Monday, July 30, 2012

Mutton Jeff

When I was a kid me and my mates would often pose to each other the question “if you had to lose one of your senses which one would it be?”

This is the kind of question that is fine coming from a friend but would be deeply worrying if it was spat into your face by a complete stranger on the street who happened to holding a kitchen knife at the time.

Of course, being regular little Oscar Wildes we’d reply “common” before giving the matter some proper, deeper thought and coming up with taste or smell. You couldn’t lose touch because that would just be stupid and, being largely ignorant, total paralysis didn’t occur to our youthful little minds. The two senses deemed most important to keep was sight and hearing. And of these, if it came down to a final choice, sight was deemed the most supreme.

It was agreed that, at a push, we could do without our hearing. Not hearing any new music would be a pain but better that than not being able to look at Big & Bouncy anymore.

I completed a Sign Language course a year ago as some of you know so I am now more astutely aware of what a huge disability it is to lose one’s hearing.

And to enrich the experience I am today completely deaf in one ear.

This is a recurrent problem. My ears either produce too much wax, wax that is too hard or wax that resists natural dispersal.

Years ago you’d get the old syringe treatment. Wince inducing but effective and your restored hearing was like a miracle.

Nowadays they (doctors) don’t syringe unless they have too. They prefer to prescribe ear drops. Olive oil and bicarbonate of soda. The miracle takes longer and is a real fag to bring about.

In the meantime I am walking around like I have been deafened on one side by a spent grenade. It is damn weird. My ear actually feels numb even though I know it isn’t. I’m having trouble filtering simultaneous sounds. And I’m having difficulty judging their distance and direction. I also feel very irritable but my wife tells me this state of play is “situation normal”.

My wife also told me (rather uncharitably) that she never has ear blocking problems because she always keeps her ears nice and clean. The implication being that I don’t.

This is not true. I pick my ears with an assiduousness usually only reserved for my nose.

Possibly even too much.

And with my fingernails too which I’m sure is not recommended (which is daft when Nature herself has supplied the tools for the job). Sometimes I scratch too hard and the skin bleeds and scabs over. This, alas, does not help the removal of waxy deposits.

So it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation really.

I know there are such things as cottonwool buds but I am wary of inserting foreign objects into my ears. I had an uncle when I was younger who, I’m guessing, had a similar problem with his ears and was more vigorous in his attempts to dislodge the offending blockage. It was well known that he had perforated both eardrums by shoving a match into his lugholes and wiggling it about so hard he skewered the membrane.

In truth he was damned lucky the match never ignited.

So, for the next week or so while I wait for the ear drops to work you all need to stand on my left-hand-side if you wish to speak to me and enunciate loudly and clearly.

I may still ignore you but you can now kid yourself that it is down to a medical complaint and not just because I think you’re not worth listening to...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I’m Going To Blow Up The Olympics

So Paul Chambers, the man who sparked a full-on security alert at Robin Hood airport (near Doncaster) when he Tweeted “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!” back in 2010 when the airport was temporarily shut during heavy snow has finally won his appeal against his conviction for “sending a menacing electronic communication” at the High Court in London.

I’m pleased for him in a kind of passive, passing, glad-somebody-finally-saw-sense kind of way. Mainly though I just feel hugely disgruntled at the amount of tax payer’s money that has been wasted bringing this case to trial, bringing it to appeal at a Crown Court only for that appeal to be initially quashed and then being brought to the High Court where it was eventually brought before someone with a brain cell who could finally see it for the ridiculously petty pile of shit that it actually was.

Apparently his initial appeal at the Crown Court was overturned because the judge said the Tweet was “clearly menacing”.

Clearly menacing? I’ve received begging letters from the RSPCA that were more menacing than that.

It is surely plain to everyone that the Tweet was a joke. A joke in poor taste admittedly and not even particularly funny but a joke nevertheless. The guy was cheesed off. His flight was delayed. It was snowing. He was stuck in Doncaster. It was an unthinking moment of heat and frustration. It was a little guy sounding off against a big corporate machine that had let him down. And can I just say again that he was stuck in Doncaster?

Even if he really had blown up the airport surely that alone would be a mitigating circumstance?

As it was, John Cooper QC last month said: “[the Tweet] was certainly not sent in the context of terrorism and it was wrong for the crown court to make such an association”.


Commonsense prevails at last. The Law is less of an ass than I thought it was.

But the staff at Robin Hood airport ought to hang their heads in shame along with all those who helped push this case along via the hard earned money of the likes of you and me.

Have we actually really reached an age where the average man on the street can’t cock a snoop at the big corporations with the only weapon available to him that is still free – i.e. his speech?

We have to accept here that there is a huge, clearly recognizable difference between “you have five minutes to evacuate, there is a bomb on your premises, die infidel pig-dog, the code word is kebab” and “your service is so crap you need a bomb put under you to get things to improve”. Real bomb threats are, after all, plainly not funny.

Real bomb hoaxes are also not funny. But “you've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high”, oh and by the way you can clearly identify me by my Twitter account and my 600 Followers is clearly not even in the same ballpark. That isn’t even remotely threatening. It’s someone throwing their rattle out of the pram and then having it taken to the police by a prat who then complains to the police that they felt frightened by the rattle - please lock them up Mr Policeman for I was very fwightened.

Honestly! Some people need to get a life.

Preferably before I blow them sky-high with the two tonnes of Semtex that I have rabidly secreted down my Y-fronts and packed into the hairy chambers of my armpits.

Go on. Complain about this fucking blog. I just dare you!

My finger is hovering over the button right now! One wrong move and you’re all going to die with the smoke of my singed underpants in your lungs!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

No More Holidays Ever

I have come to the conclusion that it will be more conducive to my sanity and overall sense of contentment if I never ever take a holiday again.

No more days off. No more long weekends. No more weeks luxuriating in the otherworldliness of not being at work.

No more day trips, no more travelling abroad, no more completing lengthy DIY projects at home.

Just work work work from now on and forever. Ad infinitum without a break, pause or cessation.

I realize this new ethos of mine will be hard on the wife and kids but for the sake of my fragile mental health it must be so.

My reasons are thus:

I am back on an even keel. I’ve re-established that balance of ambivalence, insensitivity and self-delusion that enables one to get up every day and go to work and kid yourself that life is fine and dandy and you can keep this up forever and ever amen.

It wasn’t easy. I had a wobble. I teetered on the slippery edge of the pit of depression. I felt it’s cold, merciless maw sucking at my feet on Tuesday.


I had a lovely day off with my wife on Monday to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. We spent the day in Stow. We pottered about without the kids. We had a gorgeous meal at a fabulous eatery (The Talbot for those of you close enough to investigate for yourselves). We found a terrific vintage / antique shop wherein I bought a classic leather jacket that fit me perfectly (I am now waiting for the temperatures to cool again so that I can wear it). The sun shined. We were happy and at peace. We got to thinking that this is how life should be always. It was perfect.

And then I returned to work and the whole happy-shiny facade came tumbling down around me. Reality bit. I tasted dust and ash. I had to turn my face away from the sunshine of freedom and press it back against the iron-pocked grindstone of earning-a-crust.

It nearly destroyed me.

It’s the drop, you see?

The screaming descent from that wonderful carefree high to the brimstone earth’s-core low of back-to-workness.

It’s one hell of a mood swing. And I just don’t think I can cope with them anymore.

If one day can do that to me, imagine what a more lengthy period of holiday will do?

I’ve got 2 weeks off in August! It might just kill me!

So I’ve decided. No more putting myself through that cold hard climb to recovery. No more dragging the comatose corpse of my vital mind back out of the darkness of post-holiday-induced depression.

I’m on a even keel right now. I’ve hauled myself out of the bottomless waters of the ocean onto my fragile little raft. I’m nicely afloat. I’m flat-lining; avoiding the peaks and troughs of fortune and misfortune. I want neither too much wind nor none at all. An eternity of white skies with just a touch of breeze is fine.

No more holidays. No more living life the way it ought to be lived.

It’s a matter of survival.

It’s a matter of staying alive.

Wish me well. Maybe when I retire we could risk a visit to the pub for a celebratory drink?

However, I’m not promising.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My New Career

I have prevaricated. I have delayed. I have walked the tightrope of indecision strung a mere inch above the mile-wide safety net of inaction.

I have moaned but done nothing.

I have abided with a great pain but refused to throw the one ring into the fiery chasm of Mount Doom.

I have complained about the weeds but refused to grasp the nettle.

Well, enough!

Something has snapped inside. My sanity chip has toggled back and forth so many times over the last few years that I no longer know which mode I am operating on and, to tell the truth, I don’t think it matters anymore.

I am bending my will towards finding a new job. The time has come. The sea-change in my soul might have been a long time coming but it is here at last and I am hoping that, by announcing it here so publically, it will give me some steel in my spine to see the plans through to the end.

I am considering literally anything at the moment.

Top of the list currently is Community Beat Officer for the local police force. Something outdoors and community based with the emphasis on building up a good rapport with the locals (as opposed to getting them banged to rights for a heist that they swear they didn’t do). I know. You are laughing. What the hell do I know about mixing it with a sneering bunch of fraudsters, scheisters and ne’er-do-wells? Well, weirdly enough, on my CV where I fill in my “relevant other experience” I am already onto the fifth page. I've had some pretty interesting experiences over the last 25 odd years during my time in full-time employment; I've seen a few things, I can tell you. I’m bloody made for the job.

But in all seriousness the idea of the job appeals. It’s outdoors rather than being office based and this is definitely a mode of working that is more me. The only fly in the ointment at the moment is that the local police force are not currently recruiting for such posts... but I am keeping a hawk-eye out ready for when they do.

Another idea has been nursing. Again, before you laugh, I would point out that I worked 10 years in a nursing home before my current job and enjoyed the environment greatly (though I acknowledge this was largely down to the great people I worked with). Training can be done on the job and it is a profession that is recognized internationally and has merit as such.

Other than that it really is just a case of polishing the old CV and getting it out to an employment agency. I’ve been told that the job market locally is “buoyant”. Maybe it’s time to float my boat on the seas of fate and see what I snare in my net?

Whatever, I can feel a yen to move pressing itself hard upon my neck and shoulders and driving a spear point into my kidneys. I’m 43 this year. Given the current pension climate I probably have a good 40 years employment left in me, maybe even 50.

43 could well be the new 18 and time to get a toe-hold on a new career...


Friday, July 20, 2012

The Maltings

Modern suburban bliss.

That’s what this photograph conjures up.

But lying beneath that idea, for me, is a whole heap of childhood memories.

The building above form a residential development in Leamington Spa called The Maltings. It takes its name – and indeed much of its design aesthetic – from the buildings that were there originally.

When this site was first developed the buildings formed a local brewery – we’re talking some time in the 1800s here. Back when I knew the site in the 1970’s the brewery had closed down and I think the site was somehow shared between the local authority and Severn Trent Water. Certainly Severn Trent used to park their fleet of vans in the car park alongside those of the council bin men.

My grandfather worked for Severn Trent for much of his working life. Hence the connection.

Sunday’s were my favourite day as a kid. Every Sunday me and my sisters would spend the day with my grandparents – my Nan and Bampap. Bampap would pick us up around 10.30 and the journey we’d take to my grandparent’s house was painfully, joyously circuitous. We’d call in on family friends first – a whole host of people who became adopted as Aunty This and Uncle That. My grandparents came from the generation where friends were people you actually made time to see and visit rather than just poke on Facebook. They are each memories in themselves.

Regularly though we’d call in on the site now known as The Maltings.

Due to the Severn Trent connection my grandfather had access to the place and the facilities (such as they were – this was the 1970’s after all). This consisted solely of a standpipe and a hose with which he’d wash his car for free while me and my sister (my youngest sister was yet to be born) sat in the car and giggled at the sound of the water hitting the metal roof and running in curving arcs down the windscreen. On occasion, Bampap would allow us out of the car and we’d go for a nose around the offices. All strictly covert and secret. He’d tell us not to touch anything and then slyly nick us notepads and pencils from the stationery cupboard or dial the speaking clock on the telephone so we could hear the time recited to us in clipped BBC English.

I remember once he left us in the car while he went off about some business or other. He wouldn’t be long he said, we were to wait in the car. I daresay he was gone barely 15 minutes but to me and my sister, at 8 and 7 years old, it seemed an age and we began to panic that he wasn’t coming back. An idea that seems so ridiculous to me now I can’t believe I ever thought it. Being the oldest it was up to me to act and I decided we ought to roll down the window and climb out and go look for him.

Having made the decision I then sat back whilst my sister acted and I have a fuzzy memory of her managing to squeeze out of the driver’s side-window and dropping down to the ground just as Bampap appeared asking us at the top of his voice what the hell we were doing? I remember I was relieved to see him, not least because I doubted I’d be as agile as my sister and would not have got out of the window safely.

My other memories of this time are fragmentary. Reflections in a broken mirror. I remember the vans that used to be parked there. I remember the clock tower on the old brewery building. I remember the feral cats that we’d sometimes see scampering about and that Bampap would try and entice towards him by rubbing his fingers together as if to proffer food.

An entire decade of Sunday mornings are reduced down to a few mental snapshots and disembodied feelings that I know would hold me tightly if only I could bring them more into the light.

The Maltings development is lovely. I’m sure it is a very nice place to live and there are plaques commemorating the site’s former usage as a brewery – all part of Leamington’s rich history.

But when I walk by now I can’t help but feel a wistful sort of regret. Regret and sadness.

All that meant anything to me about the place is gone. Long gone.

And the plaque I have in my mind is now not as clear as it once was.

As my Nan would have said: happy days.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ask Me About Fleas And Worms

The picture above isn’t a mock-up.

It is a genuine poster on display outside the Pets At Home store in Leamington Spa.

I saw it last week and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to take a photo of it, such was my disbelief.

That poor woman! That was my initial thought. That poor, poor woman. Because she doesn’t look like a model or a stand-in (I have pixellated her face to protect her identity – though I acknowledge the futility of that considering she’s on a 6ft poster outside the store for all to see). She looks the genuine article. A real, bona fide store assistant. Some poor women who got called to the manager’s office one day and told to sit down in the comfy seat. The one with arms and a swivel mechanism that works.

“Barbara,” the manager would have said. “Babs. Do you mind if I call you Babs?”

And she would have smiled sweetly and thought, “Shit, he’s either going to fire me or I’m going to have to suck him off to get promotion.”

And then the manager would have revealed the truth. No sucking off. Just sucking.

“Babs, we would like you to be the face of our new campaign. Out of thousands of employees we have chosen yours as the face of our new marketing drive to encourage pet owners to check their beloved pets for fleas and worms. Yours is the visage that says, ‘Yes, I am an expert in this field and I am approachable if you wish to discuss your flea and worm problems.’ We’ve even had a T-shirt made up in your size. Slip it on, Babs, the photographer is downstairs waiting. Or I can give you your P45 if you prefer?”

And that was it. Deal done. Fate sealed. Picture taken. Credibility broken upon the cold altar of commerce.

That poor woman.

Is this the new MO for marketing campaigns? Is this a sign of how things are going to go?

What next?

CBeebies stalwart Justin Fletcher splayed on a poster with the words “Ask me about CRB checks” written in bold Comic Sans MS type beneath his clownish features?

A nice big political campaign poster of David Cameron above the words “Ask me about integrity, fairness and how to protect the rights of the vulnerable”?

How about G4S frontman Nick ‘Buckles under pressure’ with the words: “Ask me about your safety at the Olympi... whoops...!” or Rupert Murdoch “Ask me about a citizen’s right to privacy”?

The list, unlike this blog post, is I am sure endless.

But please don’t ask me about it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chaos And Misrule

How moral are you?

How righteous (if that’s the right word)? Do you do the right thing just because it is the right thing or because you fear cultural retribution? The law might be an ass but it cannot be denied that it keeps a good many of us on the straight and narrow. Without it do you ever wonder how many of us would be potential thugs? Potential murderers, even?

Without the thought of being someone’s bitch in the prison showers or snuggling up to Mr Big for a couple of quid’s worth of phone cards most of us, I suspect, would at sometime or other snap and bludgeon those around us to death with a Chubb fire extinguisher (or whatever heavy blunt instrument you happen to have at hand).

That might sound over the top but just think about it seriously for a moment.

When faced with an insanely infuriating work colleague or an overly unhelpful shop assistant or a belligerent neighbour who has yet again cut a mammoth sized limb from your precious Leylandii and dropped it onto your marijuana nursery don’t we all experience a Reggie Perrin moment or three and imagine taking a Black & Decker hedge trimmer to their jugular? Or pulping their face into bloody Papier-mâché with the mortar and pestle you bought on-line especially to grind up your Valium tablets for easier absorption?

Daily I have hacked, maimed, peppered and pulverized the people around me with a mental arsenal that, if it were real, would see me institutionalized for life. Reservoir Dogs style I have removed ears, noses, fingers (individually), various genitalia (some of them pre-cooked with an oxy acetylene welding torch), limbs and, when the devil inside has really taken me by the horns, internal organs which I then fantasize about sending to the local police inspector Jack The Ripper style accompanied by a note informing him that the bits I kept went down rather well sautéed in butter with a side order of fava beans.

And the weird thing is I don’t even know anyone named Clarisse.

If it were not for that metaphysical something deep inside that stops me every time I would be the desperately evasive fruit of a massive countrywide police hunt and, no doubt, the pin-up of every kitchensink chained chav this side of Watford.

But is it an inbred morality that stays my hand? An innate instinct toward decency?

Or is it just societal conditioning? Fear of the jug? An aversion to Big Vern’s personal, phallus-shaped soap-on-a-rope?

How can I call myself a decent morally-upstanding person when the only thing keeping me from eviscerating the pathetic organs of those around me is a desire to not be incarcerated for the rest of my born natural?

That isn’t morality! That isn’t righteousness!

It’s a weird kind of cowardice. It is self denial. At best it is a bizarre form of self-sacrifice for the good of the many.

And though in theory that is noble it is still not moral.

I leave you today with a thought from Voltaire: I have no morals - and yet I'm a very moral person.

It is so true.

But is it something to be proud of?


Friday, July 13, 2012


I’m not sure how I feel about SatNavs.

My wife and I came to them late and initially were quite resistant. Reliance on such electronic devices dulls the brain; our natural intelligence can only mildew and entropy as a consequence – map reading after all is a highly prized skill. I mean, let’s face it, there is no sure-fire way of getting a choice piece of totty into your bed than by revealing you are a master cartographer. Take it from me, a woman likes a man who pays special attention to every contour and physical depression. Plus there is no finer joy in life than the smell of old vellum and seeing the words “here be monsters” just above the place where X marks the spot.

Sorry. I may have mixed up my metaphors rather unfortunately in that last paragraph.

Last year though Karen and I splashed out on a brand spanking new TomTom.

And although it has undoubtedly removed the pleasure of running an index finger along a representation of an A road marked on a sheet of glossy A4 paper it has provided another pleasure. The pleasure of heading off the beaten track, taking the scenic route, taking a chance on a wrong turn and knowing that no matter where you end up the SatNav will instantly re-program a new route to get you back home again safely. It’s like you are able to get lost without the stress of actually getting lost. It’s absolutely brilliant.

There is also quite a market in novelty SatNav “voices”.

And this got me thinking that, with the help of a digital recorder and a decent script, I could possibly cash in on this.

My ideas thus far are -

The Paranoid SatNav: “Turn left, left, quick, no right, step on it, faster, faster, come on! No they’re still behind us, do a U-Turn – NOW! NOW! MOVE! MOVE! Shit! They’re still on our tail. I can’t shake them off; they’re getting closer! Goddamit! Well, they won’t take us alive! You hear me? They won't take us alive! Aaargh!”

The Agoraphobic SatNav: “Oh my God! What do you think you’re doing? It’s the whole world out here, man... The whole world, like, absolutely everywhere! Run! Run! Get back into the house! Why did you even think to come outside? What the hell were you thinking?!”

The Irish Drunk SatNav: “Ar t’be shoor, I knows a shortcut that’ll take a gud half hour off the jerney, jus yoose lissen ter me. Head down here passed The Ol’ Shebeen, mebbe pop inside fer a quick point, ar t’be sure if it’s a lock-in yer after jus mention moi name and Podraig will see yer roight, yer in no rush t’get home now ar yer?”

The Official Olympic SatNav: “Yes, I know you’ve been planning this trip for the last 7 years but I’m just not effing ready, OK?”

Any more will be gratefully received. I’ll share any earnings with you gladly. In fact I’ll even drop them round in person.

If I can find your house, that is.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tell Laura I Love Her

Gordon Brittas.

If you were around in the Nineties and of an age to appreciate a proper sitcom done damnably well then that name will mean something to you. If not then, like my eldest boy, you will have to delve in the BBC’s back catalogue and get the boxed set.

Continuing my boy’s odyssey through the comedy shows of my formative years we have finally reached The Brittas Empire.

Gordon Brittas (played by Chris Barrie) was way ahead of his time. He was a forerunner for every Fire Safety diehard, every devoted Risk Assessor, every in-your-face, dyed-in-the-wool, dog-savaging-a-rabbit, never-going-to-let-it-drop-ever Health & Safety Officer who has ever walked, breathed and told you to move that pencil sharpener from the edge of your desk in case a colleague should trip over their own brogues and impale themselves upon it. He was the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse: Mr Bump.

At the time I thought The Brittas Empire was hilarious. By the third series the writers (Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen) were well into their stride and managed to demolish Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre in ever more inventive and bizarre ways. Rogue fireworks ignited by sunlight cast through a carelessly discarded pair of spectacles would in turn ignite a storeroom being used to house petroleum because the fuel tank had a hole in it; over elaborate fire safety drills would actually result in staff being injured and horribly maimed; the most improbable of small events would domino and coalesce into disasters of national proportions in the space of half an hour. Mr Brittas would be the author of all. The more obsessive he became about doing the right thing and following safety guidelines the higher the body count would rise. I think in the fifth series the writers actually managed to destroy the Centre in every single episode.

In theory Mr Brittas should have been an unsympathetic character whose blind adherence to local byways and the letter of the law rendered him beyond redemption. But he was saved. He was saved by Laura Lancing his long suffering, ever patient, ever understanding Assistant Manager played by the gorgeous Julia St John (pictured above). Rather than create a mean two-dimension caricature of an overzealous jobsworth, the writers – through Laura’s insights and interventions – created a more rounded character who, despite scoring a whopping 100% on the National Annoyance League Table, was nevertheless a decent, well-meaning man who constantly tried to be kind and caring and morally upstanding and who was only ever hampered in achieving this by his fevered need to always do the right thing.

Laura was an angel. Laura was a goddess. And she had the soft, smooth voice to match and a ready ironic smile where most would have had gritted teeth.

Naturally I fancied the gym skirt off her back when the series was first aired and watching it again now she has lost none of her allure. Even my wife has commented that most guys she knows “had a thing” for Laura. Laura was the calm in Mr Brittas’ storm. The Ying to his Yang. The sensible, sane response to the madness that he unfailingly caused. And she had eyes that could stun a charging red blooded male at 50 paces. I would have died for that woman and, if I’d worked at Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre, the chances are I probably would have.

I laughed at the time. I thought the premise of the show was hilarious.

And while I’m still laughing now, watching it years later, that laughter is distinctly tinged with nervousness. It is tinged with a sense of burgeoning tragedy.

Because suddenly Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre is all around me.

It has become the world I live in. A world where workmen cannot abandon their ladders in case some cranially challenged hoody decides to show off to his mates and swan-dive from the top of it and then sue the company for his inability to sign-on every week. A world where hot water cannot be too hot lest it scald the person washing their hands but not so lukewarm that it allows Legionella bacteria to grow and flourish. A world where everything from opening a trap door in the floor to lifting a hot cup of tea to your mouth during work time has to be risk assessed and approved by a Health & Safety Officer and underwritten by an insurance company lest the corporation be responsible for your accidental demise.

It is the world I work in.

It is the modus operandi of my working life.

I have become Mr Brittas.

Only I don’t have a Laura to sweeten the pill. A Laura to save me from myself.


As the song goes: tell Laura I love her, tell Laura I need her...

But onwards and upwards, people. Now excuse me while I just move this unexploded World War II bomb I’ve found into the gas boiler room for safe keeping... oops, look at that petrol spilled on the floor... someone could have slipped over on that...

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Grand Opening Of The Shed

As a race our expectations of life must surely be the single biggest contributor to our general unhappiness.

As adults we are well acquainted with reality and yet we constantly expect and hope for far more than we know can ever be delivered. This is idiocy and arrogance. We know how the world works, how much it costs and how people like to cut corners. A little thought and a little logic would rein in our runaway dreams and ensure that we are never disappointed again. No more will we be glass-half-full or glass-half-empty people. We will just be a people grateful for having a glass.

Take the opening of The Shard during the week. London's newest, biggest building. In fact it is the tallest building in Western Europe. For the time being.

According to news reports the general feeling was that people - i.e. the hoi polloi, you and me and your mama too - were a tad disappointed by the opening ceremony. It was something of a let down.

I must admit I didn't watch it but just caught the highlights on Newsround (I have kids, OK, what scope do you think I have to watch News24 these days?) - enough in itself to remove the high and the light from any ceremony.

I saw light displays from within the building itself and a laser show from the extremeties of the building. Admittedly there were no fireworks (that I saw) but I dare say they are stockpiling those for the Olympics.

The opening ceremony seemed perfectly adequate to my mind. It's a building, for God's sake. What were people expecting it to do? Develop rocket thrusters Autobot style and blast off to the moon?

It's a building.

Back when I was a kid a new building was opened by having a local celeb cut a pink ribbon in front of the doors and then everyone downed a cheap glass of Liebfraumilch in the foyer and that was it. You counted yourself lucky if you were presented with a sausage and a pineapple chunk on a stick.

It's a building. It doesn't do anything but stand there and gradually fall into decay by the unstoppable effects of entropy.

Be grateful for the coloured lights and the lasers.

Even if they'd installed nude can-can dancers on the top floor no-one would have seen them.

At the end of the day this building is nothing more than an icon and a trophy for the rich and smug affluent enough to live and work there.

Personally I have already re-christened it The Shed and I do hope you will all assist my attempts to see that this new monicker soon catches on.

As for the aesthetics of the building itself... well, I've seen worse. At least it doesn't look like a car park.

One thing does worry me though.

I'm sure London's newest erection has a twin somewhere in Mordor.

Should we be worried?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Nasal Bungee

I have never in my life waited tables or worked in a cafe.

Not even as a Saturday job.

It’s not that I ever thought such a job was too beneath me. Honestly. The truth was I was just too shy to contemplate having to deal with people on such an intimate level. I.E. Actually speaking to them and bringing them food items which they will then ingest in front of me. Add to this dealing with money and till receipts and the odd complaint about cold sausage meat and, as a late teen / early twenty something, it was just a career move that I felt myself far too inadequate to contemplate.

So I stuck to office cleaning and the odd spot of lawn mowing for old ladies. No. There is no euphemism there. Don’t even think it.

But I often wonder about people who do wait tables. I marvel at their self-confidence and stamina. I often wonder if, had someone pushed me into working in a cafe, it would have done my confidence some good and hardened me up to the hard knocks of the work place sooner rather than later. Who knows where I might have ended up as a consequence?

One waitress I will always remember worked in a proper greasy spoon in Birmingham back in the Eighties. Not a cafe. A caff. Me and my mate, Dave, used to head over on the train every Saturday to visit the guitar shops and the record shops of ‘Brum’. We were both new to full time employment – Dave at the Post Office and me at British Telecom – and, both of us living at home, we had assets so liquid we could piss them up the wall as often and as wantonly as we liked without a care in the world.

One Saturday we decided we were in the mood for a proper fry-up. A proper heart-attack-on-a-plate, long-distance-lorry-driver kind of fry-up. The kind running in so much grease and oil you think David Walliams may have wrung out his swimming trunks all over your plate (‘cos they cover his body in goose fat to insulate him against the cold water – just in case you were wondering what I was referring to).

We found a likely cafe. I can’t remember what it was called but I do recall it was near a butcher’s shop that sported the unlikely name of Big City Meat. That amused our young adult minds no end, I can tell you.

I ordered egg and chips – that hardy British nutritional standby – and I can’t for the life of me remember what Dave ordered. But I can tell you now that it wasn’t a salad. That place did not sell anything green. Though as you will discover it may have offered something for free...

We didn’t take much notice of the waitress at first. Other than she punctuated every word she spoke with a sniff. She was rather gaunt looking and was wearing an apron that was far too big for her and looked like it had been nicked from her granny. Dave and I were far too interested in the acoustic guitar I’d just bought to give her the benefit of a quick male-interest once over and so let her be.

When she brought our food over, however, it was a different matter. She held the plates up so high we had no choice but to look up into her face. To peer upwards into the glistening twin-cavities of her nose. And therein at the same time we both spied the biggest, wettest bogey ever produced hanging by the most precarious of threads, waiting to drop its gagging payload onto our plates.

We both tensed nervously as the plates were lowered down to the table top and she bent her head forwards a little. She may have whispered “bon appétit” but I very much doubt it; she was from Birmingham after all. It was probably something like “get yer chops around that”. And then she disappeared back into the kitchen with a dismissive sniff.

But was it an empty sniff – a sniff that luxuriated in a sudden vacuum? Or a sniff that reconnected and re-housed something warm, wet and personal?

We will never know but I can tell you now, no two plates of greasy fried food were ever so furiously and so dedicatedly examined for unasked for greens.

I have never relished greasy food since that day and cannot abide “snotty” eggs. They have to be easy-over and nicely firm, not an ounce of runny stuff upon them. Overly gooey eggs make me want to retch.

I don’t know if working in a cafe ever improved that girl’s lot in life or did her any good. Whether her bravery over my cowardice meant she was fast-tracked to some dream job years later and now she’s rubbing shoulders with Alan the Lord Sugar and running her own business while I‘m here... er... where I am.

I think of her often and wonder who, out of the two of us, had it the worst that day; who the best.

Her memory stays with me always. Hanging there by a moist thread.

Never quite letting go.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Dousing The Flame

Plainly I am a miserable bastard.

I am one of those wretched people who take no joy whatsoever in life’s special events but hide away, griping and sneering, and looking down my nose at the hoi polloi.

The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter back in March? I preferred to sleep in.

The Euro football thing? Past me by. Couldn’t care, didn’t care.

Wimbledon? If I wanted to watch women in short skirts grunting at each other I’d... hold on a minute, I might programme my set-top box to record that one.

Yesterday the Olympic Torch (or rather a facsimile of one of many Olympic Torches) passed through my home town of Leamington Spa. The route took it right passed my place of employment. The torch was on my very doorstep. Crowds and thronging masses lining the streets. Local celebs. Local dignitaries. The press. The police. The St John’s Ambulance brigade. The world and his dog all lined up to watch the world’s biggest Cornetto walked along streets which in a year’s time will not recall its passing. Or even care.

Was I there?

Nah. I couldn’t be bothered.

The wife had made cup cakes and they were fresh out of the oven and generously iced. I was on the sofa with a good book. The kids were playing happily together and not requiring adult involvement. The kittens had disappeared to their mysterious bolt-hole the exact location of which is still unknown to us.

This was quite possibly a once in a lifetime event happening in my own home town and I just felt nothing. Not a spark of interest. Not even a snifter of a fart. In years to come when people ask me if I was there and if I saw it I shall say no but my backside was grateful for the good scratching I gave it.

The most I have done is to check out some photos on Facebook posted by a friend who did motivate himself to go.

They are good photos but the spectacle of the event looks underwhelming. When you have seen one crowd you have seen them all. Unless they are armed, of course; crowds like that tend to impinge on the viewer far more personally. And as for the torch... well, I’ve seen it on the telly. I’ve seen it on the telly nearly every night for the last God knows how many weeks. I’m sick of it. It is of no more interest to me than one of those huge phallic pepper mills that Italian waiter’s grind over your lasagne in Bella Italia.

I’d like to put this indifference down to Olympic fatigue but the truth is I just don’t care enough about big “social” “all inclusive” events of any kind. They make me want to down tools and run off in the opposite direction. I even get some kind of secret thrill from spurning them and not being part of them. I don’t even see myself as a lone wolf or one-man-alone or anything cool like that.

I just don’t want everybody else’s bag to be my bag.

I don’t want to be part or included or one of the many.

And for some strange reason I feel bloody proud to have discovered that about myself.

Where was I when they shot Kennedy?

I was doing my own thing, Mac, doing my own thing.