Friday, August 01, 2014

In which one examines the possibility of a small bird flying through your car window at 30mph

You know what they say: "Freakishly big feet, massive beak"
So, driving home this afternoon from the early early shift and looking forward to a few hours zzz-ing on the sofa, when I happen on the charming village of Hartley "Don't call us Witney" Wintney.

Slowing the Silver Hornet down to observe the speed limit because I am a responsible driver who takes a dim view of killing people TO DEATH, there is a blur of motion to my right and something spangs me on the shoulder and into the back seat of the car.

And pulling over, I find a very small bird sitting stunned among the dog hairs and tangled lap belts, with a look on its face that is very much "What in the name of shittery just happened there?"

Degree of difficulty: 30mph, open window, loud 1990s indie rock. Even the most dimwitted member of the Tufty Club must have seen me coming before trying to cross the road.

I am a nice person, so I coax the wren out on a tea towel (and the picture really doesn't do justice to how small it really was), and give him/her its freedom. It does not thank me.

In fact, there is fury in those eyes. Just look.



That's the last time I help out any member of the animal world that throws itself through my car windows. Next time they're walking home.

In summary: BIRD.

Cooper Temple Clause. Yes.


FACT: I used to work with Ben Gautrey's mum. She was right chuffed with her lad.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Proof our society is doomed: Part 2,912

I present "Mum & Me: Bump Smooth and Glow Pregnancy Shampoo", newly on the market from a bunch of chancers who need a new way of making money.

There is also Pregnancy Conditioner, because you pregnant women have been washing your hair wrong for all these years, and you don't care about your baby, do you?

I await the day we see car polish for the inside of your hubcaps, because all you car owners are doing it wrong as well.

Society is doomed.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Too damn hot: A tale of mirth and woe


I once vowed that I would never, ever complain about being too damn cold. It being too damn hot right now, I pretty much stick by this vow, right up to the moment later this year when gets too damn cold then I will forget I ever made that vow and complain like a bastard.

It was a vow made in haste, one summer's evening in Reading, when I and my former wife decided that it was be a great idea - with temperatures somewhere up in three figures - to go for a carvery meal at the local Harvester.

I bloody love a carvery meal. Jane, however, was born with sense and good taste and is trying to wean me off them, so I am forced to resort to stealth carveries, tables at which are booked 'by mistake' and hey - look at the vegetarian option - it's pasta and red sauce! This usually results in the Angry Pinched Face, at which we are both experts.

If I ever end up in hospital, I have already noted there is a Toby Carvery next door to Frimley Park, so I shall be down there, my drip on a trolley, bum hanging out of my gown, demanding that they stack me up with the three-bird roast, and don't skimp on the potatoes.

Carvery meals are up there with egg and chips, cheese on toast, Heinz Cream of Tomato soup, and I will fight any man who says otherwise. The layers of carvery fat will save me as the blows rain down on my pudgy body.

So, a mid-July Sunday, pavements so hot you could cook a steak, and me of the ex decided to go down to Whitley and stuff ourselves with the finest meats that Harvester had to offer.

Now, anybody who knows Reading knows one thing about that part of town: The Whitley Whiff. It was the smell of the nearby sewage works, compared with the delightful stench coming out of the Courage brewery, to make one distinctive pong for which Ricky Gervais got a decent 15 minutes of stand up comedy.

On that day, the Whiff was the worst it has ever been - every turd dropped in Reading in the last month or so was exposed to baking sun, and mixed with the wort wafting off Courage's, grown men were puking in the streets.

I know, because I was one of them.

We sat in the restaurant as waiting staff wilted, the chef stood in front of a grill saying "Sod this for a laugh" as another order for scorched meat came in, and more and more fools turned up to sit cheek-by-jowl in a packed eaterie where there was not one jot of ventilation, but plenty of antique farm implements fixed to the walls. If a fight ever broke out there, it would be a massacre.

Despite ordering everything off the menu, I probably lost a good couple of pounds in weight in there, all seeping out of bodily pores and down the back of my neck. And when I sweat, I'm like [inappropriate Jimmy Savile/Rolf Harris gag goes here].

Emerging from the Harvester, full to the gills with prawn cocktail, well-done steak and chips, something from the dessert menu, and a nice coffee on top of a pint of Strongbow, I was sweating like the proverbial pig as the Whiff caught me full in the face.

"Yarch," I said with some gusto.

"Yarch," I repeated, with rather less gusto, but rather more volume.

Ten minutes later, with the air conditioning roaring away like hell in the old Austin Allegro, I vowed never to complain about being too damn hot. But right now I'm too damn hot, so stuff that promise.

I made no such vow regarding carvery meals, and you will have to hold me at knife-point to get one out of me. And even then I'd have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The parting of the teeth

"That's aces"

After a lifetime of dodging the bullet, to the dental hygienist, where I am ushered into a room full of torture equipment and advertisements for electric toothbrushes.

On the hottest day of the year, I am confronted by a small man with wispy hair, his smock done up tightly to his neck, looking for all the world like one of those small men with wispy hair that star as demented surgeons in slasher horror films about unnecessary surgery. In front of him is a tray of torture devices, all hooks and picks, fastidiously sorted – I note – by size, the sure sign of a demented surgeon with a byline in unnecessary surgery, for which people pay £47 a pop.

He has a radio in the corner of his tiny room, not playing Radio 1 or 2 or Heart FM like the other surgeons in the practice. This is playing Wagner, music to scrape teeth by.

"Do you floss?" he asks.

"Yes," I lie, but he sees right through me, and prepares his implements.

I take myself to my special place – a beach on a Pacific island where I once sat and escaped the madness of the world for one beautiful afternoon – and only emerged once he had done his worst.

There was mercifully little blood.

For the first time I notice that there is rather less teeth in my mouth than twenty minutes' previously. In fact, he has scraped off so much tartar and associated crap from my mouth that there are actual gaps between my teeth where there were none before.

"Mur?" I ask, not quite knowing how my mouth works now, but inside I am all:

 "You really should floss," he says to me, pointing a hooky thing at my face as if to say "This can go up your nose and whip your brains out like a dead pharoah, no problem at all."

"Sell me some floss," I say, not wanting my brains whipped out of my nostrils like a dead pharoah. "Do you take a cheque?"

"Yes, make it out to Dr Lecter."

I flee.

"See you in six months?"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Car Crash Flashback


Oh, the humanity

Home from work and straight to bed, for those 5.15am starts are a killer. Blocking out the sound of the school disco going on next door with a pile of soft furnishings on top of my head, I drift into unconsciousness.

Of COURSE, the phone is going to ring the second you're finally asleep.

"Hello, this is Ricardo from the insurance legal department, I'm ringing about a car crash."

I am awake, my panic button well and truly pressed, for I have not been in a car crash for years, nor have I knowingly been the witness to one. Had a few near misses, mind you. What's the insurance legal department got on me?

"Which car crash is this?" I ask.

"We need to take a few personal details," says Ricardo, clearly reading from a script and he's having problems with the words longer than a single syllable.

"Which car crash is this?" I ask again, safe now in the knowledge that he doesn't even know my name, the only thing he has in front of him is a list of phone numbers of potential marks. 

It's a mystery: I haven't even done anything to get me on the con merchants' list, unless you count that time I helped that Nigerian prince move £8m out of the country, but that was purely legit.

But Ricardo presses on, probably fully aware of what's to come.

"It was an accident you had in England and Wales between now and 2012," he reads, thinking this is adequate explanation. It is not. I am tired. This prick has woken me up from a dream about sexy ghosts.

"Oh, piss off Ricardo."

He does not call back.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My big plan to make the Olympics more fun



The Rio 2016 website reminds us that the next summer games are only two years away. It also shows us this picture, which illustrates – very wrongly – what they think BMX riding might be.

 
 If the carry on their preparations in this manner, one or two athletes might be in for a shock when they turn up for their events.

And herein lies my big plan to make the Olympics – both summer and winter – exactly 253% more fun.

  1. Everybody qualifies for the games in their own sports as normal
  2. They turn up in Rio fully trained and with all their kit ready to go
  3. Their name is drawn out of the hat, and they are assigned a random sport in which to compete
  4. ???
  5. PROFIT! (Also: TOP COMEDY)
Can you imagine?

A weightlifter sinking to the bottom of the pool during the synchro swimming

Boxers forced to wear full kit for the table tennis

The weeds from the clay shooting forced to run the marathon (at the point of their own guns in necessary)

Hammer throwers doing that thing with the ribbons and the hoops in the rhythmic gymnastics

Absolutely anybody who doesn't do ski jumping doing the ski jumping

Lord Coe should get on the blower and bring the whole thing back to London where it belongs. We've done a reasonably successful games – now watch as we mess it up in supreme style.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Baxter Prophecy

Raymond Baxter: Gentleman. Prophet.

Back in 1980 or 1981 – I can't remember to be honest, and the year isn't hugely important anyway – our school was visited by one of the gods of British television: Raymond Baxter.

The host of BBC1's Tomorrow's World, the name inspired awe in teenagers of a certain geek level and made Thursday nights (TW and Top of the Pops) the highlight of the week. The only problem for me was that the former fighter pilot turned affable old-school television presenter would only be addressing the Sixth Form. I was not in the Sixth Form. Disappointment loomed.

"Good news, Coleman," said my tutor Mr Delaney, "They're letting one person from each middle school group go to the talk. Do you want to go?"

"Shit, yes, sir!"

"Beg pardon?"

"I said 'yes sir'."

Everybody called Mr Delaney 'Donkey'. We only called him this because on our first day he told everybody that his nickname was 'Donkey' (after the Val Doonican song), and we were forbidden ON PAIN OF DEATH of every uttering the D-word in his presence. So, in an early manifestation of the Streisand Effect, even other teachers called him Donkey, often to his face.

"Shit, yes, sir!"

"You'll have to dress up, though," he warned me. Sixth-formers at Piggott had to wear a suit to school, and I was going through a phase of scruffy jumper and school tie knotted to the size of Mike Tyson's fist. "Have you got a school blazer?"

I did not have a school blazer, but my brother did, so come the day of the Baxter visit it was dressed up like a proper toff for the first and only time in my entire secondary school career. And like a proper toff and a swat I planted myself in the front row in the sixth form block, pad at the ready to take notes for my report on the great man's speech. Think Will from The Inbetweeners, briefcase wanker.

And so Baxter arrived to much glad-handing from teachers who were pleased to have caught such a prestigious scalp, who had travelled al the way from his home about two miles away. Two miles! Celebrities in our midst! (We also had singer Mary Hopkin living in a house behind a huge hedge down our road, and Kenny Everett across the fields and down by the river, but to have Raymond Baxter too, well...)

And then he spoke. At length.

I, for one, was hoping for jolly japes about the making of Tomorrow's World and how he might have snapped off Judith Hann's hair after freezing it in liquid nitrogen for a laugh*. Or winding up James Burke behind the scenes with the latest in high-tech killer robots**. Or perhaps rollocking tales of his time as a WWII fighter pilot, giving Jerry at damn good thrashing in his daring raids on V-2 sites***. Or...

Nope.

Instead he told us about a future where resources were running short, our country – North Sea Oil exhausted – becoming dependent on other producers while science scrabbled for alternative sources, as governments and business clung grimly to the oil and gas they know and love. All this at a time when man-made pollution and population expansion would cause climactic and food supply crises.

"Perhaps not in my lifetime, but possibly in yours," he intoned gravely, to a quiet room.

Boring, this young teen thought to himself, slamming shut his notepad with hardly a word written.

But I still went and did the celebrity thing, because that's what you do. I got his autograph, told him I was in the Scouts, and he urged me to use my bright young future to work towards solving the future problems that he had spoken about.

So far, I haven't.

Raymond Baxter was, in fact, one of the first famous people I had ever met, and I was a bit overawed by the whole experience. He he remains one of a growing list of well-known people I have encountered that prove "Never meet your heroes" to be the complete rubbish that it truly is. Douglas Adams, Lenny Henry, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Norden, Spike Milligan - take a bow if you're still breathing enough to do so. 

"So," said Donkey the next day, "Was it any good? What did he say?"

"He said we're all going to die, sir."

But he was right. So very, very right. I should have listened.

* He never did this
** Nor this
*** But he certainly did this

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A couple of reviews

Midge Ure: The sideburns are gone



You know how I am with Ultravox and the relentless praise of all connected to my favourite 80s band. However, I've never really found myself at home with Midge Ure's solo career - I bought The Gift in the mid-80s, but didn't find myself enthused by subsequent works.

That is - as they say on Tomorrow's World - until now. Like Alison Moyet's comeback album of this year (The Minutes), both have rediscovered their electronic roots and come up with something that takes 40-somethings like me back to what we nostalgically call "the day".

Fragile, then, is a collection of songs and instrumentals which show Midge back in love with music. Surely it's no coincidence that both he and Ultravox partner in crime Billy Currie have put out spanking good albums immediately after their Ultravox reunion. More of this kind of thing, I say.

Many highlights on the disc, but the one I liked least on first listen (Are We Connected?) is the one that won't leave my head; while the instrumental Wire and Wood makes a confident play for all TV and film incidental music for the next year.

Eight Viennas out of Ten, with a Vienetta for pudding

_____________________________________


I'm often asked to review books, and this - err - tale of niche interest piqued my curiosity.

It's a comic novel about a dowdy pensioner forced to abandon her hopes of making it as a serious writer to make ends meet through the medium of filth, and her adventures in finding out exactly what said filth should contain.

In this world of Fifty Shades po-faced mummy porn, it's good to have something out there proudly poking fun at the genre and proud of the fact that it's pure, daft comedy. Adapted from an initial novella and its sequel - both of which have sold reasonably well to good reviews - Rosen's pulled it all together, fleshed it out and ...err... whipped together a comic novel in its own right.

Essentially a story of middle class embarrassment in the face of farcial odds, I'd be the first to admit it wasn't quite my taste of Viagra-spiked tea, but I stuck with it to the satisfying conclusion, and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments.

A fun, light read if you're into that kind of thing. (For eg, granny sex comedy)