Saturday, April 19, 2014

Suede - Still Life

In which your author finds himself suddenly obsessed with the majestic Dog Man Star album. Just because.

And if you want something a little less overblown: The Wild Ones.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Curse of the Stinky Blanket


Wilson's outside, and we're washing all his stinky stuff.

Don't get me wrong, we adopted him a year ago this week, and he is an excellent little hound, but he picks up nasty smells like a dockside prostitute picks up sailors. Who knows where. He don't roll in poo, he doesn't go to the gym, and he's not obviously sweaty like a security guard.

If you don't put dog, stinky blanky and bed through the wash weekly, then the whole flat smells, the car smells, and you smell. Smelly dog, but we love him.

He may be a stinker, but my memory might be playing tricks on me, because I'm clearly blocking out what Snowy - our previous Jack Russell - was like. Memory's like that - only the sweet smell of flowers and the ugly beauty of freshly-laid tarmac makes it through the nasal censor in your head. Dog smells - as a rule - do not.

Snowy had what was known as 'Stinky Blanky', but that was a French mademoiselle's perfumed handkerchief in comparison to that owned by Wilson. Snowy's breath was like death, as was his bottom gas. And in his final months he often didn't make it to the toilet in time, and you would sometimes find him crouched in the hallway, nipping out a log, fixing you with that gimlet stare that said "Yeah? And what are you going to do about it?"

Nothing, that's what.

But we loved him, like we now love Wilson. For the first few weeks, I actually missed cleaning up the poop and disinfecting the wooden floor in the hallway.


Wilson's first act in this house when we brought him home last April was to scour the place and thoroughly destroy anything owned by previous dogs. Toys were shredded with the ruthlessness of a city banker caught with his hand in the till. Then he claimed the sofa as his own, and hobbled his servants by lying across out-stretched legs until the knees were bent backwards so firmly we couldn't run away. We have no resistance to him, at all.

Fortunately, he is possibly the easiest dog to bath I've ever owned, accepting his fate with reasonably good grace, standing head bowed in the bath like a man condemned.

Now, my first dog Snoopy was a real terror to bath. He was the only dog I ever owned that would resort to actual violence to avoid the tub, and we had to resort to the human traits of guile and trickery if we wanted him clean.

Which was often.

We had fields behind our house, and Snoopy liked nothing better than to vault the back fence and not return until he had experienced a thoroughly good roll in freshly-laid horse manure. Like many of the unpleasant jobs around that time, it fell to me to clean the cur, and battle between teenager and beagle was joined.

I was a pretty naive sort at that age and managed to talk myself into anything that involved effort. Mowing the lawn became my job, essentially because I once asked my dad if I could have a push one summer afternoon when he was struggling with the mower, and - as far as I know - the old man has never pushed another lawnmower to this day.

The same went for bathing the dog. Seemed like fun, how hard it could be?

As hard as wrestling with a large, wet, writhing mass with spiky teeth at one end, that's what. Snoopy soon learned that the bathroom meant bad news, and he wouldn't even be bribed in with food or treats after a while. So you would have to pounce on him, wrap him in a blanket, race to the bath and throw him in before he realised what was happening, and woe betide if you left him a fraction of an inch to escape, because he'd find that gap and would be away, like some sort of simile I can't think of at the moment.

In the end, the battle of wits between hapless teen and snarling crap-covered canine resolved itself, like all conflicts do, into a morale-sapping battle where nobody emerges with pride intact, and the victor feels a little ashamed at the lengths he has gone to secure the humiliation of his foe.

Yes, I cornered Snoopy in the greenhouse, in which I had already placed the lawn sprinkler attached to the hose.

The nuclear option. I'm not proud.

Wilson be warned - I note your docile yet resigned attitude toward the dog bath, but I still have my collection of Cold War era books on weapons and tactics. I'm not afraid to use them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Documenting My Mid-Life Crisis Through The Medium Of Old Band T-Shirts

As my slide into old-fartism continues, I make a desperate attempt to prevent this from happening by pretending to be a teenager.

While most men do this by buying a motorbike or a big flash car, I've gone down the budget route of not acting my age by buying a load of old band T-shirts.

BEHOLD:

1. The Sisters

2. Joy Division

3. New Order

4. 4AD (Yes, it's a record label. Shut up.)

5. Depeche Mode

6. Primal Scream

7. THE DAME

Now leave me. Leave me to grow old in peace.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

On Monarchy, Rex Particles and SCIENCE

Consider this question which landed on my iPad screen the other day: "Was there a period between King George VI dying and Princess Elizabeth being crowned when the UK had no monarch?"

Interesting indeed.

While the Coronation is merely the ceremonial affirmation of the individual's right to the throne, the concept of monarchy supposedly transfers from dying king to the next in line to the throne at the exact point of death.

But here lies the problem, that can only be addressed by SCIENCE: All things are bound by the rules of the universe, which means nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, not even the idea of Kingliness.

Let us call this concept the Rex Particle.

When King George VI died in Sandingham in Norfolk on 6th February 1952, his daughter Princess Elizabeth was on safari in Kenya, some 7,600 miles away.

So, instead of her immediately becoming Queen as the old monarch breathed his last, the Rex Particles had to travel from Norfolk to Kenya NO FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT before Elizabeth could become Queen.

This would have taken no less than 0.04 of a second, meaning that for 1/250th of a second, the Empire was without a Defender of the Faith.

Then we should take into account that the Rex Particles had to change polarity and become Regina Particles, which would undoubtedly have been the subject of a processing delay, not to mention the entropic possibilities that gamma radiation may have been emitted.

This gamma radiation would undoubtedly have found the nearest sympathetic receptor – Prince Philip – turning him from the mild-mannered naval lieutenant into the fevered monster we know today.

So, SCIENCE. I hope you're satisfied.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Mind-Blowing Terror Of Seeing Your Neighbours Fully Clothed

I was walking the dog the other morning when I came face-to-face with the woman who was naked when I last saw her.

I don't make a habit of this sort of thing, but the last time I had clapped eyes on Naked Woman, she had been naked. And also a woman.

And if there's one awkward situation specifically designed to bring out the full Englishman in you, then this is exactly it.

Now call me a Peeping Tom or a pervert, but I don't go out with the intention of seeing my neighbours déshabillé, and Naked Woman was certainly nowhere near the top of my list of people I would want to see in such a state.

Mrs Naked Woman, to give her the dignity of her proper title lives in a bungalow near to our flat, and she and her husband, Mr Fully Clothed Man As Far As I Am Aware, are what you might call a perfect example of the Daily Express's target readership. Well into their retirement years; Kia car on the drive; a sensible, well-tended garden with the tang of Jeyes Fluid; and a caravan so they can just-hitch-up-and-go, but with enough mildew around the windows to suggest that it's been a long time since they've got up and gone anywhere recently.

But it was as I walked Wilson past their home a few weeks ago - 6.30 in the morning - that she flung open the bedroom blinds exposing her full, naked glory to the world and anybody who might be passing. Me, and an 11-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, as it turns out. Naked, yes. Not exactly glorious, but who am I to judge, for everybody has their own idea of beauty.

I like to think I have reached that stage of maturity where I do not have to regale you with a graphic description of my near neighbour's early-morning nudity, for you have an imagination of your own. And if you don't there's always Google.

Hurrying along, it's not something you tend to forget too quickly, and I changed my dog walking route for the the best part of a month, just in case.

So, having reverted back to the Danger Naked People Route recently, it was only a matter of time before our paths would cross again.

It was an evening, I was walking and 11-year-old Jack Russell Terrier who's going to be 12 next month, and she was getting out of the sensible Kia parked on the drive.

Our eyes met, for a brief awkward second.

My thought were immediately "You've seen her naked", and I turned away.

I have no idea if her immediate thought was "He's seen my bosoms", because I'm not a mind-reader, but I went into safety mode and assumed this to be the case.

"Come on, Wilson," I urged, hoping for a quick getaway, but he was militantly sniffing at her gate-post in the tenacious way that Jack Russells do, so I was trapped there until the leg was cocked, hoping that we would not be drawn into awkward small talk that might betray what one neighbour knew about the other. Or the other way around.

Inevitably: "Lovely evening," she said.

"Mmm," I replied, gesturing at Wilson while he sniffed with ever greater alacrity around her gate*, "He'll be done in a minute. Sorry."

"Must gets my blinds fixed," she mused.

I fled. Wilson never got the chance to cock the leg.

*Not sexy slang

Sunday, April 06, 2014

On Local TV Channels and Frank Sidebottom Doing The Test Card

So, somebody with a bit of money to burn is trying to start up *another* London-wide TV channel. This time it's called London Live, and it's run by the people behind the Evening Standard.

Yes, it's a new era, and yes something something a quantum leap in local broadcasting something, but it's all been done before and it always goes the same way. London's had something called Channel One before, and other cities have tried much the same. The only problem is that while media people throw money at these projects, they forget one crucial fact: 99% of viewers are quite happy with BBC/ITV/C4/C5/Sky, thank you very much.

Best of luck to them, but this is why it'll struggle: No matter how much money they spend on London Live, it will never be as good as the test card for Manchester's Channel M.

And they closed down, too. Poor, dead Frank Sidebottom.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Coconut Farmers of Aldershot

I promise I had a good reason to be in Aldershot, the steaming jewel of north Hampshire. But soon enough, I found myself in the town's new Morrisons supermarket on a quest for cake.

My attention, however, was drawn away from my chocolate-flavoured quest, when my attention was drawn to this little display in the fruit and veg aisle.

Now, global warming's one thing, but I never thought there could be coconut farms in Aldershot, even with acre upon acre of unused military land in the district housing god-knows-what secrets from the general public. 

Or maybe - it was suggested by minds far sharper than mine - they send their staff out to local funfairs with instructions not to return until they have completely defeated the coconut shy.

So I asked them.

"Hey @Morrisons," I said on the Twitters, "Are coconuts *really* local to Aldershot? (I'd love the answer to be 'yes')", a question that was picked up and run with by the Twitterati.

After a respectable pause came a simple reply:

"Oops."

It appears that there are no coconut farmers in Aldershot. Not even further afield, like Farnborough or (at a push) Hook. It's watercress country by the time you reach Alton, so that's out of the question too.

I think somebody might have been using a bit of the old exaggeration on the shop floor.

And here comes the serious part. It's one thing to say that a product is locally sourced or locally grown, because people car about food miles. Why buy apples from South Africa, when equally good fruit is available from UK farmers? I want to buy local, and that means not being misled by tricky promotion.

So, to claim that coconuts are "Locally supplied" is disingenuous in the extreme, and a bit of a naughty use of what we in the journalistic trade term "weasel words".

Morrisons own website - by the way - suggests that their coconuts are sourced from India, over 4,000 miles by air. Unless they have a deal with migrating swallows, that's not locally supplied by any means.

Yeah, "Oops".

Bad supermarket. Bad.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Day I Decided Not To Join The Army

We all make choices. Choices that change the entire direction of your life for better or for worse.

Some people choose to be Tottenham supporters, and subject them to a lifetime of failure and an inferiority complex when it comes to Arsenal. Glad I made the right choice there.

But it's not just about your choice of football team. It's down to life's very fundamentals: Who you choose as your life partner. Who you choose as your friends. What you choose as your career.

You win some and you lose some, and sometimes you make a poor choice, and life might be charitable enough to give you a second chance.

At the age of 20, I was resolved to join the armed forces. For some reason, I had talked myself out of joining the RAF, talked myself out of going through the officer selection - reasons of crushed confidence - and put myself forward for the Army as a private soldier.

The idea was to head to the Intelligence Corps. Or the Pay Corps. Or Signals. Things were a bit fuzzy in my brain and I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted.

So, I took a train up to Sutton Coldfield, took the selection exams, took the basic fitness test, was asked in no uncertain terms why I wasn't bloody well putting myself forward as officer material, and was offered a place in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

It was on the train back south that I made my decision.

The carriage was full of my fellow recruits, and they were a bit - to say the least - boisterous. In fact, it was what people these days called "Bants".

And the target of these bants was - as you'd expect - the posh boy listening to Kate Bush on his Walkman who didn't want to be an officer.

After two hours of piss-taking, insults and petty theft from pretty much the worst people in the world, I was resolved. Two hours with my fellow soldier was enough to tell me that they were the last people with whom I wanted to spend the next ten years of my life.

I got off at Reading, went home, cancelled my application, spent the next three years or so doing absolutely nothing in the civil service, then another ten years before decided I really wanted to be a writer,

So, screw you, bants. I sometimes regret not joining the Forces, but terrible people changed the course of my life.

For the better, in the end.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

'Enthusiastic Vandals'

Rude Boys, according to the Daily Mirror in 1980, were enthusiastic vandals. This is a good thing, because there's nothing quite so bad as a half-hearted one.

I speak from personal experience, because as a teenager I was a New Romantic who used chalk to write on toilet walls.

Chalk, I ask you. My legacy would last right up to the moment that it next rained.

However, those rains didn't come soon enough, and my reign of terror soon came to an end. This was - in the main - that I was the only graffiti artist in small village who signed his own work.

Half-hearted vandalism - it's Route One to a whole world of woe.

Monday, March 31, 2014

On improving the rail network

So, I saw this on the Twitters the other day.

Impressed by Nick Hancock's new job, I naturally replied:
Of course, there's swings and roundabouts. Sure, you could get Billie Piper at Swindon, but disembark at Rotherham, and you've got the Chuckle Brothers punching your ticket*.

And if I were to head down to the West Country to see my old dad, the thought of being met off the train by Cornwall's finest** comedian Jethro would be enough to get me on the first train home.

And I'd never go to London in case it's Danny Dyer.

Worst idea ever. Sorry I even brought it up.

*Not sexy slang
** Shittest