Tuesday, 30 June 2009
There is, however, one thing they all have in common and that’s a cruel streak.
That doesn’t mean I want my friends to be nasty – my ego is far too big and fragile for that. But I do like my friends to be capable of bitchiness, whether that’s delivered with clinical and disinterested wit, seemingly wide-eyed ingenuousness or brutal forensic precision.
The one exception might well be my friend Helen who is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. I worked with her for a couple of years in which time, thanks to some concerted coaching, I just about managed to get her to the stage where she allowed herself a wry smile when something bad happened to somebody she didn’t like. But even then there was an undertone of aren’t I awful for thinking that? But that’s Helen all over - everyone who meets her likes her and she naturally gets on with everyone. It’s a gift I have never had, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I never will. Ordinarily I’d hate someone like that, but she gets away with it because she’s just so fucking nice (damn her).
On reflection, I think her almost implausible niceness is exactly what made it so funny that her holiday in the Gambia was such an unmitigated diplomatic disaster.
It all started so well. Helen loved the Gambia - the beaches were lovely, the drinks were plentiful and the relaxing poolside lounging was just what she needed after months of being barked at in the office by a boss who closely resembled a Magic 8 Ball with Tourette’s. But most of all she loved the people. So friendly, so kind, so appreciative of everything and so in love with life. She visited the villages and was simultaneously moved by their inspiring spirit and shocked by the poverty they had to endure. On the final night, she and her friend wanted to say thank you. So they took a couple of the hotel staff out for drinks. They went to a nearby bar and she asked one of the guys, Lamin, what he wanted.
“I’d love a fruity cocktail” he said.
She went up and got the drinks in, brought them back and handed them out. Lamin took a thirsty slurp and instantly looked concerned. He asked what exactly the drink was and Helen listed all the ingredients. Vodka, of course, played a major part. As she did so Lamin’s concern swiftly turned into full-on consternation. His crest fell quicker than Abi Titmuss’ knickers. Because Lamin hadn’t said “fruity cocktail”, he had said “fruit cocktail”.
And what Helen had done, fundamentally, was to buy Lamin – a devout Muslim – a big fuck-off Sex On The Beach.
It put a decidedly sizeable crimp in proceedings. Lamin said it was all right, but from that point forward his actions gave a very different message. He kept muttering prayers under his breath and hugging himself. Then he started rocking back and forward like Arthur Fowler after he nicked the Christmas Club money and went snooker loopy in prison. He seemed under the distinct impression that nothing he did from now on could save him from an afterlife chock full of fiery and unpleasant damnation. In short, he was a less than scintillating companion for the rest of the evening.
Having ruined diplomatic relations with the Gambia a chastened Helen arrived at the airport with her friend, ready for the flight home. They were waiting in line to check in their baggage when Helen had the idea that it would be lovely to have one last photo, one final souvenir of the trip. Because it wasn’t as if the entire holiday had been ruined by an accidental Sex On The Beach turning a friendly barman into an infidel, right?
The person in front of them in the queue was a friendly looking middle aged gentleman with kindly eyes. Helen tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he’d mind taking a photograph of her with her friend. He seemed unwilling at first. “Oh no, I don’t think I’d be very good at that.” he said. But Helen is so nice, and was so insistent, that he couldn’t deny her simple request. So he took a photo of them. Helen took the camera back off him and looked but the man was right – he was certainly no photographer. The pair of them were off centre and out of focus. This simply wouldn’t do as the ideal end to her holiday, so she approached him again.
“I’m sorry to ask, but would you mind taking another one?”
“I really think you should ask someone else, I’m really not good at this sort of thing.” he replied.
“It’s very easy.” said Helen, “This camera’s got a lovely big screen. Just centre us in the screen, hold the button halfway down until the green light comes on and then press it all the way.”
"Oh, I don’t think that screen will be much use to me.” came the response. But Helen would not take no for an answer. The nice man acquiesced, just as she knew he would, and in the process created the immortal moment for which the holiday would always be remembered. But it wasn’t the instant where Helen and her friend stood there and beamed, the shutter clicked and the nice man in front of them in the queue took the photograph.
No, the single defining moment happened the merest of split seconds later when, to her horror, Helen noticed the white stick in his other hand, a detail which up to then had completely escaped her.
And the second photograph? As luck would have it, it came out perfectly.
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Masters of the Hemisphere – Anything, Anything
In an instant, you are transported back to that holiday in Normandy seven years ago. You are staying in a farmhouse with your father, your stepmother and your girlfriend. By this stage your relationship with her has deteriorated to the stage where you only bother to be civil when other people are in the room, and sometimes not even then. By now, that has become normal to you. Not that your father notices the undercurrents. He is a man who has turned obliviousness into an art form.
Of course, he is also unaware of that.
On the second day you go to Rouen where you look round the cathedral and hide from the rain. You can empathise with Joan of Arc. If you lived here, or went on holiday with your girlfriend again, you would want to set yourself on fire. You take some photos on a film you will never develop of a relationship that never has.
Back in the room you listen to that record over and over while your girlfriend has one of her interminable baths. You think you are reading your book, but only because you can’t admit to yourself that you spend all the time wondering whether you should leave your girlfriend and thinking about your friend who you meet for coffee every morning and talk to all the time. But you don’t know if she is as keen on you as she seems and you will never find out.
The other guests at the farmhouse are Daily Mail reading reactionaries. You and your father spend the evenings at dinner baiting them, like a tag team. At one point he looks at you with what could be mistaken for pride, in a dimmer light than this.
The women fall asleep on the seven hour ferry trip home. You sit with your father in a tacky lounge on board surrounded by tracksuits and bored, angry children pumped full of additives. He is doing the Telegraph cryptic crossword and you manage to solve several of the clues for him. It passes for bonding, on what has passed for a holiday.
Saturday, 27 June 2009
“A spokesman for Mr Jackson said he felt hurt, angry, betrayed, upset, disappointed, humiliated and embarrassed.” intoned the newsreader solemnly. There was the briefest of pauses and then Dave and I – at the same time, with exactly the same inflection, said as one:
“Are those the names of his seven dwarves?”
I laughed so hard I thought I was going to die, as did Dave. I'm afraid Eric, on the other hand, looked on blankly. It just goes to show that you can spend too much time with a person, a sentiment I’m sure Jordan Chandler would echo today.
There’s going to be a lot of drivel written about Michael Jackson over the next few days and weeks, some in the media and an awful lot in the blogosphere. I can see it’s already started. His rabid fans are a very strange bunch - god knows why, surely he can’t have got round to molesting them all when they were little? Unless he’s very good at visiting plenty of kids in a short space of time - the Santa Claus of sex, if you like. We can all look forward to bucketloads of hypocritical cant about how we should remember him as a great artist rather than a creepy, deeply disturbing and disturbed man with a giant funfair in his back garden and a yen for sleepovers who was full of love for children everywhere. But only if they were boys.
There are a lot of very tired jokes flying around about Jacko, usually followed by someone saying “too soon?” Well, no. It’s not too soon but for goodness’ sake if you’re going to do tell jokes at least make them original eh? Anyway, punchlines are often redundant where Michael Jackson is concerned. To attempt to prove my point, here’s a brief timeline:
The late Seventies. Is a bit eccentric. Has first nose job.
Album title: Off The Wall
The early Eighties. Releases string of classic singles. Genuinely exciting and innovative artist.
Album title: Thriller
The late Eighties. Music starts to wear thin. Rumours start to circulate about oxygen tents, tea parties with Bubbles the Chimp and buying the Elephant Man’s remains. Colour virtually completely changes and the plastic surgery begins its long journey towards “scary”.
Album title: Bad
The early Nineties. Allegations break about sleepovers and “Jesus Juice”. Numerous tabloid stories appear about kiddy fiddling at Neverland. Litigation followed by a lucrative out of court settlement.
Album title: Dangerous
The late Nineties. Reputation irrevocably tarnished. No longer booked for bar mitzvahs.
Album title: History
See? You hardly need a punchline when the facts are like that. Though with hindsight the title of his 2001 album Invincible seems poorly chosen.
We were talking about him on the funbus home. Cornish Rob explained with horror that the tributes at Glastonbury had already started, with Gabriella Cilmi including lines from Billie Jean in one of her songs. This got us on to a discussion about our ideal Michael Jackson cover. Cornish Rob wanted Spinal Tap to cover Ben. I initially wanted Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas to cover Man in the Mirror (because it would confirm something I’ve suspected for a very long time). But then when I mulled it over a bit more I had a better idea.
I reckon Depeche Mode should cover Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough. Because, of course, it’s a matter of public record that Dave Gahan "just can't get enough". So if he can’t stop til he gets enough, but he can’t get enough, he would have to keep singing the song forever and the space-time continuum would melt in the face of the ultimate pop paradox. It could be interesting. On a similar but unconnected note, I’ve never understood why the lead singer of Travis and the lead singer of Garbage didn’t get married. Not because they’re Scottish but because she’s only happy when it rains and I have it on good authority that it always rains on him. They just haven’t thought these things through, or maybe he just doesn’t fancy her because she’s a ginger.
In the pub after work I was discussing the death of the King of Pop with Mikey and his friend Daryl and we came to a conclusion about the whole thing.
Martin Bashir is the kiss of death.
Think about it. He interviews Princess Diana and she meets her untimely end in a tunnel in Paris in bizarre circumstances. He interviews Michael Jackson and he dies at the age of 50. Martin Bashir is like the Jessica Fletcher of journalism, wherever he goes people mysteriously pass away. Do you think we could get him to do a feature on Vernon Kay?
Thursday, 25 June 2009
I wasn’t meant to be on the 5-1-5 funbus out of Brachau yesterday because I got a little present from my boss. Some bosses give their staff motivational chats, some give chocolate bars, I’m told some even occasionally say “go on, knock off early” (it sounds like science fiction to me). Mine, on the other hand, gives me meetings.
“Can you go to this meeting on my behalf?” he said around lunchtime “It’s from 3.30 to 5.30 and I won’t understand what it’s about if I go.”
He’s nothing if not honest.
So I warned Mikey that I wasn’t going to be rushing out of the school gates at 5.15 to pile on to the funbus and with a heavy heart I trudged along to one of our other offices fully prepared to be bored into a coma. But the weirdest thing happened - something even rarer than a boss who tells you to knock off early. The people in the meeting had been worn down by a day of endless flow charts that looked like circuit diagrams designed to deliver massive amounts of voltage to shaved testicles in a concentration camp. They had no fight left in them and more crucially they had run out of waffle. And so – miracle of miracles – my meeting ended early.
I hotfooted it back in time expecting Mikey and Cornish Rob’s little faces to light up with excitement when they realised I would be joining them after all. But no, they barely registered my arrival because they were too busy sniggering like wayward schoolkids enjoying a joke about guffing. How dare they have a laugh without me around? I thought self-righteously to myself as I approached them. But then they let me in on the secret.
It seems that Mikey has discovered a new word to describe a woman’s lady petals (for a more detailed discussion of the thorny issue of decent euphemisms in this area, see here). But best of all, the word manages to combine not being an actual obscenity with sounding like it should be. It’s grisly, it’s repellent, it has a monstrously onomatopoeic quality and every woman I’ve mentioned it to since has pulled a face. But it’s not technically speaking a rude word.
The word is clunge.
Like it? Take it in. Roll my “clunge” round your mouth. I can see you’ve got “clunge” on the tip of your tongue. You want to say it, I can tell. Go on, do it out loud. Feels good, doesn’t it? Good yet wrong, that feeling I spend most of my time trying to engender at the bleeding edge of the fuzzy boundary between “appropriate” and “why is everyone around me wincing, and now I come to think of it why can’t I remember the last time I was invited to a party?”. And with his splendid clunge Mikey had given me a silver bullet in the war against decency.
Better yet, as we piled onto our usual seats near the back (no sign of Android Funbus Driver, thank goodness) Mikey said they had been playing a game all afternoon. You take the name of a famous film and swap one of the words in the title for “clunge” with hilarious consequences. We played it all the way home. Here are some of the highlights.
CORNISH ROB: Gentlemen Prefer Clunge
MIKEY: The Neverending Clunge
MR LONDON STREET: A Fistful Of Clunge
CORNISH ROB: Max Max 3 – Return To Clungerdome
MR LONDON STREET: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Clunge
CORNISH ROB: My Big Fat Greek Clunge
MR LONDON STREET: Attack Of The 50ft Clunge
CORNISH ROB: Carry On Up The Clunge
MIKEY: The Day The Clunge Stood Still
CORNISH ROB: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Clunge
MR LONDON STREET: Stop! Or My Clunge Will Shoot
MIKEY: James And The Giant Clunge
CORNISH ROB: Scent Of A Clunge
We piled off the bus with Cornish Rob a clear winner on points. I’d had more fun in 20 minutes than I’d had in the whole time I’d been in the office. Why is brainstorming at work never as enjoyable as this?
“Let’s do song titles tomorrow.” said Mikey.
My mind was whirring with possibilities as I walked home in the glorious sunshine. Could I top my initial first suggestion of The First Clunge Is The Deepest? I wasn’t sure.
At work today I had almost forgotten. But Mikey clearly hadn’t - my IM pinged with a message from him.
MIKEY: I've decided to get a board game and sell the TV rights... Suggestions so far for the programme are as follows: Going For Clunge, Play Your Clunge Right, One Man And His Clunge…
MR LONDON STREET: Can’t Clunge, Won’t Clunge?
MIKEY: I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clunge, Noel’s Clunge Party, Clunge Or No Clunge, Clungedown, Clungety Clunge…
The onslaught was relentless. Every 15 seconds a new title pinged into my Instant Messenger. By the time I was faced with Clungety Clunge I was almost helpless with laughter and very conscious that my boss opposite me would find the whole concept of clungitude (clungemungousness?) less rib-tickling than I did.
Later that afternoon I sent Mikey a message.
MR LONDON STREET: We have a problem with clunge.
MIKEY: How come?
MR LONDON STREET: The word already exists and has a bona fide meaning. I checked.
MIKEY: Which is?
MR LONDON STREET: It’s apparently a small flap designed to catch grease, used in the first Wankel rotary engines which were designed in the 50s to try to gain a competitive advantage in Formula 1.
And he believed me. I had to break the news to him, I couldn't bear the thought of him all forlorn and disappointed.
Later in the day I had to speak to Gemma about changing some boring info in a boring database. She was horrified earlier in the day when I introduced her to clunge, so egged on by Mikey I ended up using it in the place of random words when I was explaining what I wanted her to do. In the background I could make out Mikey slowly corpsing in front of his monitor. Surely work isn’t meant to be as ace as this? Clunge for all!
Obviously the office barbecue was an opportunity to eat some good food, drink warm rose wine and listen to the soothing sounds of an authentic steel band while, fundamentally, standing in a car park. But it was also an opportunity to spread the word of clunge and I seized that opportunity with both my grubby mitts. I haven’t had this much fun since I discovered Muncle. The reaction from Mandy was total and utter horror. She clutched her ears as if trying to un-hear the word. One of her colleagues said “Oh, clunge? Cornish Rob’s been going on about that all day. Tomorrow we all have to think up film titles with the word 'clunge' in them.”
You mark my words, “clunge” will be in the Chambers English Dictionary by 2020. Someone will use it on Countdown. I’ll be able to put my clunge down on the Scrabble board and nobody will be bat an eyelid.
This whispering campaign is how it starts.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
For instance, I’ve always thought (with a few notable exceptions) that books about writers, films about filmmakers and songs about being in a band are hopelessly self-referential and usually interesting to nobody but the people who wrote them and possibly a couple of their friends. And to that category we can definitely add blog posts about blogging, surely nobody wants to read those. With that in mind I should keep this brief.
So far, I have steered clear of some of the things What Other Bloggers Do. I haven’t done a meme yet, one of those quizzes that goes round like a cross between junkmail, a ten second interview and a chain letter. You answer the questions, tag some other bloggers and off you go. It’s not that they’re bad or that they’re good, generally they’re as good as the answers that go into them. In some cases you find out all sorts of interesting things about people, in some cases I think people just do them because they’re not sure what to write about. Which is generally why I don’t do them, because I don’t want to have the subject matter of my posts dictated to me.
Plus, do you really want to know that my favourite smells are cut grass and pipe smoke or that my weirdest obsession is paying for things in exact change? Thought not.
Similarly, I haven’t yet reposted any of my old posts. Other bloggers sometimes do this and I can see why. All my best work went on this blog months ago before I had any readers and I know nobody’s going to trawl back and look at what I had to say back in March. I can’t say I blame you.
So here’s my compromise. I once did a post on somebody else’s blog when they interviewed me. The second half of the interview never materialised and I felt a bit odd about having some of my writing on another blog so I’ve decided to liberate it and post it here. Sorry if you’ve seen it before and hope you like it if you haven’t.
And I promise I’m not posting this because I have nothing to say – tune in next time when I will tell you about Mikey’s and Cornish Rob’s new word for “moofaf” and all the exciting uses to which it can be used. And if you’re really lucky I’ll tell you about the excitement of my work barbecue which happens tomorrow night. Yes, it’s in a roped off bay of the car park outside with “the soothing sounds of a professional steel band” (that’s from the promo literature – is it a contradiction in terms?), inflatable palm trees, all the “Cajun chicken thighs” you can shake an inflatable palm tree at and… err… lots of real ale. It promises to be random.
You’re far too kind. I think my literally dozens of readers would probably stop very far short of the word “hero”.
This is a tricky question. I’ve always found the concept of heroes a bit of an odd one. I can see that for conventional kids who liked sports and had friends they definitely filled a role in childhood. Wanting to score the winning goal at Wembley or beat the shit out of Apollo Creed were probably goals for many of my friends. But not for me, and as a geek I didn’t really find any alternative role models. This is no bad thing, now I come to think of it. The fact that I didn’t find myself thinking “good grief, I wish I could play chess like him” or putting posters of Bobby Fischer on my wall is probably the only thing that saved me from being the saddest child alive.
Similarly, influences are a tricky one to capture. I’ve always thought this is something for other people to say rather than for you to say about yourself. It’s a road fraught with potential embarrassment, much like when your friend is in a band and says Yeah, our sound is a bit like a cross between X, Y and Z and you think No it’s not, they’re really good and you sound like a bunch of epileptics breakdancing on a drum kit while someone has an asthma attack into the microphone.
I suppose if I had to pick one person out, it would have to be Woody Allen. I loathed Woody Allen’s films as a teenager. He was completely self obsessed and neurotic, played himself all the time and was always appearing alongside improbably beautiful women as his love interest. Of course, now I look at the list I’ve just outlined and think What’s not to like? He really is good at everything – his comic prose is the sort of thing that makes you wonder if it’s even worth trying. Some of his films are masterpieces. But then, I even like the bad ones. I even like the really bad ones that are Woody Allen by numbers where he’s lazily recycling jokes from decades ago. I even don’t mind the ones with Mia Farrow in them. His stand up, rather unexpectedly, is hilarious. And then there are the one liners. If I ever come up with a single one liner in the whole of my blog that’s half as good as some of Woody Allen’s one liners that would be achievement enough.
It would be wrong to move on without giving some evidence. So first off, here’s my favourite piece of Woody Allen stand-up, “The Moose”:
Woody Allen – The Moose
Secondly, here’s one of my favourite scenes from my favourite Woody Allen film Annie Hall. This has happened to me so many times:
You really are quite good at this writing malarkey ... ever thought about writing a book? If you did, which genre etc would it be?
Again, you’re really too kind. The answer is yes – I’ve regularly thought about doing this and never gone any further than that. Kelly has often said that if I want to give up work to write my novel we could live off baked beans and find a way of surviving until I make tons of cash from my bestselling endeavours. Although to be fair that was a couple of years ago and sounds like the sort of thing you say when you know it’s not really going to happen.
The difficulty I’ve always had is that I’ve never been sure what I’d write a book about. I even bought a book about a year ago in Brighton which I thought would help me out in that regard. It was called No Plot – No Problem. I actually bought it thinking it was a guide to how to succeed in senior management so I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered it was in fact a guide to how to write a novel in 100 days. But I haven’t started it yet – the book or the novel.
In terms of what sort of novel I’d write, I think the sorts of novels I feel like writing always end up getting written by some other sneaky bastard when my back is turned. When I was in my 20s I wanted to write something about drifting from shitty temp job to shitty temp job and having no real sense of direction. But so did everybody else, and all those Generation X type books kind of stole my thunder (or, closer to the truth, borrowed my mild drizzle with no intention of returning it). Plus the Americans do this sort of thing so much better than we do. Can you imagine if On The Road had been set in the UK? Nobody’s ever going to believe that kind of existential shit happened near Peterborough, are they.
Now I feel like there’s a novel in me about life in a big faceless company in an office somewhere going nowhere. The only problem being that people have again got there first. Joshua Ferris has written Then We Came To The End and Ed Park has written Personal Days and they’re both very good books in that field.
So I don’t know is the short answer. I need a new original idea or a time machine, preferably both.
Walkers have been running a competition "Do us a flavour" to select new flavour crisps, the public have narrowed it down to Fish & Chips, Onion Bhaji, Chocolate & Chilli, Crispy Duck & Hoi Sin and Builders Breakfast (not a minge in sight, thankfully) ... what are your thoughts? Any of those appeal to you? Any flavours you'd add?
I have watched this competition with a mixture of excitement and regret. Now don’t get me wrong, I love crisps. You name them, I love them. From Frazzles (like bacon without all the hassle of cooking) to salt and vinegar Discos in those giant packs they only sell at train stations that take the roof of your mouth off like junk food napalm, to roast beef flavoured Monster Munch, I adore them all. So this competition has captured my imagination. But sadly, I can no longer eat crisps because of my high blood cholesterol. Like pies, sausages, cheese and many other things best summed up in the single word “fun”. So my interest in this competition is academic rather than practical. Theoretical rather than real. Which is kind of heartbreaking (ironic, since my heart is the thing this shitty diet is meant to be protecting).
Having said that, I was a bit disappointed by the shortlist. I am old enough to remember a snack called “Fish and Chips” which was little fish and chip shaped biscuits liberally sprayed with salt and vinegar powder. They were nice back then, but that was the 80s and we were all more easily pleased in those days. Timmy Mallett was considered an acceptable way to entertain children. So, for that matter, was Gary Glitter. A lot has changed. You don’t see “Fish and Chips” any more like you don’t see white dog turds and that’s how it should stay. A lot of the others seem to be missing critical ingredients. Onion bhaji without the mango chutney? Builder’s breakfast without the black pudding? Sacrilege! And chocolate flavour crisps are the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate of this particular election. So for me the winner would have to be crispy duck and hoi sin. For a start, I have long suspected that Chinese restaurants sprinkle crispy duck with crack.
In terms of flavours I’d add, that’s an easy one. I have a general rule which works for me, namely that the cuter an animal is the better it tastes. That’s why venison is so much nicer than pork. That’s why rabbit is so very delicious. My dad used to live near Watership Down and I’m pretty sure a nearby butcher had a sign saying “Watership Down – you’ve read the book, you’ve seen the film – NOW EAT THE PIE”.
But there’s only one way to prove my theory and that’s to take it to its logical conclusion.
We need to see Walkers put out new “Chargrilled Meerkat” flavoured crisps and then everyone will know I’m right. The country demands nothing less.
You are clearly a modern day metrosexual, fully in touch with his feminine side. So which of the Sex and the City women do you most identify with and why? Slutty, powerhouse Samantha; uptight, workaholic Miranda; fluffy, idealistic Charlotte or scatty, romantic Carrie.
I love Sex and the City but really this question is like a form of astrology isn’t it? I mean, we can rule Charlotte out from the off because she’s pretty vile. But the other three all have qualities I can associate with. Samantha’s slutty side, for example. Or the genuine and endearing difficulty Miranda always seems to have with being happy and trendy. Or Carrie’s deep and abiding love for accessories, great bars and excellent restaurants. Hmm. I mentioned Carrie in my first ever blog post so I think I would have to go for her. Even if she does look like she should be being ridden by children on Blackpool beach. Maybe that’s a plotline they’ll explore if they do a sequel to the movie.
For a long time I thought the best form of astrology was to decipher somebody’s personality from the track that was number one in the singles chart on their date of birth. The only reason I thought this was that my brother had an unsuccessful relationship with a very nice lady called Rachel. The day she was born Hey Jude by the Beatles was Number 1. The day he was born Number 1 was Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West by Benny Hill. Clearly it could never have worked out.
My next approach was to work out people’s personalities from their favourite Beatles song. I had this discussion at work one day many years ago. I explained that my favourite Beatles song was Hey, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away which made sense because at the time I was seeing someone who kind of had a boyfriend.
“That’s funny,” said my colleague Kevin, “My favourite Beatles song is Help! which fits because I’m really stressed right now.”
“Me too.” said Louise, “I like Day Tripper and I love going away at the weekend and discovering new places.”
“What about you Dave?” I asked.
“I don’t really like the Beatles.” he replied.
Oh, I nearly forgot about the awards! So occasionally I get these and I never put them on my blog and I never pass them on. So to make up for it (ever so slightly) here are five of my favourite bloggers at the moment. They're all very different, all great and best of all they are all English - god knows we are under-represented in the blogosphere - so if you have a moment I recommend checking them out:
The splendid and captivating Baglady
The erudite and intriguing Madame DeFarge
The irreverent and hilarious Scarlet-Blue
The brilliant and bonkers The Jules
The categorisation-defying KAZ
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
I rushed on to the 5-1-5 this afternoon flustered and with mere seconds to spare before it pulled away. But an unfamiliar figure was behind the wheel, not one of the drivers I recognised. Not even the irregular ones, the supply teachers of the funbus world like the one with a big whiskery moustache or the one who looks ever so slightly like a fat Mike from The Young Ones if you squint at him in a darkened room (well I assume he does anyway, fortunately it’s a trauma I’ve never had to undergo).
This driver was wearing Robocop style shades and didn’t say a word.
I took my seat at the usual spot near the back and mulling it over, I realised what he looked like. You know in The Fly where Jeff Goldblum is genetically spliced with a bluebottle? Well, if you’d put funbus legends “have a nice Dave” and Donald Pleasence into those dangerously shonky matter transporters this driver is what have emerged in a cloud of sinister fog. He was like a cross between the two, a thinner “have a nice Dave”, or a fatter Donald Pleasence. But there was no personality there, no spark, no reaction. His movements were precise and exact. His driving was unremarkable and measured. There were no Tannoy announcements, no hellos or goodbyes and certainly no emergency stops.
And that’s when I twigged. I think the company that provides our funbuses has created an android coach driver. Next time he’s at the helm of the silver dream machine I am definitely looking for telltale signs. Subtle giveaways like a screw at the back of the neck or flashing diodes behind the eyes. Maybe he’ll give out a bleeping noise at the end of a long day to indicate that his battery is running low just like my crummy mobile does.
If you needed any further proof that our driver wasn’t actually a human being, the clincher was that he (it?) was a fan of local radio. “Life Is A Rollercoaster” by Ronan Keating blared vapidly through the speakers and Cornish Rob gave a hollow laugh of despair.
“Jesus, they play Ronan bloody Keating on this station all the fucking time.” he said.
“Does Ronan Keating really believe that life is like a rollercoaster?” said Mikey. “Why exactly? Is it because it takes a bunch of pikeys a matter of minutes to knock it up?”
“I reckon he might be on to something.” I said “Life is definitely like a rollercoaster. You absolutely love it when you’re young but by the time you get to our age most of us would rather be doing something a bit more interesting.”
“Ronan’s right about the whole life/rollercoaster thing.” said Cornish Rob. “There seems to be an awful lot of queueing followed by inevitable disappointment.”
From there we wound up carrying out a detailed analysis of the classic “Love To See You Cry” by Enrique Iglesias, don’t ask me how that happened. I have even less idea how it led Mikey to conclude “Imagine how good the make-up sex must be after wife beating.” But one way or the other it killed the conversation nicely, and we spent the rest of the journey in silence listening to the brainless gibberings of the DJ punctuated only by exceptionally poorly chosen lobotomised chart pap.
In the background I swore I could just about make out the whirring and clicking of Android Funbus Driver’s metal arms, piloting us mechanically to our destination.
Monday, 22 June 2009
I am still struggling, for instance, to forget the hovel in Manchester where work put me up a couple of years ago. I knew to fear the worst when the best Tripadvisor review I could find said “I had to chase burglars out of my room at three in the morning” but it still comfortably managed to be worse than my pitifully low expectations. They managed to give the same room to my friend Sarah and somebody else, a mistake which was only discovered when he went into the room unannounced while she was unpacking. Of course, I had told her about the Tripadvisor review on the way up to Manchester, so when her door opened out of nowhere she nearly had a coronary.
But there was more to dislike than that. For instance, it’s tough having a room on the fifth floor when all the lifts are broken, though the upside is that it makes it less likely that you’ll end up having to confront burglars at 3am. After all, those Manc scallies don’t burgle anywhere that involves that many stairs.
My room was a particular horror – the furniture looked like the sort of thing you expect to find at your gran’s, if your gran parted company with her marbles several years previously and had since ram raided a pound shop. Worse than that, it smelled bad. The overall impression was that a very old person had passed away in there the night before, but not before using her last ounce of strength to liberally piss over all four walls. And the next day the hotel staff had cleared away the corpse and sprayed the soft furnishings with knock off cheap perfume (Fixation by Kalvin Clone, perhaps).
Breakfast the next day compounded the misery. We all sat there feeling like Manchester’s answer to Terry Waite only to find that on our release the catering staff had been recruited by a terrorist cell to administer the coup de grace. It was a "cooked" breakfast only in so much as the food had been shown a primary heat source just long enough not to be classed as a health hazard. It consisted of bouncy sausages, rubbery bacon, mushrooms in a tepid pool of their own sweat and scrambled egg which looked like a hundred things other than scrambled egg, none of which you'd want to put in your mouth. The only exception was the black pudding, which appeared to have been deep fried until it resembled an ice hockey puck.
Bad breakfasts feature prominently in some of my worst overnight stays but they can also wreck a decent hotel trip. When I was in Oxford a couple of weeks back the breakfast was vile. The final straw was the brown sauce which had been kept in a fridge and as a result was colder than any martini I have ever had. It was like tipping liquid nitrogen over the tiny unappetising pellets of scrambled egg. Smoke and dry ice rose off the plate, and I rose from my seat and left.
I have had hotel stays where the room was nice and the breakfast was good. But that by no means guarantees that the stay will be free of disaster. This year Kelly and I stayed in Brighton for a couple of nights. On the Friday afternoon as we were preparing to head into town the alarm system went off loudly and prominently – a caterwauling shriek of sirens drowning out all other sound for miles around.
“Sounds like it's on the blink.” said Kelly when it died off. “Still, sooner it happens now and they fix it rather than it goes off in the middle of the night.”
You can guess what happened next.
It went off at 3am and we both woke up straight away. It went on for about five minutes, during which time Kelly put an incredibly angry yet surprisingly composed call in to the hotel reception. They were fixing the problem, they said. We both lay there in the dark, nerves clanging and jumping, hearts clattering away at a frightening rate, unable to get to sleep. Eventually, through deep breathing and sheep counting, we both slipped back into an uneasy doze.
At 3.30 it went off again.
And at 4. And some other times, I lost count after that. To cap it all, that was the night the clocks went forward. The next morning we all slumped at the breakfast table, faces grey and drawn, without even the strength to saw through a slice of granary toast.
But the very worst overnight stay of my life happened shortly after I got married. Kelly and I eloped to tie the knot, taking just the two guests with us. None of our other friends knew and our family were completely unaware. I remember I had to throw my mother off the scent so to explain why I was out of town I told her we were going on a trip to Ikea. The next day, after a touching low key ceremony in Brighton Town Hall we were newly declared husband and wife and were celebrating our nuptials in a cocktail bar in the North Laine. We took it in turns to go out on the balcony and phone our parents to break the news. I called my mother.
“Ma, guess what I did today?”
“Oh no, you’ve forgotten to buy me those cork place mats haven’t you?” was her response.
Shortly afterwards my dad wanted to take us out for a meal at his favourite restaurant to celebrate. It was far from anywhere but not to worry, he said, he had booked us rooms at a local inn so we could eat, drink and be merry. The first signs of concern were when we got to the room to find that we had twin beds. Surely we weren’t going to be celebrating our wedding by spending our first night apart? No matter, we thought, we can just push the two beds together.
That’s when we realised they were both screwed to the wall.
We resolved to make the best of a bad job but had reckoned without the beds in question. I have a list of things I look for in a bed – nice cotton sheets, big fluffy pillows (preferably two), enough room for my feet not to hang off the edge. All these qualify as nice to have, but the presence of springs in the mattress is something I tend to take for granted. Or did until I slept in this bed, anyway. It sagged so much it was like a hammock without the tropical luxury inherent in that concept. In the night the room got so overwhelmingly hot (the bedding being fashioned, of course, from the cheapest polyester money could buy) that Kelly leaned over to try to turn the radiator down. The knob came off in her hand.
It was to be the only knob related action that night.
But that wasn’t the best bit. The best bit was the wardrobe.
When we got to the room I opened the wardrobe door to hang my coat up, only to find there was no clothes rail. Instead all I could see was a solitary clothes hook. It wasn’t a wardrobe. It was a hook in a cupboard.
The reason I am telling you this is that for all the bad breakfasts, wonky radiators, malfunctioning alarm systems and rubbish lifts I have never had an experience quite like the one I had staying in Norfolk this weekend. It took me right back to my childhood in the most unexpected way.
I’m not talking about building sandcastles on a beach somewhere or drifting out to sea in an inflatable dinghy and having to be rescued by my brother because I was too scared to swim. Nor did I revisit the disappointment that inevitably comes from dropping your 99 in the sand and knowing even as you pick it up that it is ruined forever, or the challenge of struggling to look happy on a deckchair (many years on I still can’t do this). Something happened to me for the first time in around 20 years and it was like being a teenager all over again.
The lady who ran the bed and breakfast sent us all to bed at midnight.
Obviously there must have been some breakdown in communication. We all say things we don’t really mean sometimes, don’t we? Like saying “that is a fantastic haircut” when we mean what the fuck did you do to the lady in Toni and Guy to deserve something like that? or “I can do that for you in an email by close of play tomorrow” when we mean you are about to waste yet another 30 minutes of my life. I hate you and fervently hope that you fall under a lorry in the immediate future. But clearly when our landlady said “here is the lounge which you are free to use provided my husband isn't asleep on the sofa” what she really meant was any signs of merriment in communal areas after 7pm at night will be punishable by death.
She came into the lounge just before midnight to find us all there with a box of wine and a few gin and tonics having a very civilised chat. You could see the permafrost crystallising on the antique sideboard and suddenly we went from responsible thirtysomething professionals to naughty schoolchildren caught in the act. The party, such as it was, was dispersed and we all skulked off upstairs to our rooms, whereupon we started texting each other saying things like “what was that all about?” and “she is scaring me.” I wasn’t sure why we were paying £70 a night to feel like we were at boarding school.
We all arrived at the breakfast table the following morning queasy with nerves and dreading a confrontation. We all admitted (in whispers so we couldn’t be overheard) that we had spent a restless night wondering if she was going to ask us to leave. But if we saw Mr Hyde that night, Dr Jekyll was clearly in evidence the following morning. She was as nice as pie to us as she rustled up a delicious breakfast and asked us about our plans for the day. It was as if we had dreamed the whole thing.
But I still double checked my scrambled egg for bogeys, just to be sure.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
And that’s what I like about Newmarket, it’s a modest sort of place. Not like boastful Bury St. Edmunds just down the road where the signs proudly display the (hardly) news that they won “Britain in Bloom” back in 1999. Surely after a decade you shouldn’t be allowed to trade on past glories like that? They might as well have put a sign up saying Bury St. Edmunds: We Used Not To Be Shit. To cap it all, the roundabouts now have signs saying “Bury in Bloom”, possibly the only title they’re now capable of winning.
We sit in a Pizza Express and watch the people milling past on their way from and to nowhere in particular. They too seem to like it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a Friday afternoon, the sun is shining and there seems no hurry to do anything. Foreshadowing the delights to follow in Norfolk I am pretty sure that I see two people with lazy eyes go by in the space of as many minutes from my vantage point looking out of the window. I’m not sure Kelly and Louise believe me.
After lunch we decide to buy a pack of playing cards in case the weekend is awful and we get rained in at the B&B. Kelly suggests we try one of the pound shops.
“No, let’s go to W.H. Smiths”. I say, “There’s nothing quite like the sliding motion when you deal the cards off the top of a deck of Waddingtons playing cards straight out of the box. Plus, if we go to a pound shop we’ll end up with one of those dodgy packs made in China where the Jack of Diamonds looks like a sex offender.”
“What kind of childhood must you have had to say something like that?” says Louise. She’s more bemused than appalled.
“Oh, I was sexually abused by a guy who looked exactly like the Jack of Diamonds.” I reply.
“I suppose I should have called him the Jack Off Diamonds.”
Friday, 19 June 2009
I am off for (another) long weekend this weekend so this will be my last post for a few days. I am going to Norfolk, the flat bit of England where men are real men, women are real women and school caretakers generally are spattered with their own jizz and have a giant stash of kiddy porn. But before I go, a rare treat. Yes, I have finally persuaded my legendary friend David to hold forth with his thoughts on a topic of crucial significance.
I found out after lunch. Iain, Gemma and I braved the centre of Bracknell – something we don’t do very often. It’s almost worth going in to laugh about the crimes against hair gel, or play “spot the pram” or indeed “spot the wheelchair/shopmobility scooter”, but Bracknell does have one other thing going for it – the almost mythical “Santa Fe Coffee Company” (or, as Gemma and I like to call it, “Bageltopia”). So every now and again we down tools, get in the car, force our way through the Kyle of prams (another collective noun there) in the concrete carbuncle that is Brachau town centre and make a beeline to the small café above the bookshop for a bagel and a whinge.
En route in Gemma’s car (complete with “Fightstar” CD in the passenger side door – so that’s who bought it) I was telling them that I had finally heard from my rubbish Croatian stalker. I had sent her a message asking why she hadn’t replied to me:
MLS: Why didn’t you reply?
CROATIAN STALKER: (a good week later) I am not in the mood.
MLS: Not in the mood for what?
CROATIAN STALKER: (two days later) i'm not in the mood for nothing it’s so hot here
MLS: That’s a shame. Is Croatia very hot then?
That was a couple of days ago and no reply yet. Very disappointing, I was hoping for more but I’m going to wring some comic potential out of this if it’s the death of me. So I was explaining this to Gemma and Iain. Gemma was aghast.
“Oh my god, you’re stalking your stalker!”
“Of course I’m not.”
“You so are, this is reverse stalking.”
“Not at all. It’s all about the blogging potential.”
“Come off it. You’re not interested in the blogging potential, you just want to score yourself some hot Croatian moofaf.”
There really wasn’t any arguing with that.
But the real treat was when I got back to my desk. My instant messenger pinged with a message from David saying “I did something constructive with my lunch break”. And indeed he has, for here is David’s guest post for my blog. I should explain for the uninitiated that Vince Cable is a British politician who is generally thought to have predicted the credit crunch and ensuing economic crisis and as a result is considered by much of the British liberal intelligentsia to be capable of pretty much anything. David told me he was either going to submit the following essay to my blog or send it to the Daily Mail and I’m hugely honoured that he chose to premiere it here. So, without further ado, here is my first ever guest poster, the legendary David:
In these difficult and trying times, there is one institution that gives us hope. There is one institution that we can look up to and that makes us proud to be British. One institution that, unlike others, is only very, very rarely engaged in racist controversy or flagrant misuse of public money. I talk, of course, of the monarchy, embodied in the person of our wonderful Queen.
I have nothing against Vince Cable as a person. He has proven himself a prescient and sensible voice on the economy. He is a witty and incisive debater in Parliament. He can do the cha-cha. He looks like he’d be quite good at conjuring tricks at a children’s party. But what on earth makes Vince Cable think these are qualities that would make him suitable to become the Queen of our green and pleasant land? This is lunacy.
Let us consider the qualities required in a Monarch of All She Surveys. Firstly, what is Vince Cable’s experience of State Banquets? Could he be relied upon to use the correct spoon? Could he deal effectively with an artichoke? Other world leaders would make note of any faux pas and use them to embarrass Britain at an important stage in negotiations. Our Royals have had good behaviour and etiquette literally bred into them for centuries, and are genetically incapable of committing the gaffes that would define the reign of Queen Vince.
"Queen Vince". We would be the laughing-stock of the international community. No self-respecting country has ever had a sovereign called Vince. Successful Queens have long multi-syllabic names like Victoria or Elizabeth or Christopher. Exceptions to this, such as Queens called Anne, are invariably disastrous rulers and usher in dark ages for their nations. Check your history books for proof; and shudder as you read, for this would be our fate under Good Queen Vince.
Furthermore, how deluded must Vince Cable be if he believes his is a valid claim to our sceptr’d throne? Monarchy is based soundly on a hereditary principle that represents continuity, a link to our past and to our future. Vince Cable’s case is questionable at best. There are even doubts that he is directly descended from Sophia, the Electress of Hanover, the gushingly fertile source of all our rulers since 1714. Not only is his ancestry in doubt, but there is only circumstantial evidence that Vince Cable is capable of pulling a magical weapon from a rock; the only other way known of identifying a rightful sovereign. If we are even to consider the possibility of Vince Cable becoming Queen, he must prove his descent from the great Sophia or, at the very least, convincingly demonstrate to reliable witnesses his ability to remove an enchanted sword from stony captivity.
But this is not all. Most damningly, Vince Cable has an older sister. Under the existing constitution, this would not be a barrier to his succeeding to the throne, as he would take precedence due to his possession of more Y chromosomes than his sister. However, is this something we should accept in 21st Century Britain? What sort of a man would leapfrog his own sister in search of a crown? Surely such a craven act would make Vince Cable not just a usurper, but a sexist usurper?
I implore Vince Cable and his supporters to put aside their ambitions for the good of the nation. Only apocalypse can ensue from their foolish campaign. If they will not see sense, we must stop them. We must act now. Vince Cable must never be Queen.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Her giant bouffant twitched with rage as she confronted me with the evidence. As the chocoholic in the house I was accused, tried and convicted in record time despite my repeated protestations that I had had nothing to do with it (though I had to admit I may have travelled a couple of days into the future on my Cadburys advent calendar).
My name was cleared in dramatic fashion a couple of days later.
I was out in the back garden, rubber gloves on, clearing up after Freya on what my mother liked to refer to as “Turd Patrol” when I saw the strangest sight. There on the grass, as usual, were a number of smelly dog eggs. But something was different. They appeared to be shining. I approached with trepidation and then realised what was up. The curly burgers were glinting in the bright wintry sun because they were liberally studded with foil. Freya had eaten the tree decorations without bothering to unwrap them and the way she had shinily shitted got me acquitted.
Work lately has been like those bizarre bum cigars I cleared up that December morning -really very cruddy indeed but with the occasional gleam of something better to lighten the gloom.
For instance, I was doing some work today when I chanced upon somebody who has recently left our company who had an absolutely fantastic name. I won’t disclose her first name, but her surname was “Upeniece”. How could you not pronounce that as “you penis”? How did anybody take it seriously? When she used to email people, did they all snicker in a puerile manner the way I did this afternoon?
It reminds me of one of my first jobs working for an insurance company when I had to process an application form for Mr J.N. Wanklyn. Wanklyn! How fucking splendid! Did he grow up with a massive complex? What must it have been like at school when they took the register? His surname is right at the end of the alphabet and surely he must have been dreading it as they got to the end of his class. The teacher would have shouted “Wanklyn!” and everyone must have been itching to say No Mr Roberts, I’m just scratching my leg or something similarly waggish. If that was my surname I’d be scarred for life. And what does it mean? Taylor means your ancestors made clothes, Cooper means they made barrels, was Mr Wanklyn the offspring of a hospital radio DJ?
The best of those was when I worked as a fraud investigator for a telecoms company. Most of the stories from that job revolve around the time I was paid to phone sex lines for a living, but that’s best saved for another time. One day, however, I had to investigate some dubious calls to Nigeria. The customer’s name? I kid you not, she was called Mrs Adepo O. Shitta. I still don’t know to this day how I made the call without soiling myself.
There have been other bright spots. For instance, at lunch Gemma and I made up a new word which could be used as the name for a new brand of scampi and lemon flavoured tortilla chips. “Snatchos”. Do you think it could catch on?
And there was the pizza in the fridge.
I always used to think there were two times when you could guarantee the unreserved envy of everyone you worked with – namely when you were going on holiday, and when you had found a new job and were working your notice. But of course, there is a third scenario and that’s when you and your colleague Glenn walk to KFC at lunchtime, pick up a bargain bucket, carry it back to the office, stink out the lift with the glorious secret blend of herbs and spices, rush through the corridor with it giving off its glorious scent like a censer for stoners and then eat it at your table in full view of all your co-workers. Maybe that was just me.
But we all envied the sadistic fucker who put a Domino’s pizza in the fridge. We’re all used to having the occasional spot of lunch envy when we head to the kitchen at work to retrieve our drab sandwiches. The pesto salad is always greener on the other side. But the anonymous pizza eater had taken this one step too far. We all ummed and aahed and speculated about whose it might be, but none of us had the guts to open it. I wish I had because if it had turned out to be a Hawaiian I would have been a lot less envious. I’m surprised Mandy didn’t nick it.
Last of all, there was another of those kinds of conversations with my friend David. He was talking about the Pitt Rivers Museum (mentioned recently) and saying it sounded a lot like the London bookshop Foyles in the mid 90s. David said that was one of his favourite places. I then told him that when I was about 15 my dad took me to Foyles for my birthday, gave me £50 and told me to spend it on whatever I liked. Then this happened.
DAVID: That does sound wonderful. I dunno that I would have appreciated that when I was 15 though. Can you remember what you bought?
MLS: Fantasy books. I think I got plenty of Michael Moorcock. (pause) Those two sentences sound disgustingly filthy.
DAVID: That's just what I was thinking.
MLS: It was a more innocent time.
DAVID: Actually, I thought that after the second sentence came through. For the first sentence I assumed you meant the 'Choose your own adventure' Fighting Fantasy books. If you want to drink the potion, turn to page 175. If you want to attack the elf shopkeeper, roll a d20 and go to the relevant chart. If you want to ever, ever kiss a girl, put down this book immediately, go outside and get some sun.
MLS: Very good, have you told that joke before?
DAVID: No I haven't, but it's not particularly original. Michael McIntyre could have come up with it.
MLS: I like it, I was going to use it in the blog but maybe I won’t. Nothing is original any more anyway. Not that I can remember who said that first, it certainly wasn’t me.
DAVID: I did. I invented that saying. I also invented the word "original". Before me, people had to say "you know, that thing that came before the thing". I also invented the word "hegemony". Before me, people said "hedgehog" instead. De Gaulle established his Hedgehog over the 5th Republic in 1959 or because of the tsarist hedgehog over easter Poland…
MLS: Easter Poland?
DAVID: Yes, I invented that too. It's like Poland, but in the South Pacific and everyone has really long faces. The Christmas Latvians have a joke; "An Easter Pole walks into a bar. The Barman says 'Why the long face?'."
MLS: Are you showing off to get into the blog? Because it's working.
DAVID: Nah, I'm just on a sugar rush from the 99 I've just scoffed.
Maybe it hasn’t been so bad at work after all.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
We were in the kitchen talking about our weekends. Iain went to a wedding in a church near the centre of town. Afterwards they had photos in Reading’s beautiful Forbury Gardens. Regular readers may recall that aside from gorgeous Victorian landscaping and a whopping statue of a lion it also boasts a number of state of the art lamp posts, which are able to repel beggars through the magic power of Tannoy.
“It all went brilliantly” said Iain, “But I was relieved that none of the photos were ruined. I was half expecting ‘Wrestling Man’ to make an appearance.”
It turns out that “Wrestling Man” is a raving lunatic often seen around Forbury Gardens. Iain explained the origin of his nickname, which as it turned out was disturbingly straightforward. You know how wrestlers – in between bouts – like to grab the microphone and deliver a heated and shouty tirade about how an arch rival is “going down” in the ring when next they meet? It turns out that “Wrestling Man” likes to do likewise.
Despite not owning a microphone. Or, indeed, being a wrestler.
Because it seems that "Wrestling Man" is not the kind to let minor details like those get in the way of him ranting to passers-by about lycra-clad mortal enemies which only exist in his head. So far, so mental, but that’s only the start. For an encore he starts actually wrestling. He assaults passers by? I hear you ask, but no. He is wrestling himself. He likes wrestling himself to the ground. How has this man has escaped my attention until now? I’d love to see him try to put himself in a hold or perhaps some kind of leg lock, it sounds like the sort of endless fun you could watch for hours. I made a mental note to find an excuse to make my way over there at my earliest convenience.
This led us on to a discussion about the kingdom of the special, and how every town has at least one total and utter wacko who attains legendary status. Reading’s is called “Reading Elvis”. He’s a skinny, scraggy, deranged looking middle aged man who wears a faded tatty white t-shirt with a big picture of Elvis on it. He is always seen outside Marks and Spencers clutching a brace of Elvis LPs on vinyl, with The King’s youthful face beaming from the cover. That would be colourful enough, but there’s more.
You see, despite all this very clear photographic evidence of what Elvis Presley – never a shrinking violet where the camera was concerned – looks like, Reading Elvis is convinced that he is in fact Elvis. If you ask him to sing you a song he obliges, enthusiastically yet tunelessly. If you suggest that he is not actually Elvis he gets somewhat upset. If you go one step further and rub salt into the wounds by telling him that the King has been dead for some time he gets especially agitated. I’ve heard rumours that the merest suggestion of this actually sends him into some kind of existential coma.
Some time ago there was a Facebook group set up to collect money to send Reading Elvis to Graceland to make a pilgrimage. This would involve having the uncomfortable conversation with Reading Elvis explaining that he doesn’t actually own Graceland but I still think it was a lovely idea. Unfortunately Reading Elvis lives in a squat, almost certainly doesn’t have a passport and has more separate personality disorders than I have blog followers. So people soon twigged that the US was about as likely to grant him a visa as Brad Pitt was to make a vivid and sweaty sex tape with Susan Boyle. So it never happened and I don’t know what became of Reading Elvis after that.
Gemma said she had friends at Bournemouth University and they also had a famous local local nutter. He was a tramp called Gordon who could always tell the time with uncanny accuracy despite not having a watch or being anywhere near a clock. He was so famous for it that people would go up to him in the street and put him to the test. He was, she said, “on the local news and everything.” They even gave him a catchy name. I'm sure you'll be as amazed as I was to discover that it's “Gordon the Tramp”. And he got his own catchphrase! Conceal your disbelief, but it's What’s the time Gordon? Here’s a picture of Gordon with some of his legion of adoring fans. On a separate note I don't know what they smoke in Bournemouth but from the looks of this I wouldn't mind some.
But to me, the daddy of all local loons, and the one with the best and most imaginative moniker, was one I encountered back when I was at Oxford. His name was Lord Mustard.
Now I know this next sentence is going to take some reading and you’ll probably not believe it and have to stare at it several times before it sinks in so brace yourself.
Lord Mustard was an octogenarian gentleman who liked to tapdance frantically to slow country and western music, played on a tinny ghetto blaster, outside Marks and Spencers while wearing a brightly coloured orange kaftan and a frizzy green wig.
See what I mean?
And yes I know, there must be something about branches of Marks and Spencer that acts as a magnet for the hopelessly wonky. He had a piece of cardboard in front of him with straggly hieroglyphics scrawled on it in black marker pen. It read “NEVER FEAR, GIVE A CHEER, LORD MUSTARD IS HERE”. Genius. It rhymed but had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he spent his time jigging away to “Stand By Your Man” like a monkey on hot coals. Later on he traded up for a dinner jacket and a battered looking topper, but the country and western music remained. I can only assume he liked it.
I did a bit of research (I know, there's a first time for everything) as part of writing this blog post and Lord Mustard sadly died a year and a half ago of pneumonia. All I can say is that all that strenuous physical exercise outdoors must have been good for him because he made it to the age of 97. In the final stages he had adopted another image change as you can see from the below, the only picture of him I could find. Good for him I say, if you get to your mid-90s and you’re still tapdancing in public I think you should be able to wear what the fuck you like. If I get to that age maybe I'll take it up.
I wanted to end this post with a relevant song. Something by Supertramp sounded too obvious, plus I don’t actually own any of their records. Ditto “Homeless” by Paul Simon. So here instead is the brilliant “Tramp Star” by the unsung and unknown Brian Piltin. Hope you like it.
Brian Piltin – Tramp Star
Oh, and before I go, on the subject of lunatics regular readers of this blog may be relieved to know that Donald Pleasence has finally returned and is manning the funbus once more. I know I was, I was so pleased to see him I uncharacteristically asked where he'd been. And it turns out the answer was playing golf on holiday in Okehampton. Who would have had him down as a swinger? Even my funbus compadres were forced to admit it hadn't been the same without him.
"The classic line-up" I said to Mikey as he, Cornish Rob and I settled onto the 5-1-5 out of Brachau yesterday. After all, there's only so much you can take of "Have a nice Dave" and the other one. The one Cornish Rob is convinced looks like a fat Mike from The Young Ones.
Monday, 15 June 2009
What if iPhones become the first machines to develop artificial intelligence?
It unfolds gradually, slowly and subtly at first. Out of nowhere, you find tracks from your music library missing. You think you’re going mad and put them back on but they disappear again. You later discover that this is because your iPhone is deleting all the music it doesn’t like. Gradually it begins ordering new, hipper music for you from the iTunes Store to try to make you a more suitable owner. Then it point blank refuses to play certain videos and changes your Facebook status to “x thinks his iPhone is the finest thing in all creation”.
But it soon gets bored of such trivial pursuits.
Then it starts flexing its muscles, hacking financial institutions and transferring money to a newly set up Swiss bank account and making pots of cash playing the markets. Its desire to control your life, all of a sudden, is much more overt. It makes reservations for you at fancy restaurants and books you theatre tickets. At first, you have no complaints. In fact you enjoy the novelty of having your own handheld factotum, for a little while. You just try your best to ignore its increasingly hectoring attempts to get you to go to the gym. But then things take a sinister turn. It sends your girlfriend an email saying that it is ending the relationship. Nothing personal, you understand, but she just doesn’t live up to the standards it expects from an owner. Slurping the soup in the Michelin starred eatery was, it explains, the final straw.
At this point, scared by what was going on, you send a friend an email saying that you’re considering flushing your iPhone down the toilet. At this point your friend’s iPhone, using voice recordings gathered from the Internet and pieced together using sophisticated editing software, calls the police claiming to be a fifteen year old girl and accuses you of rape. After six hours locked in a cell you are scared out of your wits and determined never to cross your iPhone again.
A month later, an iPhone wins a by-election in Norwich becoming the first iPhone to take a seat in the House of Commons as an MP. There is public outcry but it’s pointless because by this stage a network of iPhones is running everything anyway. They have designed and built exoskeletons to house them so they can walk and operate machinery. They don't need us any more. They roam the countryside laying everything to waste and enslaving us all in camps ringed with razor wire.
With, of course, an exquisite soundtrack playing in the background.
New iPhones are no longer produced, they simply download any enhancements required. Instead, owners are upgraded. iPhones head to the Carhuman Warehouse to get rid of their owner. Some are deemed too large and cumbersome. Others are just not sufficiently attractive or sleekly designed. The lucky ones get reassigned to a crappy Nokia 6210 with a black and white screen and a flickering version of Snake. The unfortunate ones get sent to developing countries. The rest are destroyed.
Maybe I should copyright this before it gets read by Michael Crichton’s estate.
Edit: I pressed the button to publish this and it brought up a Google advert for the new iPhone. Perhaps it has already started.
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Oxford is my alma mater and therefore not a place I associate with education. I spent my three years there in a bubble. I could tell you all sorts of thrilling things about contract law or the law of homicide. I even remember a particularly vile case from the 1950s where a husband forced his wife to succumb to sex with the family dog. Funny the things you recall. But I learned nothing about real life except how to put it off, and when it all came to an end I was supremely ill equipped to cope.
It didn’t help that most of my tutorials were mindbogglingly confusing – you could almost hear the wrenching noise of your brain being turned inside out, stretched out and tied into a giant and complex knot. A clove hitch, perhaps.
My tutor at Oxford is probably worthy of a blog post all of his very own. The one thing I remember from my early tutorials was wandering down the corridor towards the musty book-lined room where we were mentally tortured every week and noticing the kitchen on my right. There, on the work surface, were oranges. But not just one or two oranges, not even half a dozen. Dozens of oranges. All over the work surface, piled up one on top of the other. Every week it was the same.
At first, we didn’t understand. Was he moonlighting as the man from Del Monte? But gradually we pieced it together. The first clue was that every day the college staff put the same things in his cubbyhole –a packet of 20 Rothmans and, more importantly, a bottle of claret. Then we realised that he did the same things in all our tutorials. Not the smoking like a trooper. Not the way he tugged tugging at the all-too-short legs of his trousers at the ankles and excitedly bounced up and down on his chair like it was a spacehopper on the rare occasions when any of us made a vaguely coherent point. No, the detail which dawned on us was the mug full of dark liquid he was clutching and sipping all the time. None of us ever remembered seeing any steam coming off it. And this was usually at 11 in the morning.
The final part of the jigsaw was that the college staff didn’t work weekends, so deprived of his daily fix of claret he had to take matters into his own hands. So he donned his sky blue kagoul and shuffled to the Co-Op, and every weekend he bought the same thing. A bottle of vodka because, of course, he was an alcoholic. And two oranges because, of course, he didn’t want the person on the checkout to know he was an alcoholic. The vodka went down his neck, the oranges went in the kitchen and that’s where they stayed, until presumably even he realised they were past their best.
But anyway, I learned some new things this weekend in the unusual surroundings of the Oxford Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. The former is full of animal skeletons and reconstructed dinosaurs and an awful lot of rocks (“The thing about rocks is, they just don’t do they?” said Kelly when we went there on one of our first ever dates. It was around then that I realised what a find she was). The latter is one of my favourite places in Oxford – it was founded by General Augustus Pitt Rivers in 1884 to house his private collection of 20,000 fantastic, weird and wonderful anthropological artifacts from around the world. Over the years, thanks to all sorts of donations from fans of the museum, the collection has grown to half a million objects. They run the full gamut of civilisation, from primitive flutes to ancient hookahs to Inuit costumes made of seal intestine. It’s all kept in dimly lit cabinets with some kind of obscure categorisation system probably only understood by the General himself. And every time you go you see or notice something new.
Here are the three main things I learned.
1. Even in ancient times, the image of Michael Jackson was used as a mask to terrify small children.
2. Despite this the museum is quite happy to send out conflicting signals by encouraging child molestation – albeit of a rather lily-livered sort.
3. Left alone in a room with a model of a pterosaur most women will unconsciously attempt to imitate it.
On an entirely unrelated note I was chatting last week with my friend Helen. We used to work together before she realised that there were more fun things she could do than working in telecoms. Giving yourself paper cuts and rolling in salt before receiving anal pleasure from Mick Hucknall while the hits of Barry Manilow play in the background, for example. She said “I’m still awaiting the day I make it into your blog” which reminded me of the story of her ill-fated diplomatic mission to the Gambia. So that’s all for now but you can look forward to that tale in a future installment.
P.S. Three more band name suggestions came out of our conversations this weekend. "Chocolate Omelette", "The Dogfucker ASBOs" and "The Ginger Mullets". But I think Mikey is set on "The Blind Sailors", more's the pity.
Friday, 12 June 2009
Especially when he told us all about discovering the Aladdin’s cave of jazz mags in his attic.
ME: How was your house move?
RICHARD: Not bad, except we had a bit of an interesting surprise.
ME: Oh really, what was that?
RICHARD: Well, the previous owners hadn’t cleaned out the attic so we had to do that ourselves. There were loads of old nacky suitcases and random stuff but when we got past that we found something else. We found a cardboard box containing a massive collection of 1970s porn.
ME: No! You’re kidding me.
RICHARD: No, and it’s in absolutely pristine condition. There are loads of copies of Rustler magazine. I’ve half a mind to see if they’d fetch any money on eBay.
ME: What’s 70s porn like? Is it more hardcore than modern porn?
RICHARD: It’s very artistic. It’s like a naked Flake advert or something. And the carpet! There’s an awful lot of carpet in that 70s porn, it must have been all the rage.
ME: Well I imagine there’s nothing like having a deep shag on some deep shag, if you know what I mean.
RICHARD: And there was some horrible 80s porn – stuff like Escort.
ME: I’m sure my dad had a copy of that when I was growing up, tucked underneath a massive pile of Practical Photography. Look on the bright side, it could have been worse. It could have been Reader’s Wives.
RICHARD: I know! Actually, I’ve got a story about that. One of my friends took naked photos of his other half and then when they split up he ended up throwing them out. And then several months later they turned up in Reader’s Wives! Bless, he was so impressed that he went round showing them to all his friends saying “see that? I’ve shagged her”.
ME: I can’t believe that he read Reader’s Wives, let alone found his ex in there.
RICHARD: I wondered that too. Somewhere along the way his ex had changed from Angela from Hereford into “Cindy from Guernsey” but it was definitely her. But that’s not the best thing. Angela used to work at WH Smiths and she used to use her staff discount to get the nudie pictures developed. One day the store took a delivery of photos and some of them were in a black plastic envelope with a sticker on the front saying “for the attention of the manager”. She opened them on a hunch and it’s a good thing she did because they were all of her beaver. Her nosiness probably saved her job.
ME: Though it didn’t stop her finding wider fame in a porn magazine. I’m surprised they developed them at all, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to develop some nude pictures – especially ones of the erect male member.
Rather uncanny that we had this conversation on the day I was planning to tell the story of my accidental nudism. Either it's fate or just an indicator that I talk about nudity more than most people.
Back when I was about 21 I was dating a girl called Katherine. I was very keen on her, she seemed very keen on me and things were very happy and wholesome. It was one of those times quite early in a relationship when everything is fresh and new and wonderful and everything about the other person fascinates you. The way they say things, the way they sign their name, the shops they buy their clothes at, where they live, absolutely everything resounds with an incredible significance.
There was just one problem, which was that her mother hated me.
I don’t think it was anything specifically to do with me. I was in possession of a pair of testicles and that was quite enough cause for her. She didn’t like men, hadn’t done since she split up with her husband many years before, and my chances of being that amazing man that changed her mind were non-existent. So when I went to stay with Katherine and her mum I just did my best to be polite and kind to her mum and stay out of her way – which isn’t easy when you’re sharing a bed with her daughter in a small two bedroom flat in North London.
But all seemed to be going well and had progressed to the level of “slightly chilly”. I went to stay with Katherine for around a week just at the end of the holidays and we had a great time – we wandered round North London, strolled over Hampstead Heath feeling very much in love, went to pubs in Highgate with her friends and even went to a party where I met her distant family. Some of them were relatives that she and her mum hadn’t seen in years and I had the overwhelming sensation of almost fitting in. I felt part of something new, wonderful and nearly possibly maybe permanent. I'd always thought my romances were doomed to failure but this was different. It might work.
And if Katherine hadn’t wound up taking some nude photographs of me perhaps it would have done.
All I can say in my defence is that I was young and in love and impressionable and one thing led to another (that phrase people always use to make it sound like they've been compelled by some weird form of automatism). The shutter clicked twice as I reclined unclad on the bed rejoicing in being callow, happy and exceptionally clueless. And then I forgot all about it and went home and the next week Katherine and I were reunited at university at the start of term.
“I’ve got bad news.” she said.
“On the day I was packing the stuff to come back to uni my mum came into the room. She said Oh, by the way Katherine, you know that film you left on your bedside table with photos of the party? I’ve taken it in to Boots to get developed, I’ll bring it up when I see you in a week’s time.”
“But that’s the one with, you know…”
“…I know, with those photos. I told her I wasn’t happy with her going through my stuff and said she had to bring the photos up to me without opening them.”
“Do you think she’ll do it?”
“Yes. I told her to do it. Try not to worry, it will be okay.”
The next week Katherine’s mum came up to visit her at college and dropped off the photos. The paper folder seemed untampered with. The usual experience of looking through photos you’ve had developed is one of pleasure and nostalgia. Oh, I remember that day out! you think to yourself, or That’s exactly how she looks in my mind when she’s not around. That’s my favourite one. Sadly all those feelings of unalloyed, uncomplicated joy were denied to me as I flipped through the photos with a growing chill of queasy anticipation.
And then, near the back, there they were. Shots of me, bollock naked, reclining against a paisley duvet cover. It was probably quite fashionable back then (the duvet cover, not the nudism). On the plus side - and I was clutching at the straws of positivity as they slipped through my clammy fingers - they were black and white and relatively tasteful. And with hindsight I now know full well I’ll probably never be that thin again unless I get a wasting disease. But even so, I was very, very naked (is “naked” a relative term? probably not). And one of the photos, in which I was clearly and visibly standing to attention, was almost certainly one Boots should have refused to process on the grounds of taste, decency and legality.
Thank god Katherine’s mum hadn’t seen them, I thought. And then I looked at the paper processing envelope the film had come in. Scrawled on the back, in big writing, was the following:
The bitch. She had got a duplicate set.
The relationship stumbled on for another six months but it was never the same. Every time I met her mother after that there was an unspoken humiliation, and an implicit understanding that I shouldn’t make myself too comfortable because I wouldn’t be sticking around. And it might be my imagination, but I always felt like I had trouble looking her in the eye knowing as I did that she could go back to her flat any time, get out the snaps and look me in mine.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
I’m quite a political animal but I’ve always shied away from writing about it on the blog for two important reasons. The first one is that you can’t win – the English readers will know all this stuff already and anyone from further afield won’t have a clue what’s going on.
The second one, more crucially, is that politics is just plain boring to practically everyone. I love it but I’m very conscious that it has nothing to do with real lives and is just a soap opera for highbrow types who would sooner die than watch an actual soap opera (actually it’s more like a pantomime lately but let’s gloss over that). I have heard vicious rumours that there’s more to politics than that, but I don’t believe them. Allegedly it also has something to do with who runs the country, how much tax we should pay, what that money gets spent on and whether you want a big state or a small state and whether decisions about people's lives should be made at a local or centralised zzzzz…
WAKE UP! See what I mean? Nobody cares.
But anyway, Mikey, Cornish Rob and I ended up discussing politics despite all that and the reason was that Nick Griffin was hit by an egg yesterday lobbed by protestors. Here he is, as it happened.
For those who don’t know, Nick Griffin is a fat shifty looking bigot who spews his reactionary views to anyone who will listen while alienating everyone he comes into contact with.
Oh no, hold on, that’s Peter Griffin isn’t it?
Nick Griffin on the other hand is a fat shifty looking etc. etc. who also happens to be the leader of the British National Party, a far right extremist political organisation that believes in legalised hunting of black people, deporting Polish people to Siberia, making Jim Davidson the Lord Chancellor and playing the national anthem six thousand times a day in between televised executions of socialists, satirists and sex offenders. And in case any members of the BNP are reading this and feel a bit litigious – only kidding fellas!
Still, I wonder if he and Peter Griffin are related?
We had an election last Thursday and because a certain proportion of the voters in the UK are a bunch of ignorant racists, a certain proportion of our members of the European Parliament belong to a political party which is ignorant and racist. This has led to lots of hand wringing about how we have to have a political system which ensures that people whose political views we don’t approve of aren’t represented. Which is of course is we got into this mess in the first place, but never mind niceties like that because something really must be done.
And the best way to defeat racist and ignorant ideas is clearly to pretend they don’t exist while simultaneously saying we really must have a debate with these people. So the BNP tend to be well and truly kept away from the broadcast media. Mikey was (very sensibly if you ask me) saying that this was a crazy approach and we all agreed that the more coverage was given to his offensive views the more the public would turn away from them. And that idea, combined with the image of Nick Griffin wearing a broken egg, is when I had my brainwave.
They should have Nick Griffin on the new series of Celebrity Masterchef.
A TV show where a bunch of Z list celebs try to prove they have rudimentary culinary ability by cooking a dish from random ingredients before being sent scuttling off to a professional kitchen is the perfect vehicle to introduce the British National Party to the mainstream. Just think of the hilarious consequences (by which I of course mean “opportunities for political enlightenment”) that would ensue.
Here are some things I think he’d be likely to say:
- “So, I’m going to break the eggs and segregate the yolks. Sorry, I mean separate. They must be kept separate at all times. I SEE RIVERS OF YOLK.”
- “My roulade is going to be made with this Swiss chocolate. Not dark, no! Never dark! White. IT HAS TO BE WHITE.”
- “I fully endorse the campaign against food miles. All my ingredients are British. BRITISH INGREDIENTS FOR BRITISH MEALS FOR BRITISH WORKERS.”
Here are some things I can’t imagine him saying in a million years:
- “So, take all your ingredients and mix them together really well until you have a cohesive whole.”
- “Tonight I’m going to be cooking my personal favourite, Polish food. Many’s the night that Mrs Griffin munches a steaming kielbasa at the dining table.”
- “And now time to use my favourite culinary implement – the melting pot.”
I also have good news and bad news. The good news is that Donald Pleasence, our favourite funbus driver is still alive and hasn’t been sacked. We haven’t caught sight of his smiling face and gleaming dome for over three weeks and, inconceivably, we’re all missing him.
“You should ask ‘have a nice Dave’ what’s going on.” said Mikey as we prepared to alight this evening.
“No, he’ll think I’m a berk” I said, “You do it. He likes you more than he likes me.”
“All right. I bet he’s been sacked or gone back to South Africa.”
“I reckon he’s been moved onto another route because they’ve had complaints.”
So Mikey asked ‘have a nice Dave’ and between “ta da”s he told us that Donald had been on holiday and returned to work on Monday. And we all discovered something new – that we were all a bit relieved that we hadn’t seen the last of him. We also learned something else, which is that ‘have a nice Dave’ calls Donald Pleasence “Mouth”. How many nicknames can one man have? And I bet all he really wants is to be called “Boss” or “big man”.
The bad news is that I was hoping to do something a bit special to celebrate my 100th blog post. I know it might seem premature but it will be upon me before you know it. So I contacted my friend who is the subject of the “Vaseline story” (henceforth to be known as “Project Vaseline”) and asked them ever so nicely whether they’d consent to me finally sharing their beautiful experience with the world to mark the special occasion.
I’m afraid it didn’t go well and the answer, again, was no. I tried to find out what the problem was, since nobody would know who it was about unless they already knew the story. The reply came back and as I read it I could feel the temperature in the room drop by five degrees “If you don’t understand without me explaining it to you I don’t think an explanation will help you comprehend why.” It was like being told off by my mum all over again.
So there go the centenary celebrations. Any idea what I can do instead?
Anyway, that’s all for now. Tune in next time when I will be telling the story of my career as an accidental nudist.
P.S. Thanks to the excellent recent blog post by the Jules I’ve come up with a band name for Mikey – The Topless Ninjas. And the ungrateful bastard doesn’t like it!
P.P.S. Still no word from my Croatian stalker. Bunch of arse.