everywhere and not bother to return your bin properly. Instead it could dump your bin in another street entirely so you can play “hunt the bin” for a couple of hours to get it back.

It would have to sing as loudly as possible in a voice so atonal it makes Piers Morgan sound like Frank Sinatra. Something by Brittany Spears. Only with alternative lyrics – rhymes that would make a rugby player blush. And all songs must be sung between 8.30 and 9.00 in the morning so every school kid in the land can receive a true education in uncouthness and vulgarity.

Finally of course the bin bot must be programmed to sift through your rubbish in search of old porno mags and rogue copies of The Sunday Sport that it can wave about in the street and call to its robotic colleagues about.

“Blimey, look at the trash compactor on ‘er...”

“Cor, I wouldn’t mind land-filling that one...”

Etc. Etc.

Yeah. Then it would fit right in. Perfect integration. Nobody would even notice any difference.

See, I should have been a scientist, me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Lynx Effect

I’d like to invite you all into my shower with me, if I may?

Picture the scene. I’m there half blinded by hot water. I reach for the bottle of shower gel. Although it’s my usual brand – Lynx – it’s not my usual flavour. Not one I would have normally bought.

Because Karen and I do our weekly shop online we occasionally get what is known as “substitutions”. When the products we have selected are unavailable in the store our personal packer will substitute it for a close (living) relative or a slightly different product of a similar type.

Such was the case with my shower gel. Tesco had run out of Africa (now there’s a great newspaper headline) and had supplied me instead with Fever.

OK. I’m soaking wet by now (steady ladies) and basically fully committed to the full-on shower experience.

I open up Fever and begin to apply it liberally.

I halt mid application.

It’s got bits in it. Bits of grit.

This is not enjoyable. My shower experience is compromised.

Now I know some kind of abrasive effect is scientifically proven to get a body cleaner. I know that sugar water is supposed to be great at removing tough ground-in stains from human skin. I know there are products you can buy with the equivalent of broken bits of glass in them to help you remove stubborn oil stains from the palms of your hands.

This is great for mechanics, miners and oil rig workers. They need a hard man ablution experience. I wouldn’t argue with that at all.

But I’m just a regular guy taking a regular shower.

And like most regular guys taking a regular shower the shower experience for me is purely functional. Privates and underarm areas are a priority and then I cover as much of the rest of me as I can with soap and rinse it off. Straight in straight out. No messing.

I really don’t want or need a shower gel that exfoliates as it washes. I don’t want or need to remove dead skin from my legs to make them look silky smooth (especially when I have the Forest of Dean growing on them). I don’t want or need to have the skin on my chest glowing with that freshly scraped and grazed feeling.

What metrosexual idiot came up with shower gel for men with bits in it?

What man on this planet enjoys having his pubes and pits infested with bits of soapy grit?

Answer anyone?

Er... reading back over this post... did I supply way too much information?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Au Naturale

Whilst looking for some nice pics of Jasmine Harman for my previous post (a very pleasant way to spend ten minutes) I came across this on-line "news" item – forgive the inverted commas but it is the News Of The World Magazine after all.

It seems Jasmine was given the opportunity to have a Photoshop makeover.

She gave a body beautiful wish-list to some computer graphics geek and - hey presto - he airbrushed and pixel-tweaked a picture of Jasmine to her own vision of perfection. The result can be seen above.

What is interesting about this "experiment" (‘cos it’s not just an excuse to publish a picture of a pretty woman in a bikini, no sirree, absolutely not) is that Jasmine didn’t like the results. She didn't like the perfect version of herself at all but preferred herself as she really is.

How refreshing, because I have to say that so do I. And for the same reasons that Jasmine cites. The perfect version looks unreal. Unnatural.

Now maybe this is just because the graphic artist was piss-poor at his job and his eye for (so called) perfection was as canted as most teenagers who only get to see a woman’s naked body when it has a couple of staples running through the navel or when it’s badly pixellated on porntube.

Or maybe some of us more enlightened folk just prefer the real deal?

There is after all something adolescent and immature about what constitutes (in men’s eyes at least) the “perfect” female body. Pneumatic breasts with nipples that forever point upwards no matter where gravity is pulling them. Washboard stomach as taut as a drum-skin. Thighs as smooth as fleshly applied plaster (by a professional obviously).

Women with those attributes only exist in top shelf magazines and the fashion glossies.

Literally. We all know they’ve been as airbrushed as Jasmine’s picture above (just more insidiously).

They don’t actually exist in the real world.

Such injudicious tweaking gives people – men and women – false expectations of themselves and each other. Well, this is hardly news.

But sadly we now live in a world where even the most outlandish expectation can be met if you have enough wonga to pay for it.

Which got me thinking. How many people who have plastic surgery to marry themselves up to some flawed idea of perfection end up secretly hating the result once the surgery and the healing process is over? Or wishing they could revert back to how they were before?

It’s a very expensive mistake to make. I bet Jasmine is pleased she merely went under a virtual knife than a real one.

As am I. I moved away from the airbrushed woman (homo-airbrushus) in my late teens early twenties. A real woman is always far more attractive and far sexier in my opinion – and yes that includes cellulite and boob-droop and a wobbly belly.

I just hope that all the women that sigh over chesty pin-ups like Daniel Craig and George Clooney secretly feel the same way about us men. Because believe you me, none of us are physically perfect either.

The airbrush doesn’t give a damn about gender… it just wants to sell a little more copy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Mormon Invasion

So we'd made it to Friday evening. The kids were in bed. The washing up had been done. All the chores were out of the way.

It was Quality Time at last. Curled up on the sofa. Big bar of choc. Jasmine Harman on TV shaking her impressive decolletage over various locations in the South of France.

And naturally the doorbell rings.

Cold callers.

Pains in the effing A.

I did the net curtain twitch and took a quick deco.

Two young guys. White shirts. One in a blazer. Both with neat little back-packs hung from their broad shoulders like turtle shells. Even before I'd heard the American accent I knew they were Mormons.

Here to spread to Word of God and save me from myself.

Well sorry. I was too tired to be saved so I ignored the doorbell.

It went again. A second time.

OK. OK. They were being persisent. But in my house that doesn't always pay. I was more determined than ever to ignore them.

Doorbell chimed for a third time.


(Though I kept my voice down when I said that.)

When are these guys going to get the message? Tom was asleep in bed and I really didn't want him woken up by two well-meaning God-botherers. I resolved that if they tried a fourth time I was going to march out there and give them a piece of my mind.

Then we heard a strange jangling sound. The sound of keys being pushed through our letterbox. The Mormons then headed over to next-door's house.

I went into the hall to investigate.

Sure enough, there was a bunch of keys lying on the mat. Not the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven I might add but our own house keys. Seems Karen had accidentally left them in the front door keyhole when she'd arrived home an hour or two earlier.

Boy did I feel guilty.

I'd been mentally slagging off these pure-hearts in my head and then they go and save me and my family from burglary and God knows what else.

Shame on me.

Thank God I hadn't answered the door though. I'd have felt even worse if, mid slag-off, they'd handed me the keys personally with a cheery, "There you go, sir." Their halos would have blinded me. I would have had to listen to them then. My guilt would have had me honour-bound to repay their kindness by listening to a sermon or two and maybe even admitting to the fact that I do own at least one Osmond record (admittedly it's "Crazy Horses", the one they released when they were desperately trying to raunch themselves up to increase falling record sales). I know how guilt makes me behave. I may even have invited them inside and offered them a cup of tea and a biscuit whilst chastely switching Jasmine off in favour of the The Chelsea Flower Show.

But thinking about it some more... maybe the way it happened was the right way?

I mean, I suffer a little post-irritation guilt and learn a lesson or two about the kindness of strangers... and they continue on their rounds taking pride in the fact that they've perfomed a Godly act of kindness in the face of total heathen ignorance.

Everybody's happy.

Isn't that how religion is supposed to work...?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dr Evil

Yes folks, it has been confirmed.

I am Dr Evil.

I am the one who dispenses negative vibes and foul atmospheres upon the ones who are incautious enough to cross me.

How do I know this?

My eldest boy has just told me (at approximately 09.00 hours) that I have given him a bad day as he stomped into school with a face like a stone mason’s elbow.


On a day when he was already weighed down with coat, sports kit, lunch bag and school bag he also wanted to take in to school the biggest A4 folder of Yu-Gi-Oh cards that the world has ever seen. He could barely get himself out the front door let alone all the way to school.

So I vetoed the cards. They were staying home.

Cue a 10 minute tantrum in front of a work colleague who is giving us all a lift to school this week (Karen is in Birmingham every day taking an accountancy revision course) which made us all late.

And when I say tantrum, I mean TANTRUM.

The kind of tantrum that Godzilla used to throw over Tokyo in the seventies that saw buildings levelled and bridges bounced into the ocean.

However I didn’t back down and Godzilla had to settle for stomping his way across a playground full of oblivious school kids who were all intent on making the most of their pre-school playtime by having a good time. I told Ben the power to have a good day or a bad day was still in his hands and his choice to make.

That’s when I got the “you’ve already given me a bad day” line.

All my fault, you see.


I haven’t talked about this before as I wasn’t too sure how I felt about it but the school thinks Ben might be borderline – and they are stressing words like “borderline” and “mildly” – aspergers.

I guess this would explain some of his behaviour – his ability to become totally fixated on something that interests him to the point where he cannot stop talking about it and his total inability to cope emotionally with any kind of change to his daily routine.

And Karen and I are grateful to the school for being relatively quick on the ball and so openly proactive about it. They’re going to organize some tests to try and confirm their suspicions.

But to be honest I feel ambivalent about any kind of potential diagnosis.

If it is aspergers then I suppose it means we can use well honed coping strategies to (a) cope with it ourselves and (b) teach Ben to cope with it so that he can go on to have a successful life (as indeed do many people with full blown aspergers). But it also means he’s picked up a label that we’d rather he didn’t have. An inevitably weighty label that could wear him down if he’s not strong enough to carry it.

Or if it’s confirmed that it isn’t aspergers then – whoop-de-doo – he’s, to all intents and purposes, “normal” but has a genuinely frightening temper and a large streak of unreasonableness that could hold him back from any kind of future success if he doesn’t learn to control it.

*Sigh* yet again.

I’m trying not to dwell on the negatives but after an exhausting morning like this one it’s damned difficult because now I’ve been given a thoroughly bad day too.

Which makes me think that Ben’s behaviour isn’t that abnormal after all and maybe we’re all on the aspergers spectrum to some degree without always being aware of it...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Disaster Management

Following on from my Pushchair Paranoia post back in March you might like to know that my anxieties have moved up a notch, Condition orange has over night become condition red (and yes, Red Dwarf fans, this has meant changing the bulb).

Suddenly I’m finding myself imagining the wildest of disaster scenarios and speculating on what would be the best way of dealing with them in order to ensure (first and foremost) the survival of my kids and (ideally) myself as well if I can manage it.

Take a recent bus journey to school that I undertook with my boys. What if a stricken Boeing 747 (engine failure perhaps or terrorist attack or even a dipsomaniac pilot at the wheel) suddenly dropped out of the sky, wings aflame, and smashed to earth just a few blocks away from where the bus was waiting at a red light? What would I do?

I decided I’d have to yell to the eldest, Ben, to kneel face down on the floor, close his eyes and cover his ears thus protecting his eyes from the shattering glass and his ears from the noise as I leap across Tom in his pushchair and put my own hands over his ears to facilitate the same. I’d just have to hope that my own eardrums could take the noise of the impact.

Yeah. That would work. Job done.

On a recent jaunt around town with my family I found myself wondering what would we’d do if an insane sniper had holed himself up in the Parish Church clock tower and was taking pot-shots at the good people of Leamington Spa as they went about their daily bread. How would we get home safely? I found myself triangulating the sniper’s field of vision and plotting alternative routes to get us out of the danger zone and home safely whilst allowing for the fact that Tom was in a pushchair and Ben is mildly asthmatic.

I was pretty inventive too. My safe route involved utilizing the backdoor of a couple of shops and using the local topography to afford us effective cover and continually keep us out of the sniper’s vengeful sights for the duration of the journey home.

I ought to be employed by the MoD.

But this isn’t really normal, is it?

Do I have a problem, do you think? Why is my mind pushing such outlandish disaster fantasies to the forefront of my brain when I could just as easily be ruminating on Keeley Hawes’ cup size? I mean it’s not like I don’t have other more salient issues to worry about at the moment.

Do I need help?

Or am I just following the Boy Scout’s admirable code of always being prepared?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Black Stuff

I nearly didn’t write this post. Three times I opened up Word only to close it down again immediately. You see, I don’t want this blog to become a teeth-gnashing mire of whinges about not having enough money or moans about having fallen onto the rib smashing rocks of hard times.

It gets boring.

Boring to write about. Boring, I’m sure, to read about plus...

I feel uneasy that all I’m doing is cynically provoking the sympathy of people who are also going through their own hard times right now.

Plus, unusually for me, I was feeling uncharacteristically reticent about committing any of what I felt to electronic “paper” this morning. The inspiration was nowhere to be found. It hadn’t so much stuck its head in the sand as flushed its head down the toilet.

But hey-ho. Here we are. It’s resurfaced again and the Word document stayed open this time. It must like life in the sewer.

What can I say? Times are getting desperate.

I continue to look for a second job but the pickings are slim. My web business likewise has hit lean times so I’m thinking of putting some of the kind suggestions people made last time I moaned about all this into action.

I'm applying for a new full-time job with the local authority I already work for - Building Surveyor - but I don't think I stand much of a chance. I'd need to be trained and sent on an appropriate degree course to become properly qualified but stranger things have happened...

Karen and I are going to see what we can do about debt consolidation to try and give ourselves some more breathing space.

I’m considering asking my granddad for a loan until the money from my aunt’s estate finally gets paid out (it’s all still tied up at the solicitors who, no doubt, are going to The Ritz every week on the interest). He’d be absolutely delighted to help out but morally I’d feel a real heel for asking.

So there are rescue packages of various sizes around if we need them. Rubber rings to cling onto. The sounds of oars in the water as a lifeboat somewhere is rowed towards to us... I can blow the whistle to alert rescuers to my presence anytime I want to.

But it’s hateful having to rely on it.

I’d much rather be piloting my ship off the rocks under my own steam...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trouser Arouser?

I must admit to being a little nonplussed by the new Subway advert that has hit UK television recently.

It features a young man walking down the High Street, minding his own business when, passing by a Subway “restaurant”, something rather bulbous and bulging erupts upwards out of his trousers and drags him closer to the Subway establishment like a magnet attracting a poker.

I confess I had to do a double take.

Turns out this animated trouser monster wasn’t his Geronimo at all but in fact his trouser pocket turned inside out and exposed to the air in its eagerness to drag the trouser wearer into the Subway premises.

See, such is the excellent value of their wares your own pockets will apparently beg, push and cajole you into spending some of your hard earnt moolah on one of their Meatball Marinara Subs.

Yeah right.

Surely the ad producers must have clocked that the poor guy merely looks like he is getting a great stonking erection at the thought of wrapping his tongue around a Subway Chicken & Bacon batch?

Well of course they did. Sex sells after all.

But I can’t think of anything less sexy than a Subway “restaurant”. It just doesn’t appeal. And mixing their corporate image with bulging erections just turns me off even more.


Hold the mayo?

You’re damned right.

I think I’ll just stick with my usual fish supper...



Friday, May 08, 2009


Apologies for those of you expecting an exposé on spontaneous group-based car parking activities but this post is about dogging of the canine variety.

The house two doors up from us has a rottweiler. It’s a beautiful animal. Sadly it’s not being well looked after and hasn’t to my knowledge been properly trained. It’s left outside most days and most nights, is fed irregularly and is dangerously neglected. It frequently escapes over the fence and then rampages through as many gardens as it can gain access to... which given its size and brute strength is most of them along our street.

Wednesday evening and again yesterday morning the animal ended up in our garden.

Now I’m not afraid of dogs. I’d even go as far as to say they are my favoured pet of choice. I’d happily approach most dogs and feel confident about doing so.

Not this dog. It roamed around our garden spoiling for a confrontation. Tail between its legs, it was agitated and clearly highly strung. I was glad to be inside with the kids safely in bed. After a few minutes of pacing up and down it forced its way through the hedge at the top of our garden and disappeared into someone else’s garden.

Obviously Karen and I are terrified for our children. Tom especially loves playing in the garden and at 18 months old loves nothing better than toddling about and investigating the world around him. Our immediate neighbours have two older boys and a 9 month old baby who they like to sit with in their garden. They too are just as scared.

Because this is not the first time this has happened. It’s happened numerous times before.

The dog has caused damage to fences in its passion to escape and has trashed the garden toys belonging to our neighbours. It is only a matter of time before it encounters a child playing in a garden.

I’m determined not to let that happen.

I rang the dog warden and as soon as I gave the address of the dog owner they admitted this address was already known to them. People have complained in the past. This is both comforting and worrying. Comforting because we are plainly not alone in our concern but worrying that this has been going on for some time and yet nothing concrete has been done to prevent it reoccurring.

The dog warden paid the household in question a visit yesterday and was fobbed off – the owner’s had split up; the husband was “somewhere unknown” and the wife was in Coventry for the week and would be returning Friday. In the meantime the dog was being cared for by a family friend.

This is utter rubbish. The wife has been seen in the house every day this week.

The dog warden spoke to me and though he said he’d do all he could to help he gave the impression that he wasn’t very hopeful. The owners have received warning letters in the past but have ignored them. And the local authority (for which we both work) was, in his opinion, reluctant to take stronger action.

Until something major happens.

He didn’t actually say this but the inference was simple to make.

Again I’m determined not to let that happen. It’s a beautiful dog but I have a beautiful 18 month old son and I’d prefer to keep him that way.

Karen and I are planning to have a new fence put around our garden – it’s something we’ve been planning to do for months now, mostly for privacy but now the onus is on security – but right now we just can’t afford to do it. The money isn’t there. It’s galling to think our children’s safety is dependent on our financial elasticity but that’s the reality.

The warden was sympathetic. It’s not up to us to keep the dog out. It’s up to the dog owner to keep the dog in.

Legally that’s fine and dandy but it’s painfully obvious to me that the dog’s owners just don’t give a mad Chihuahua’s arse for the law and my beloved local authority is content to lie like a sleeping dog...

So. No real resolution. The warden is returning to the house today and is going to let me know the outcome. I expect it’ll be nothing more than a slapped wrist but he may yet prove me wrong. In the meantime Karen and I have to either deny our kids the right to play in their own garden or watch them like a hawk ready to intervene should an unpredictable animal more than twice their size come rampaging through the garden fence...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

First Hurt

Tom burnt his hand on Saturday. Thankfully not badly but enough to raise some nasty blisters on his fingertips.

I suppose like a lot of toddlers he has an innate fascination with the kitchen – that strange, mostly adult place where food magically appears and noisy white machines go about their daily business.

We’ve tried to instill some safety awareness in him by showing him things and telling him “Ow! Hot!” and by and large this has worked a treat. He gives cups of tea wide berths and no longer attempts to conceal toys in the washing machine.

The oven however has long been a sticking point and Tom is now at that age (18 months) when being steered / chased away from certain objects seems a fun game of defiance. So it was only a matter of time before, adult eyes turned away literally for a split second, he’d sneak up on the damned thing and press his palms to the hot grill door.

The poor thing didn’t half cry and I had to remove his hand from the oven for him. Not because it was stuck – thankfully the oven wasn’t that hot – but because I don’t think he’d quite connected the pain with where he’d placed his hand. It didn’t occur to him to pull it away.

Of course Karen and I feel awful. Me especially as he’d snuck under my radar while my attention was elsewhere. But as parents you feel worst most of all because all the hugs and kisses in the world can’t make that kind of pain go away.

He howled for a good hour. He was obviously deeply shocked. Certainly by the degree of pain but also, I suspect, by the realization that the world can hurt him. Something that I don’t think had occurred to him before. It’s like a loss of innocence I suppose. The world isn’t just full of fun and wonder. It also harbours bad things.

Within a short space of time the blisters came up. A large one on his thumb and a couple of his fingertips. He doesn’t seem to be too bothered by them. I guess they’re doing their job and helping to protect / heal his skin. There won’t be any permanent scarring.

But Sunday, rather than try and play a game of tig with the oven he went of his own volition and sat in his chair in the living room and waited for his dinner to be served well out of harm’s way...

Another one of life’s lessons, I guess: all injuries come with steep learning curves.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


No, I didn't spend Friday battling the evil forces of Voltan (aka The Dark One) alongside an elf and a giant bearing an uncanny resemblance to Bernard Bresslaw (on account of it really being Bernard Bresslaw) but instead spent it at Batsford, a little village just outside Moreton-in-the-Marsh, which features an arboretum and a falconry centre.

I've long had a passing interest in birds (cut the jokes please, I can see them coming a mile off), particularly raptors and after a visit there with the family last July my interest was duly noted by my wonderful wife, Karen. And later, while my back was turned (buying chocolate no doubt from the falconry shop), she secretly enrolled me on an "introduction to falconry" course for my birthday.

That glorious birthday occurred in August and it's taken us this long to finally confirm a date and actually get to grips with the raptors. We endured a couple of aborted attempts in the intervening months when we had to pull out at the eleventh hour due to the kids being ill (How do they know? How is their timing so spot on?) but it was a case of third time lucky.

The weather dawned dry and fair and the kids weren't at all consumptive... so off to school and nursery they went and Karen and I scooted off to Batsford to finally cash in my falconry voucher.

It was marvellous. As you will see from the photos below I got up close and personal with a number of birds - a kestrel, a falcon, a hawk, an owl and an eagle of foreign extraction who's exact geographical name I can't remember because I was so blown away by the whole experience.

There's something very calming about being so close to a bird - especially such large ones. I think on some level you calm yourself so as not to agitate the bird and then benefit yourself from the resultant avian zen-like state. I'm almost considering starting a new religion. The Birdies or something. Or possibly The Great Tits. Leave it with me. I need to mull this one over. Choose the wrong name and I'll be a laughing stock in spiritual circles...

But back to the falconry: after having numerous birds on my glove I ended up flying a beautiful falcon named Ben - oddly the same name as my eldest boy but a darn sight more obedient and easier to please: given a raw chicken foot to eat he was as happy as Larry...

If only all of life was this simple...