Monday, February 28, 2011

Love Plus One (Then Minus One)

I’m not quite sure when the affair started. Certainly the love crept up on me unawares. It was a shock. Unexpected. I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary; hadn’t gone out of my way to be especially nice. There were no longing looks, no flirty comments. If anything I was as perfunctory as I’ve always been; as I still am.

But gradually I noticed the mysterious extra comments on my blog posts. Comments that no blog reader had left.

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But it gets stranger still. Because there were no actual extra comments. Not unless they were invisible.

I checked and I rechecked. But the result was always the same. At the end of my blog posts, the link to the comments page always reported there being one extra comment than there actually was. I’d follow the link. I’d count up the comments. 40 for example. But on the bottom of the post it would say 41.

It had been going on for months.

A form of internet baksheesh. An electronic backhander.

And then it hit me. Blogger must be in love with me. It’s giving my blog a boost. Bumping up my comments totals.

I began to be a little more considerate of Blogger. I stopped swearing when the Dashboard froze on me or the spam filter stopped working. I entered my comments on other people’s blogs and pressed “Publish Your Comment” with a new reverence. Perhaps hoping to spread the love.

But it couldn’t last. I did something wrong. I don’t know what it was. Possibly reading blogs published on Wordpress? I can’t fathom it. But on Saturday morning, mysteriously, when I followed the comments link to my last post Blogger suddenly announced that a comment had been deleted – even though I hadn’t sanctioned it. I checked. I counted. All the comments were there that I had moderated and published.

And then it hit me.

Blogger had deleted its own magic comment. The invisible comment of love had been removed. Withdrawn. Withheld. Possibly given to a new blogger; Blogger’s new paramour. I don’t know who you are but I hope your blog fouls up and you lose all of your posts and have to type then all in again. Curse you! My comments now tally with the total that Blogger is reporting.

From Saturday’s post onwards everything is back to being as it should. Perfectly perfunctory. Correct. Cold. Austere. Functional.

My heart feels a little bit broken this morning. Somewhere, somehow, a love that I never even knew I was experiencing has died.

I may have to go and slip Wordpress a nice long, lengthy post or two just to make myself feel better. Just to prove to myself that I don’t need Blogger’s love, that I can get over this.

See, I don’t need you, Blogger! Do you hear me! It meant nothing! Nothing! It was I who played with you!

Oh what’s the use?

*sob* *sob*


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guilt And Shame

It’s very telling how we deal with guilt and shame, isn’t it?

I used to think such feelings were foisted on us by society but now, watching my boys develop, I can see that actually we are all born with an innate instinct for right and wrong. I daresay that instinct is borne out of a very basic nascent empathy – how would I feel if someone did that to me? – but it does the job just the same.

When my youngest, Tom, has been naughty – and believe me he’s sussed enough to know when he’s being naughty – he’ll tackle the resultant fall-out in one of two ways. The first is to hide his face or run away. I’m sure that response is borne out of his belief that if he can’t see us then he is rendered somehow invisible. The second is to try the ol’ distraction and sympathy technique. This usually involves him offering up his hand as if it were an injured bird and suddenly inventing an injury that nevertheless didn’t stop him twatting his older brother around the head with a toy spaceship a few seconds earlier.

“Ow! Hurt!” And those big brown eyes will implore and beseech in the vain hope that what’ll come to him is sympathy and hugs and not a good telling off.

We no longer fall for it and as a consequence he tries this tactic less and less.

But he was never taught it in the first place. It seemed to be already there in his armoury of survival techniques. And to be honest it was a tactic I pulled quite often myself in my youth – and continued to do so until I was well past Tom’s age. I can remember being in the playground at Infant School and trying to attract the attention of some Sikh kid. Looking back on it now I can see he would have looked quite cute to a grown up with his hair tied up in a little hankie on top of his head. At the time I didn’t think he was so cute. He refused to acknowledge me and I thought him an arrogant git though I didn’t have the vocabulary to call him so. As my shouts weren’t having the desired effect I did the next logical thing: I threw a stone at him and cracked him a whopper on the side of that hankie.

Cue tears and the joyfully pointing fingers of accusation from every other kid in the playground. “Him, miss, him, Stephen – he did it, miss!”

I hid in the boy’s toilets and had to be ordered out by the teacher. I emerged with a sudden limp and that same hound-dog look that Tom often pulls on me and Karen. It got me just as far as it does Tom. A good telling off. ‘Cos I was guilty and I knew it.

So why not just hold my hands up and admit it? Well, I just couldn’t deal with the guilt and the shame of doing something that was wrong. The telling off; the shouting were minor tortures. It was having to acknowledge that guilt in front of everyone else that was the real killer.

Now, of course, as adults we make a virtue out of acknowledging guilt and wrong doing. We like people who “take it on the chin”, who don’t “pass the buck”, who ‘fess up and deal with it. We deplore people who don’t; those who wriggle and seek sympathy (BP take note).

And yet to hide away and deflect the attention is still, I believe, our first deeply-rooted instinct.

I guess to overcome this is what sorts the men from the boys.

As for me, can I just say that I have not been motivated by guilt to write this post? I have not done anything wrong and expiation for some unnamed crime is not my prime motivation. I know what you women are like, see. A guy starts philosophizing about guilt and shit and you’re first instinct is to wonder: OK, so what the hell have you been up to that you feel so bad about it?

That’s the fake guilt that you women make us men feel just by looking at us and going, “hmm?” with your eyebrows raised. And that’s the subject for a whole other post by someone much braver than me who is stupid enough to tackle it.

‘Cos I am staying well out of it and I am staying righteous.

And I’m sure I’ll hear a big Amen to that from my brothers...


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apocalypse Maybe

When I was a teenager I put much store in predictions. Particularly predictions about the end of the world. And that kind of stayed with me throughout my twenties. I’m not talking about grizzled old men pacing the streets in sandwich boards proclaiming that “The End Is Nigh”. I’m talking Nostradamus. I’m talking that weird Bible Code shit a decade or so ago where some enterprising Jewish people entered every syllable and character of the Old Testament into a computer and basically turned it into a giant word search.

I sucked all that up. I was never sure whether I really believed it but I kind of fed on it in the same way that teenagers feed on horror movies. That strange pleasure you get from being temporarily scared (and then you go back to looking through a top shelf magazine and everything is OK again. Er. When you’re a teenage boy, that is.)

I can’t remember now whether Nostradamus attributed any specific dates to his predictions but I’m aware that Prince put much store by the year 1999. Well the party might be over (oops) for Prince but we’re still here, aren’t we?

As for the Bible Code... well, I’m pretty sure it was debunked on television. I seem to remember some “expert” stating that if you entered every character from War And Peace into a computer and applied the same set of algorithms you would also find linked words and phrases that would be “highly suggestive” and “open to interpretation”.

But one date that the Bible Code came up with for the end of the world stuck in my mind. 2012. To be fair I think it came up with several possible End Of The World dates. 2006 was one I’m sure. These guys were plainly hedging their bets. I don’t know why they just didn’t foretell that the world would end sometime between now and, well, the end of the world. That, at least, would have been loosely accurate.

So. 2012. It’s a date my logical mind has pooh-poohed since I hit my sane and discerning thirties and forties. The worst thing that is going to happen in 2012 is us, the UK, hosting the Olympics and undoubtedly ballsing it all up.

But then all this shit kicks off in the Middle East and my illogical brain suddenly hauls out 2012 and mutters, “What if, dude, what if? What if it’s true?” (Yes, my illogical brain talks like Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted).

It doesn’t keep me awake at night but I’m really annoyed with myself that there is a small rogue element of my psyche that still gets sucked into this “End Days” crap. It’s nonsense. It really is. End of the world? There’ll be wars. There’ll be death. There’ll be destruction. Somewhere, somehow in any given year. It’s a lottery and one we’ll all lose at some point in our development as a species. But the end of the world?


But I might look on eBay for an Anderson shelter just in case. If nothing else I can hide there while the Olympics is on and miss the entire debacle. Win-win, right?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011


So I’ve been off work a couple of days - using up my holiday entitlement that I’m not allowed to carry over into the new financial year to enjoy a long weekend. It was my wife’s birthday and I confess we have kicked back a little and quaffed lightly from the fragile cup of good times. We’ve been to see a couple of movies – Paul and True Grit (both excellent) – we’ve eaten meals out in a French restaurants, we’ve blown a little money that we shouldn’t have blown... all those moderate things normal people do to try and claw some back some enjoyment out of life after the grindstone has coated everything in ash and dust.

And I realize that doesn’t sit well with some people.

Some people who didn’t have a long weekend and who were at work when I wasn’t were possibly a little bitter. A little narked. A little nowty.

And nowty people like to hit back in small and mean ways.

It’s the only explanation I have for the three crates of wine that were dumped by the stairs to the office and the post-it note on my desk saying could I please bring the wine upstairs and put it away. The note dated yesterday.

To make it clear: that wine wasn’t for me. It’s not a gift for my personal consumption. It is wine that is doled out for public events. It is just bought in bulk and stored on site.

Now, what gets my goat is that this wine has sat downstairs and the note has sat on my desk all day yesterday when I wasn’t at work. Other people who were in work will have past those crates of wine countless times; each time they went up to the stairs to the office. And given that those stairs are the only way up to and down from the office every single person will have eyeballed those crates several times over during the working day yesterday.

Nobody and I mean nobody took it upon themselves to take one or all of the crates up with them on their journey to the office. Nobody thought. “I’m going this way anyway, I won’t go empty handed”.


‘Cos I’m guessing everybody saw the note on my desk and figured, “Hey, it isn’t my job to move that wine; it’s Steve’s job, it says so here on this note that’s been left for him so I can absolve myself of all responsibility and courtesy and just go on my own sweet selfish way and not give a shit.”

Now at what point in my dim and dark career history I became the packhorse for the entire office remains a complete mystery to me. It sure as hell isn’t in my Job Description (unless you include the catch-all title General Dogsbody). But somehow, silently and without willing collusion, I have taken on that mantle.

Anything needs carting, carrying, humping (oh please), moving, shifting, lugging or just generally dumped from one dark corner of the office to another dark corner just to please the passing whim of one of my co-workers, well, that responsibility gets carted, carried, humped, moved, shifted, lugged and dumped onto my shoulders because I can pretty much guarantee there’ll be a post-it note somewhere that says it has to be that way. There’ll be a post-it note with my name on it and someone blow drying their freshly painted fingernails waiting for me to do it.

Out of the goodness of my heart. What a gentleman I am.

I’m the office brawn. The office beef. The donkey. The pack animal.

Hell, I’m practically a coolie.

I know, I know. Bigger things have happened at sea – have and are. But this inherent laziness in people really sticks in my craw sometimes. This unwillingness to do something simply because it needs doing and it isn’t even particularly out of your way to do it. This “it ain’t my job, let’s pass the buck” attitude. Let someone else do it; him, let him do it, him, him there, he won’t say no; how can he without looking petty and lazy?

It doesn’t sit well with me. Not at all. I like to help out where I can. I do a little extra. If I see something that needs doing, I do it.

I figured that’s how the world works.

Yeah, I know. Donkey? Dumb ass more like.

Ask me if I’m glad to be back at work. Go on: I dare you.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

When I Am Brown Bread...

One of my favourite bloggers, Löst Jimmy, recently wrote a blog post about honouring the funeral arrangements of a friend. A friend, I hasten to add, who isn't about to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon (at least I hope not anyway) but it got me thinking about that subject which we must all think about at some point in our lives but which we would much rather not think about at all if we can get away with it.

Our own funeral. The wake. The 19th hole. Our great launch off into the unknown. The elevator door closes and you wait to see if you're going up or going down.

I am minded that when my grandfather died a couple of years ago my entire family kicked itself for not having paid closer attention to the various requests he had made over the years for what hymns he had wanted sung and what music he wanted played on the day we all saw him off for the last time. In the end we did him proud but the thought always stuck in my mind: was this really how he wanted it?

It's made me realize that, whilst I certainly don't want to tempt fate by booking Westminster Abbey and a hemp weave eco-coffin right now, I would like you all to be prepared and fully instructed in what I require when the nation mourns my eventual passing in approximately 250 years from now ('cos we just know that our industrious scientists are right on the cusp of cracking the aging gene conundrum, don't we?)...

So. To business.

Whilst I wish the nation to have the chance to play its last respects at Westminster Abbey and whilst I appreciate the 8 billion strong signatures on the petition to have my glorious body interred in Poet's Corner I would actually like my final resting place to be somewhat more spiritual, esoterical and ecologically sound than a great gold lined stone coffin housed in one of London's most famous landmarks.

It is my wish that a fully working Viking long boat be constructed by authentic craftsmen from the Netherlands and sailed across the North Sea to this green isle ready for the day of my funeral. I wish to be dressed in the garb of a Viking clan chief, complete with sword, dagger and horned helmet (please ensure the horns are of a suitably eye-watering length and girth) and then laid to rest on a specially built pyre of sweet smelling woods arranged on the deck of the boat.

I will then be launched down the River Avon as each of you fire flaming arrows into the specially primed and oiled pyre (please note: charcoal briquettes are available quite cheaply from B&Q all year round). You might all want to enlist for archery lessons now - I don't want my funeral to become a blood bath, after all, this is my big day, not yours.

I wish to have a posse of chief mourners comprised of Keeley Hawes, Katie McGrath, Julia Bradbury, Alice Roberts, Kate Bush and Christina Ricci. All are to be dressed in black cocktail party attire - short skirts, high heels and perfumed décolletages, please ladies. Any bloggers out there wishing to join this troupe may do so provided you are suitably attired. My wife will of course be the queen mourner and will conduct you all in a rendition of "You were the wind beneath our wings..." provided, of course, she hasn't cashed in my Life Assurance Policy early and isn't holidaying at Brean Sands with the milkman.

Once my flaming bower is well aflame and has become a danger to shipping in the Bristol Channel you may ignite a smaller pyre beneath the freshly spitted hog killed for this especial purpose and you may all enjoy partaking of a suitably hot and spicy spit roast in honour of my good self. You may quaff wines that foam, substances which tittilate and read aloud from the many good works that I will undoubtedly have published by this time. The choicest extracts from my autobiography, "You Shall Not See My Like Again, Weep, Weep, Weep Ye May..." will be read by my sons whilst the pivotal moments of my life with be re-enacted by a Punch & Judy man recruited from Brighton Pier.

Long after my ashes have mingled with the mud flats at Weston-super-Mare you may then erect a permanent statue of me on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square. Built entirely of Lego it will tower over the occupants of the other three plinths and act as a staunch reminder of my humble and modest greatness and will I hope offer you some small comfort in the pointless and dreary existence that life will undoubtedly have become now that I am no longer in this world with you.


Have you all got that? Good. Feel free to bring some food to the party but none of that cheap crap from Lidl please. Donations to the Stephen Blake Benevolent Fund For Unrecognized Writers will be gratefully received and spent wisely (unlike the dubiously apportioned funds from WikiLeaks).

Until this great day then, folks... make the most of me. Just in case, you know, the scientists balls it all up...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do I Need To Get A Life?

So I was walking home the other day and I walk past three yellow tabarded workmen who have plainly spent the morning worrying at a huge hole in the road in between supping copious cups of tea and admiring a picture of Cheryl Cole’s champion cleavage in The Star and I notice that something is amiss.

(And no it wasn’t that Cheryl has forgotten to shave her chest.)

The workmen, their tabards and indeed their very large, shiny new, lime green flatbed truck are all totally unidentifiable.

There are no monikers, no motifs, no company name. No telephone number, no web address, no “I wish my wife was as dirty as this van” graffiti.

They are to a man, personae non gratae. Men with no names. They do not exist and so, legally, how can anyone make them accountable for this big Bernard Cribbins-esque hole that they’ve just opened up in the tarmac?

They could be anybody. They may not even be kosher workmen. They could be... er... tarmac thieves. They could be terrorists about to plant a dirty bomb in the even dirtier sewer pipes of Leamington Spa. They could spit on my shoes, shit on the pavement and make lewd comments to the Cheryl Cole look-a-likes walking by and who the hell would we complain to?

‘Cos once they drive off they are gone forever. Untraceable.

I know what you are thinking. Why, Steve, are you wasting your not inconsiderable intellect worrying about workmen who don’t have a company name on their van when you could be pouring your magnificent energies into your new novel or exposing the many shortcomings of The Big Society bollocks that the Coalition Government are currently spouting and – look – you’ve even missed an opportunity to publish a suitably salacious picture of Cheryl Cole at the top of this post.

Well, the reason is: I don’t like Cheryl Cole.

And regarding the workmen, let me recount to you a story that was once told to me by an old workman a couple of years ago who took a sighing break from his cup of tea and Page 3 dolly-bird to wise me up. There was once this derelict house, see. It had been falling down for years. One day a team of workmen turned up with vans, diggers and demolition equipment – a whole team of them. None of the vans had names on and likewise the uniforms of the workmen. But hey, they had to be kosher because it was broad daylight, there was so many of them and they had, like, real JCB’s and everything.

Over the ensuing weeks they demolished the house. All of it. Every brick, tile and breeze block. They then took it all away. Every brick, tile and breeze block and left a big gap in the line of building’s in that street.

Some weeks later a man from the council turned up to survey this renovation-worthy council property and wondered where the hell it had disappeared to.

Oh, thought the neighbours. We now realize what has happened. It’s been stolen.

Cue dramatic music followed by a humungous Homer Simpson doh!

Still think I need to get a life?

Harrumph! Well when people start nicking the roads or the houses near you... don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Monday, February 14, 2011

All Because The Lady Loves...

My darling wife, you will have noticed the droplets of moisture dappling the table around your beautifully wrapped box of chocolates this morning. You will no doubt be imagining my high dive from gargantuan sea cliffs into the foaming ocean below and my desperate doggy-paddle against the ferocious waves to reach the pristine lines of the white yacht whereupon you were languorously awaiting the arrival of your assorted soft centres from Thornton’s. These droplets are actually evidence of the sneezing fit that overtook me shortly after my arrival due to the man-cold that has plagued me for the last week or so. I hope they will not diminish the pleasure you will get from consuming these wonderful chocolates.

You will also have noticed the specs of blood upon the envelope of your Valentine’s Day card. These are not, as you might think, the residue of a desperate fight to the death with suicidal ninjas who to a man wielded Hattori Hanzo blades that had been folded 1400 times and sharpened with the beaks of sea turtles in a bid to prevent me from delivering my Valentine’s Day gifts to you. They are the remains of a nose bleed that befell me after I tried to clear my sinuses for the umpteenth time with a 3-ply sheet of the finest Kleenex.

And that mud on the carpet that you can’t fail to have spied is not, alas, proof of my foolhardy sprint through a freshly lane minefield, my bloody crawl through barbed wire and my swim through crocodile infested sewer pipes as I attempted to reach the shops in order to buy you that DVD that you’ve always wanted. It is mud from the grass verge down the road where, head spinning and nose streaming, I temporarily lost my balance and stumbled in the rain and got myself plastered in Leamington clay.

And those red roses, a dozen of them, were not snatched from an enchanted forest guarded by belligerent dragons that spat acid and breathed fire, but were paid for upfront at a local florist guarded by a little old lady with bifocals and a perm who wore fingerless mittens against the February cold and operated her PIN machine with great aplomb whilst ignoring my constant sniffing.

My darling wife, I may not be the man in black, James Bond or Jason Bourne, but I am more than willing to battle the vagaries of man-flu just to prove my undying love for you.

Surely there can be no higher sacrifice?

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet!

P.S. Please save the coffee centres for me.


Friday, February 11, 2011

I’m No Longer Bringing Home The Bacon

If I’m honest it’s been on the cards for a while.

The suspicious looks, the sharp intakes of breath whenever I got down to work. The feeling that things weren’t quite right between us. I knew that, deep down, sooner or later I’d be let go. Given the heave-ho. The big hoof.

I still feel ambivalent about it. I didn’t dislike it but it wasn’t something I went overboard over either. What can I say? For a time, due to familial constraints it was a necessity, but my ambitions have always lain elsewhere anyway.

It affects my wife and my children, of course. It’s quite a major change. It literally affects what food we can now put onto the dining table; how we eat. If we eat even.

But I’m fine with it. Honestly. Maybe I’m still in shock. The reality of the situation hasn’t yet kicked in.


I hardly dare say the words.

Bacon intolerant.

It kind of rolls off the tongue but still seems an odd concept. Is it common I wonder? Is it even a recognized condition?

Bacon intolerant.

Bacon used to seem so innocuous. Something I’d have with a full English or occasionally in a sandwich if I was feeling lazy. Nice with chips and a fried egg.

But it wasn’t something I ever craved. I could live without it. Just as well really. Because now I’m going to have to.

It gives me... for want of a better acronym, IBS. Painful guts. Agonising wind. Tortuous cramps. Enough to keep me awake for a night so that I feel like death warmed up (or even cold bacon uncooked) the next day. It affects my work, my writing, my entire joie de vivre.

I’ve had to say no to it. My wife, a true bacon lover, has gone into mourning. A number of her superlative dishes feature bacon as an ingredient. They will have to be modified or dropped or else I no longer eat with my family at those times but make do with a tin of soup or a spring roll from the local Chinese.

Little pig, little pig, how divisive you are!

I’m hoping it is just bacon. Just rashers. But I admit I am feeling a growing suspicious towards pork and crackling and chops... and trotters I’ve never been into anyway. And do not ever serve me a hog’s head – I will just take the apple from its mouth and shove it somewhere where the sun don’t shine. I guarantee you won’t like it.

So. Goodbye bacon. Goodbye butties. Goodbye to the soft pink rashers of my childhood. Goodbye to those gloriously blackened crispy bits.

I’m going cold turkey. The war of attrition has begun.

Me and the Danish are through.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

More Arse Than You Can Shake A Pink Stick At

I’ve taken the unusual step of publishing a picture of a lady’s bottom at the top of this post. It is not meant to be sexist or gratuitous. It is merely a response to some of the buttock shaped flak that I have received over the last 7 days. Life has been giving me the bum’s rush and I’m not sure how I should be interpreting the message.

Take last week. I’m going about my duties. An undesirable has entered my workplace despite being banned from the building. It falls to me to approach this ne’er-do-well and remind him that his bodily functions and the building wherein I work are not meant to meet. There are reports he has gone into the Gents’ toilets. I go in. There’s no sign of him. I check the Baby Change facilities and find Mr ASBO with his back to me, his trousers and boxers slumped around his ankles like Jayne Torville around Christopher Dean’s ice skates, his arse hanging out like something unspeakable in a Turkish butcher’s shop window and his gooseberries in the sink being washed with the hand soap.

It ain’t a pretty sight.

It’s one arse too many.

I asked him to leave. He got mouthy and shirty (after he hastily got trousery) but his previous nekkidness had one positive effect: it is impossible to feel cowed by someone when you have seen their hairy bum cheeks.

And then take last night. I’m walking home from college after another Sign Language class. I pass the park. I hear rowdy male singing coming from the bandstand. “Here we go, here we go, here we go-o...” Oh good, I think to myself, drunken footballers... Though I was not aware there was a match on tonight. I can make out about 15 figures prancing about in the gloom.

And then one of them makes a dash my way. And... Oh God... he is wearing nothing but his socks. He is stark staring bollocknekkid. His gennies are flopping about like one half of a broken deely-bopper. Thankfully as he nears me he is distracted by the bright lights of the pretty cars that are rushing by. He leaps out into the road and begins to ‘air-thrust” at the passing motorists. I half expect the voice of Mr Punch to emerge from his arse saying, “That’s the way to do it!” I’m holding my breath at this point because let’s be honest, erectile tissue + sheet metal travelling at 40mph = airborne ketchup. The result of a collision isn’t going to be successful insemination.

But then Mr Car-Lover changes tactics and begins to race up the road, chasing one of the cars. My last view of him is his buttocks grinding at speed and diminishing in size as his pink fleshy form blurs into the red tail lights of the car in front of him.

Now, I don’t know about you but that is too much male naked arse for a dyed-in-the-wool hetero like me to take in one week. I’m fine with homosexuality but I take no pleasure, sexual or aesthetic, in being presented with the jelly-like realities of the masculine buttock. It don’t float my boat. So what the hell is Life trying to tell me?

As near as I can figure it, I think it’s telling me that it is time for more totty on this here blog. Female totty. Rounded, smooth, female totty. Hence the picture above. I’m not just being as arsehole, honest. The Universe made me do it. I am merely answering the call. Restoring the balance. Ensuring there is no gender bias.

After all, one buttock deserves another. It’s Nature’s way.

Monday, February 07, 2011

I Could Be The Great Leamington Spa Knicker Nicker

No, I could. With ease. And not just knickers but pretty much anything – kettles, DVDs, legumes, Brita water filer jug systems – provided it all fits neatly into a normal sized carrier bag of course. And it is an item I can pick up from Tesco.

‘Cos Tesco just don’t care. They’ve given me carte blanche to walk out of their store with absolutely anything I fancy.

Which is great if I could only find something that I actually like from their all encompassing range of household products – nicking a loaf of bread seems a bit lame and pointless (though I was tempted by the Ben & Jerry’s).

Of course, the Tesco management team might feel differently about all this but certainly the monobrowed, blue tabarded young ruffian I spoke to on the DVD aisle last week seemed totally oblivious to the fact that I had just set off all of their door alarms several times as I nipped in and out of the building just to check that, yes, it was me that was setting off the alarms even though I hadn’t actually at that point made a single purchase from Tesco.

I had bought something tasty from Argos though. A nice gadget thing which I can’t talk about here because it’s for my wife’s birthday in a fortnight. Seems the demagnetizer / security device remover thingy had failed to work as I picked up my product from collection point B. Not that I set off any alarms when I exited Argos though.

However, it was definitely my wife’s gift that had set off the Tesco alarms because I swang the bloody thing a couple of times in front of the door alarms just to be doubly sure. Anybody seen me performing that act would have wondered where the hell Goliath was hiding.

Swing – beep beep beep! Swing – beep beep beep!

Definitely me.

And the British public being mindful of Law & Order and swollenly turgid with moral rectitude and righteous fibre did, to a man, not rush towards me en masse and pin me to the floor with a shining example of citizen’s arrestmanship.

Nobody batted a single eyelid. Though one woman did flick some stray hair back up into her monumentally anachronistic beehive.

Oh well, I’m in Ronnie Biggs heaven, I thought and got on with purchasing my goods from Tesco. I paid for them and then ensured I got given a receipt because I knew what was coming next when I tried to exit the store.

Beep beep beep!

Yes, me again. This time with a Tesco bag in my hand as well as the one from Argos. Look people! Proof my grubby hands have been pawing the goods and chattels of the Tesco Corporation! Arrest me! Let me feel that heartless hand on my shoulder (a push – and it’s over). Full body cavity search! Good cop bad cop interview with Officer Krupt! I’m going down for a long stretch (6 months is a long time).

But no. Not a dickie-bird. Nobody gave a rat’s arse.

I did the decent thing being (a) tied to a moral compass of my own making and (b) stupid and approached the aforementioned member of staff.

“I think I’m setting off your alarms,” I said.

He gave me that kind of look that says, yes, I thought you looked like a weirdo. He just shrugged and said something about a fault and that I ought to just keep walking and the alarms would stop in a few seconds.

What I wouldn’t give to hear my bank manager say that to me. I could give up the ruddy pantomime with the balaclava and the sawn-off and never have to threaten anybody ever again. (I know, I know, but where would I get my kicks then?)

So I left the store.

Beep beep beep.

Only after I was heading down the street did I kick myself for the missed opportunity. I was in the DVD aisle when I spoke to Mr Poirot. I could have stuffed a load into my bag when his back was turned (or even when it wasn’t) and made off with a goodly haul.

I even briefly considered pulling the same scam in the other stores on the high street. Beep beep beep! Sorry – it’s this thing I’ve bought from Argos; it’s setting off your alarms... mind if I have a look around your nice store...?

But I just couldn’t be bothered.

What’s the point?

The knickers in Leamington are crap.


Friday, February 04, 2011

This Is Not The News

I know there is a longstanding tradition in broadcast news that you always round off your headlines with a light hearted story or joke. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Yes, there might be armed blaggers shooting holes in the diaphragms in the local chemists as they make a grab for the methadone but Bertie Entwhistle from 2 doors up has spent the last 3 weeks with his genitals dunked in cold baked beans to raise money for disadvantaged ASBO hoodies so they can go pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons, ho ho ho, it’s a wonderful life really.

If you live in Bedford Falls.

I accept this. I find it tiresome sometimes but I accept it. It’s a tradition.

What I don’t accept is the slow metamorphosis that has been occurring over the last few decades (it all started with breakfast television, I’m sure) whereby our newsreaders – invariably the male – think they are really stand-up comedians who just happen to read the news.

We now get banter in between the major news items. Banter between Mr Stiff-In-A-Shirt-News-Reader and Miss-It-Was-Acceptable-In-The-Eighties-To-Power-Dress-Like-This-News-Reader:

Talking of the war on terror, my dog has no nose. Oh really – how does he smell? Like your cheap and nasty newsroom perfume.

Oh how we chortle.

But one day this week it got too much. It got callous and insensitive. Worse, it made me question just what the hell we as a race of human beings are turning into.

Mr Slick Anchorman rounded his day’s run on News24 with the following paraphrased words: “and to round up our major news story for the night a Muslim cleric in Sheffield has been found guilty of raping 2 young boys. [Pause and then turn to Miss Plastic Anchorwoman.] You know I find going to a petrol station these days really emotional. Yeah, I don’t know what it is I just can’t help filling up...”

Boom-boom-tish. Cue titles.

Did I miss something? Something important? Like a respectful pause between this horrific news item and this inordinately lame and unwarranted piece of comedy shit?

I mean, the guy barely took a breath between the two items or even changed the tone of his voice. I swear to God he was just in a rush to get his gag into the show before his shift ended and the new Mr Cocoa-The-Comedy-Newsman jumped into his throbbing news seat.

No! No! I’ve had this gag lined up all day and I’m going to get it in there no matter how irrelevant and painfully offensive it might be to all victims of child abuse, all children, all parents and basically everyone with an ounce of sensitivity and decency. We’ve got to go out on a high, Goddammit! It’s a tradition! I’m dancing dressed as a kipper for Comic Relief next week! This is show business, people!

Yeah. ‘Cos it sure as hell wasn’t the news.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Those Who Stand And Wait Will Not Serve Forever

So I haven’t seen this guy for a long time and he drops into my place of work and he gives me that look that says, God, you’re still here, why am I even surprised?

Now, maybe I’m reading too much into that look because I’m doing something menial like stacking chairs after a public event and this guy is swanking about in his big leather jacket and his new spotlessly clean spectacles (while mine are grimy with sweat within days) and he’s talking to colleagues about his current place of employment where he’s pretty much his own boss.

Yeah, he’s come a long way since we all used to muck-it together. He’s climbed the ladder. He’s greased the pole. He’s signed in blood for The Man.

And on the surface I think, yeah, good for you, if you’re doing what you want to do but it leaves me cold, mate. But still I get that look. That smug look. And he’s leaning on a pile of chairs that I need to stack and put away and he condescends to move only slightly to the side so I can do this and his look becomes – if possible – even smugger.

Still humping stuff about. That’s me. All the dirty jobs. All the fetching and carrying. All the backroom stuff. I’m just a grunt (no offense; none taken) – sorry, watched Aliens again yesterday – and he gives me that look... that look that contains so much more in it than just smugness or self assured superiority. It contains pity and disappointment (like he has a right to be disappointed in me!); it contains confusion and genuine puzzlement that someone, anyone, me specifically could settle for what I’m doing right now when there are lofty heights to be climbed like the miserable pedestal down from which he’s currently god-gazing from.

And I grit my teeth and I get on with the job. Because to me it is just a job. It puts bread on the table. I do not view it as a career. I don’t want it to be my pedestal. I’m still building that. I want my pedestal to be built out of the words that I write. The poetry, the novels, the articles and, yes, goddamit, the blogs. And I think screw you, hotshot, you know nothing about me; you don’t know that I write or that I’ve been doing so – pushing myself at it – for the last 30 years with varying degrees of success, refusing to give up the dream.

And it occurs to me that there are some people in this life who knock you over, who pull the rug out from beneath you, who break your confidence into little-bitty pieces just to watch you run around like a chicken trying to peck them all back up again. They are scum. They slow you down; they distract you and cause you to lose focus.

But then there are people like this guy. People, who despite the bile they might provoke, are to be welcomed. Because when I meet people like this I feel my focus – which I like to imagine as a blowtorch – become hotter, sharper, more accurate. The flame becomes blue, blue-white and then so hot that you can’t bear to look at it. And it makes me want to write more. It makes me want to write better. It makes me want to chase that dream down and make it mine. And when that day comes I swear to God that I will also hunt down people like this and I will laser-beam their smarmy little eyes out.