Monday, August 30, 2010

Michael Bentine’s Potty Time...

...has nothing on this.

Here in the Blake household it is potty training time. In earnest. After a couple of false starts we’ve figured that Tom is now ready to make the big jump from pull-up nappies to no-nappy at all.

He understands the concept mentally.

He understands the ploys him mummy and daddy are employing to get him to do his business in the potty. These basically revolve around bribery – both material and emotional.

We’re also employing a variant off the Pavlov technique. Each time there is a little golden shower on the carpet we sit him straight down onto his potty to establish the link.

Tom understands all this.

But he ain’t going for it.

“No potty,” is his answer. This is sometimes followed by the potty being forcibly ejected into another room.

This plainly is the wall that we have to break through.

The wees aren’t too bad. Kiddy wees aren’t horrible like grown-up wees (unless of course that’s just the parent in me talking). They’re easy to mop up. Not nice. But easy.

It’s the poos that are causing us headaches.

Tom’s always been a private pooer. To the point where he’ll completely remove himself from company, often by shutting himself in another room or the hallway where he can pass his motions without audience participation. I kind of feel the same about my poos so I know where he is coming from.

However, this makes throwing the potty under him when a log is about to fall extremely difficult because as soon as he spies our approach the bomb bay doors lock tighter than the Coalition Government’s budget. Arrested development. Not a dicky-bird. Just the high pitched whistle of foiled expectation.

Most kids have a problem with control. Holding it back. Not Tom. He can hold it in for a phenomenal amount of time. His problem is letting go. Saturday he refused to poo at all and Sunday looked to be going the same way. As Tom is prone to a touch of constipation if his cycle is broken we gave him a quick shot of lactulose; he finds constipation very distressing so we don’t want to colour his perception of potty training with that kind of experience.

So Sunday afternoon amid much foul smelling wind we knew our little boy (to continue with the bomb analogy) was about to drop his Little Boy. There is only so much “watching like a hawk” that you can do. Somehow he managed to sneak off, shut himself in the kitchen and, just as daddy valiantly arrived with the eager potty, dropped a brick of humungous proportions onto the welcome mat in the kitchen.

I felt like whistling the them tune from The Great Escape.


Missed it again. So we put it in the potty. Sat Tom on the potty. And then we all trooped upstairs to give Mr Brick an honourable send-off (discharge?) down the toilet.

It blocked the toilet.

I’m not kidding.

It backed up. Right to the rim.

Great, I thought. Now we’re going to have to call out an emergency plumber (and you all know how I feel about calling plumbers).

But as it was the internet came to my aid. A fantastic site called On a forum for blocked toilets – yes, really – it recommended tying a bin bag around a mop and using it as a plunger.

Well blow me if the thing didn’t work a treat. Torpedo away. All clear in the tubes. And Tom was feeling pretty lithe too.

So. This is how we are spending our Bank Holiday weekend. We are re-enacting the blitz. There’s been no direct hits at present but the payload is all ready to be loosed.

I’ll keep you posted. I know you want to know.

P.S. News just in. Direct hit on Pottyville with a large incendiary device at 10.30 hours approximately. Street party about to commence.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I’ll be the first to admit that this doesn’t crank my temper up to atomic proportions but it does annoy the bejasus out of me.

You know what it’s like.

You order a DVD from an online shop. Amazon or Play, whatever. You go for the 2 disc version. The one with the extra disk that contains 48 hour’s worth of extras that you’ll ever have enough time or the inclination to watch. But you order it anyway. Just in case. The joy is in the having not the watching.

And a couple of days later (or a couple of weeks later depending on the dedication of your regular postman) it arrives through the post. A familiar tell-tale sized parcel plops down through your letterbox.

Ah, you think, my new Debbie Does Dallas DVD has arrived.

You bend down and pick it up.

And the bloody thing rattles. It rattles a lot.

Your heart sinks. Because you know what has happened. The DVDs have come loose in transit and have spent at least half of their journey to you sliding around inside the case like a very large pinball inside a very small pinball machine. Some scrote at the post office, seeing that it’s a DVD, has thought to himself: why bother to take any care over this package? It’s bound to be a Debbie Does Dallas DVD that I’d like to own myself but can’t afford due to the crap wages the post office pays so I’ll just hoof it around the delivery warehouse and use it as a Frisbee for a bit and sod the rich git with money to burn who has ordered it.

And thus Debbie Does Dallas arrives scratched to feck, won’t play properly and you have to send it back through the post only to risk damage to the replacement when they send it back to you using the same delivery system.

Now, most of the time, I admit, they play fine. DVDs can take a little bit of punishment. But it is still irritating to have paid good money for a brand new sealed product only to have it arrive in a state that can only be described as tarnished. And then you have to live with that paranoia that as you watch it for the first time... is this the moment that it is going to jump / freeze frame / fall over?

Now I know the answer is to bypass the butterfingered third party by shopping directly from a store in town and carrying your purchase home with you yourself but to be honest, (a) the goods are genuinely cheaper from a lot of the online stores and (b) I have now been addicted to online shopping for so long that I no longer know how to navigate my way around a real life shop. Alphabetized? Alphabetized? How does that work? Just tell me where the Goddamn “Search” button is!

So. My demands are simple. The post office needs to treat its charges – i.e. our goods and chattels – with a lot more respect and the people who make and supply the DVD cases to the film industry need to come up with a new design that holds the DVDs as tightly in the case as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay tied to his water-boarding chair.

You got that? Good. I’ll leave it with you, then. I’ve got a date with Debbie.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Amityville Plumber

Dark forces are at work in my house.

The shadows bend outward from the corners as if stretching, reaching for additional purchase to haul themselves further into the mortal world.

Upstairs in an inexplicably empty room flies seem to multiply unnaturally and mither themselves to the point of insanity against a solitary window that is impossible to open. So many of them, swarming, crawling, buzzing like infernal machines, that they block out the light of the sun.

In fact we sent a priest upstairs to sort that room out with a blessing a couple of weeks ago and he still hasn’t come down. Come to think of it I found his dog collar on the stairs a few days after his arrival and it had teeth marks in it.

And don’t talk to me about our basement.

What basement? Yeah, that’s what I mean. We didn’t have one when we first moved into the house but suddenly we do and it seems to have a strange effect on all who venture into it. Their eyes turn red, their teeth become large and pointy and they start talking in a slightly unhinged but manly baritone... something about the gateway to hell.

Now, either my house is built on the site of an old McDonald’s Drive-thru or something truly nefarious is occurring.

It is the only thing I can think of to explain the sheer impossibility of obtaining any damned contractors to come round and perform the multitude of small jobs that are currently hampering my enjoyment of my family home.

I wrote a while ago about my difficulties in obtaining a plumber. I’ve approached others since then and they have all given me the same excuse: yes, I am interested but can’t come round now to look at the job, I will call you on such and such a day and arrange a visit. Right. So such and such a day arrives and they don’t call so I call them back and get the same excuse repeated to me and the same thing happens yet again.

And then there are the TV aerial installers. I tried to engage one of those too. I left several messages on the company phone. Nobody has rung me back. It’s £159 to have a new aerial installed apparently. Not huge money, I know, but it is the price they have put on it themselves. I’m willing to pay it. But for some reason they don’t want to come round to my house to earn it.

And now I have to engage someone to try and repair our cooker because another sausage-based inferno has put paid to the dials on the fascia and the cooling fan has lost the ability to turn itself off.

My heart balks at the mere thought of having to kick off yet another round of polite enquiries only to be given the finger / the hand / the cold shoulder / the thank you but no thank you / the brush off.

Christ. The only person who comes round regularly and without fail to my house is bloody Wayne the window cleaner. You remember him? Wayne the bloody nutcase, commie hating, Christian platitude spouting, crusade revivalist with a grudge against all western world bankers. Every month he comes round to clean my windows because I’m too much of a coward to tell him to take his chamois and his bucket and his ladder and his hordes of demonic flies and sod off.


Demonic flies.

You don’t think he might be, you know, putting some voodoo on my house or something? Some kind of weird window cleaning juju?


Anybody know a good priest? Shit. Hold on a minute; I’ve already tried that.


Monday, August 23, 2010

The God Killer

If Richard Dawkins was a religious man he’d no doubt be termed a zealot. The sheer fervour with which he proselytizes his belief that all religions are bad, God is a fantasy and spirituality is merely a panacea to help the human race cope with the frightening reality of an afterlife-free existence is practically religious in itself.

He has a new series on More4. I don’t plan to watch it. The trailers have been enough in themselves. They feature Dawkins, close-up to camera, positing his theory that the human race would be a much finer species whose moral progress would be far better assured if it abandoned its primitive reliance on religion for existential succour. Basically, he says, left alone, good people would do good things and bad people would do bad things but religion makes good people do bad things and thus we’d be better off without it.

Now I am not particularly religious. I used to be C of E because I was brought up that way but over the years I’ve found myself wrestling with those old beliefs and find they have too little for me to hold onto. It’s a private fight and I don’t intend to share it with you all here.

But even I – great pseudo heathen that I am – can see that Dawkins’s argument is essentially far too reductive and, well, just stupid. And Dawkins isn’t a stupid man. Far from it. He’s a proper Brainiac; expressive, articulate and knowledgeable. But he does seem to have a blind spot when it comes to religion and spirituality. You can practically see him foaming at the mouth whenever the subject is broached. Stick a crystal worshipping hippy in front of him and you can honestly see him contemplating murder or, at the very least, a lobotomy without the brain owner’s consent.

My problem with his argument is this:

Yes, religions do sometimes make good people do bad things.

But so do most political systems – if not all.

In fact any kind of administration very often makes good people do bad things.

So what do we do, Richard, get rid of all religions and political systems? Do we just leave the good people to be good and the bad people to be bad? Chaos and anarchy?

Fine. Let’s do that.

Only thing is I’m pretty sure that that would lead to poverty for the majority.

And you know what? Poverty and starvation more than anything else often make good people do bad things. Look at it this way: if your kids were starving to death would you rob and possibly murder to feed them? I think I would. But maybe that’s just me?

But maybe I’m just not one of the “good people” that Dawkins talks about?


But what is it with the whole good people / bad people thing anyway? It in itself is reductive to the point of ridiculousness. In fact it’s so black and white as to be no better than any of the polarizing religions that Dawkins professes to hold in contempt! In my experience people are rarely “good” or “bad” they are just people. Very few people are solely bad and very few solely good. People do good and bad things for a whole heap of different reasons – religion being only one of them (though religion does tend to make people proclaim the reasons for their actions far more publically than, say, politics or the old “I was only following orders” argument).

Quite frankly, as a race we find reasons for doing bad things all the time and dismantling all world religions will do nothing to change this. All that will happen is it might keep Richard Dawkins off our tellies.

Hey – a good outcome from a bad act!

See, I said his argument was stupid.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Put A Cork In It

Don’t get me wrong I like cats. I prefer dogs but I like cats. We had one all through my early childhood (a half feral moggy called Smokey) and another one through my teens (a fat black and white strop of a cat called Felix). I loved them to bits. Even when they clawed me.

(Which reminds me of that famous book: The Cat’s Revenge by Claude Balls.)

But I cannot abide the neighbourhood cats where I now live.

Not because they stalk the bird feeders that the wife and I keep constantly replenished at great cost to the weekly budget. Not because their territorial wars often wake me at night with the resultant caterwauling.

But because they shit on my lawn.

Actually on the lawn.

For some reason this strikes me as odd. Even a little bizarre. Because in my experience of cats – owning 2, cat-sitting for other people on occasion, etc – is that when they need the bathroom for a number 2 they tend to dig a hole and bury it. Nice clean animals, cats. They hide it all away. This is the belief system I have carried around with me since childhood.

Even my sister’s cats – both housebound because of living on an upper story – used to dig little holes in the cat litter tray. It is natural and instinctive behaviour for a cat. When they start pulling up the gravel with a forepaw you just know a cat turd is on its way.

So why are the neighbourhood cats spurning this evolutionary imperative and dropping their revolting little logs all over my lawn?

It’s not just an aesthetic problem, you see. My little boy loves playing out in the garden. As soon as the door is open he’s off, dressed or not, more often than not barefoot, trotting his merry way all over the lawn.

Barefoot. As is his right in his own back garden. Barefoot with little pellets of evil lying in wait in the grass.

Animal poo and little kiddies do not mix. There’s a story in the paper today of a little girl who may be blinded because she fell into some dog poo in a child’s play area. It’s heartbreaking.

It also makes me angry.

Now I know it’s a slightly different scenario – dogs have to cleaned up after by their owners and the same rule does not and cannot be applied to felines. The owner of the dog is responsible for the girl’s injury but the owner’s of the various cats in my street can’t really be held responsible for their cats pooing on my grass. Even though I’d quite happily kneecap the lot of them in a kangaroo court.

The question is: what can I do about it?

Some have suggested a sprinkling of curry powder or pepper spray onto the areas that the cats frequent. Fine but I don’t want a half naked little boy – or even a fully clothed one – rolling about in it either. So that’s no go.

The only other solution I can think of involves a cork, a shotgun and me pulling the trigger to fill Macavity’s muck cavity...

But is that, strictly speaking, legal?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Was A Teenage Dirtbag (Baby)

I’ve rarely used this blog as a confessional. I’ve rarely dragged skeletons screaming from my closet and paraded them for all to see.

I always assumed, you see, that you, my dear discerning reader(s) wouldn’t want to read scurrilous declarations of wrong doing and sin making.

But I was wrong. I’ve been hit by a meme. Vegemitevix wants me to name and shame 10 secret things that you don’t know about me. She wants me to fess up, unburden my soul, pour out the unwholesome desires that have racked my body in my darkest years in the wilderness before I found the light.

Now that is going to be tough because this is the third time I’ve been hit by such a meme. I’ve fessed up on two previous occasions here and here.

But even by the second time I was duplicating stuff.

And you know why? Because I was trying to keep the real skeletons out of the limelight. I was going for the easy, palatable stuff. The stuff that wouldn’t drive my burgeoning readership away in droves. I was trying to avoid the real, true blue secrets. The truth and nothing but the truth about yours, er, truly.

So. This is the third time someone has demanded that I divulge and disclose. The third time.

So OK people. I get the picture. You’re not going to leave me alone until you’ve got some dirt, are you? Until you’ve got me naked and exposed, squirming beneath your unforgiving gaze.

Well, I’m not sure I can run to 10 because, if I’m honest, I haven’t led that exciting a life. But some of these revelations may shock and disappoint. They may change the way you think of me forever. If you want to keep me up on that pedestal in your mind (and I’m aware that some of you have placed me pretty high) now would be a good time to stop reading. This is your final warning.

Still here? Geez, you guys are salacious. OK. Here goes.

1) During my late teens and twenties – in fact pretty well right up to my thirties – I would honour my best friend in all the world (Dave, if you’re reading this, I hereby apologize) by personally customizing every birthday and Christmas card I bought him with cartoons of a horrifically sexual nature. What started off as little doodles soon became works of obsessive pornography that covered the entire envelope front and back (and even inside the flap) and also the entire card itself. Entire cartoon strips of sexual depravity would slather their way across the best that Hallmark had to offer. If I was feeling particularly mischievous I would post the card to him through the post. You have to understand that Dave is a postman and has a lot of mates in the post office. Those perversely tattooed missives would have gone round like wildfire. I’m pretty sure that after a while Dave began to live in fear of his birthdays and saw Christmas as a good time of year to leave the country. Weirdly, after I got my first girlfriend at the age of 30 my need to produce these Hieronymus Bosch-like paradigms of perversity died away. I simply no longer had the time, energy or inclination. Thankfully for posterity (and for those who wish to blackmail me) I scanned every card and envelope I ever defaced into my PC. This means I can reproduce one here. Or at least a little snippet of one. If you are easily offended do not click on the picture below as this will only cause it to enlarge and you will have to look at it in all its offensive glory. Believe it or not this is the cleanest example I could find. In case you’re wondering it is meant to be a parody of the Spice Girls. Enjoy.

2) God. This is the biggie. Being a somewhat sexually frustrated and yet over libidinous teen (never a great combination) and also having a secret desire to be some kind of comedian – bizarre when I was such a wallflower – I used to amuse myself by making my own homemade albums. These would consist of me “singing” over the top of some of my favourite music into a cheap microphone and recording the lot onto C90 tape. I would ad lib sexual paeans of depravity to whatever starlet happened to take my adolescent fancy at the time. I would then make my own tape covers which greatly resembled the cards I used to send to Dave above. In fact, thinking about it, there’s a bit of a theme here, isn’t there? I still have all the tapes. In fact Dave once got a mate of his to turn some of them into MP3’s and put them onto CD for me. I even made a CD cover for that particular album too. And no. I am not going to post any of them online. EVER. Dave had a theory at the time that these outpourings of teen lust were my equivalent of a “cold shower”. Not sure about that myself but I do think that these musical travesties are possibly the most complete embodiment of teenage hormonal crassness ever produced and I may well leave them to science upon my death.

3) Not content with ad libbing the kind of toilet humour that Rik Mayall himself would have balked at, I even scripted it. I would write little plays parodying various soap operas and, armed with a BBC sound effects tape, would embroil my sisters into acting them out on a Sunday afternoon in my Nan’s garage and recording them onto C90 tape. One memorable series was about the Blake & Blake Detective Agency and would usually be, yes, you’ve guessed it, a sorry tale of sexual misdemeanour and horrendous wrong doing. And yes, I still have the tapes. And yes I made covers for them. And no you’re not getting to hear any of them. EVER. See. There is a theme here.

4) Not on your nelly. You’ve got quite enough to be going on with. And if any of you wish to end our virtual association right now, I fully understand.

Ladies and gentlemen. The confessional is over. I’m not going to hand this meme on but I do dare any of you to respond in kind. Go on. It’s cathartic. It might halve your readership but it’s good for the soul. Apparently.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Betrayal

It feels wrong but you do it anyway. After all, there is no other way. It’s unavoidable. It’s just the way life is.

Most of the time Tom is fine about being dropped off at nursery. On the whole he really loves the place and has been as pleased as punch to have moved up to the pre-school group. He’s a “big boy” now.

But then there are days like today. Days when he’s just a little boy who’s a bit under the weather – not seriously ill – just a little bit cuddly and wants to stay at home and have his mummy and daddy stay with him.

And I know how he feels. It’s Monday morning. I don’t particularly want to go to work. I don’t particularly want to be one of the “big boys” myself. But that’s just how life is. The bacon has to be brought home or nobody eats.

So we take him to nursery. And he won’t let go off my hand. He clings to my leg like a Koala bear clinging to a tree. He wants a “big cuddle” (this means a proper lifted up cuddle). He shows no sign of wanting to wander off and play with the “big boy” toys in the pre-school class room like he normally does.

I try persuasion. I try cajoling. I try leading him into the room and expressing an over-egged enthusiasm for a big red plastic fire engine. He likes fire engines.

But not today.

He grips hold of my index finger and won’t let go.

I bend down and give him a hug. I try and reason with him. Give him the grown up argument. Daddy has to go to work. Daddy doesn’t really want to go to work either. Daddy loves him very much and would love to stay at home with him but can’t. Daddy has to go and earn some money so we can keep our nice home.

All true but it rings hollow.

If I love him why am I putting work first? If I want to stay home too why don’t I just do that? I’m a grown up after all; I make all the rules – why don’t I just change them? I know Tom doesn’t think in those terms but the look he gives me tells me this is where his little heart is today.

In the end one of the nursery staff pick him up and carry him over to the toys. She’s being lovely to him – a big hug, lots of coos – but all I can hear is the wail of despondency; all I can see is the mouth turning down and those big brown eyes looking at me imploringly. “Daddy!”

Karen and I hurry out. Out of sight. It’s the best way. Cleanest cut, soonest healed. To prolong it only makes it more painful and more upsetting for Tom.

Out in the corridor, giving ourselves a hug, we can still hear him crying. He doesn’t usually cry for this long. A cry that squeezes the heart painfully. Bless him. He’s under the weather... not seriously ill... I’m so tempted to go back and get him. Tempted to take a sickie and bring him home.

But I don’t. I can’t. If I do that now then Tom will expect me to do it every time he doesn’t want to be left at nursery. Pretty soon I’d end up losing my job. So Karen and I head outside. Back to the car.

He’ll be OK. Within 10 minutes he’ll settle and will have forgotten all about it. The nursery is a good one and will ring us if he becomes really poorly.

I know all this. We’ve done the right thing. The only thing. We have to go to work. It’s unavoidable.

But it feels wrong.

It feels wrong to abandon my son; to walk away when he is distraught. To pull away when he gripping hold of my T-shirt, my fingers, anything he can get hold of.

I wonder if he will remember it. Remember what he is feeling in these moments. Spend time when he is a little older puzzling why – in what seem like to him random occasions – when he was upset and needing his mummy and daddy we walked away and left him. Will he think that he did something wrong? That he was being punished?

All the way to the car I fight the urge to go back and get him.

And that feels wrong too. It goes against my instincts as a parent.

Who am I betraying more, I wonder? Tom or myself?

What kind of world have we made for ourselves when being a parent is at odds with plain ordinary living; plain ordinary survival?

When I eventually get to work I have a sudden yearning for a big red plastic fire engine. But I am glad that Tom has it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Can Nick Knowles Please Come Round And Brace My Extension?

The BBC seems to have been rife of late with home improvement programmes. And when I say rife I, of course, mean it has broadcast 2 whole programmes whose format is based around the idea of rescuing the average Joe and Joanne Public from the scourge of cowboy builders.

On the one hand you’ve got Cowboy Trap which deals with the hod humping horror of incompetent builders who promise to rebuild your home in the image of Olympus only to leave it looking like Hiroshima after the bomb had been dropped. In the process these rogue traders have also usually cleaned out their client’s bank accounts to the tune of many thousands of pounds. £150,000 on the last episode I saw and the clients had little to show for their expenditure but plasterboard on the floor, dodgy wiring that could kill and a great deal of heartache.

On the other hand you’ve got the same stories given the Walt Disney Treatment via DIY SOS. This offering from the Beeb sees Nick Knowles – the chubby, stubbly, housemaid’s favourite – diving into the UK’s chavviest suburbs to rescue sundry families who suffer from various diseases and disabilities from half completed DIY jobs and projects that ran out of money and / or enthusiasm half way through, leaving the unhappy family living in a single bathroom while the rest of the house resembles a mediaeval carpenter’s workshop with no wheelchair access whatsoever. If you love a happy ending and a well erected stud wall then Nick Knowles is your man.

Anyway, the point of the post isn’t to titillate the ladies with some male TV totty (though maybe I should restore the balance a bit after my Dr Alice post) but to say that all of these “look what happened to them” programmes really put me off the idea of ever allowing any kind of contractor anywhere near my home let alone into it to put in a loft extension.

Not that Karen and I are about to install an Olympic sized swimming pool or anything like that but every now and then we do begin conversations with the words “If we won the Lottery wouldn’t it be good to...” You know what I mean, I’m sure. If money were no object we would all of us add rooms, refurb basements and extend lofts to the point where every family member could have so much space and privacy they would never have to have contact with or even look at another family member ever again.

Pipedreams for the large part. But the idea of a loft extension is one that keeps coming back to Karen and me. To the point where I think that one day, when the kids are through school, the mortgage has been worn down to a mere nub and Karen and I are at last realizing our full earning potential, we might actually go for it.

But who the hell do we get in to do the job?

Because according to the BBC none of Britain’s builders are up to it. Half are incompetent and the other half are just plain dishonest. You couldn’t trust them to referee a football match between two peas (which is one of my dad’s favourite sayings). I’ve seen Nick Knowles brace the walls of more Victorian semi-detached death traps than I’ve had fantasies about Dr Alice Roberts.

Yes. That many.

Which brings me to my point.

Eliminating all the cowboys, all the scheisters, the tinkers, the tailors, the gypos, the pikies and the Poles, the only person I’d ever trust to do any building work around my gaffe is Nick Knowles himself.

And that scares the living bejasus out of me.

It might be safer just to buy a bigger house.

P.S. For those of you that have actually read this far. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me! 41 today and still thinking like a 16 year old. I just love being male, I do.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don’t You People Listen?

Rol was right. It is damned annoying when people don’t read things properly. In Rol’s excellent blog post yesterday he described his frustration at sending an email to someone that quite clearly posed 2 questions only to have one of the questions completely ignored in the reply.

I totally understood where he was coming from. Totally understood the growling frustration that you feel afterwards. Because now you have the do-I-send-then-another-email-asking-the-second question-again-or-do-I-just-give-up-on-it-altogether dilemma. Because if you chase it up you inevitably feel like you’re being a nag or just plain anal.

But this innate understanding wasn’t good enough for the universe or life or whatever master-force controls my destiny. Oh no. I had to have my understanding refreshed, updated and made more piquant...

I’ve just sold something on eBay. What isn’t important but whilst emailing the invoice I also added a little paragraph giving my address (the object is to be collected in person), phone number and a list of days and times when I’d be home to hand the object over.

I then had a reply to this email asking me where I lived! What? Didn’t they see my address in the email?

To add insult to confusion the buyer then stated that they worked in Leamington and wanted to know how far away I was because they worked in Cubbington.


Now for those of you that don’t know Leamington Spa, Cubbington used to be a neighbouring village some miles away from Leamington proper. Over the last 50 years it’s been swallowed up by Leamington’s expanding waistline and is now a geographical belly-button. So yes, Leamington is Cubbington but Cubbington is not Leamington. There is a difference between the two. Especially if the buyer is planning to walk to my house.

Anyway. I gritted my teeth and replied with another email. I told him he was about a 20 minute drive from my house and politely referred to the fact I’d given him my address in my previous email. I again stated what times and days I’d be free to receive him. After work any day but Thursday – I specifically can’t do Thursday as I have a prior engagement that night that I totally can’t get out of.

I sent it off.

I had another reply. The buyer apologized for not seeing my address in my previous email. He’d now found it; thank you. Now he knew where I lived he’d probably come round on Thursday or Friday but wasn’t sure which yet; he’d ring me to let me know. Did I have a mobile number?

Aaaargh! Yes. Supplied in my original email along with my fecking address and the times and days I was available! And I can’t effing well do Thursday! I quite clearly said that!

Christ, how many emails do I have to write? How many times do I have to give out the same information before it sinks into this guy’s cranium? It’s not like the emails were awash with metaphor and hyperbole... they were the bare skin and bones of necessity. There were no excess words into which the salient facts could have got lost. They stood out like a couple of leylandii in the desert!

How can someone read an email but not actually take on board what the bloody words mean?

Is anybody listening? Ever?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Ants In Your Pants

Now I don’t know whether this is a national phenomenon or even a global one - maybe you good bloggers out there can inform me – but it certainly is a personally observed local one.

On the same day, at the same mysteriously appointed hour – perhaps when the soil reaches a certain temperature and the eggs hatch – every ant for miles around feels the need to boil upwards from its underground nest and swarm crazily on the surface of the human world.

And not just ordinary ants but the far superior and brutal looking flying ant too.

Basically the ordinary common-or-garden ant is just an ordinary GI Joe. Regulation uniform, hand me down rifle and one-size fits all combat training. On their own or in small numbers they’re so ineffectual as to be negligible. But when there are hundreds of them swirling over the patio like self stirring bug soup it’s time to wear industrial boots or risk the flesh being torn from your feet by a thousand clicking mandibles.

The flying ant by contrast is a force to be reckoned with on his own. Compared to the GI Joe he is a Stealth Bomber with a full payload and a bad attitude. He’s out to nobble whatever and whoever gets in his way. When you see a flying ant up close – and I’ve had one of the buggers insinuate itself into my mouth and bite the inside of my lip – you can really see the genetic connection between wasps and ants. They’re nasty, my friends, really nasty.

Anyway, yesterday, no matter where we went during the afternoon the ants were out. Darting through the air, swarming on the ground, mincing over cars, pinching their way up T-shirts and blouses and basically getting into every nook and cranny they could find. And if those nooks and crannies were human in origin all to the good. There was just no escape.

And much as I’m used to seeing this phenomenon by now (for it happens every year) it still has me scratching my head (in fact just plain scratching) and wondering: just what is the trigger? How do they all know to leave the nest at the same time – or rather how do all the nests know that this is the day to evacuate en masse? ‘Cos we drove to the next town and, just as in our garden a couple of miles away, the ants were erupting there too.

Is there some kind of insectoid Google that we humans don’t know about? Is there an arthropod graffiti network that tags small blades of grass with the date and time of the next ant rave?

When me and my family have enough trouble coordinating ourselves to get to work, school and nursery on time each morning I find this invertebrate efficiency deeply enviable.

However, it still doesn’t stop me pouring boiling water all over the little blighters.

Another cup of tea anyone?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Wild About Skinny Dipping

We like Dr Alice Roberts in my house. Or rather, I like Alice Roberts in my house. My wife, I suspect is a little more ambivalent seeing her as yet another addition to the already overlong list of top television totty pin-ups that I adolescently maintain in my mind to mull over on a rainy day.

But you see, Alice Roberts isn’t just eye candy. She’s intelligent and astute and has a soft gentle voice that was just made for television voiceovers. And she’s a doctor. And a scientist. And she sometimes dyes her hair red and she once showed an X ray (or something) of her clitoris on TV. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that’s going the extra mile in the name of science, but for me it was a very direct and very personal come-on – there it is, Steve; I’ve shown you where to find it!

So it was with interest that I noted she’d made a documentary for BBC4 on the subject of Wild Swimming. My mind blazed with images of Dr Alice, face and body painted like a tiger, cavorting in a swimming pool alongside other suitably painted animalized ladies... possibly the top ten from my list of top television totty pin-ups... but as I read the Radio Times review I realized it wasn’t going to be like that at all. It was in fact a documentary about swimming, free and unfettered, in the UK’s rivers and waterways. A televisual homage to Roger Deakin who extolled the virtues of wild swimming in his famous book, Waterlog.

And I have to say it was lovely. Although I am not a great swimmer, I can really see the attraction of wild swimming. You are immersed in the natural environment, part of it rather than just a casual observer, you are seeing the natural life of the river and the riverbank the way the wildlife sees it.

At first Alice did her swims in a wetsuit; her rubber enveloped limbs cutting smoothly through the peaty water, but she soon proclaimed that she was missing out on the full sensory experience. She wanted to feel the water upon her skin, moving across her flesh, tingling her all over... my Bunsen burner suddenly pulsed with an intense flame so blue it cracked my petri dish clean in half.

Could she mean...? Did she mean...? I hardly dare whisper the words skinny dipping... for, ahem, I was taking no vicarious titillation from the intimation only wandering how far Dr Alice could push the envelope of respectability whilst honouring the ethos of wild swimming and being at one with nature. After all, I am not the kind of man who watches TV programmes just to get off on occasional glimpses of flesh and suggestive movement, no; I wish to be edified and educated. My higher ambitions illuminated and excited.

As it was, Dr Alice merely meant losing the thermal protection of her wetsuit and swimming in nowt but a one piece bather. Would she be able to take the cold though? The average river temperature in the UK for the time of year she was filming was something like 15 degrees C. Now that’s damned cold. Would there be pokie action? Some of the more uncouth of you were probably thinking. But not I. No. I was pleased they showed how cold Alice was with nothing more than a nice thermal imaging camera borrowed from a passing thermal imaging camera salesman. Look how blue she’s gone. Oh heavens. That water is cold, isn’t it? I do hope they get her warmed up again soon. Nothing to titillate here, folks. All good science.

But as it was, all was not lost on the skinny dipping (purely for scientific research and artistic integrity) issue, for to honour the memory of Roger Deakin Dr Alice decided to conclude the documentary with... gasp... a real totally naked and unrobed skinny dip in an unnamed pool in the Lake District that has by now, I suspect, been religiously sanctified and dedicated to the memory of this great boobs-out event. (Latest news reports state that votive offerings have been left at rocks near to this sacred tarn and candles lit in the trees to better aid the sight-lines of passing binocular users).

And so, as the denouement of this fabulous documentary neared, Dr Alice, proud and curvy in her geeky boffinness, threw off her white fluffy bathrobe with an almost Old Testament defiance, and plunged full length and body long into the cold clear waters of Wordworth’s birthplace. Back and forth she surged, scarcely causing the surface water to ripple or break, a veritable nymph of the pool awaiting the pen of Tennyson to immortalize her forever... while some inept camera man floundered around behind her doing the doggy paddle and only managed to snatch occasional shots of her legs from the mid-thigh down and her arms barely up to her shoulder tops, I mean, really! What kind of shoddy camera work is this? Is this what I pay my TV license for, BBC? She was skinny dipping, for God’s sake. Bloody skinny dipping! Naked in that there pool and you had a ruddy great professional film crew to capture it. Where were they? Did they shove a couple of apprentices behind the cameras or something? Were the real film crew down the pub playing Sudoku or sinking jars of Riggwelter? Sod respectability and the higher cause of science! I feel really let down.

Damn you, BBC!

P.S. In protest at the BBC’s ineptitude I may have to start a new series on this here blog called Steve’s TV Totty Of The Week. This will be a new feature and will probably not be weekly at all but merely dragged out when I have little or nothing else to waffle on about and will feature – you’ve guessed it – my TV Totty Of The Week. Well done, Dr Alice: you have the honour of being the first in a very long and very shallow line of totally self indulgent, sexually gratifying blog posts about TV totty. A round of applause for this week’s winner, please.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Social Contraction

I’d like to think that this happens to everybody.

Not that I’m wishing bad on you all but I’d hate to think it was just me.

Someone meets you in the street or visits your work place. A work colleague or someone you vaguely know. Not a close friend but you know them well enough to make polite conversation. So you make polite conversation. Talk about this and that. Do your damndest to be entertaining and witty ‘cos, you know, every situation is a selling opportunity, isn’t it?

And they’re listening, this colleague, this person you vaguely know. And they’re participating. Colluding. You’re having a dialogue. And they’ve asked you something – doesn’t matter what: how are the kids, how’s your latest writing project – and you begin to answer because, like, they’ve asked a question that requires a response. You're 40 years old and you’ve got the hang of this conversation thing by now.

And mid answer their eyes sweep away and fasten onto somebody else – possibly the person they had actually come to see when they met you quite by chance going about your business.

And then it happens. The rudeness. The ignorance. The disrespect.

As your voice peters out mid sentence, the words shattering like glass against a wall that nobody else knows exists, this colleague immediately and enthusiastically launches into a brand new conversation with the newcomer. Their words literally railroading yours into silent oblivion. All their attention is on the newcomer. You may as well not be there. So you don’t want to hear about my kids then, or my new novel?

And you shuffle your feet. And you get on with what you were originally doing. And – and this is what really riles me afterwards – you kind of hang around, kind of wait to be dismissed because you don’t want to appear rude by sidling off without saying goodbye to this person.

Like this person deserves a goodbye!

And after it’s all over you feel deflated, worthless and ashamed. Is it something about me? Something I do or say or don’t do or say?

Is it just me?

Is it?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Where’s Wally?

Does overweight really mean overlooked?

According to Paul Yarrow it does.

Forget oil spills and Afghanistan, what caught my eye in the media last week was the story of Mr Yarrow (pictured above). He’s the guy at the back of the picture looking pensive and frustrated as if, to quote Russell Howard, he’s taking a tricky shit.

Apparently he’s been popping up like a pale bulby version of the witch from Chorlton & The Wheelies in a lot of the outdoor news broadcasts that the BBC likes to hurl at our telly’s in their attempts to keep us informed and up-dated about the various news items that make our world such an interesting place to live in.

Shove a camera, a boom mic and an anchorman outside Westminster and there Paul Yarrow will be, floating in the background like the inevitable anomaly in “Picture B” of a Spot The Difference picture competition.

A quick news podcast outside the magistrate’s courts and Paul Yarrow will be dynamically standing still in the background, usually to the left of the guy holding the microphone, not saying anything but ready, Goddammit, for anything.

Now this isn’t a real life Where’s Wally viral. No. This is a campaign. This is a media war. This is the start of a big movement (and no, I’m not talking about Russell Howard’s tricky shit).

Paul Yarrow, in his own words to the Evening Standard, said: "It is a statement about the image conscious media. I am overweight and people like me are treated as unsightly because of the way they look.

"I could have a valid point about something but the microphone is always passed to the person alongside me. The point I am making is that the more you push me aside, the more I'm going to be determined to make my presence known."

Now, while I admire Mr Yarrow’s stance and his campaign to give a voice to the voiceless I can’t help wondering about the effectiveness of his crusade. Because, to be honest, standing at the back of a news reporter who the viewer will be concentrating on so they can ingest the information, is not a particularly good way to get noticed and, more saliently, to get taken seriously – which surely is the true aim of Mr Yarrow’s campaign. As it is he’s become something of an internet joke. He’s in serious danger of truly becoming a real life Where’s Wally.

And is he really doing this on the behalf of all overweight people? Do overweight people really need Paul Yarrow gurning in the background of news reports to make them feel more taken notice of? More to the point, are overweight people really ignored and overlooked in our society in the first place? Are their opinions and their intellect truly counted as worthless?

‘Cos let’s be honest, when you look at most of our MPs, they’re all rather portly to say the least. Being overweight is plainly no bar to political acumen. I suspect also that a good deal of our richest businessmen have supped deep of the fat of the land and have a few spare tyres rolling about the place – usually between the ribcage and the pelvic floor. And does being overweight ever stop you getting on the telly? Of course not. I bet we can all name 5 celebs who could be deemed as being overweight.

In fact here’s 5 for you now straight off the cuff.

1) Ruth Jones (who I’d even say is a bit of a fox)
2) James Corden
3) Dawn French
4) That gingery fella from TimeTeam
5) The annoying opera guy from the GoCompare adverts

OK. So maybe 5 was a bit much. But my point is this: how much is Mr Yarrow’s campaign for the benefit of others and how much is it to satisfy his own personal need for recognition and validation? Because, let’s be honest, we all feel overlooked and ignored sometimes – regardless of our metabolism – but we don’t all throw ourselves under Jon Snow when he’s performing a to-camera monologue for ITN.

Mr Yarrow’s campaign seems a bit... well, shabby and ineffective. There’s nothing to identify his cause – no banners, no sloganeering. He could just as easily be protesting about the fact people with bad hair get ignored by the media. Or people who wear polo-neck sweatshirts.

Let’s hear it loud and proud folks – equal rights for comb-overs who clothes shop at ASDA!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Don’t Talk To Me About My Holiday; I’m Back At Work

So I’m back at work. Slumped in front of the ol’ workstation. Viewing my Tippex and my stapler with the kind of hatred one usually reserves for one’s jailer. How dare they steeple up so smugly from the confines of my desk-tidy? Don’t they know I don’t want to be here? Don’t they know I didn’t want to come back?

One week off. One short-lived beautiful week. Already consigned to the dustbin of memory. Written off by virtue of having been lived and loved and replaced by the present. How can time move so fast?

And my workmates keep asking me about it. How was my week? Did I have a good time? My oh my, I’m looking well.

Torturers the lot of them. Turning the screw. Twisting the thumbnail removers. Gouging the flesh.

I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about my week in the sun now that I’m hip deep in mire and sludge and greyness. I just want to get my head down. Get stuck into the tasks at hand. Grit my teeth and do whatever it is I have to do.

I let it all die away. The goodness. The memory of an alternative lifestyle. Another way of filling my days. I wait for the shiny memories to fall away, to be replaced by dull mundanity. Wait for the blinkers to settle back over my eyes. It’s easier that way, believe me.

I can do it then. Survive. Get stuck into the old routine. The same old same old. Kid myself that this flat-line existence is enough. Is a life.

Live for the weekends. That’s what I’ll do. That’ll get me through it. That’ll give me a toe-hold on the sheer glass-smooth face of utter tedium and desperation. And onwards I’ll climb. Upwards and onwards.

Onwards and upwards to the next holiday. The next week of freedom.

Just 4 weeks away. 4 weeks and then the sun will shine again.

No. No! I mustn’t think of it. Not yet. Not yet.

I have to keep going... have to keep going... have to...