Monday, March 29, 2004

It's so funny how they don't talk anymore

“Hello, are you Parts?” I asked the ladies sitting tapping into their computers.

I’d been sent from Services by a girl with a stern pragmatic air about her. She told me that it would take ‘0.8 of an hour’ to fix the broken aerial on my car. 0.8 of an hour, to save you the calculation, is 48 minutes. 0.8 of an hour is not a time convention. 48 minutes is, “about 50 minutes” is, as is “Just under an hour”, “Not long”, or even the expectation management favourite “A couple of hours”. These are all perfectly acceptable ways of relating time to someone. Robots deal in 0.8 of an hours.

I would have booked for the work to be done by Services, but I wasn’t allowed. I had to go to Parts, a desk about five feet away, to find out whether they had the part in. Services, you see, couldn’t possibly talk to Parts themselves. Why should they, what have car parts got to do with fixing a car anyway?

The ladies tapping into their computers weren’t Parts; they were The Desk Between Parts and Services. They were border control, the desk that worked to ensure Parts and Services didn’t communicate or work together. Parts was the next desk down.

When I got to Parts there was a man with a beard slumped on the desk. He raised his head to look at me. “I was clean shaven when I got here” he said. He was lying, judging by the length of my wait he’d been there since before he was old enough to drive. I waited. Whilst I did, a man who I’d seen hovering around the back of Services walked behind the Parts desk. Imagine someone from Services fraternising with Parts. The only thing that would have made it worse would be if he had talked to Parts about, for example, whether they had my car aerial in stock.

“Yes mate” a bloke with a long nose came out from the back of Parts. I’m not a formal person, a “Yes mate” is entirely appropriate in the right environment. Record shops and pubs are “Yes mate” places. The plush dealership of a multi-national car company is not a “Yes mate” place.

I explained that I’d been sent by Services with a rye, ‘isn’t that faintly ridiculous’, look on my face, he listened impassively. “Is the aerial attached through the roof or the light fitting?” a faint flicker of life was evident which may just have been the light reflecting off the back of his empty skull.

I had no idea, so we went outside to find out. He reached over to the remaining stump of my aerial and pulled and yanked at it, then without looking at me or saying a word he set off back towards Parts. I called out, “It may be that it’s just the stalk that’s broken”. He ignored me and didn’t look back. Cut off from the oxygen of Parts he obviously needed to get back as soon as possible.

I couldn’t catch up; by the time I got back to Parts he was gone. He came back a couple of minutes later, thumped about four and a half thousand numbers into his computer.

“That’s £10 then”

I paid.

“I’ll get you a receipt” he disappeared. Then came back with an A4 sheet of paper somewhere on it, it said “1 x aerial = £10.00”.

I didn’t go back to Services to get it fixed, I didn’t want to get involved in their domestic disputes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I had a dream

It was a war crime and terror double header on Sunday. Channel 4’s The Man Who Ate His Archbishop’s Liver, the story of Idi Amin, followed by Panorama on the continuing threat of Al Qaeda. Can anyone remember what Panorama used to cover before Al Qaeda? – “Plum growing in inhospitable environments” or “Quiet day today, but wasn’t it windy”.

I slept badly throughout the weekend; I was awake at 6am on Saturday and 7am on Sunday. I found myself dozing off for long periods whilst the programmes bubbled along in the back of my consciousness.

I don’t know what happened whilst I was asleep, but I think I must have rolled on the remote control switching to the soft porn fests on Men and Motors or Live TV. When I eventually went to bed I had a series of vivid dreams of being subject to terrorist attacks by a crack team of glamour models in blue hot pants.

Which, I guess is the fun side to Terrorism.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Where my belief system crumbles

My first live football game was when I was three. Oxford Versus Southampton Apparently I spent the whole game cheering the floodlights. Sweet. As I grew up, I assumed footballers to be the same as me. They were fans playing for their favourite club. As I got older I realised there was a reduced sense of loyalty; players wanted to ultimately play for the big clubs and win cups. By and large, they didn’t come from the towns they played for. However, the basic principles still applied. Footballers wanted to win football games for their clubs.

This was reinforced when the Premiership was formed; a flood of cheap foreign players meant suddenly a huge proportion of the footballing community were never going to make it to the big time.

There is very little logic to being a lower league footballer. By and large the money is poor, the rewards are few and the career is short. Take Andy Woodman, Oxford’s goalkeeper, he earns £40,000 a year, which is OK for a 32 year old man. Except in a couple of years his career will be over. The job he sacrificed everything else for, including an education, and a sustainable source of income will be gone. At the age when many people are trying to find stability in their lives he will be starting again.

The logic, if there is any, is that football is a great game to play, it’s great for attracting pretty girls, and every week five thousand people think you’re the best thing ever. And, once or twice in your short career, if you have a successful season, those people will never forget you for as long as they live. Do you know who Dave Langan is? I do, he works as a car park attendant and is crippled with arthritis. I’ve never met him, but in the mid-80’s he helped Oxford gain promotion to the top division and win the Milk Cup. For me, and the thousands who experienced that, Dave Langan will always be a huge hero. He’s paying for that now, but there are plenty of more successful people who will die unknown. Not Dave Langan.

Oxford are ten games from the end of the season, we’re in a white-hot promotion dogfight. It’s tooth and nail stuff, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, sometimes other teams win, sometimes other teams lose. The table changes, each game is high tension and high drama. The great thing about lower league football is that it’s not polarised. Bottom teams beat top teams, unexpected things happen. On 8th May, we may be promoted, in the play-offs, or in utter despair because we’ve just missed out. It’s the kind of situation the players, fans and managers are in the game for.

Yesterday, Oxford’s current manager, Ian Atkins was announced as the new manager of Bristol Rovers. He will start in the summer when his contract at Oxford runs out. In doing this he’s taking a step down the league table. Rovers have potential, but are currently struggling. In the here and now, Oxford are right in the middle of something exciting and achievable.

This clearly means nothing to Atkins. He’s got a mortgage to pay, he says, and there was no guarantee of a new Oxford contract in the summer. Fair enough, except if that’s all your bothered about, go and work in a bank. There is far more security and less pressure in other jobs. People get into football for the buzz, the opportunity to achieve something and, when they do, receive more rewards, plaudits and recognition than in any other job. A fact, myth perhaps, that he’s utterly destroyed. This is not about making a mark; it’s about paying his mortgage. In fact, by doing what he’s done, taking a step down for more money, and doing it on the verge of achieving something great at Oxford he’s undermined everything I believe about football.

Ultimately what does he want? Whether promotion is achieved or not, he’s got his security. He’s not an Oxford fan, I know that, but he sets the agenda within his team. If he doesn’t want it, why should the players play, and ultimately what are the fans turning up for?

In the same way that Pop Idol revealed the nasty cynical side of music that has always existed but people don’t want to know about. Atkins has revealed in the most cynical way possible that all the rhetoric about passion and focus is, quite frankly, bullshit. The damage he’s done in this one act has wiped out the two years of work he’s put in to get Oxford into this position. He’s been suspended by the club this morning. Hopefully he’ll just fuck off and Oxford will get promoted. When they do, I want him to be sitting in his securely mortgaged house watching and wandering what he’s done. The smug little shit may think that it’s all down to him, but he can whistle for any recognition he wants from me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Phone home

Emma was sitting on the table looking bemused, in one hand she held my car keys in the other the deeds to the house. Slowly she was being covered in the clothes I was wearing. Finally, standing totally naked, when everything was gone, I was ready. Black, I said. It came up red.

OK, so this isn’t exactly how I lost my phone in Vegas. It was more of an absent minded packing incident. Apparently when Emma gave the coded signal (“Shall we just check the room before we go?”) I was expected to check that I had my car keys (I did, in the pocket of my jeans at the bottom of my rucksack) and my phone (I didn’t, it was under the bed).

It wasn’t until I got home that I realised it was lost, the fact it was so avoidable was frustrating in the extreme. I could claim it back on the insurance, but having to pay the £50 excess barely made it worth it.

I decided to speculatively contact the hotel, the website only had a phone number for reservations but was spam-bustingly free of email addresses.

I went back to Google, and put in “” perhaps somewhere on the web there was an email address I could use. There was one, deep inside the Luxor website there was an address for their Marketing and Promotions department who look after The Blue Man Group and the Ra topless nightclub. I wrote to them asking for my phone back.

It was a long shot, the hotel has 4,500 rooms, two Imax cinemas, a nightclub, theatre, shops, casino and numerous restaurants and whilst I could isolate the phone to somewhere in room 6016 the size of the hotel meant it was rather like sending an email to the Mayor of Thame to tell him my phone was lost in the sub post office inside Martins the newsagent.

I continued with my insurance application with little urgency or enthusiasm. On Tuesday we were left a card by the postman to say that they’d tried to deliver a package and that it was currently at the sorting office. Maybe it had worked; maybe the phone had been returned. I went to the sorting office and handed the card in…

It was another Brittannia Music Club CD, which they still send me despite endless requests to leave the club. On Wednesday, however, a package arrived from the Luxor, Las Vegas, no note, or complimentary slip, just one carefully packaged Sony Ericsson T310.

Except my phone is a Nokia 465. No, that’s a lie too. It was my phone, how good is that? If that email had arrived in my work inbox it would either have been deleted, or delegated into a black hole where only the lap of the gods would have controlled whether it would have reached a satisfactory conclusion or not.

I think they could teach our company a thing or two about customers. At a recent customer service training day the facilitator asked someone to describe our customers. “Timewasters mostly” responded the women in front of everyone including our Chief Executive. She is most dim-witted person I have ever met, but it’s a view reflected across the whole company.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Escape to victory

It wasn’t looking good; Emma raced to four wedges before Vicki had got from the middle to the outside rim of the board. Nobby had systematically accumulated his wedges with effortless efficiency and was two from victory. Emma got her fifth, even Vicki had bagged four in between hysterical fits of giggles.

It’d been a dirty fight; Nobby tricked Vicki into switching her correct answer of pens to razors in response to the product Bic sells 7 million of every day. Nobby was then denied a wedge when he jumped in with the answer “Thorpe Park, no, Legoland” to the theme park near Windsor. The war of attrition was on.

Ruffles’ game had been pedestrian. Having boasted that the Trivial Pursuit 20th Anniversary edition was easy with badly written and telegraphed questions I had been by-stander whilst the others’ battled for victory. With just three wedges and no rhythm I was resigned to battling for nothing but personal pride.

Emma hovered around to pick up her final wedge, even at one point proclaimed victory when it wasn’t hers. Vicki and Nobby needed two wedges. Ruffles, three wedges from victory, all of which were dotted around the board, stepped up to the plate…

Rolls the dice. What colour on the Irish flag represents the Protestants?


Rolls the dice. Which actress with a famous novel-winning sister has The Ruling Passion, her own book, ridiculed in a New York court?

Joan Collins

Rolls the dice. For the fourth wedge - Which great tennis player was killed by AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion?

Arthur Ashe

Rolls the dice. Roll Again. Rolls the dice, for the fifth wedge - Who controversially kissed Christina and Britney at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards?


Rolls the dice. Which writer with royal connections claimed royal jelly kept her in the pink?

Barbara Cartland

Ruffles rolls a two, Roll Again, a five, for the sixth wedge and victory…

Which Bugs Bunny character came to earth with his space dog, Commander K-9?

I buried my head in the Dobscrubs’ very comfortable sofa, I could picture the little alien dressed like a centurion with a preposterously big helmet. I could even picture the dog and the little flying saucer he came in. He was. From Mars. A Martian. A Martian. Called. Marvin…

MARVIN THE MARTIAN!! (I shouted whilst baby India slept upstairs)

Victory, from nowhere, six questions and three wedges on the bounce, an unprecedented march of glory. If I hadn’t been so tired, I’d have probably danced around the room.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

America's most wanted

It started with the dementia that seems to result from a long haul flight. When we got back home from Boston a couple of years ago we started cleaning the house, despite the fact we hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. Well, the house wasn’t as clean as the 17th floor corner room we had at the Sheraton Hotel so we got the dustpan and brush out.

In September, when I picked Sara and Gareth up from the airport after their honeymoon I took them home and Sara began unpacking. She was missing something. Amongst the mountains of clothes they’d bought, her favourite Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie was missing. She began to well up as she tried to find that extra compartment in her suitcase. The one she knew she didn’t have. The one she hoped might contain the lost hoodie. When that didn’t materialise, of course, it was all about the bitch that cleaned their room and obviously stole it. It caused more heartache than was really necessary.

Vegas was an opportunity to replace the lost hoodie, Sara had done her homework, there were three Abercrombie and Fitchs (Fitchi?). We went to the one at The Forum shops in Caesars Palace. It was there, the hallowed hoodie, she bought it. Then the next day she bought another A&F hoodie. In fact, in the three days we must have gone into Abercrombie’s four or five times. On the plane there was a glamorous couple, she was willowy and model like he looked like a stylist from The Salon. Within a couple of hours of landing we saw them walking down The Strip, she was carrying an Abercrombie bag (they were also on the flight back – he was in an Abercrombie vest and Von Dutch truckers baseball cap, fer chrissakes).

An Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt, sweatshirt or hoodie is a badge of honour for a British twenty or thirty something. It’s the North American equivalent of a comedy Spanish sombrero available at all tacky beach shops on the Costa Del Sol.

It’s chic-ness derives from scarcity, that you can’t get A&F in the UK. To wear A&F you have to have travelled to the New World and that’s glamorous and cool and groovy. This is despite the fact that its urban chic style is largely indecipherable from Gap. It’s totally over branded, and its current range is absolutely diabolical focussing as they have on some kind of distressed, un-ironed preppie attire. Clearly the glamour of ‘merica is more seductive than the style it offers.

The famous person that we saw

Our famous person when we saw The Play What I Wrote on Saturday was Robert Powell which is OK, considering all the good famous people are currently on Back to Reality.

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