Friday, December 21, 2007

Two peas in a pod

Two of the women at work get on like a house on fire. It’s not a surprise, female demography of the organisation appears to be split between 19 year old administrators and 40+ managers with just those two in between.

Physically, they are similar height and build and have a similar style. One is blonde, the other brunette. One drinks white wine, the other red. Today, whilst sorting through another tin of chocolates they found that their tastes complimented each other in this area too. 

“Cor”, said one, “Sharing a packet of Revels with you would be AMAZING!” 

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dancing around the Christmas tree

From a primal perspective, dancing is all about sex. Dancing demonstrates vitality and health, and many of the moves – with the exception of The Pogo and Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box – are simply distilled sex moves of one kind or another.

With metronomic predictability, the Christmas Party happened last week and sure enough there was dancing. I don’t really dance to cheesy wedding/Xmas disco music; not because I don’t want to – I’m not one of those who think dancing is merely a right of passage into homosexuality – more because I simply can’t.

Quite literally, music has got to move me if I’m to dance. Cheesy discos don’t do that –they’re just too slow and predictable.


It didn’t stop others filling the dancefloor. The women are most eager; dragging each other up for ‘a bit of a boogie’. Once they’ve negotiated all the tables they simply stand in a circle and do the stepping side-to-side dance. A little later and more lubricated, this might be embellished with the odd ‘hands in the air sing along to chorus’ variation.

Men also do the stepping side-to-side dance – it’s all very self conscious – height doesn’t help – and nobody knows what to do with their hands. Maybe this is an accurate pre-cursor to a night in the sack.

The other breed are the men who do the undo their shirts and jump around like baboons. These are people also tend to have sick down their shirts. These must be the people who think that picking a woman up by the hair and throwing her on the bed for a good seeing to is in some way attractive.

If dancing is indeed some sort of primal mating ritual, it's a wonder how long the human race can sustain its abject state in the modern world.

(*office party video, not authors own... thankfully).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

She's in control

Looking back, I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned Ginger Woman; Emma’s superhero alter-ego. Over the years, she’s managed to be in the right place at the right time to break up street fights, direct traffic around burning cars and bring to justice a couple of local tyre thieves. Oh, and she became implicated by a tabloid newspaper in a terrorist attack… but that’s another story.

Like all good super heroes Ginger Woman’s world is a secretive one. She lives in the shadows waiting to be called upon. What she does in the shadows, who knows?

On Wednesday we watched Arrange me a marriage. The woman whose marriage was being arranged was Lynn. Lynn’s parents are friends with Emma’s, one of Lynn’s closest friends is in our ante-natal group and one of the blokes selected has a son Emma taught.

Emma doesn’t know Lynn and the three people connected to Emma don’t know each other. She’s clearly is in control of a lot more than I’d previously realised. I’m just innocently making my way through life whilst she’s the master puppeteer of Oxfordshire society. I feel like Nicholas Garrigan to her Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ar and keys

The ‘ ‘ has fallen off my keyboard. Sorry, the ‘double-u’ has fallen off my keyboard. The cat as alking over it, hen she slipped, fell off and plucked it our ith one of her cla s.

It’s a bind, especially hen surfing the orld ide eb. It stays on for a little hile, but it’s all obbly and eventually falls off. There’s a plastic holder thing it clips into, hich has been damaged so the key on’t stay on.

I’ve got no choice but to replace it ith a ne key. Just one tiny key, ith one tiny plastic holder thing. Eventually I found a ebsite that replaces individual keys on Po erBooks.

Keys, of course, are integral to doing computer things. And don’t these suppliers kno it? One key ith plastic holder thing is £4.50 ith another £2.50 postage.

£7.00 for one measily key. ankers.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Before and after

Before… those who say Steve McClaren has been given a lifeline by Israel beating Russia are wrong. I’m no fan of McClaren, but the fact that England need to draw with Croatia in their final match is merely a scheduling anomaly. The only way to ensure qualification remains in your hands is to win every game; a feat no team in Europe achieved. If the schedule of games were rearranged and the results were the same; which given that the minor highs and lows – injuries, bad decisions – even themselves out, is a reasonable assumption; then the outcome would be the same. The man can’t be judged until it’s all over…

And after… It’s all over and Jesus, how many chances did you need? How many mistakes can you make? McClaren inherits a team from Sven Goran Eriksson that is amongst the top 8 in the world. Rather than tweaking, he bows to the media hysteria shows that he’s his own man and drops the captain David Beckham.

After a number of bad results he finds himself having to pick in-form Beckham and ultimately reassembles the team Eriksson created. Results improve. Injuries return and it falls apart again. Lead against Russia, qualification beckons – lose to Russia. Israel beat Russia, qualification beckons – go two down to Croatia. Manage to get back to 2-2, qualification beckons – concede another goal. And out you must go.

In reality he screwed up against Macedonia when he was still showing the world he was being his own man. When they were getting bogged down in that game, they needed a player who could change a game with one pass… and Beckham was in Madrid.

The domination of the so-called Golden Generation disguises how weak this generation of England players are. Which is mind-boggling coming from the richest football country in the world. Although maybe we should get real – this isn’t an English league, it’s a global brand. Don’t be surprised to see a Premiership game staged in China or the US soon.

And what of the Golden Generation? They’re great players for their clubs. But the role they play is as the iconic battling bulldog whilst the Carlos Kick-a-bouts do all the fancy stuff. Modern club sides are like that; they take the best qualities from the countries around the world and blend them into a team. The English players bring English qualities; put them all together its just one boorish headless mob which the more technically able intelligent countries can just play around.

Eriksson got that and tried to slow everything down, but that was viewed as having a lack of passion - McClaren just didn’t get and turned England into a pub team. It was so badly exposed last night; I could do no more than laugh at every farcical turn.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Head for oblivion

So, over two-thirds of people who downloaded the Radiohead album didn’t pay a rusty penny for it? Those who did only coughed up a couple of pounds on average.

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to music. I expect to pay for it, I buy albums on CD and until Millie came along bought singles on vinyl (part of my DJ-ing delusions). Space has dictated that I can’t really fit anymore vinyl into the house, so I’ve started buying the odd download single.

Downloading a whole album and not paying for it didn’t fit. I am a fan, so I did contemplate it, and decided to pay £5. This makes me more generous than most, I guess. When they announced that it would come out on CD, I decided to wait.

I wonder what Radiohead think of all this. Maybe it’s all part of a grand plan – sign to a major, make commercial albums, and then use the money made from The Man to subvert the industry. Using corporate greed to bring down corporate greed.

Or maybe they had faith in humanity and actually assumed people would want to pay for it. Like me, they’re of the generation that bought its music in hard format with money. Maybe they despair at the kids today who see nothing wrong in stealing other people’s work. It’s enough to make Thom Yorke start reading the Express and vote Tory.

There’s been a lot in the rhetoric about how this is changing the face of the music industry by cutting out the record labels. But Radiohead, and their kin (The Charlatans and Prince) have established their profile as a result of the labels. They can now operate outside their control.

Other artists can’t operate like this; they need the publicity that labels offer. For all the talk of MySpace bands, the Radiohead move isn’t really going to bring down the status quo. The Radiohead way maybe an option for the late career artists, but its not really going to work for those who are up and coming.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly

Having worked over 40 hours in the last two and a bit days, I’ve taken the day off today. Tomorrow I’m back at work, tackling that key tasks of archiving my emails and drinking coffee.

I’m not much of a sleeper, but I was determined to stay in bed for a goodly length of time. As a result I’ve managed to catch up with the dark netherworld of daytime terrestrial TV.

First up was Jeremy Kyle, which I can’t watch for more than about 3 minutes at a time. The topic was ‘You slept with my cousin’s fiancé’. Gormless Chav Number 1 took a lie detector test to find out whether this was true. Kyle announced that it was, to which Gormless Chav Number 2 (who had been cheated on) sat in his Adidas tracksuit and shouted ‘Booyaah’. It was like watching Newsnight.

On Channel 4, rather more unpredictably for 10.30am, was a short documentary on the making of a glamour model. Seren, a media student from Goldsmiths College, was embarking on a glamour model career to ease her student debt.

The agency who signed her up needed to give her a distinctive look to make her stand out. They decided to brand her as the ‘smartest glamour model on the circuit’. Summarised as: pictures in FHM, talking about the pictures in Media Guardian. The creative director suggested she was pictured surrounded by books. Great.

In the end branding of the ‘smartest glamour model on the circuit’ involved shots of her topless in a white shirt and knickers. Very cerebral.

They interviewed her afterwards asking whether she knew they were branding her the smartest glamour model on the circuit. No, she said. Do you think the pictures reflected that? They said. No, she said.

She reflected, slightly shocked, before continuing...

I suppose I did cover up my fanny with a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nil from two

During this great weekend of sport, in which the country ended with less world champions than it started, questions were raised as to whether we should switch our national sport from football to rugby.

Do you have to declare your national sport to the UN? I mean, does the National Sport Security Council sit and have conversations that start; “Sir, our intelligence informs us that the Afghans have developed an unauthorised liking for the pole vault”?

The argument basically goes that we’re better at rugby than we are at football. This, despite the fact that the rugby world is comparatively tiny, making us a big fish in a small pond and despite the fact had England won on Saturday night it would have been a travesty to declare them the best in the world.

The second argument is that football is boorish, bloated and over exposed, whereas rugby is more refined and cultured. After all, despite having a controversial try disallowed, there was no apoplexy, no derision, and no cries of foul.

This is because despite the endeavour, tension and excitement; after the final whistle blows; nobody really cares about rugby.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cracking eggs

You won’t find any meaningful analysis of the Rugby World Cup from me. However, I have enjoyed the tournament. The Wales v Fiji game was a ding dong battle and the France v All Blacks game was pure theatre from the French standing nose to nose with the snarling Kiwi haka to Jean-Baptiste Elisalde sprinting in towards his own line to punt the ball into the crowd and ensure victory.

I admire what England have achieved, though they are a one man team, I know Johnny Wilkinson couldn’t win games on his own. More importantly, England can’t win without Wilkinson. Without him on the pitch, their efforts are largely redundant. Unlike many, I like to see heroes being heroic.

But, the problem with Rugby is that it is only accessible at a certain level. From an outsider’s point of view, a vast majority appears to be about big men lying on top of each other. Its difficult to know whether Sebastien Chabal, the modern day cave man and hairy scary bastard, is a good player or just a hairy scary bastard. He looks great when his beard and hair is drenched in mud, sweat and others’ teeth, but what’s he doing lying on the floor in the first place?

The rules don’t help, they’ve been invented to make the game as aesthetically pleasing as possible, but you can only trust that the referee isn’t making them up like a game of Mornington Crescent. Players can be penalised for going in on the wrong side and doing things in a scrum that no end of TV replays can clarify. With England so reliant on Wilkinson’s penalties, who knows what might win them the game – eating fish fingers in a ruck or doing impressions of Ronny Corbett with one foot off the ground perhaps?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

African queen

GMTV is not known for its subtly. The only shock is that they haven’t yet managed to get the advert breaks sponsored.

This week they’ve been running a trailor promoting a week in which Fiona Phillips is flying out to Tanzania to visit a girl she sponsors. The little girl’s name is Neema.

It’s not right to criticise this, and I wouldn’t. But the trailer opens with an introduction highlighting that this little girl and millions of others, have little hope. In short, they are so poor they will die without help.

The trailer continues to a soundtrack of authentic African music. Lots of pictures of children with no shoes and living in mud huts studying from old textbooks.

Fiona herself is shot, sans make-up, staring into the middle distance from what may be the back of a safari jeep, but may also be the balcony of her five-star timber framed hotel suite.

Whilst it’s nauseating and patronising, it just about maintains its credibility. Then the final caption comes up, in their infinite wisdom, they’ve chosen to call this segment of the show Finding Neema.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Going postal

Broadly speaking I am for the man in the street and against The Man. Therefore I do want to sympathise with the striking postal workers. In addition to this, I really dislike Adam Crozier, who has made a career out of turning quintessentially dusty and crusty old English institutions into ugly moneymaking machines. The man has no soul.

That said, you suspect that he’s right when he says that the postal service needs modernising. The strikers, as much as I want to support them, are probably in the wrong.

The ‘postal chaos’ hasn’t really been chaotic at all bringing into question just how much we rely on the service. Emaciated children aren’t running around the streets, no tanks have rolled through the shires. A woman on the TV said that some of her mail order customers wouldn’t have their fancy dress costumes for parties at the weekend.

This evening I got home to find a pile of post, mostly junk, but a pile. It was about 4 times the normal amount of post. Perhaps 4 days worth. In short, it does seem that the sorting offices have cleared the backlog on the first day back. Which may suggest that the post office has approximately four times too many people working for it.

A case for The Man? Perhaps.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fair play

Thame Fair is an institution round these parts and like all great institutions it’s barely changed in at least 25 years. It cuts the whole of Thame High Street off, a logistical and economic nightmare, and coincides with Thame Show – the largest one day agricultural show in the country. The two events together are the highlight of the town’s social calendar.

When we were at school, it would all start the night before it actually opened. Wednesday night was for setting up. We used to have the day off for Thame Show on the Thursday, so Wednesday night was free. Wednesday served three purposes; firstly, to check out what was new, to see if there was the opportunity to test the rides for free, and to get a fair job.

All, completely fanciful; there was never anything new, nobody ever tested the rides and why would hardened fair ride owners cut into their profit margins by handing jobs out to twelve years olds?

Because of school the next day, mums and dads throughout the county locked down their children for Thursday’s opening night. Those who did make it out would turn up on Friday morning with stories of how one of the rides had broken and killed someone. Usually a car had flown off the Tri-Star hitting the Town Hall. Oddly, the Thame Gazette chose never to feature the story; which suggested that there was some grand conspiracy, Thame’s resident hacks had bigger stories to cover, like the new tree that’s being planned for the war memorial or it was complete braggadocio.

Friday was The Night. The whole school would descend on the town; cars from the surrounding villages would stack up round the ring road waiting for clearance to drop their payload of children off at the end of the High Street. Kids would walk around four stone heavier laden ten pence pieces in their pockets. It was an egalitarian social event, because whether you were cool or a geek everyone could go down the fair.

Friday was the night Wiggazz finished his shift at Budgens and between leaving its front door and meeting us at the arcades two hundred yards away; had blown his week’s wages on slot machines. It was when Choggaz spent the night comparing Star Wars strategies some mystical lard arse and the night we encountered Gauntlet; a revolutionary game you could play with your mates and keep your characters power up by putting more money in. As a result it ate money.

Saturday was best kept clear. Rumours were abound that ‘posses’ from Aylesbury, Wallingford and all obscure villages in the surrounding area would turn up. Apparently (though typically, this again was missed by the paper) the fair would end in a massive riot with all the posses and fair workers scrapping it out for supremacy. For years I imagined that all these posses had club houses and robust governance structures and they planned their assaults meticulously. In truth it was just kids you didn’t recognise from school.

We went to the fair last night with Millie. Nothing has changed. Presumably it’s ludicrously expensive to paint a fair ride as each one is stuck in a timewarp. Like the ride which featured Ally G or the one that screamed ‘WASSSUP’ every two minutes, or the stall where you could win a cuddly Crazy Frog. I’m sure the Superbowl ride had a painting of Dan Marino on it. I found myself staring at people my age trying to regress them in my mind back to the school days. If you could take 3 stone and 20 years off their faces then, yes, they were from school. Yes, like us they have children and like us they have to go home at 7.30. But essentially, everything is the same. Now, like then, these people hang around in groups barely making eye contact with each other. And that’s just the way it should be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

London loves?

Prior to boarding the train into London yesterday, I was listening to a debate about Northern Rock. The discussion basically went along the lines of…

Caller: “I’m taking all my money out because if they’re wound up then I will lose all my money and will have to work for the rest of my life”
Financial expert: “But they’re not going to be wound up, they would be able to function without any deposits at all and the Bank of England will only lend to companies who are in good shape.”
Caller: “But what if they are wound up?”
Financial expert: “They’re not going to be”
Caller: “But what if they are?”
Etc.

Getting off the train, I found I was in a carriage with a woman dressed in red shoes, thick red tights, red dress and red coat, a woman with one leg on crutches, a body builder in flip flops, a couple of fat lesbians and a woman in thigh high boots and a business suit.

Walking down Regents Street I was held up by a bunch of clearly wealthy Japanese business men dressed in hideous, but expensive, golfing casuals. With breathtaking predicatbility, they meandered along until they got to the Pringle shop then stood stock still like rabbits in a car’s headlights gawping at the pink and lemon patterned jumpers in the window.

I passed the Hanover Street branch of Northern Rock with 200 people hanging around outside and TV reporters doing their hair preparing for broadcast.

I had lunch in EAT in Vigo Street, and sat intimidated amongst stick thin models eating cress, fashionistas in vintage sportswear, people with indeterminate marketing jobs making energetic calls about ‘The Tour De France account’ and ‘The Paul Smith Campaign’ and fashion students talking about this season’s fabrics and colours with piles of drawings and rags spread out all over the table.

I went to The Pen Shop, because I needed a pen, but found their starting prices were around £60. I then spent 35 minutes looking for a shop that sold both cheap pens and mini-London A-Zs.

Britain: weird or wonderful? you decide.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not making a meal of it

Emma’s has had a wretched time with her new car. About two weeks before our holiday two of the hubcaps were nicked from it. When we returned from holiday we found the other two gone too.

Yesterday, whilst she was shopping, someone ran into the back of her in a car park breaking the rear light. The culprit then drove off without owning up to their crime.

In between some scallywag wrote in the dust on the roof what appears to be the legend ‘Cheesecake Cock’ – now I can’t definitively say what that means, though I can have a good go.

Not one to look on the dark side of life Emma turned to me and said, “You never know, maybe it says ‘Cheesecake Cook’ which would be a complement.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All hail the chef

It’s a hard life, but yesterday I had to do a tasting in preparation for a conference. The chef was a Swede, the nationality, not the vegetable. He was about nine feet tall without his hat, and twelve with it.

I’ve never done a tasting before, I thought we’d be given samples of all the food; we’d pop it in our mouths, say ‘yum’ and move on. Not a bit of it; it was all about the performance. Our Chef wanted us to understand firstly where he was coming from (two Michelin stars at the age of 23 before he had a heart attack as a result of the pressure) and where his food came from.

I don’t mean where geographically, although he told us this too – he only gets his sun blushed tomatoes from Sicily (‘if they’re the only place that does good ones, what are you gonna do?’) for example. He wanted us to know where it came from spiritually and philosophically. He was, he said, trying to redefine conference catering – well, we’ve all got to have a hobby, I suppose.

Not only was he trying; he had achieved it. He told us so. It was delicious, and there was no denying his talent. Or confidence. Or arrogance. Depending which way you look at it.

What’s more, we were lapping it up. We may have suggested under our breaths that the chicken pie needed some greenery, but we weren’t going to tell him because he was the maestro and not to be questioned. We even called him ‘Chef’ rather than use his name out of sheer reverence to his limitless capabilities.

I managed not to refer to him directly as chef; I couldn’t bring myself to do it. When he described the food’s philosophy, the temptation was to tell him to calm down – it’s just cooking a bit of lunch. I didn’t of course, but I wasn’t quite as compliant as the others.

Effectively we were playing a game of master and servant, he would tell us how marvellous he and his food was, we would tell him how right he was then call him Chef. Maybe we’ve watched too many restaurant programmes and as a result of seeing Ramsay and Marco Pierre White in action we’ve now all got a channel for our latent sadomasochism. We might as well have called him Mistress. We probably needed a safe word, like “McNuggets” or something.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

One for the Daily Express readers

I'd like to say that the reason for my blogging hiatus was due to spending time at a Buddhist retreat or some life changing experience. It's not; it's just because work has been bloody hard and play has been bloody fun. I've had precious little keyboard time.

Time flies... which is a neat segue into the fact that it's been ten years since Princess Diana's funeral. I can't really remember how I felt about it then; I didn't lay any flowers at a makeshift memorial, I didn't use the phrase 'Queen of Hearts' or 'The People's Princess'. I did feel the impact of what happened though, it's one of those things that you cannot describe to those who weren't there. The whole nation appeared to go into shock for a week, and for a period is was like it would never go back to normal again.

Charlie was down the weekend it happened. The night before she died we'd been out drinking and ended up at Penny's house sitting in the garden trying to wake up a Bishop who apparently lived in one of the nearby homes. We got home very late. Shortly after going to bed the phone rang; it was Andrew, who was still drinking in the garden, doing spitfire impressions. We eventually managed to convince him that it wasn't really that funny and we finally got to sleep.

I got up fairly early and went downstairs; in a completely atypical move, I didn't turn the TV on. For an hour or so I read. When I did eventually put the TV on, it was quite apparent that something was up. The news was on when it should have been Saved By The Bell.

I went upstairs to tell Emma and Charlie what had happened. I think I described it as 'exciting', which it was. We phoned Andrew who answered in a bit of a mess and thought we were getting him back for his Spitfire prank.

We'd planned to go to the cinema in the evening and, such was the impact, felt it necessary to phone up to check they were still open. A couple of our friends actually chose not to go, out of respect. We had problems getting to the cinema because the motorway was closed to allow them to transport her body back.

The next morning we went back to work and speculated that there may be a day of national mourning, or more specifically, a day off. Our fiery Irish boss was apoplectic at the prospect. Which was instantly sobering and, in hindsight, probably saved us from joining the utter madness of the week.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How clean is your gob?

Highlight of my week, if it can be described as such, was a trip to the dentist. I haven't been for a long time (longer than I'd told them). It wasn't because I was scared or because of the expense; it just fell off my radar. Nothing hurt, nothing wobbled, so what did I need a dentist for? Like Wikes, the builders place, I know what it does but until I need to do any re-pointing (whatever that is), I'm not likely to go in.

I know it's not as simple as that, so I went along and found out that my teeth were all in place, no cavities and my gums were OK. I needed to see a hygienist, which I kind of expected.

I'm pretty sure hygienists didn't exist when I last went; there were just dentists. I expected the her to be a kindly women with a a high powered toothbrush. And that she'd give me a thoroughly satisfying deep polish. A bit like going for a massage, just in my mouth.

The first thing she did was to put a mirror in my face and scrape out a solid lump which I originally thought to be an extra tooth but proved to be tartar. She put various sonic, pointy implements in my mouth and I actually began to feel individual teeth rather than one continuous blade around the mouth.

Whilst she scraped away she basically carbon dated my life - that I used to drink a lot of fizzy drinks, that I've only been using an electric toothbrush for a short while, that I once ate mussels in Croatia - that sort of thing.

Deeper and deeper she went; at one point it seem like she had got a little carried away and was scraping out bit of my skull just for fun.

My half an hour was up, but she was enjoying herself so much she kept going; presumably my mouth is just the sort of mouth she dreams about with lots of crap to get out. She must do; I've got to go again next month.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The deathly hellos

About three years ago I started going regularly to the gym. This was in response to a realisation that I was on a weight-gain trajectory that would make me very fat in middle age. Alongside this, I realised that I should stop eating shite like fast food and sweets.

I recently resolved to jump back on the dentistry bandwagon having fallen off it some years ago. I went on Wednesday and it turns out I've got away with it, they need a bloody good clean, but against all odds I have a healthy gob.

Once I've been scraped to death by the hygienist, I'll be onto my eyesight. I have pretty good eyesight, but when I'm tired and it's dark, I know that I'm not focussing as well as I used to.

I should also go to the doctor to see if he can do anything about the stress related ulcers and psoriasis I've been getting.

There was a time when I could eat shit, do no exercise, work and play all night without any adverse effect. Its crept up on me, but its dawned on me that I'm spending more and more time doing things just to hold myself together. I was 35 on Thursday and Mother Nature has decided that I'm more valuable as soil nutrient. She's basically trying kill me.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Now, that's what I call a job

Sara works for Waitrose. She was in Beaconsfield interviewing when the store was evacuated due to a fire alarm. Upon evacuation she bumped into a friend of hers who usually works in a one of their shops in Surrey. It's a small world.

He was at the Beaconsfield store looking at their displays of yogurt.

And before you ask, no, I have no idea whether his role extends to Muller Rice or not.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

This is the modern world

On Friday we got back from Jersey; a week in which we walked around beautiful coastal bays, cycled through leafy, flat bike tracks, ate fresh fish in a sea front restaurant, took a RIB out to the Écréhous, went seal spotting and got dragged around on a ringo. All in the company of great friends, it was, it's fair to say, perfect.

I've come back feeling cleansed; I'm going to sort out buying a bike and I'm going to sort out those fiddly jobs that are hanging around. I may even buy myself some new underpants.

Today, with a spring in my step, I went to Moss Bros to get measured up for an ushering suit. I was armed with all the details of the wedding; date, bride and grooms names, where they're getting married etc.

When you buy something from a John Lewis or Debenhams gift list, you punch in these details and the list comes up, you buy and you're on your way. At Moss Bros you need all the appropriate paperwork before they get the tape measures out. This can't be the only wedding in history where the groom and his ushers are geographically dispersed. They have no central database of weddings on their system. They rely entirely on shuffling paperwork from one shop to another. I therefore couldn't get measured up without the appropriate paperwork. Job Nos 1: In complete.

Then I went onto Orange - this time with the phone and the receipt - for the final battle. I walk in and like every Orange shop in the world there was one skinny spotty emo farting around behind the desk and one chavvy girl leaning on the counter apparently texting.

I explained, again, what happened. But they won't touch it. Not until I take out 'emergency insurance' at £60. And, if I do that with them in the shop, they will take up to 28 days to send it to their repairers. Or, I can do it via their customer service line and they'll send a courier within 24 hours. Nobody had previously mentioned any insurance requirements which just sounds like some kind of protection racket.

So I have a phone which I didn't break and to fix this shonky phone I must pay £60. This is probably illegal as I'm sure I have statutory rights, but I no longer have the energy to fight it or hear another of their staff saying that it's not their fault. I fear I'm about to give up, defeated. Which is probably what they want me to do. Job Nos 2: incomplete.

Welcome home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tour de Brother

I haven't mentioned Big Brother this year, I am watching it, kind of, in passing, when there's nothing better on. Its just its not really been interesting enough to comment on, I suppose.

I'm also watching the Tour De France; the parallels between the two are remarkable - especially when you can think of nothing better to write about. Firstly, it's a competition of backbreaking longevity and it doesn't pay to go out too hard - an excessively exuberant Big Brother contestant is likely to be voted out early whereas a Prologue specialist is unlikely to complete the first week.

Both competitions have their specialists - the Tour has sprinters, climbers, and domestiques whilst Big Brother has Charley, the specialist hate figure, the good old-boy, Liam, the future Nuts model; Chanelle and the odd-ball - Tracey (who uses the phrase 'Ave It' when she can't think of anything else to say - like a blank tile in Scrabble).

These people spend most of their time anonymously cruising through the competition. Overall victory is never likely but they will have their day; either in a public vote, or a moment of comedy, or a barnstorming argument. This is what the tour would view as a stage win.

They're both compelling viewing because they weave a intriguing story that you don't really want to miss, yet the overall winner becomes obvious from fairly early on. The winners tend to be good at everything without being spectacular at anything. Brian, for example, is not particularly witty, clever or entertaining, he's just a decent bloke. Victory can be secured from some way out - this year's Tour winner is pretty much decided with a week and a half still to go; the Tour winner cruises into Paris, whereas Big Brother winner cruises into a Davina interview and China White's. In many ways, the competitions are very similar.

Plus, of course, they're all constantly cheating and probably on drugs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

These are your friends

I've recently registered on Facebook. I've accumulated fourteen friends; which I thought was quite good until I found out that my 23 year old assistant has 188 because apparently everyone at Uni was on it.

As part of the original Internet generation, my comprehension of it was basically as a big unwieldy largely inaccurate book. Social networking was limited to a bit of email and the odd message board. I'm probably missing the whole point of Web 2.0, but apart from accumulating friends, I just seem to spend most of my time finding out that my friends are making friends with people I've never heard of and that this person has dropped a sheep on the other person's head. It's like a giant Vic and Bob convention.

I also recently had a tootle around Second Life. I went to a club and stood like a dork in the middle of dancefloor trying to work out how to activate my 'dancing' mode. At one point a naked man with glow stick bangles on skimmed across my screen, so I went and stood in a corner so I could try and work out the basic controls. One of the quick keys is to take all your clothes off, which explains much of Second Life's purpose, I suppose. Whilst standing in the corner, I managed to 'overhear' a conversation which went something along the lines of:

"U have gr8 boobs"
"Thnx lol"

They didn't seem at all embarrassed 'talking' like this in front of a man walking in circles and occasionally flying into walls (me, trying to work out the controls still) but I was embarrassed listening to it. I logged off and am probably still standing lifelessly listening to endless trance music whilst the, *shudder*, cyber-flirting goes on around me.

My fundamental issue with all this is that its unnatural. I do not make complete strangers ('randoms' according to my 23 year old assistant) my friends just because they ask in real life and can't get my head around doing it on the Internet. Nor can I quite get into the idea of telling someone they have "gr8 boobs" when that person is probably a fat trucker from Albuquerque called Derek. Above all, Second Life, as one person put it, is men pretending to be women having sex with women pretending to be unicorns.

Quite frankly, if I wanted to have sex with a unicorn, I'd just go out and do it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sky+ kills the video star

I vividly remember the first video my dad bought. It was not a VHS, it was not even Betamax format; it was a Grundig with big clunky keys and tapes as big as house bricks.

He brought it home one evening, Nationwide was on the TV and he tested that everything was working by recording it; a car driving over a bridge. Like all major technological breakthroughs the sheer mundane nature of the subject made it more special.

Emma’s parents’ first video came much later; Emma assured me that it was state of the art and the most expensive one in the shop. It probably was, a purchase born out of fear of the technology. Despite this, it didn’t have a timer function – I was told. So you couldn’t preset the video to record; you basically had to put a tape in at least four hours before the end of the show you wanted to record. So they had tapes and tapes of rubbish in order to catch the Eastenders Omnibus. It wasn’t until, some five years after they bought it, I found it did have a timer; they just didn’t look at the manual, probably for fear of being seen to doubt the machine’s omnipotent power – if angered it might have had their souls exhumed.

My Grandpa also couldn’t get to grips with his video; he was convinced that you had to have the TV on and tuned into the channel you wanted to record. His basic understanding was that somehow the video was recording directly off the TV screen and if the TV was off, then it would record a blank screen. He was worried that if he left the TV on when he was out it would blow a fuse and burn the house would to the ground.

SKY+ came this week; a technology from another planet. The temptation is to use all the functionality all the time, but I figured it should be introduced naturally, y’know, when something significant comes along. So what have we christened this new wizard with? The release of a political prisoner after 30 years? Capture of a long chased Saudi dissident? The winning of a major world sporting trophy after many years of hurt?

Nope, the first thing we’re recording is Neighbours on series link.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Global fawning

I'm in two minds about Live Earth. On one hand it seems churlish to ignore the issue, but on the other; there's no denying the hypocrisy and flaws in its concept.

Live Aid, upon which all these things are based, was unique, had a simple principle - the biggest bands in the world play music and you give us your fucking money, a charismatic iconic leader who did the politics so the dumbo popstars could focus on the bass solos and it had a few moments of legend: the career reviving Queen set, that video with the music from The Cars, and a career defining set from U2.

All this has been lost in the slew of political concerts staged in the intervening years. I didn't see much of yesterday, but it seemed to be a hotchpotch of bands which pandered to American audiences as the day progressed (Pussycat Dolls on third from last?), it was a series of short record company driven showcases; for example, who the hell is Terra Naomi and how come she's billed higher than the Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Above all, it wasn't entertaining enough for long enough to hold the attention.

Secondly, the simplicity of the Band Aid concept has been replaced by the more nebulous 'awareness building'. Success, therefore, can't be measured in money terms, so it compels the artists to go on about 'The Issue'. With no charismatic leader (sorry, Al Gore) it's left to Madonna to tell us to 'jump up and down if you want to save the world' and Kasabian to 'save the polar bears for our children's children, or at least give it a try, yaknowhatimsayin?'. Snow Patrol justified the criticisms of hypocrisy by saying they weren't there to preach, they were there to learn... about how to put gigs on of this size in an ecologically friendly way. Then there was bloody Hollywood-addled Joss Stone rambling on about 'Saving the world being really important and global warming being really bad, like'.

I'm certainly older, and probably more cynical than I was in the days of Live Aid, so its not really a fair comparison. It did strike me that I didn't hear a single piece of practical advice about the issue. Which, when you think about it, could have transformed the thing - what about a call for governments to pass a law that says in 5 years time only energy efficient light bulbs can be sold, or that no new appliance can have a stand-by light, or even that every car built is hybrid fuelled?

It seems odd that the government can't achieve this when it has managed to successfully ban smoking, insist that every TV goes Digital and has, in the past, banned lead from petrol. None of the three suggestions above would be a perceived attack on the UK way of life, it wouldn't even effect big businesses particularly. Instead, we have a concert whose effects are unlikely to last beyond Tuesday.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

HAFL - Hooble As a Foreign Language

Millie is just starting to become aware of the television as a source of entertainment. Previously she just saw it as a source of flashing colours and spent many hours with her nose against the screen taking it all in.

This morning, The Hoobs were on, which she seemed to be enjoying. It had someone signing for the deaf in the corner. Goodness knows how they sign ‘Tiddlepeeps’ and ‘Hoobledoobledoo’.

For non-connoisseurs ‘Hoobledoo’ is how the Hoobs say hello to each other. They say it all the time. Eventually, on about the sixtieth ‘Hoobledoo’ Emma pipes up; ‘So, is this the Hoobs then?’

It would have been a bit weird if it was said by a Fimble.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Orange ordered

So, to update; I buy a new Orange phone; it breaks through no fault of my own, there follows a brief border skirmish with Orange, in which they won't fix it without a receipt and I retreat to lick my wounds. Then I find the receipt to the phone and arm myself ready for battle. At this point I lose my SIM card somewhere between here and Poland rendering the whole phone fixing onslaught largely redundant.

Then Millie hides the controller to our Freeview box upstairs leaving us with just four fuzzy analogue channels. Then our Sky box downstairs packs up leaving us analogue downstairs too. This must have been what it was like for medieval peasants.

I decide to draw a line under the debacle; I order SKY+ and choose to simply cut my loses and buy a new phone. I head for the Orange shop, I get as far as checking out a new phone. I don't like it; the buttons are too small and it has rather unpleasant orange lights, I decide to think about it.

We walk home via Sara's; they switched to SKY+ a few months ago and it turns out they've got a spare box that we can borrow to tide us over. Emma then goes to Tesco and buys a new digibox for upstairs.

Then, and here's the miracle, I do what I always do when preparing to sit down in front of the TV. I take my shoes and belt off and empty my pockets - leaving small piles of change all over the house. Out comes my wallet and for no apparent reason I decide to have another route around for the Sim card. My finger finds a particularly ragged bit of my particularly ragged wallet... and... I feel the SIM card. I FOUND THE SIM CARD. I can't explain why I decided to have another look or why my finger found the nook for the first time. I have only one explanation - the baby Jesus put it there.

I am now fully subscribed to digital TV once more, I have my SIM card and my broken phone with it's receipt. I am making progress in my battle with technology; I feel like Mace Windu fighting the Clone Wars.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Look at each other and go Blair

It didn't seem particularly fair that the core hypothesis being offered in the endless documentaries on the 'real' Tony Blair this week was 'Tony Blair, how utterly rubbish was he?'

Channel 4 ran a documentary about Blair's Children focussing on a child that'd been shot in a council estate. Honestly, is this representative of 'Blair's Children' (aside from the fact that Blair's Children are Euan, Nicky, Kathryn and Leo).

In the main, Britain under Tony Blair has been a good place; economically stable and reasonably prosperous. We're a nation that gets education, healthcare, a decent prospect of having a job, low inflation, cheap overseas holidays, pretty safe streets and in 2012 we will have the Olympic Games.

OK, some people have more than others, but that's always going to be the case and true equality is a a worthy, but unlikely prospect - which doesn't mean we should stop trying to achieve it, of course. If people living on the streets of Rio or in Baghdad, Dehli, or Kabul had the choice of living there or somewhere as stable and prosperous as Britain, I think they'd choose the latter ... we don't know we're born.

It's not been a perfect premiership; but I'd like to meet the person who hasn't made a mistake at work for ten years. After 10 years in any job there is a point where the world has moved on and you're left floundering. Which is probably what's happened to him in the last couple of years.

Sadly, one of his legacies will be Iraq; but he isn't responsible for the growth of radical Islamic thinking, that's been on the march for 30 years nor was he responsible for the election of George Bush. Our alignment on a global stage with the US goes back generations, and he knows he'd have been slaughtered for aligning with Europe on the issue. Yes, he could have had more conviction and listened to the people; but in reality he was pretty stymied in what he could do about it.

He's been on every TV channel every day for ten years, so over-exposure is an inevitability. He can't be anyone but who he is - have you tried talking or smiling differently, it's very hard, so when he smiles, it's not smarmy, it's him smiling. I think he's done OK, and think he should be respected for what he's done.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

ARSECAKE!

I bought an Orange phone, then it got a crack in the screen and I had to go to war with the evil corporate machine to get it fixed. I fought valiantly and heroically to try and get them accept the blame, but without a receipt they wouldn't touch it.

Then I threatened them with Trading Standards and they relented, promising to have a look at it if I sent it back to their evil lair, victory was in my grasp.

And, then, well, I kind of forgot to send it to them. You see, I'm a bit lazy and really not the kind of person who holds a grudge for very long. For all the fire in my belly during a fight, it only takes a cup of tea and a biscuit to remove my steel.

Days, weeks and months slipped by and my position became untenable. I was given a repair number in February, but you can't send the handset in June with any credibility. I kind of gave up on the idea.

THEN, on Tuesday Emma was clearing out some paperwork and came across the receipt for the phone which was the crucible of the struggle between me and the beast. The one single reason that Orange shops wouldn't touch it.

The battle was back on. I could approach them again, exploit the weakness which was once my biggest foe - the fact that Orange shops and Orange online aren't linked. I could go to the shop, get it fixed and Orange online, with their February repair number, would never know. I resisted the temptation of preening myself whilst strutting topless up the High Street in celebration.

Then, on Wednesday, less than twenty-four hours later I remembered that my work phone was carrying my work Sim Card. I replaced my Orange Sim with it when I was in Poland so that work could pay for my calls home. I went to switch it back and went to my wallet where... the Orange Sim card was gone. And they're very small. And it could be anywhere between here and Cracow. And, well, bollocks.

So, the handset is broken through no fault of my own, and is probably worth about 10% of the total value of the phone and the Sim card, 90% of the value of the phone, is lost through totally my own fault. Except, of course, if my phone wasn't broken I wouldn't be switching Sim cards back and forth in the same handset. It appears that I am being buggered by the corporate beast and it is my own fault whilst not being my own fault at the same time, it's like being buggered twice through my own choice... which I realise for some would represent a party.

Bad week for technology in the house of Ruffles.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sky'ed up in knots

Have you ever got on a roll with an argument, only to realise halfway through, you're in the wrong? This happened to me this weekend.

Our SKY box broke on Thursday, it's about 4 years old and way out of guarantee. Incidentally, the controller for our Freeview box upstairs has been hidden by Millie never to be found again. Televisually we're going back in time. Tomorrow I'm likely to turn on and observe the liquid sexual chemistry between Anne Diamond and Nick Owen on TV AM.

Something needed to be done, it was the perfect opportunity to reassess our televisual needs. Everyone raves about SKY+, so that seemed worth exploring, and we could probably live without SKY Movies. Well, I'm the customer, BT Vision and Virgin Media mean I'm in a position of considerable power. I decided I was going to get onto SKY and get myself a rollicking good deal. I looked on the website...

Option A was to upgrade to SKY+ at a cost of £159 with the whole package.

Option B was to remove the films and save about £5 a month.

I phoned them; with a head of steam, my negotiating skills and a competitive market they were sure to pull something out of the bag. I said, in my sternest voice, that I wasn't happy with the price being offered. What were they going to do about it? Not a lot, they said.

They could offer me Option C: SKY Motion, which allows you to watch SKY on more than one TV. This would knock the installation down to £99 but put £10 on the monthly subscription.

Option D: They could get my monthly subscription down to £20, but that was without any of the premium channels.

I walked away from the negotiations, because AH HA! I could always get our broken box fixed. The power was with me, for sure; they wouldn't want to lose my custom would they?

Once off the phone I worked it out; Option D wasn't much of an improvement on what I have now with a broken box, and Option C would cost me £120 a year more in subscriptions despite it being £60 less in installation. I could live without the benefit of Premiership football upstairs as well as down and we could get a new Freeview box for about £20.

Option B, dropping SKY Movies, would save about a fiver; but we probably watch a film or two a month, which still beats a Blockbuster rental DVD. So there was no point in dropping SKY Movies either.

Which left me with two options; fix the old box or upgrade to SKY+ for the extravagant price of £159. And then it dawned on me... to get the existing box fixed would be a minimum of £100. Which would be £100 to stand still. Which basically means Option A, is really only £59, the price of a cheap video, for a heap of new features. Really, the hideously priced SKY+ installation was not a bad deal after all.

Sheepishly I went back to SKY and ordered the new box.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Festival vibe










I really should get out of the habit of say that I'm not going to Glastonbury this year as my festival going days are some way behind me. One day I'd like to go back with Millie and experience a different Glastonbury, although I suspect its already very different to what I remember. When the hippies and crusties left with the traveller riot in 1990, the indie kids were its lifeblood, this was my time. That seems to have been taken over by 30-something professionals. James Blunt, James Morrison and Jamie Cullum would never have even made the site during my era.

Still, there are ways of enjoying its vibe when you're a lazy 30-something (as opposed to a deluded 30 something). Today I bought the Orbital Live at Glastonbury compilation and from the second I put it on I swear I could feel the dampness in the air and smell the poppers. Seriously.

Of course, Glastonbury is also now a TV event, and, when Jo Wiley isn't trying to be John Peel (Lauren Laverne is cooler and better), and they're not playing Just Jack as the intro music, it's pretty good. Arctic Monkeys were great on Friday, but until then I hadn't quite worked out why like them. I usually know why I like the music I like. I like Radiohead because they're the band I want to be... edgy, popular, from Oxford. I like hip hop because I like to imagine that I'm at the party Kid N Play throw in House Party. With the Arctic Monkeys I have little claim on them, Happy Mondays, Oasis, the Stone Roses all defined my generation whereas the Monkeys are defining the generation I tut at on the train when they put their feet on the seats and drop litter.

They sing about going down the pub and kicking around town and play groovy funky riffs. they play them hard and fast, but there's not much innovative or clever in what they do. It then came to me why I like them; they're basically the best school band ever.

Btw - this photo album thing is good isn't it?... I love the BBC.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Prize apart

The conference dinner and awards in Poland was a masterclass in the surreal. It was held in a castle some fifty minutes from the city centre. I was hoping for ramparts, but it was actually a mansion house built by a randy old bugger to house one of his mistresses – one of fifty shag pads he built throughout Poland, each one installed with an ensuite mistress.

For reasons unclear, the host chose a didactic style and rather than explain what was going on in the entertainment, chose to tell us what we were feeling. Therefore we were subject to a mechanistic dance of men shaving women’s legs, and of women dancing with a human head in a bucket, all without a word of introduction or explanation. However, when it came to the prize giving we were told that ‘this is an emotional moment for all of us’. A useful cue.

Two special awards were presented, again without real explanation. Firstly to the Polish (the main conference sponsor took a special version of the special award) and then to the Chinese. Nope, I didn’t get it either.

The main award took about an hour to present with each of the nine judging levels, eight judges and seven finalists being explained or called onto the stage in minute detail. Each finalist had a promotional video which was often a more generic TV advert than anything to do with the actual award contestant. Then there was a little vignette played out where the main judge searched his pockets pretending to have lost his envelope which he also did when presenting the Polish and Chinese awards earlier. Oh the hilarity.

With the envelope eventually found, the thirty-five people on stage and everyone checking their watches in gasping anticipation of the announcement, the host and main judge decided, in a pique of autism, to cut the proceedings to get everyone on stage more neatly arranged. Judges on the left, finalists on the right. In groups. Much confused shuffling and bowing ensued. A jazz band, which obscured most of the screen, played a groove in the background.

Eventually the announcement was made, and it was a major shock to hear the prize was shared between the growing economic superpower that it would be good to sidle up to: China and the host nation who had many influential dignitaries in attendance: Poland. Perhaps it was no irony that one of the graphics contained the typo ‘Price winners’; one speculates, what price the winners might have paid.

The evening closed with the serving of plates of what looked like entrées and a laser show with the loudest soundsystem I’ve ever heard. Nobody quite explained what the diplodocus or birthday cake had to do with the presentation, but at the time it seemed somehow wholly appropriate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Crac'ked record

Dateline: Cracow

I’m here in Poland with work, which makes me an international business person. The purpose of my visit is an international conference. Cracow is beautiful, and not at all like I’d envisaged, but I’d rather be at home. Or here on holiday. Why people enjoy this I don’t know.

For all the platitudes about reaching beyond borders and nations meeting nations, in truth the nations stick together, the English keep it particularly tribal even though everyone else speaks English as the common language. When they’re feeling gregarious they will pass the time with the odd American or Australian but in truth, everyone stays with their own and scoffs at each other. It’s largely indistinguishable from International It’s a Knockout. I keep expecting to hear Stuart Hall screaming “LOOK AT THE FRENCH, LOOK AT THE FRENCH!”

Either that or a teenage party; for the uninitiated, like me, I shake hands with Olaf and Vladimir and they seem OK. Then you find that there’s some almighty fall out and that Dave didn’t like the way Olaf said something to Vladimir and that as a result Beatrice is crying in the toilet. For those who live in this world, it all seems terribly important; but it just appears to be a self perpetuating round of inconsequential bickering.

The conference had an opening ceremony; the only opening ceremony I’ve ever seen is at the Olympics, and that usually involves elfin imps dancing incomprehensibly to signify the development of youth or something. It wasn’t quite like that, but we had the local mayor, the main sponsor and Lech Walesa, plus a classical music recital which culminated in the playing of the wedding march. Everyone sat stoney-faced; did nobody see the absurdity of it all?

I’m only here for a couple of nights, giving me one whole day at the conference and the delight of the main conference dinner. Some of the English contingent, who flew out earlier, appear to be treating their trip like a stag weekend. So it should be interesting to see what happens at the dinner, apparently, it’s not unusual for the nations to sing their national songs… I think ours is going to be ‘You’re going to get your fucking heads kicked in’.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Party in the park

The Wireless festival, of which I now count myself a regular having attended Depeche Mode last year, New Order the year before and Faithless this year, delights and disgusts me in equal measure. Whilst the principle spirit of any festival is achieving some kind of 'connection' at Glastonbury its with your own inner spirit or something, at Wireless it's with your mobile phone brand.

Apart from the opportunity to bond with your O2 phone provider by texting for a "VIP" pass to their tent thing. You can walk along neat concreted pathways between various heavily sponsored areas, rather than through a bog of your own swill. Even the burgers are nice, the beer queue short and Spanx had a convenient and safe locker to store his rucksack. It is all very wrong.

But, it's convenient, it's within 30 minutes of all main stations out of town and it finishes at a reasonable time. Its like a lady choosing to discard her foxy lingerie for a pair of three pack big knickers because they're comfortable. You can't argue with the logic.

If Faithless were a football team, you'd say that in Maxi Jazz you've got a man up front who will guarantee you goals. They came on and snatched an early goal with 'Can't Get No Sleep', just before half time 'God Is A DJ' ensured victory. For most of the second half they defended deep and in numbers without really pressing their advantage home. In the final minute they broke away to slot home 'We Come 1'; flattering the score line a little.

I'd never seen Faithless before, but they look amazing on TV and when they're good, they're really good. But it wasn't quite the stellar experience I hoped it might be and it turns out that I don't know as many of their tunes as I thought.

Still, they've enough in their locker for you to go home happy and there's little better than pounding live music and a big crowd to get your spirits up. Even if it is Mark Ronson name dropping Amy Whinehouse and playing a series of anodyne covers.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Village People

Yesterday, because we were in the area, we went to designer retail outlet discount centre Bicester Village. We're in the area about once every eighteen months and will drop in with increasingly low expectations of what we might find.

Last time we were there I bought a pair of Camper shoes which turned out to be from a range called 'Twins'. Sadly these weren't identical twins, they were subtly, though noticeably different. At first, probably because I'd just spent fifty quid on odd shoes, I justified this as an appropriately quirky manifestation of my character. Eventually they simply became a pair of odd shoes; odd shoes are worn by Big Brother contestants and sixth form students trying to amplify their brittle teenage characters onto a thankless peer group. My odd shoes just slipped to the back of the cupboard, to become crushed by pairs of shoes which looked the same. A sort of shoe based Darwinism.

Not that Bicester Village is totally without value. If you are morbidly obese to the point that a barrage balloon is considered to pinch a little under the arms, or skeletal to the point that risks full multiple collapse of your internal organs as a result of your bowing pipecleaner bones, then you will indeed find some of the latest fashions at discounted rates. We saw a pair of wedge healed open toed sandals at LK Bennet which are the very height of fashion, but sadly much as we tried to jam them on, they were just too small for Millie's thirteen month old feet.

If you're within a normal size range - and for this I mean that you don't have feet so big that skis are unnecessary when wintering in Whistler, or that they appear to be mere stumps. If you are within this range the shopping is rather more hit or miss. Occasionally you will find a pair of well tailored trousers, but on pulling them off the rack you'll realise that there has been a scale embroidered picture of a cat having a vasectomy stitched onto the left thigh as a design flourish. In the Camper store, Emma found a pair of men's slip-on shoes which looked like they'd been made from a neon pink cauliflower. Someone, somewhere, drew a picture of that and someone somewhere said; 'we're going to sell millions of those'.

Apart from Japanese tourists, of which there are loads, the other noticeable tribe trawling the village are fashionistas who obviously subscribe to the concept of enhancing their persona by wearing designer gear. However, they don't appear to be able to actually afford any of it at regular price and buy exclusively from the Village's hideous discounted ranges. So next time you see someone in a baseball cap made from a Lion's mane, a coat with a silver picture of hippo eating a Wagon Wheel, a skirt which spins round and changes colour with variations in temperature and shoes with horns sticking out of them. Ask them if they found anything nice at Bicester Village that weekend.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Logo-a-gogo

As someone who has been on the receiving end of those ‘a child could have done it’ accusations regarding design work, I have some sympathy with the people who came up with the London 2012 logo.

Of course, theoretically, anyone with fingers can create an image. Rulers are useful for straight lines, compasses good for circles and curvy bits, and your itty bitty fingers are good for when you want to get all freestyle on yo’ hairy black ass.

But in the end someone has to make a decision about what it is they’re going to put on that bit of paper that encapsulates everything there is to say about London, Britain, Olympic-ses, and a whole heap more.

A true waste of money would have been something hideously conservative and corporate. Pretty much anyone with a copy of Quark or PhotoShop can produce a logo, and most will do it for some way under say, £250,000; so to spend £400,000 on something nondescript and vanilla would have been worse than being brave and taking a risk.

Where a good designer is worth his salt is in the thinking behind the logo – and how it might be applied and I trust whoever it was who came up with the thing has thought this through. In time we will, if not love it (how many logos do you truly love?); recognise it; which is ultimately what it should do.

Aside from the aesthetics, there’s been some criticism of the video that accompanies it. GMTV were screaming about the millions of epileptics who have been slain by the flashing lights and colouring. I don’t know, I’m not sure it’s quite been quite the cull they’re claiming, I mean, it appears to have taken its inspiration from the opening credits of Going Live and I don’t remember that being a problem.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Cosmic

Periodically, Emma's sister brings around a bag full of old magazines for us to read. Mostly, it's Heat with the odd Now. We've had to odd Hello and OK but it would be misleading to say that this was the norm. They tend to travel around the house and find homes by the side of the bed, toilet and bath before, eventually, being thrown away.

Why? I don't know why, I have an MBA, am head of a marketing department; I'm in the higher tax bracket and I'm considering the benefits of buying a second property, I have a cleaner, I read books about Islamic militancy and spend £6000 a year on nursery fees. But I also need to read Heat to find out whether Lyndey Lohan has a fat arse this week.

In the latest batch we had a couple of copies of Cosmopolitan (there's always a rogue Glamour in there too). They were on the bed, so I picked one up to flick through it.

I came across a page which gave a minute by minute account of how to prepare for the hottest sex you've ever had. Apparently it only takes 12 minutes.

Each minute was detailed, so for your benefit, if you want to have mind blowing sex, and have less that quarter of an hour to get ready for it, make sure you... put naughty messages in his wallet, rummage your hand in his trouser pocket, put on a pair of satin knickers, do a salsa dance, have mutual oral sex (1 minute each, ladies should be wearing sheer knickers), watch a female friendly erotic film (or read a passage from an erotic novel... come on, come one, you don't have time to decide which), have a massage, snog like teenagers, play with your sex toy, eat something (can't remember what), do a strip tease and a sexy dance.

That was it, all that in 12 minutes - at least three dances and two pairs of knickers. Does anyone follow this advice? It must be like a game of It's A Sex Knockout, great preparation for sex? Great preparation for a cup of tea and copy of Heat more like.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The generation game



I don't wish to rain on anyone's parade; particularly if that anyone happens to be old. After all, raining on an old person's parade is simply mean - they're old, and its unlikely there'll be many more parades for them to enjoy.

Nor do I disagree with the sentiment of the (wholly overrated) documentary that lead to the 'Internet phenomenon' The Zimmers. It doesn't appear right to shove old people in ropey care homes once their economic worth has been expended. But the choice of My Generation to raise the issue of their plight is a touch ironic, no?

OK, the general sentiment of the song appears to fit nicely, but like all great art you have to understand it in context in which it was written. My Generation was written by a 21-year old Pete Townshend as a call to arms for a nation of youthful Mods. Look at the lyrics and my explanation of what they probably meant when they were written...

People try to put us down

We are disaffected and ignored section of society, and our views are belittled by the powers that be.

Just because we get around

We are being actively ignored by society because we are an increasingly powerful underground force.

...good so far...

Things they do look awful cold

They are the establishment, who by definition are the older generation. What this is saying is; old people are boring.

I hope I die before I get old

I'd rather die than be old and one of them.

Why don't you all fade away

I wish old people would die a quiet death.

And don't try to dig what we all say

Don't even try talking to me, I'm not interested.

I'm not trying to cause a big sensation

I don't want you to listen to me.

I'm just talkin' 'bout my generation

It's just people like me won't listen to you.

I could be reading this wrong , but isn't this song really about everything the Zimmers are protesting about?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pretty Vacancies

We're recruiting at the moment. I haven't done much interviewing, and do feel like I'm making it up as I go along. When sifting through CVs I did find that I was able to convince myself that, in the main, people with older names like Diedre were less able than people younger fresher names like Gemma.

Last week we had one person whose interview performance was no more than moderate, but I found myself constructing an argument that suggested she had hidden depths. An argument predicated on little more than she had terribly smart shoes on (by the way, if you're a bloke with terribly smart shoes on, you don't have hidden talents, you are arrogant - fact).

Such is my amateurism at this, I am paranoid of being caught up in some discrimination case. In the end you can't help but discriminate; you're making a judgement on a 2 page CV. 50 years old, 25 years working for IKEA, Wembley which followed a 10 year career managing a major oil company in Nigeria? No thanks.

It is quite reassuring reading CVs. In moments of darker paranoia, I doubt my own abilities and assume somebody is plotting my downfall (which they probably are). There's a deep seated fear that I will be fired, leaving me to find another job and that I will finally be found out meaning the only job I will be able to get is collecting trolleys in Tesco car park. But, having read a pile of CVs, you realise that if you are slung back into the job market, that despite your own weaknesses there's an enormous number people out there more desperate than you.

I'm of the view (because I'm lazy, perhaps) that what you're really looking for in someone to work with is somebody you can get on with. And for this, I look to the 'other interests' bit of the CV. Some will list every interest they've ever had - Playing with cars in my back garden, Under-8 tennis champion. Others will try to impress significance and relevance of their extra curricular activity on the job - I like to go to the gym, which I find fascinating, looking at the way the gym manages its profit margins through the use of a small number of trained staff and flexible contractors who take my Body Pump class. Some, are downright scary - World heavywieght Ultimate Fighting Champion and some, you think, are lying I like needlecraft and weaving when you know they are binge drinking and flashing their thongs at men with pattern shirts and eyebrow rings. Above all, however, most people with a richness of opportunity out there, and little I can do to verify their claims will sell themselves as a person with spark and drive as spending their spare time Socialising with friends, watching TV and reading'.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Final heartbreak

The Cup Final was a turgid affair from the opening minute. It's not the first time the spectacle has failed to live up to expectations, but I can't remember an opening 10 minutes as tepid as this one, or the concluding 110 for that matter. John Terry afterwards claimed that both teams were 'scared to give the ball away', which seems a pretty lame excuse to me. After all, it's like a musician coming on stage and playing CDs because they're scared they'd play a bum note. With the game itself turning over £8 million and TV revenues and so forth dwarfing that amount, it would be polite, if at least the players could put away their 'fear' and try and have a game.

Plenty of things were blamed; the occasion, the pitch, the long season; but nobody touched on the real problem. Top flight football is just not competitive anymore, look at the stats; In the last 10 years 9 teams have made the final and only 4 have won it - the supposed Big Four of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Compare that to ten years before that: 1988-1997, where there were 12 different finalists and 7 different winners, 1978-87 12 teams and 8 winners, 1968-1977 14 teams and 10 winners. The game has become increasingly concentrated around a small number of teams.

The Big Four all claim some kind of dominance based on a spurious set of self referencing criteria - Liverpool's 5 European Cup wins, Manchester United's global brand, Chelsea's money, Arsenal's purist qualities. Maybe Oxford could claim to be the best team in the country that play in a ground where you can see people going into a multiplex cinema during the game (although, knowing Oxford, they probably aren't). These four teams, with their big claims are increasingly fearful of actually testing who's best on the field itself; especially when facing each other. When they meet in the League Cup they compete to see who can field the weakest team; which gives them the perfect excuse when defeat comes. Arsenal even fielded a weakened side for this year's League Cup Final - their only hope of a trophy. It's getting to a point where the big players will be rested permanently only to be brought out in a big glass box on special occasions. When they do meet, like yesterday, the teams don't so much want to win the game as avoid losing it. Losing equals failure, so don't give the ball away Mr £100,000-a-week.

But English football is the best in the world - we're told this interminably. This year three (of the Big Four) English teams made it to the Champions League semi-final, which was considered a glorious success and widely lauded to be a credit to English football. Which part of English football should take credit? The managers? - well the big four are managed by a Scot, Portugese, Spaniard and Frenchman. The players? - less than half the players yesterday were English and the other two teams have a handful of homegrown players between them. Nope, the real credit must go to the English marketing men and footballing administrators who have turned the game into a closed shop and a money machine where everyone is ingrained with a fear of failure. Even further down the Premiership, teams are incapable of bridging the gap into the super big time, so they simply work to consolidate their position. It's one massive cycle of negativity.

Of course, it's also very successful. The reason could be seen just after half time on Saturday; there was a great wedge of vacant seats just on the half-way line. Slowly the section began to fill and you could vaguely make out men in suits easing their way back to their seats. The half time corporate buffet was clearly delicious. The equation is perfect; Football the brand is sexy, the first Cup Final at new Wembley is 'history', companies pay thousands to buy a lump of history (a seat) and pass it onto their clients as a sweetener for future corporate deals. Let's face it; when you've bought your lump of history, what's the point of actually experiencing it; especially when it's rubbish. Where does this end? Perhaps they should do away with 'historic events' completely - after all they can be quite tiresome and in the really good ones people tend to die - maybe you could simply sell shares in historic events over the Internet, I Was There certificates with a small supporting anecdote. Then you could just get them out at dinner parties - "Battle of Agincourt? Yes, I was there, I have the certificate of authentication".

When it comes down to it, uninteresting football is being sold to disinterested people with heaps of money. The football men aren't going to admit it, they're making too much money, the corporations aren't going to let on that they're paying fortunes for shite. This sorry state of affairs it's not the players' or managers fault, they are out to win, it's not even the evil spectres of Abramovich or the Glazers who are just taking a piece of the enormous pie. It's the marketing men who have structured the game in such a way that it makes huge amounts of money, and rewards those who succeed with even more huge amounts of money. No other sport does this, actively reduces the competitiveness of the game. SKY may market football heavily like some sort of gladiatorial encounter, a thrill a minute orgy of endeavour. But whereas showbusiness is flamboyant, risk taking and outgoing, football is prudent and measured to the point of suffocation. It's a corporate mindset dressed in a spangly boob tube. Give us our bloody game back for Christ's sake.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mouldy

Emma’s birthday was on Saturday and in celebration we headed to the Mole and Chicken for a rack of ribs/warm duck salad/half a sheep. The Moley holds particular significance amongst my friends. It is a gastro-pub, and has been since before the term was invented. It serves quality, plentiful, hearty pub food. It’s the place we headed when we were old enough to eat in restaurants. We’ve never really graduated any further.

It’s also the scene of plenty of great nights out; as Spankee once described it; 10 people having 14 conversations all at the same time. Loud, boozy, delicious, funny; that’s the Moley.

Getting a table is hard; it’s very popular in the area and has a reputation that attracts people from far and wide. Emma booked six weeks in advance which was the first time in over a year that we’d actually succeeded in getting in.

In the morning we got a call from the pub checking we were still coming. It wasn’t unreasonable, the booking was for 12 people and if we hadn’t turned up it might have left a significant hole in the evening’s takings.

“Can you turn up earlier?” said the waitress of our 8pm booking. This was impossible – the chances of getting 12 people to turn up earlier than planned was about as possible as getting them to turn up on time. There were added complications of children and babysitters to organise and people coming from various corners of the shire.

“Well, you have order by 8.15 or you’ll get your food late” she said “we’re very busy”. What she didn’t seem to understand was in a pub which has about 10 tables, we would be taking up a significant proportion of her busy-ness.

As its always full it should be easy to predict the number of staff needed. What’s more, it’s one of those places that because it ain’t broke has had the same menu for a decade. Everyone orders the same thing every time. As these places go, it’s the most predictable business you can hope for.

Anyway, we all turned up at 8pm as arranged and the place was packed. We were seated and ordered by 25 minutes past – which was good going. The food turned up in good order and it was delicious. Fun was has by all. As always.

At 9.30 it became apparent that something was up… the place was empty apart from us. The staff were wiping table tops and staring at their hands in that way people with nothing to do do.

It appears that the reason tables are hard to come by is that they only have one sitting which is a strategy designed to get through the busy period as possible. Being full and busy all night in a restaurant is a bad thing, it seems. So they make hay for an hour and a half and then remain open for another 3 hours waiting to lock up. Gordon Ramsay would have a field day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eurofighters

Another disgraceful performance at Eurovision, I see. We were out for Emma's birthday and didn't see the actual performance or voting, but we were doomed to failure from the outset.

The UK have got Eurovision all wrong; we have an intensely kitschy perception of the competition. As a result we pitch up increasingly woeful parodies of past success on the assumption that the rest of Europe share a desire to relive the hedonistic days of Bucks Fizz. Even the show where the UK representative is chosen is no longer called; 'A song for Europe' it's called 'Making your mind up'.

Scooch were one such parody with a lineage that stretches back to Abba. They were originally formed as a Steps clone. As Steps became successful, two things happened - they became popular around the world and were unable to be in all the places they needed to be at the same time. Secondly, the more successful they became the more ragged they got and the more they believed in their own talents. It's the typical lifecycle of a pop band. Scooch were there to squeeze a few more dollars from the Steps cash cow after they split to pursue catastrophic solo careers, and sell a few CDs whilst the originals were saying 'Konichiwa, we're Steps, we hope you like our new single' in unison to the vast Japanese market.

Steps, of course, were firmly positioned as family fun, smiley pop. They had nice singalong choruses, didn't say motherfucker, and did simple dance routines that everyone from 8 to 80 could learn. They were perfect for weddings. Which is exactly what Abba have been distilled into. A criminal injustice, in my view, because they were probably the greatest song writers since the Beatles. The Abba brand has been so dumbed down it is no longer possible to give them the credit they deserve.

The rest of Europe don't see this, they don't get the irony or build the link back to days of yore. Sure, a Eurovision winner can look quite cheesy to UK eyes, but the common factor is a song which is universally 'fun', and has a transfer value across all nations. The spoken-word double entendres that punctuate the Scooch song; 'Some salted nuts sir', will mean nothing to a majority of Latvians.

It's unlikely that the UK will ever win Eurovision again - firstly, we're not a member of the new school. The Eastern Bloc invasion means that there is a voting cabal that the UK will never be able to penetrate. Secondly, whilst no bad song is going to win the title, the voting is not on the song alone. It's a commentary on global social and economic politics. Our ongoing occupation in Iraq is not going to bode well with the voting public. So it's not really advisable to have a song which claims to be 'flying the flag all over the world', they might as well sing 'we invaded Iraq and we don't give a shit'.

Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker were both mooted to be writing songs for Eurovision, which may be a worthwhile experiment. But we're more likely to simply attract an increasing band of desperadoes trying to drag themselves out of their showbiz mire and onto the heady heights enjoyed by, em, Katrina and the Waves.

I'm fascinated by these people; the basic economics of scraping a living from anything that is vaguely related to showbusiness. Take band member Russ Spencer (oh, and compare the picture of him here, with the one on their official site), who's main career credits are being in Scooch, a second rate imitation of a second rate imitation, and coming second last in Eurovision. Prior to that he was in the TV show Boys Will Be Girls, which involved creating a girl band made up of boys in drag. At what point will Russ realise that his dream to be Bono, Robbie Williams and John Lennon is likely to remain unfulfilled.

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