Thursday, December 28, 2006

Everyone loves their own brand

Christmas is like collective autism. A tight cycle of intricate routines and traditions. It's for family, but not through any particular deep love of its kinship, but because only the family understands the logic paths that have imbedded these traditions into its culture. Nobody likes to be away from their family on Christmas day because, psychologically, it's such an uncomfortable place to go.

Whilst to the outsider these traditions are impenetrable; for those inside they're a norm. I was trying to work out our family's traditional Christmas day, but found it really hard to think of anything I didn't consider to be entirely normal. We get up and open presents, this is the main focus for the day and lasts about 20 minutes. Then we'll have breakfast, usually involving salmon. The rest of the day drifts along towards lunchtime with my dad remembering various food treats he's picked up in the previous few weeks. "Oh, we've got some pear brandy, does anyone want pear brandy?".

This contrasts with Nobby's Germanically regimented Christmas day; bucks fizz for breakfast, stollen cake mid-morning, traditional lunch and card games with the family in the evening. At the other end of the scale, I know of people who sleep in until mid-morning, might have a roast chicken lunch and then dissolve the family unit to allow the individuals to do their own thing for the rest of the day. Presents are unlikely to be anything more than an exchange of cheques.

What with it being Millie's first, Emma and I broke with a tradition and had Christmas lunch together with Emma's family. The close proximity of our families have traditionally meant we've been able to shuttle between the two, but have always stuck to the routine of having lunch apart. This meant I was able to observe their traditional Christmas which after church is an avalanche of present giving punctuated only by a traditional lunch with all the trimmings. Now, I've never previously known what 'all the trimmings' meant. At what point do you know that you have the complete set? We must have been close as excluding the turkey and assorted sauces, there were no less than 16 different trimmings* and I've yet to hear of a Christmas lunch which has more.

You know that you're getting deep into tradition over true value when you're opening a present of a set of second class stamps whilst everyone around you ignores your attempts to be surprised and delighted. Emma got me a Gemini iKey; although I wish I'd asked for a Ninetendo Wii. Emma's grandma was describing what the Wii did as one of her relatives was getting one, Emma's mum looked on blankly until eventually interrupting; 'Is this one of those double-u-one-ones?'

Later in the afternoon we again departed from a Ruffles family tradition and broke the isolation by venturing into the outside world. This tradition was maintained to an extent, I was divorced from broadband for the day, which meant I missed an e-bay auction when it took 14 minutes to download a single page on the household's dial-up connection. So what if the item went at a price some £20 below the ceiling price I'd set myself. I know I know, ebaying on Christmas day... bite me.

Emma's family are very close to two other families on the road and their Christmases have always been closely knitted together. So much so that they can actually spend Christmas together without sullying each others' traditions. They can have a traditional Christmas day regardless of where it's held and who is there; it's like the total football of Christmas day. We popped along the road to find the two families watching a slide show of a holiday they'd taken together back in 1980. To them it was entirely normal, to me, entirely different.

As we get older, children are coming along, grandparents are less mobile, partners expect to see their own families with their own traditions so like a glacier; always moving, but always invisible to the eye the Christmas norms shift. In ten year's time it will all have changed again, who knows where we'll be?

*roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, pommes noisettes, leaks, parsnips, swede, peas, bacon, sausages, cauliflower cheese, onion rings, breadcrumb stuffing, peas, pork stuffing, carrots and brussel sprouts

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Too many cooks

If you're a celebrity cook and want to avoid the purgatory of UKTV Food, you've got to have A Thing. Jamie Oliver had his gastro-pub Brit Pop thing, Gordon Ramsay is all about The Swearing, Rick Stein's thing is The Fish, Heston Blumenthal is supposedly about The Science.

Nigella Lawson's thing is as a middle class 1950's saucepot; perfect for Yuletide. What's not to love about a woman who's first reaction after jolly good rogering is to marinade a turkey in a festive brine before giving the children hand whittled wooden toys and feeding them a pomegranate merigue mountain? Certainly that's what it looks like in the painstaking re-enactment of a Lawson family Christmas on Nigella's Christmas Kitchen. You never see her husband, however, he's probably upstairs smoking a big fat cigar wondering where it all went wrong.

Nigella is a woman who sees nothing wrong with emphasising the words 'breast', 'squeeze' and 'come' in a sentence about the perfect Christmas panchiporan aloo and she's never far away from her vampish red satin dressing gown. However, not all might be what it seems. She's always shot in a dreamlike soft focus, swaithed in floodlights, this may be to emphasise her perfect womanly ways, or it could be to hide the fact that she probably really looks more like her dad.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dress to impress

‘Tis without doubt the season to be jolly, not least in the offices of womens magazines and day time TV shows. For eleven months of the year these editorial teams toil for new features, but once December arrives it’s, well, like Christmas. Time to dredge out the Christmas party frock/new take on the little black dress type articles.

Now, I don’t consider myself to be abnormally unsociable. Even with a seven month old baby, our social calendar is a busy one. However I don’t and never have had the kind of Christmas that involved needing a new wardrobe of party wear, and certainly not the special formal partywear.

Yes, I know, I am A Man and it’s alright for me because I don’t have to worry about these things blah blah blah. But my Christmas calendar this year will be abnormally busy; the weekend before last we had Willy’s Christmas party, on last Thursday was our departmental party, on Friday our work do, Sunday was (look away now single people and those not predisposed for such things) our NCT party for the babies, Saturday is a big night out with friends, Sunday could be the traditional Christmas eve trip to the pub; though we’re not going, on Christmas night it’s the traditional mayhem party, Boxing day is another party, New Year’s Eve is sorted.

Now I reckon that’s eight parties in two and a half weeks, but even if I was a woman I wouldn’t need a party frock for each one.

I don’t know, perhaps I’m altogether too casual, maybe just a bit too Southern (a colleague from the North East frequently laments the lost art of dressing up down south… and I don’t mean wearing a merkin).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Do you? Really?

Love It! magazine is exclusive to Tesco, apparently. It's a women's weekly magazine 'celebrating love, life and laughter' according to the promotional blurb. Can't you tell? It has an exclamation mark at the end of its title.

A good branding strategy gives a product a name which captures its values. It wouldn't seem unreasonable to think that Love It! has lots of things you might love; celebrity gossip, fashion tips and all that kind of thing.

Magazine publishing strategy might also suggest that the best article, the one that most matches the spirit of the magazine, should be on the front page. Ergo; in Love It! the cover might lead with something the reader might love the most. You would think.

This week's lead story in Love It! is 'Raped at gunpoint'.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bottoms photocopied = zero

The Christmas party was OK, a distinct improvement on the lunches we used to have where the silences were punctuated by the sound of knives and forks chinking against cheap plates. Yes, we've had worse.

It wasn't totally without its flash points. Old Man, whose defining characteristic is his one finger jack hammer typing style, suddenly, apropos of nothing, decided to tell us he 'didn't like deviousness'.

He admitted he didn't know one of the women standing with us and described the other as 'not devious, cunning' (an argument ensued). The comment may have been a general point he wanted to get off his chest, it could have been directed at me; the only other person listening to him. I moved onto another group rather than find out.

I'm competitive and will challenge anything I don't see as being correct, I will defend my position fiercely and make comment whether it's mine to make or not. I expect others to do the same. I'm not devious; I have no grand plan or strategy. If I'm inconsistent with my views its because I'm forgetful, not because I'm involved in some deed of sinister derring-do.

The other flashpoint was when Drunk Finance Person suddenly had a moment of clarity and started fretting that she had upset people with her boisterous ways. She was really worried and has apparently made efforts to contact people today to make an apology.

In truth, I don't think anyone really cares that she was drunk; she was loud and a bit random, but she certainly wasn't offensive.

Perhaps people give others way too much credit for the depth to which they think about things. Do people really sit and plot a long term strategy, systematically removing the obstacles in their way (rubbing their hands with sinister glee every time another blockage is expunged). Likewise, are people's lives so empty that they have time to sit and be repeatedly offended by someone who loses a bit of control on a night out.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Xmas factor

Tomorrow is the night of the Christmas party and after that, I’m done until the New Year. Secret Santa-gate has taken a couple more twists. Colleague OJ opted out by email after the deadline for opting in had passed. Within seconds an email had been sent round the whole building asking for the person who had drawn OJ to return their ticket and draw again because he’d pulled out. I’ve pulled out pointing out that I won’t be around when the loot is handed out, but I’d take part if there was an odd number of participants – I know, I’m a wimp.

The halls are well and truly decked; Admin Manager came in distressed that the load of tinsel she bought last year had gone missing. ‘I’ll have to go out and buy a load more, so don’t worry we’ll be up this afternoon to put it up’ she said as I struggled to axe £20,000 from our budget.

Admin Manager is like a Christmas terrorist, popping up all over the place to put another string of tinsel up. ‘I’m sort of a less is more kind of person’ said Finance Person impassively when Admin Manager asked if they should put another load of tinsel in the window. The subtlety of the plea fell on deaf ears so naturally it went up anyway.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Emma's grandma's middle name is 'practical'. On the morning of her eightieth birthday Emma phoned her. 'Have you been doing anything nice?' she asked. 'Dusting', was the reply. 'And what are you doing later?' 'Well, Auntie Margie and Uncle Den are taking me out for lunch, I hope they don't take me anywhere posh; I just want to go somewhere (she paused to find the right word) ordinary.' Well, you don't survive the World War II by being flighty, I suppose.

Emma wished her Grandma well for her birthday dust and ordinary lunch, but the call was actually a ruse. A surprise party had been organised. Now, although only related by marriage Emma's mum is also very practical. But her awareness of time, space and motion is somewhat challenged. She tends to round every activity up to the nearest hour, so making a cup of tea will take an hour, then putting the washing on another hour and so on. She also tends to cook in quantities of no less than 1kg; so 5 people for dinner equals 5kgs of carrots, another kilogram if a sixth turns up.

In this case, it was a party for fourteen, with a sit down lunch in a dining room that can cram in about 10. Suggestions that the four rejects could eat in the living room were swiftly rejected because it was too far away and it was important that everyone was together as a family. A table was put in the hall as close to the dining room as possible. Not that there was any space chairs or adults (or one baby in a high chair) but Emma's mum was adamant. In the end we had to sit on the stairs and the telephone table listening to those lucky enough to get a dining room seat having a marvellous time. God knows what would have happened if there'd been a fire.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lower Grade

Good luck Michael Grade, for you work for a company I despise, having left a company I truly admire. Now, I do understand commercial TV; programmes are the things that go between the adverts and not the other way around. However, despite its dominant position, ITV has chosen to give up this illusion to chase the dirty dollar.

Channel 4 have shown how to do it by finding a blend of programming that stretches from reputation enforcing niche to populist banal (although programmes on the axis of Sex Tips for What You Eat and How Clean is You Naked Property Ladder are getting a little too much). ITV's programming formula has either been reduced to using desperate (and cheap) celebrities or mildly talented (and free) nobodies for their entertainment schedule or, in the case of their current affairs stuff; being a visual Daily Express by reacting hysterically to everything. The binding factor is always the introduction of audience participation by text message voting.

All of which leaves me with a cold chill to learn that ITV intend to screen a TV event this weekend entitled Extinct. The BBC might tackle the subject by investigating the socioeconomic drivers that are threatening the Northern Spotted Owl. ITV can't afford to lose viewers to the Strictly Come Dancing results programme; so how are they to ensure they get their money in as quickly as possible?

'Text 8556 and add 1 for to make the Hawaiian Monk Seal extinct, 2 for the Eastern Timber Wolf...'.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What is Love?

Looking at the charts this week reveals that the year is coming to an end; we’ve got greatest hits collections from Abba, U2, Oasis, Charlatans, Slade, Depeche Mode, Sugababes, Moby, Girls Aloud and, um, David Cassidy. It’s like the music industry has broken up for Christmas – do you think they brought in games on the last day?

I’m not a great fan of greatest hits collections; I see no joy in buying an album where you know exactly what you’re going to get. It reminds me of my favourite Alan Partidge joke, clearly out of his depth, he’s talking about music with the porter who works in the hotel he’s staying at. The porter says he loves the Beatles (along with a string of bands Partridge has clearly never heard of), clutching at the one name he recognises, Partridge nods sagely. The porter probes as to which is his favourite Beatles album – there’s a pause as Partidge is removed from his small comfort zone; ‘The Best of The Beatles’ he says almost as a request to retain a morsel of credibility. It’s sharply observed; greatest hits albums are for the unimaginative and risk averse. They might buy less shite, but equally, they never get to discover truly great new music.

Ironically The Beatles have released a compilation recently – Love. Normally I wouldn’t be interested. It’s music for Cirque du Soleil and it’s all their hits. Great music, cynically applied, it’s not nice. Buy the real albums, that’s what I would say.

Then I heard an interview with, I think, Giles Martin, who was explaining that it was a non-stop mix of Beatles tracks very much in the spirit of mash-up culture. This sounded interesting, though I should have been wary; what he actually said was ‘It follows the culture of bootlegs or mash ups’ at this point he paused Partidge-esque though way out of his depth ‘or boot-mashes as they’re often called.’

The paper reviewed it favourably, mentioning that it follows on from Dangermouse’s Grey Album (a spectacularly illegal mash up of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album), which I have, though I like more for what it’s trying to do than how it actually sounds.

Remembering that I was impressed a few years ago when Tim Burgess ignored any quest for credibility by identifying the Moulin Rouge Film Soundtrack as that year's best album, I decided to cut through the crap and go for the music. A Beatles mash-up DJ set was a project I could get on board with, at least it wasn’t like one of those albums who's sole selling point is that its been ‘remastered in Dolby 5.1’ like anyone can hear the difference (especially after its been compressed onto an iPod).

My initial instincts were right. The result is disappointing. You can’t fault the actual songs. But George and Giles Martin had every sound from the Beatles back catalogue to play with, to cut and paste and play with, but they end up with Beatles hits interspersed with swirly wirly bits. Perhaps they couldn’t bare to play with the originals, or maybe, just as likely, the Martins simply don’t have the capacity to put together a truly interesting mix in the style of a modern DJ set – which wouldn’t be surprising given their combined age of way over 100. In interviews, George Martin seems truly impressed with his sons ability on ProTools – like an old bloke who is impressed that you can put new paper into a printer (then refers to you as ‘technically minded’, and suggests you as the person who should be in charge of the company website). Perhaps they should have given it to Too Many DJs or Dangermouse after all.

And it's in bloody Dolby 5.1.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stop this madness

Dramatic developments in Secret Santa-gate. There's been a lot of chatter on the networks and some frantic shuttle diplomacy at a very high level (seriously; senior members of staff meeting in dark corners throughout Friday trying to find a resolution, apparently).

A decision has been taken to allow people to opt into Secret Santa and to allow those on a temporary contract to take part... but they're still banned from the Christmas party. A major climbdown, according to one.

Many agents died bringing you this information.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Santa clauses

Here we go again, it's Secret Santa time at work. I don't know the official rules of Secret Santa, but I do understand its principles.

There's a bit about not spending too much. A few years ago the limit was set at a stellar £30 - the reasoning being that rather than buy 6 people £5 presents you spend £30 on one person.

Then there's the bit about generating a sense of gentle Christmas jollity. A couple of years ago we had wish lists because someone got really upset with the benign fun throwaway novelty I bought them the year before.

There's the community spirit. This year it's being centrally organised. We've had an email circular about The Rules; everyone is automatically opted in, so everyone goes into the hat. Then a draw will be made, but you're not under any obligation to buy the person you draw a present.

Brilliant. So when the draw happens, people who have willingly participated will give a present, and there's every chance the recipient will be someone who has chosen not to be involved. The generous will miss out, whilst the tight arses gain. This'll get everyone in the Christmas spirit.

Everyone? well, not everyone, because only permanently contracted staff are allowed to be involved. Those on temporary contracts, even those who have been working for us for months, no matter how willing they are to be involved, are banned.

I feel a revolution coming on.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Character building

There’s this horrible concept of ‘being deep’. People in reality TV shows claim to be ‘deep’ or that they ‘like to get deep’ sometimes. This is assumed to mean that they like to get a little conceptual and think about what things truly mean.

I’m coming to the conclusion that people are built in layers. When babies are born the hospital people do an APGAR test; it’s actually done twice, the first time most babies score at least 8 out of 10, and for the second test they’re expected to get a cracking 10 out of 10. It’s basically an assessment of skin colour, number of legs, heads etc. It’s the only thing you can truly assess, it’s the only layer they have.

This is pretty much all there is to a baby. They feed on liquid and liquid comes out the other end. It’s a simply little ecosystem. Then a cold might come along; they sneeze and snot comes out; this is laid on top of the liquid-in-liquid-out concept. Then they become more aware of their surroundings and react to things around them. Then they recognise people they know, or will make different noises to indicate tiredness over nappy or feeding. This evolves until speech eventually comes along. When they start feeding on solids, carrot goes in; orange things come out, but the viscosity changes depending on their milk intake, or there may be variations resulting from sickness. It gets harder to isolate why things are happening.

Millie has started teething and she has a cold and a bit of conjunctivitis; because she’s at that age, its winter, she’s at nursery and in contact with other babies. She can wake up, but we don’t know for sure why, it could be nappy, cold, food, conjunctivitis, teeth. So she now has Medicied to help her sleep, eye drops for the conjunctivitis, CalGel for her teeth, Sudacreme for her nappy, and albus oil for her cold. It’s another layer on top of everything else she’s developed over the last six months.

As things progress, more layers will be added – biological, sociological, economic, psychological, physiological and so forth. Which all leads to the conclusion that TV reality contestants do have the capability of being ‘deep’; going back through the layers that they’ve built over the years. The ultimate conclusion of this soul-mining of course, is to find that they’re a bag of bones which is full of shit.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ashes to the ashes

The Ashes start this week. Ah, the Summer of 05, who could forget it? Flintoff, the captain, y'know the one with the pointy nose, the slightly tubby blonde chap, the bloke with the shaven head who did that reverse swing thing. Was Monty Panasar in the Ashes team?... yeah, probably. I was totally there with The Boys.

Inevitably, there's been a lot of hype surrounding the series, which has sparked a degree of interest deep inside me. Thing is, I've been told that Australia is a long way away, meaning they're a day ahead of us and have to play at night just to keep going.

You can follow the action on SKY throughout the night. But there can be few people who can reverse their lives to be on Australian time without actually being in Australia. Most people, like me, will probably watch the first over at about 11.30pm then go to bed upon realising that every advert break will be promoting a lateral thigh trainer. The actual TV watching nation will predominantly be men with a penchant for staying up all night who don't spend their time texting Babestation asking the models to do things that are strictly prohibited by OfCom. Only for the dedicated, then.

You could at least follow the action from the warmth of your bed on Radio Five Live and Radio 4 longwave. I'm not sure why both are covering it. Perhaps Radio Five do it in a regional accent. Failing that, you could request a text of the score from the BBC at a time convenient to you.

Or, you could watch the highlights the next evening on Sky or the BBC, but you'd have to wait a full twelve hours after the close of play. This is better than reading it in the papers who will be reporting the first day's play just as the second day's play is finishing.

It'll be an Ashes for the dedicated, those of us on the margins will be following from some considerable distance. Which, given that it's likely to end in pretty humiliating defeat, will allow us to claim that we never really cared about it in the first place.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reclaim The Streets

Working at home today meant I was unfortunate enough to stumble upon the GMTV magazine show LK Today, which is complicit in a fraud that engulfs all the creative industries.

Basically, the creative industries need to continuously reinvent their products in order to maintain their income stream. The product is so disposable, the industries can't afford to stay still. The thing is, customer expectations move quicker than the changing trends; people expect the New Beatles on a weekly basis. This is why the music industry basically veers from guitar music to electronic music and back again even though the music press will insist that its post-industrial-krautrock-riotgrrl-shoegazing-jazz-funk-trip-hop. I mean, Klaxons are neo-rave, NEO-R? A? V? E?

The fashion industry is slaved to the same cycles; it has to find new ways of representing the same things. LK Today is a platform on which these ideas are presented unquestioned. Even if they did say 'Are you sure this is influenced by early Byzantine masonry tooling because it doesn't half look like a pair of jeans held together with pegs'. The resident expert will give the Pavolvian response '... and if you throw on a pashmina and pair of sling-backs its a great evening look.'

Today they proudly announced that the Chav look was in, which might surprise Chav-wear magnate Dave Whelan who's £200 million JJB sports empire is basically built on selling Ecko hoodies to faux-gangsta teenagers. Along with some awkward in-studio models they proceeded to scan through a series of stills of Caprice with her hood up and Lilly Allen (great examples, apparently).

"Who's this", said Lorraine Kelly, who's mumsy image hides a murky seedy catalogue of sexual depravity. "This", said resident expert, "is [alpha-chavs] Mike Skinner and Lady Sovereign. But they really haven't got the look, they've really overdone it".

Haven't got the look? They are the bleedin' look. They invented the bloody look. Good god, what is the world coming to?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Carry on working

In conversation with a colleague about a woman who we met at a corporate schmooze.

"... she kept showing me pictures of her cat posed doing different things; one of him helping her work, one of him doing the washing up, that sort of thing. His name's Bilbo."

"She's a Lord of the Rings obsessive, her house is called Rivendell"

"She'd definitely been drinking, she was completely Legolas."

Later in the day, during a marketing meeting we were discussing changing trends within the business;

"We seem to be attracting many more women, especially younger women, we're not sure how it's happened."

"Yes, we do seem to be achieving a high degree of young female penetration."

Ooh missus!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bland values

This charmer has recently been suspended from the Tory party for circulating a racist poem to her Tory mates and, it seems, to one bleeding heart Liberal who dobbed her in. Ellenor Bland is not a racist, she says, although evidently her husband must be, after all it was all his fault, which should make dinner tonight somewhat frosty.

Like most racists, who, in justification for their actions, will also claim they know lots of "the blacks", Bland said that she didn't know why there was a lot of fuss about a bit of humorous name calling, after all, people call her a 'short blonde twit'.

... except of course, the poem was offensive stereotyping and this is an obvious statement of fact.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Phones 4 me

I'm no technological numpty. I embraced digital DJ-ing, iPods and the Internet fairly early. Some technology is, quite frankly, beyond me; mobile phones in particular. Phones are rude, I don't like them, they interrupt what you're doing. I don't consider a mobile phone as a desirable thing to have, it's just a necessary evil.

When my old one packed up I checked out the Orange website where a handful of phones met my criteria - a) I could afford it, b) I could phone people on it. Having ruled out about 3 phones from their range, I needed to narrow it down further; a camera - yep I could use that, 3G, MP3, Java capable, polyphonic ring tones... it all sounds terribly good, but for I all know this could be the equivalent of telling me that one of the features of buying an iron is that it has a plug on it.

So, I handed myself over to the Internet masses; other people know, and care, about phones. Surely I could get some guidance from Google. Sure enough "Sony Ericsson K610i" returns no less than 2,370,000 references.

I found reviews with phrases like:

"Display is made by TFT technology, earlier on it was a TFD-matrix. Diagonal was slightly increased, from now on it is 1.9 inches."
"you will find a Li-Pol battery BST-37 with the capacity of 900 mAh"
"Though these devices made one more step forward – user is able to run two Java-applications at a time and switch between them. This may come in handy, in case you use an ICQ-like mobile client."
If I was to use an ICQ-like mobile client this was the phone for me, so in the end I though fuck it, it looked pretty, so I bought it. So far I have phoned and texted people and taken a few photos, but only as a test. I can vouch that it's been terribly good at all these things, and the Li-Poi battery has used all its 900mAh.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Do you want bits in it

During our time in Harrogate, we went to a curry house that was recommended to us. A recommendations from someone who could only have ever visited one restaurant in the town. It didn't help that the recommendation was given to P, a very beautiful blonde girl who effortlessly attracts slightly plump account managers that will say pretty much anything (including recommending ropey restaurants) to strike up a conversation (including denying the existence of wives or children).

"WADDAYAWANT?" barked the waiter in a thick, barely comprehensible, Indian accent. It took us by surprise and he barked it again. This set us up for a catalogue rudeness and incorrect orders. The only consistency was that we were consistently served by someone different and each one was equally rude and abrupt.

The food was pretty average; the Malayan was a Korma with one chunk of banana in, the Dhansak was a Korma with a chilli in it, the Korma, was a Korma, thankfully.

We'd asked for a jug of water; but it didn't come. P beckoned over the slightly dishevelled table cleaner. "Could we have our water" she asked.

"MEAT OR VEGETABLE?" was the reply.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The gloom

It's been a funny week; slap bang in the middle of it was a trip to North Yorkshire for an exhibition for HR professionals. It's a bloody long way and practically all of it on the M1, so it was the dullest journey. The Gloom descended.

The exhibition was rammed full of women in tailored black suits and natty shoes, it's like an HR uniform. None of them were interested in what we had to sell.

The week is bookended by sociable weekends. We'd spent Sunday at Dan and Lucy's having lunch and hanging out; it rained as we sat in the conservatory. The pounding on the glass sounded like we were in a tent; it was a good feeling. Russ and Sam called and we've arranged for them to come over tomorrow. Something to look forward to.

But this made The Gloom deeper. I don't typically get too morose about work; I like working hard and being busy and achieving things, but Millie has helped alter my perception. I'm more aware that getting paid is compensation for not being able to do something more interesting with your week; it's not a bonus on top of the privilege of working your guts out. We have great friends and seem to have a better social life now Millie is around than before, I'd rather work.

Then, on Tuesday, when I was in Yorkshire a chink of light appeared. Out of the blue, Katie texted, she's coming back from Australia at the end of next month. Penny, Mike and Lottie are over for Christmas, Willy and Leo and baby Joseph as well as Simon and Islay should be around, and, of course, it's Millie's first. Australia Jo isn't back until January, but Christmas is going to be great, The Gloom lifted and took me all the way to now; the weekend. Bring it on.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Veiled comments

My dad and sister once had a discussion about the cheapest food (no, I don't know why either). Dad said it was chicken, my sister said it was baked beans. My dad's selection was based on certain criteria e.g. the cheapest food which didn't sacrifice tastiness, nutrition, versatility and so on. My sister simply picked the cheapest food in Tesco.

They were both correct in their selection, but even though they appeared to be having the same discussion, they were arguing to different hypotheses. It reminds me of this veil debate. Most women do not wear a veil to cover their faces, in fact, few Muslim women wear the veil. Therefore it is not the norm to do so. Norms offer comfort areas in which most people (within any given society) are happy to live. People covering their faces is not the norm and therefore the custom moves people out of their comfort zone. Therefore, Jack Straw et al are simply stating that it is not something they're comfortable with because perceive that it offers a barrier.

And it is a barrier. I don't know much about Islamic law, but my understanding is that one of the purposes of the veil is to put a barrier between the woman and any unmarried man, therefore it is correct to say that it's a barrier. It is also a barrier in the sense it confirms, in no uncertain terms, the difference between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim.

This is a simple anthropological point; in UK society anything which is perceived as a barrier is outside comfort zones defined by the norm. The response, however, is made in religious terms. People like Aishah Azmi argue that this is demonising their faith. To be honest, I'm guessing the number of people with serious intentions of bringing down the Muslim faith in the UK in tiny. Most people just don't want to feel uncomfortable.

In other words, there isn't a shared understanding about what the debate is, let alone the resolution. It's like me turning up to a rugby field in cricket whites and getting upset at the rough tackling.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Running on empty

This week I have driven twenty miles on little more than petrol vapours, spent three days with no charge on my phone (and a broken phone charger) , five days with no ink in my pen (not a euphemism, I literally have no ink in my pen), and two days without my wallet or any cash. I need a rest, or a visit to the shops.

The broken charger (or broken phone, I can’t work out which) has finally forced me to buy a new handset. Whilst I wait for that, the old phone is in my rucksack; it can’t make or receive calls or text messages, and the little battery sign is white e.g. no juice at all. There is still enough charge to keep the screen going and for it, from time to time, to make a forlorn ‘I have no battery, you’re killing me’ beeping noise. It’s been like that for at least three days but it still won’t die.

Perhaps I could assist this long and slow death by turning it off.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The history channel

I like blogs that describe every day experience, in some ways the more mundane the better. That's not to say my blogroll is full of really boring blogs, it's just they tend to be people who can take the normal, and describe it really well. I can relate to that.

I took part in the greatest big blog history thing, although the search engine is pretty rubbish and I can't find it now. It aims to describe a normal day by normal people and record it as a snap shot of social history.

Some of the entries are really good, I like the person who complains that her breakfast is ruined when she finds there's only the dusty detritus at the bottom of the box. Others have been a little self conscious about making a historical statement. From those writing as though talking to an alien - 'I did the ironing, which is using an electrical appliance with an heated iron base to smooth out clothes we call shirts..." to the horribly ostentatious "I awoke as the sun yawned over distance horizon singing the chorus of a new day. I turned to see my husband who had drool all over his gaping maw". What history will tell us is that not everyone should be allowed to publish.

So, trying to avoid these pitfalls, I waxed lyrical about meetings in the Holiday Inn car park in High Wycombe and Leighton Buzzard and setting up exhibition stands in Birmingham. I became a bit unstuck with the question 'what does history mean to you'. At that point I came over all Bill and Ted and thought 'Um dunno, it's like, the past, isn't it?'.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The real life

Thank God for North Korea, now we've really got something to worry about. It's been halcyon days for No News, so something with a bit of substance is a relief.

Following the death and near death of Steve Irwin and Richard Hammond - both enjoyed top billing on the 10 o'clock news - came the football bungs scandal. This all sounds terribly exciting. In fact, this is about managers taking money to sign players. Given that there's no evidence that these managers sign bad players for money there is little net effect on the credibility of the game itself. Which, in essence, means we're talking about it a less than thrilling story about tax evasion.

Then comes Jack Straw who, we're told over a period of 3 days, has asked Muslim women to remove their headscarfs when meeting them. He doesn't tell them to or force them to, he asks them to. So screams the press: PRESCOTT IGNITES RACE WAR BY SAYING "IT'S A TRICKY ISSUE, I'M NOT SURE WHAT I THINK ABOUT IT".

Then... BOOMSHANKA, here comes Kim Jong-Il, I never thought I'd be pleased to see his face.

Monday, October 09, 2006

You who?

They call him Jez, sometimes Doughnut. I've known him as Jem, but always called him Jeremy. And I've known him a long time; all his life, in fact. He is my cousin.

Weddings are all about declaring love for one another. But a modern wedding declares much more; it unpacks your whole life; revealing, of course, your friends to your family and your family to your friends. The speeches disclose stories of the past, expose you to the ordeal of public speaking - in this case the little boy I played football with 25 years ago is now an accomplished presenter and effortless comedian.

The tables are named after something special the couple share (dive sites), the venue reveals notions of perfection and romance. Even the time of year and unearths much; semi-pro psychologists could probably open a pandora's box of subtext.

And then there are the personal touches - a card and personal message to every guest, a cartoonist and best still, choosing the theme from Rocky over the wedding march. All very Jez Jeremy and Flemeny Helen.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The one which only a handful of people will understand

It's 2016 and ITV is the only channel left on TV. The BBC was closed down due to a row that erupted when the government insisted that the Corporation's Charter include the sentence "...for the public good" appended with the words "and Ant and Dec". SKY is technically still going, but Roman Abramovich bought every player in the world for Chelsea and then sold them to a submarine he then lost in a legal wrangle with God over who actually owns the sea. Now SKY is wall to wall coverage of Abramovich staring blankly from his executive box onto an empty pitch wondering why football isn't as good as it used to be.

Despite having not made a TV programme which hasn't involved clips from old TV programmes in eight years, ITV continues to thrive, after The World's 100 Greatest Clip Show Clips (number 1: Stuart Marconie remembers Curly Wurlies) is the show Where Are They Now? And this episode is about the world's first reality sitcom; Linhope.

Linhope, which ran from 2001 to 2006, centred on three thirty-somethings living in West London; loveable boffin; Dring, rip snorting bon viveur Baz and enigmatic couch potato Davis. It told the story a trio struggling to come to terms with being adults. The show attracted huge audiences including here, here and here.

As Friends insisted on growing up with its stars and audience. Linhope religiously stuck to its original, winning, formula. Blokes drinking, swearing, seeing bands, climbing mountains, playing computer games and making mess. Audiences loved it, living their lives vicariously through the threesome. It couldn't last, however, as viewers became laden with marriage, children, mortgages the reality gap between their lives and those of the three stars widened. Ratings reached a plateau and in 2005 the character Islay was introduced as the love interest for the hapless Dring.

Linhope's star shone brightly once more, the onscreen chemistry between Islay and Dring was immediate leading to much speculation from gossip magazine's that perhaps something was happening off screen. In an improbable twist on 'The Rachel' many women adopted 'The Dring' hairstyle and a single by the duo, a cover of Elton John and Kiki Dee's Don't Go Breaking My Heart, was number one for months.

Dring and Islay's increasing profile in the show coupled with the script writers failure to dream up enough plotlines for the developing relationship saw the show lose its initial spark; it turned out that a particularly hyped episode which featured a Islay/Dring 'bust up' turned out to be a brief discussion about which takeaway they'd get that night. Dring wanted out of the show that made his name, and the script writers hastily re-wrote the final series to conclude the story of the three bachelors. Dring and Islay moved to Cambridge in a ratings winning season finale, whilst Baz moved into respectability by buying a flat. Davis' own story remained inconclusive and the internet buzzed with hundreds of fan-stories of what might have happened to him.

Without any of the Linhope chemistry the spin off sitcom "Baz!" was a ratings flop; bottoming out with the episode "Baz concludes that Direct Debit is a cost efficient and convenient way of paying utility bills". A reunion film was mooted to conclude Davis' story but the three stars couldn't agree contracts, and, with Dring in particular, storylines; rumours were rife that the key sticking point was that the writers couldn't contrive a way of including a Training Montage in Siberia for Dring "like what they had in Rocky IV".

The legend of Linhope ended on 30th September, will we ever see the like again?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When women bite back

Following Tony Blair’s joke about Cherie not running off with his neighbour at the Labour conference yesterday, Radio Five Live were inviting other ‘wife jokes’. After a series of slightly stale, broadly sexist jokes presenter Shelagh Fogerty stepped in…

“Are men, can’t live with ‘em, can’t chop them into little pieces and boil ‘em”

Monday, September 25, 2006

I'm sorry, you're looking for WHAT?

I'm trying to avoid my web logs, it's too easy to be obsessed with them. Sometimes its hard to ignore some entries. Like the person who Asked Jeeves to find a site which displayed "Respectable adult baby nappies".

It begs the immediate question of who might this person be. It might, for example, be someone with acute incontinence looking for a resolution to their delicate problem without having to trawl endless sex sites.

Somehow this seems unlikely, so perhaps it is a baby adult fetishist looking for something to wear under their normal clothes, so he can secretly enjoy their guilty pleasure whilst presenting to the board the details about startling 3rd quarter growth.

And here's another theory. Perhaps its one of those zealots campaigning for their right to wear adult nappies without persecution. Perhaps they're planning to, one day, just turn up at work in a big diaper and maybe they're looking for something suitable, with a sharp crease, and maybe a double cuff.

Whatever the reason, it turns out I'm the third site you need to look at to find them.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Head office calling

So, I get a phone call from Government Department A because we mention Government Department B in a piece of promotional literature. Why have we done this, she asks, because Government Department B report into Government Department A under some new government initiative (and one which is incomprehensibly named – its all letters – like Swahili translated into text message language).

Because we worked with Government Department A to develop the product, I say, 2 years ago, I say. She then proceeds to try and change things that have been in place for the last two years, things that can only be achieved if we go back in time. For example, the original decision by Government Department B to develop the product. She tells me we should have developed the product with Government Department A, even though when it was developed Government Department’s A and B weren’t linked and, it turns out, she wasn’t working for either. Also, on the same piece of literature, Government Department B are named as users of the product. Who are the people who have used the product, she asks, was it officially sanctioned by the department? When was it? Who authorized it?

I have no idea, I say, after all; they are merely contacts on our customer database. They’ve bought the product, but I have little understanding of what was going through their heads when they decided that the product was for them.

She then proceeds to tell me that they should have been authorised centrally and that they have no record of this happening, etc. etc. Unfortunately I can’t tell her who the people are due to the Data Protection Act.

Why is it that people in government departments seem to assume that you know how they work? It’s like you’re being held responsible if they don’t follow their own protocols and bureaucratic processes. I’m very glad for the government; the roads they lay, the lighting they put up, the criminals they catch. But I’m not really interested in the minutiae of their inner workings, or the endless restructuring. If something is not working at their end. That’s surely their problem.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Proud to be black

So what is Music Of Black Origin if its not every genre of popular music over the last 50 years? The key contribution that ‘whites’ have made to popular music (specific individual talents not counting) is the ability to sell music as a product and speed up its tempo so you can’t dance to it without the help of drugs – for this read: speed metal and hard house.

We’ll put aside the questionable racial divisiveness of the set up, the spirit of the MOBOs appears to be to give ‘black music’ a platform and a voice, which assumes black music can be defined and doesn’t currently have a voice (try telling that to Beyonce and Jay Z). It also assumes there to be some sort of clear divide between blacks and whites and that one needs to sell its vision to the other, which may lead to the millionaire Beastie Boys' to question how they've got away with their 20 year career.

It would be easier to accept the MOBOs if the music it represented was absolutely incomprehensible and/or unlistenable because it would, at least, allow music that is otherwise not heard (because it is so unpalatable), to be heard. In fact, MOBO music is so desperate to maintain its mainstream appeal, most of its contenders remain stuck in the Mariah/Whitney school of vocal gymnastics, what was known as ‘soul music’ and is now called RnB despite it having no blues in it and precious little rhythm.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Direct debit

At the football, every substitution (and remember, there can be six in a game) is followed by the legend '...sponsored by Debt Doctor, prescribing a life without debt'. Personally, I'm scared of debt, credit cards in particular. I don't know why, but they seem more sinister than debit cards, like they have hypnotic powers that can seduce you into spending huge amounts of money. I've always steered clear, I don't even know what a 0% balance transfer is.

As a result, aside from a mortgage and car loan, I'm debt free. I suppose I can't really comprehend what a luxurious position that might be, not like the folks featured in the Picture adverts. Pictures, of course, are friendly inviting things, they gently entertain, add mood, invoke deep emotions. Generally, they're positive, which is probably why a it's so odd that its the name of a debt management company.

There are two Picture adverts with the same formula. A family, evidently very happy living in a big beautiful house, call the company. In one it's a man, who has a chat about football with the call centre person whilst his wife, er, follows him around with a video camera. In the second it's the woman on the phone whilst her husband and child shout out asking where things are. 'It's always like this round here' she says with a laugh.

Both families have clearly spent a lot of money on their houses, video cameras etc. and seem so happy with life they must be deluding themselves. Sure enough both are looking for £25,000 loans. Curiously in both the caller cups their hand over the phone to double check with their spouse '25,000?' they mouth silently as though they haven't actually talked about how much they need before the call is made. In both the spouse gives a big smile and a thumbs up, like they're getting free money... which probably explains why the fucking imbeciles are so deep in the shit.

'Woh, that's much less than we're paying at the moment' is the response to the quote. They get off the phone, talk about how friendly and easy it all was, and continue with their blissful carefree lives. A white box then appears on the screen explaining a £25,000 consolidated loan will have total repayments of £42,000. Which is about the equivalent of buying a Vauxhall Astra for the price of a top of the range Mercedes Benz R Class.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tip top laptop

It didn't take much badgering, but I've got a new work laptop. My relationship with the old one was like a marriage gone cold. Once we were inseparable; we'd spend hours just doing stuff, being together. But, like all relationships, the initial zing and excitement was replaced by comfort and security. Gradually though, I started to want something else. It didn't look particularly good, it was getting big and heavy, it never wanted to go and see the big wide world (the USB port was dodgy, and I couldn't get onto the Internet). Eventually we just fell into a routine and stopped going out altogether (it became to heavy to carry around). I have to confess that my eye began to wander, and I found myself attracted to sleeker, slimmer models. Eventually, I walked, for a new Hewlett Packard wotchamadoobey.

Its much sexier, it does exciting things the old one wouldn't do no matter how much I pleaded; we watch DVDs and play around with photographs (in Photoshop). It's better looking, and I'm proud to be seen out with it.

But, y'know, she it doesn't know me like the old one used to. It doesn't know my favourite websites, it doesn't remember my passwords, it does things that are just plain annoying. And beautiful though it is, sometimes I just hanker for the familiarity of my old laptop.

This new laptop, and more specifically, the virgin version of Windows installed on it, is absolutely insistent on checking I'm alright at every turn. Every move generates a little speech bubble; open Explorer and it pings 'did you know you've got some pop-ups that didn't appear', eveytime I fire it up it reminds me that it's got some hidden icons, or that there may be upgrades and do I want to install them now. Nag, nag bloody nag. Don't get me started on the bloody cat it keeps in Word.

Still, I've still got my PowerBook for guilt free, no strings attached fun together.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Try and see it from my angle

It seems that the Bermuda Triangle is losing its powers. The phenomena was one of those things that disappears from your memory until something dislodges the block and causes it all to flood back. In this case it was hearing Barry Manilow on the radio.

When I was small the Bermuda Triangle was a truly scary thing. It literally sucked planes out of the sky, wrecked sturdy tankers and killed all on board. I didn't know where Bermuda was, but it could well have been near Gibraltar, which is near Spain, which is near France which is where my family went on holiday. My life was in real danger.

Now according the Wiki, the most recent major incident was in 1975, and the last incident of any note was 1999. I decided to investigate further, but though Google's number 1 ranked web resource on the subject appears comprehensive, it is also a subtle homage to the triangles powers. Any attempt to navigate it is pointless, before long you'll be lost deep inside its bowels.

Now the Bermuda Triangle is simply rubbish, this site claims a more recent incident but that was five years ago. Comair Flight 5054 got some ice damage on a flight to Orlando, I get more damage on my car parking it outside the house on a Saturday night.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On this day in history

I used to work at home on a Tuesday, the legacy of a study leave arrangement with work. And I actually used to work at home as well, I'd start at 9am, work until 12.30, start again at 1.30 and finish at 5pm.

Mid-morning the phone rang, it was someone from work, they wanted to know if I had some papers with me. I had the phone upstairs, so I ran downstairs to look in my bag. I picked up the downstairs phone to confirm that I did have it.

Completing the call, I went back to work. I only had dial-up, I didn't need constant access to the web. At lunchtime I went downstairs for a sandwich and looked at the news on Ceefax. The third story listed said a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I think it originally said it was a small plane and there were no confirmations of any fatalities. I assumed that this was a regular occurrence, given its minor billing.

I went back to work; at about 4pm I came down to make a cup of tea. Whilst the kettle boiled I flicked on the TV to catch up on the football news. Each channel was awash with pictures of grey rubble. The commentary was talking about a plane hitting the Pentagon. I started to question my own understanding; I thought the Pentagon was in Washington, maybe it was in New York, maybe the World Trade Center was the Pentagon. My initial reaction was denial; hopefully it was just an accident and nobody had been hurt.

I watched on and it became clear what was going on. At some point I went upstairs, and saw that the phone I'd answered in the morning was still off the hook. People had been trying to phone. In part to find out whether I was in London - the fear at the time was that the whole world was under attack and being in London was one of the worst places to be.

My initial reaction was that the perpetrators didn't know who they were messing with. Also that the worst person possible was in charge of any response. Both fears were realised, I guess, looking at the cack-handed reprisals that have materialised.

Emma got home, a plumber came round to do some work, looked at the TV and said 'That's fucking scary isn't it?'. We watched for hours, seeing re-runs of the planes slamming into the towers and then the towers falling. We turned off, or over, I can't remember... it was so horrifyingly boring; if such a thing exists.

I've never written about 9/11 before, I suppose mine is not a very interesting story. But this is the event of our times characterised by its mass participation. The Towers were at the focal point of an island that's more photographed and filmed than any other in the world. The news shot around the world in minutes; the internet allowed the reaction to echo back within seconds. Nobody was a observer, everyone was able to play a part, no other building or city would have had the same impact, no other era could have hosted such a response from everyone from firemen trapped in the rubble to people who forgot to put the phone down. Its this which makes the event obscenely perfect. What were you doing?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Emotional junk mail

I know in these media savvy times that marketing and promotion has to be targeted and edgy. It's got to go to the right person and then induce a response. Its not easy to do and lines to be trod are, as they say, fine.

However, you have to question the promotion that arrived through our door the other day. The NSPCC sent Emma a letter telling her what a wonderful experience becoming a mother is and how special the link between mother and child, but that, did you know, many children are abused - sexually, physically, emotionally etc. All of this was perfectly timed to arrive at the very point many mothers have developed a heightened state of emotional bond with their newborn. Hormones and emotions are not always under control.

To re-inforce the point there was a little book entitled Baby Names, styled like the little books you buy when you're first pregnant. Inside, on each page, was the name of a child and a four line description of the abuse they had received from a cruel relative.

Oh, and then there was an easy to fill in donation form.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As seen on Channel 4 (kinda)

I've changed my web stat counter thingy to Statcounter. It has a filter do-dah which stops your own hits registering (amongst other things). It turns out I have a healthy number of visits per day from people that aren't me.

It didn't start too promisingly, daily visits trickled in, then suddenly last week it went bananas. Looking deeper it turns out that I was getting a tidal wave of visits to this picture of Sam from Beauty and the Geek.

I wasn't at work today. Millie has started nursery this week (at a cost that exceeds our mortgage) and now thinks that putting her feet in the sandpit is the edge of all human experience. Due to a minor but complex childminding issue I can't be bothered to talk about here, I had to take the day off to look after her.

Nursery evidently makes her very tired, because she woke at 6.45am, then after a bottle slept until 12.30. This allowed me to do a bit of work, and watch the TV. Becoming quite nauseous at Jeremy Kyle I turned to Channel 4 to see, you know, Beauty and the Geek. It seems it's being re-run which is probably driving up my traffic. It's what I call the Garraway/Tits experience where a couple of years ago I had an avalanche of hits because I'd put the two words together in a post (that I can't now find).

Not only that, the episode was the last one, the one I missed having watched the series obsessively for weeks when it was screened on E4. The world is perfect don't you think?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Liar liar

We were comparing liars last night, there seems to be three kinds. Firstly, those who lie deceitfully, these are mean and nasty people and, obviously, nobody you know (who are all kind and truthful).

Then there those who lie, or at least stretch the truth, in such a way that ensures they participate in major events (therefore becoming more interesting). For example, I know someone who once went to India and became email friends with someone who worked with someone whose husband was killed in the recent bombings in Mumbai. This meant they apparently had to spend hours on the phone in some kind of undefined relief effort (the trauma she claimed to have suffered was terrible). These people have come out of the woodwork a little more recently with the revelation that one of the July 7th bombers lived in Aylesbury and that the alleged airline plotters were from High Wycombe. Now everyone knows someone who has walked past a shop owned by someone who lives just round the corner from where the investigations are happening.

The best, of course, are those people who start on a story, then, when they don't get the reaction they want embellish and embellish, until, oops, they've gone into the world of obvious fantasy. Our favourites was the woman who claimed a nearby gas explosion blew her tights off, this was the same women who claimed she was feeding some exotic birds for a friend that were so big, when you went in they would put their enormous wings around you in some kind of thankful hug. There was also my dad's friend from school who used to excuse himself from going out because he was competing in the national moped championships at Wembley, or because Bob Dylan was coming round for tea.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

F off

I hated The F Word, which finished slightly too long ago for me to write about it with any credibility.

[pauses, thinks, shrugs, carries on]

The basic problem with any cookery programme is that you can't taste the food. No matter how closely a show's guest exudes simple orgasmic pleasure from tasting the partridge and banana fricassee you will never know what it will taste like.

So, the next best thing is to be equipped with the information to make the dish in order to taste it. A recipe supported with some instructions on what goes where, Deliah Smith style. Ramsay dispenses with such triviality; he cooks, sure, but he doesn't tell you what he's cooking or how. So, stripped of any value, the programme is little more than self-conciously over-styled claptrap fronted by a man who says fuck. A lot. This is the essence of the programme. Oh, and killing the pigs he's raised as pets in front of his kids, which may actually be child abuse.

Pig killing and swearing aside, he also instigated his own campaign; clearly smarting from Jamie Oliver's ascendance to deity status with his school dinners thing. The best that Ramsay came up with was an amnesty on cookery books. So not only does the programme fail to enrich us with any cooking knowledge; it tries to take away some that we have.

Personally, I would like to see Ramsay campaigning on something useful; like Casseroles or human cheese. The casserole, we're told, is a good wholesome dinner; warming and tasty. This defies all modern logic; a food can't be good when you put all the ingredients in the same pot and cook it for days. And then there's human cheese. A baby can't drink cow's milk but a baby can only drink milk whereas humans drink almost exclusively cow's milk. This doesn't make any sense. Why do we drink cow's milk? Would you find it odd to watch a cow suckling a human? Of course, shouldn't we, as humans, be drinking human milk? And therefore human cheese? I did start to Google this, but what you find quickly becomes unpleasant.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The olds town

We had an evening meeting in Newcastle to put out a small work related forest fire. After an unexpectedly swift and positive conclusion we retired for a celebratory drink.

Our fifty-something, perhaps sixty-something, Geordie host and guide walked us down to a pub by the river, but not before admiring the 'winking eye' bridge and more specifically, it's hydraulic action.

Eventually we entered a pub with thundering pop-dance being played over the PA. The four of us had a combined age of around 190, the average reduced significantly by the presence of me and a colleague, not that this seemed to matter to the man who could have been the father to those around him. We were surrounded by immaculately dressed twenty-somethings, like an explosion at the cleavage factory. And this was a Thursday. The art of dressing up to go out was briefly lamented before leaving.

Having had only a sandwich, and it approaching 9pm, most of us were in that funny place between needing food and being OK for the time being. We decided to get a quick snack. We were lead over the winking eye bridge to Gateshead an old flour mill which was now a swish restaurant. It was closed.

The need for food was then apparently forgotten because we decided we needed to see the Sage Gateshead. Our host, an engineer obsessed with engineering (and not apparently food), took us through the minutiae of its construction before persuading a sleepy night porter to show us around one of the empty auditoriums.

We crossed back over to Newcastle and headed, finally, for something to eat. It was getting on for 10pm and we only wanted a snack, so we were met with a plethora of brilliant excuses for not serving us; my personal favourite being 'sorry we can't serve an espresso with a starter after 9.30, I have to go on a course for that'.

After several false starts and another stopover for a drink, we were accepted at Big Mussel for a half kilo bowl. We then strolled back towards our hotel, but not before quickly going to see the the nearby station, which just happened to have a bar in it.

Eventually we got back to the hotel for a final drink. That was a night out in Newcastle as defined by a semi-retired engineer. In structure, it was rather alien to me; we'd had about 4 drinks in about 8 pubs and one meal from 6 attempts. All of which was less unusual than returning home with an unhealthy understanding of the engineering merits of the city's finest landmarks.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Facing reality

'Would you want to be on Big Brother?' said Jo as Big Brother ground to its inevitable conclusion. 'Nah' said Lucy resignedly 'the public would hate me, I'm an acquired taste.'

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Nik off

A Big Brother contestant is like a pot of Yoghurt. Whilst kept inside its sealed container it's at its best. Once released, and exposed to the open air, it needs to be consumed quickly before it goes off and tastes like crap.

Which is why Nikki's reintroduction to the Big Brother house is such a disaster. Contaminated by the outside world she's spoiling all those still inside.

What is the point of re-introducing housemates? The final week should be like the last stage of the Tour de France, which is always a celebratory cruise through the streets of Paris. The competition should effectively be over, no more shocks or twists. And there is nothing better than having three emotionally drained people self conciously trying to have the time of their lives in an empty TV studio on the penultimate night.

Meanwhile, Glyn has turned into a proper turd in recent weeks. He hasn't been exposed to the outside world, although in a sense he has. He now realises that people are divided into more categories than just 'Welsh' and 'Others'.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Evenin' all

Odd being an evening-only invite to a wedding. The official history will not record your appearance unless the bride and groom have paid a little extra for a bit of reportage evening photography. Your existence is largely inconsequential; the important people are the ones who have been there all day. This is not a bad thing; not everyone can be special, and anyone who expects an all-day pass really has too high an opinion of themselves, unless you're the parents who've paid for the thing, of course. 

An evening-only guest has their own issues to deal with. What to wear? A suit may suggest that you expected an invite to the real deal, jeans are too casual. Maybe the more experienced fifty-something men at the bar (wives on the dancefloor, barefooted, swaying out of time in a sequin dress) have got it right by playing it down the middle in a pair of comfy slacks and a nice polo shirt (St Christopher chain optional).

Ingratiating yourself into the party is hard. Drink-wise, you're miles behind everyone else; meaning ascendance to the dance floor for a bit of Dexy's is somewhat slower than the more oiled all-dayers. What's more, a well-oiled all-dayer is more likely to sling a friendly, but wholly offensive; "you fucking boring bastard" at you for not sidling dancefloor-wise with appropriate gusto. When the wedding DJ says "let's take a walk down to Itchycoo Park with the Small Faces and a song they call [pause] Itchycoo Park" you want to heckle, or at least laugh until snot comes out of your nose, but you instead find yourself agreeing with some random uncle that the DJ is really good. You then pray he doesn't put his arm around you to encourage you to join in with a bit of "It's all too beautiful" whilst Uncles pint sloshes over your head. The DJ on Saturday announced that the buffet was open and then cut into the next record to tell us that he was enjoying his bacon sandwich from it. He also air guitar-ed to McFly.

Being more sober than pretty much everyone; your graces remain largely intact, social mores suggest you should pick out the happy couple to congratulate them, but by this point they're not together (in parallel with the aforementioned slacks-and-polo-shirt couple; bride, on dancefloor beaming, groom, resting pint on his belly near the bar or avoiding eye-contact with Mum's Best Friend who wants to slow dance with him to Careless Whisper). Anyway, you know they have more important things to do, so keeping your distance is probably more appropriate. Even if you do talk to them the conversation is flighty, superficial and half finished; of course it is, they've got hundreds of people to get through. If the bride beams at you and wraps her arms around you in a wave of unbridled euphoria; you can't then start saying that you've got a bit of a cold and are feeling under the weather. Tell her she looks beautiful and ask her whether she's had a great day, and then leave it at that.

Still, you don't have any lines to remember and you're don't contribute to the plot (unless your way of congratulating the bride is by squeezing her bum and trying to stick your tongue down her throat). And at least you're not the Philippino second wife/twenty something toy-boy of octogenarian great aunt/drunk in a trilby at the reception who nobody knows.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Little Britain

It was the Ruffles' first family holiday this week. We stayed at the stunningly beautiful Pennard Hill Farm in Somerset. Resisting the temptation to call it a baby farm, which is something entirely different, it is designed to be baby friendly. This doesn't mean that it's all primary colours, face painting and teenage X-Factor rejects enthusiastically singing the theme tune to the Tweenies; it's just designed for people like us. Well, sort of, the other people staying there, who you would assume to be like us, had children called Florence and Sicily (aka 'Sistles').

The farm's whole approach is to avoid damaging children; its remoteness makes it completely safe, they have a 'eat at home' service; which is basically restaurant food delivered to your door. Even the pool is chlorine-free, it's cleaned by ultra violet lay lines or something. This meant that Millie had her first swim, which after a wobbly start she seemed to enjoy; until her daddy got a little over enthusiastic and bobbed her a too close to the surface of the water causing her to swallow half the pool and do the saddest little face ever.

Pennard Hill Farm is just round the corner (and up the hill) from Worthy Farm. Owned by Michael Eavis. Who organises the festival. The Glastonbury Festival. The farm overlooks the site though you wouldn't know it. Its not far from Burnham-on-Sea which is a classic crumbling English seaside town, which I truly wanted to enjoy. If you're a black and white photographer working for the Guardian it's probably a dream, if you're a visitor, it's pretty shit. Pound shops nestle amongst places selling fried things, fat people waddle around in England shirts and nasty gold jewellery. Part of me wants to love its English charm, but I just don't.

Having been to the festival but not the town, inevitably we also went into Glastonbury, which was much more my thing. It was full of women dressed in the fashion that fashion forgot; floaty skirts, black vest tops, leather flip flops. The men wore long wispy beards and t-shirts with purple unicorns on them. The shops are, as you'd expect, are all new agey, selling witchcraft and miscellaneous healing.

The common thing about both towns was their predicability and that they appear economically unsustainable (how can a whole town function on selling chipped porcelain dogs or healing algae?) You do start to wonder whether you're in the Truman Show that they're sophisticatedly branded theme parks, like Disney World with grit. In fact, when the fortieth numpty family blocks the pushchair whilst admiring tan leather sandals for 7.99 (for two pairs) you start to wonder whether you're being delayed whilst they set up the latest scene.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Brand new and retro

It's been Russel Brand's summer, some of his best bits:

On Jonathan Ross:

JR "You've been in trouble with the police haven't you. Tell me about that."
RB: "Well Jonathan, the thing about this story is that although you may admire my rehabilitation from my addiction to drugs I fear that by quoting the first line of this story your opinions of me will change for the negative."
JR: "Go on"
RB: "Well, I was stealing pornographic magazines from a garage..."

On Big Brother's Big Mouth:

RB: "What do you think?"
Audience member: "About [Big Brother contestant] Richard?"
RB "Yes about Richard, not about people having sex with animals we'll talk about that when we're older" [turns to stare wide eyed at the camera]

In his Guardian World Cup column:

Rooney is at least keen, even were he not so sublimely blessed. His touchingly apparent frustration mirrors the fans' and he has a crackling authenticity no amount of media training can emolliate. If he carried Max Clifford around in a knapsack relentlessly muttering into his constantly incarnadine lughole he'd still eff and blind and lash out at dug-outs.

How many pairs of boots did he remove on Tuesday? Every time the camera cut back to him he was petulantly tossing aside another boot. Was Sammy Lee acting as an obsessive-compulsive blacksmith re-shoeing him to prolong the outburst. It went on interminably. "There's Rooney throwing down his boots in disgust." It was like a tantrum from a centipede.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A bit rich

Emma’s family are obsessed with Premium Bonds. When they all meet up they chat about who’s won what (inevitably nobody has won anything). Even dewy eyed musings about future prosperity is described in the context of Premium Bonds; ‘I’ll go and live on a paradise island when I’ve won the Premium Bonds’.

Inevitably, Millie was bought some as a present when she was born. Being just 12 weeks old, her first draw was last week… she won £50.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The loonies at work

Work is full of charlatans. They're pretty easy to spot. Charlatan salesmen always use too many words in their sentences. This is to prevent you from butting in and telling them to go away. When you pick up the phone and hear "How are you on this very fine day today?" you know you've got someone who is either crap at selling, or selling crap.

Then there are people who have jobs which have made up words to validate their existence. Made up words distances the user from those who might question their purpose. This week I was working with a knowledge management specialist who continuously patronised me when I offered some possible alternative approaches to get her failing project back on track. The problem was that I knew nothing about knowledge management, apparently. She pulled out a 'brilliant book on the subject I should read' (for this read: I've read it, well I've bought it, please don't read it you might find me out). As I always do in situations like this, I opened the book and read the contents to show polite interest. The opening chapter was titled The massification of knowledge.

Then there are problem orientated people. These are people unable to offer any solutions, but are good at offering problems. One senior manager I work with complains about our culture and communications (always a good one for senior managers to complain about). In recent time he's successfully identified that we have an email culture (which is too impersonal), a meeting culture (too unproductive), a water cooler culture (too gossipy), a bottom up culture (not strategic enough) and a top down culture (no engagement or buy-in). Next week we will be communicating only in semaphore.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

No Irish, no dogs, no blacks

Wiggaz is an old old friend but we don't meet up as much as we should. Last night we managed to find a suitable date. We wanted a beer in the evening, so we went to to find a suitable venue.

We settled on The Cricketers at Littlewick Green. Not least because of this review from one John Bonser...

"Splendid country pub a couple of miles west of Maidenhead just off the A4, situated in a pretty village overlooking the cricket green. No real fire on our visit yesterday - we were sitting outside in the warm summer sunshine, enjoying a fine lunch. No scumbags or lager louts in sight, just friendly locals and visitors like ourselves. Note the exceptionally large factory clock in the main bar. This pub is highly recommended - well worth seeking out."
He was right, there were no scumbags or lager louts, one or two people from Honda Maidenhead, but they kept themselves to themselves.

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