Friday, December 07, 2007

Siamese Geordies

After watching odds and bits of I’m a Celebrity… over recent weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that I actually quite like ‘Antandec’. (I’ll refer to them as a single entity as their careers are fused together like Siamese twins with any attempt to separate them proving fatal for both.)

Highbrow TV critics have gone into paroxysms of anguish struggling to explain their appeal. This anguish stems mainly from the fact that they’re impossible to intellectualise and their appeal comes from very little more than the fact that they’re thoroughly likeable chaps. They don’t have to be necessarily good at their jobs (though they do them to a perfectly adequate degree) because they have a rare element of likeability. Tommy Cooper had the same quality; he wasn’t a good magician and his jokes were crap, but everyone thought he was ace anyway.

It doesn’t harm that ‘Antandec’ possess an ability to appear perpetually young. Splitting them into their constituent parts for a moment, Dec manages to achieve this slightly better than Ant (you’d almost put money on him having a portrait of himself in his attic which ages at a normal rate), while Ant seems to struggle a little more with the passage of time. I can’t work out whether his forehead is getting higher, or his eyes are getting lower. At their current rate they’ll be around the same level as his mouth by the time he’s 40 and he wouldn’t look out of place in the bar scene in Star Wars.

Despite the strange facial arrangement of one of them, ‘Antandec’ are successful, wealthy, likeable and seemingly immortal. Bastards… Actually, scrub the opening line of this blog entry. I’ve decided I don’t like them anymore now.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Shrinking Choc

“30% less fat!” screamed the legend emblazoned across the wrapper of the “new and improved” low-fat chocolate-orange bar that constituted my elevenses this morning. Co-incidentally, it also happened to be 70% of the size of its predecessor. I’m not fooled…

Monkey Business

While watching a trailer for Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong the other day (depicting the scene in which the eponymous anti-hero protects his human captive by beating a Tyrannosaurus Rex into submission in front of a savage jungle backdrop), my none-too-impressed wife offered the following light-hearted critique:

“That’s what ruined it: fucking dinosaurs. As if a big monkey wasn’t enough…”

And quite right, too. Once again, she encapsulates in thirteen words what would take me many more.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bad Dreams

For as long as I can remember though I’ve been suffering from really bad dreams. Not the sort where you find yourself being systematically disemboweled by hordes of bloodthirsty zombies etc., but bad as in really arse-crunchingly boring ones.

Many of my dreams are concerned with everyday humdrum events as ironing shirts or going shopping, or just going about my uneventful business without anything outlandish happening. I dreamt I was in a zoo the other night with my good lady wife and our two kids. Nothing really happened; we saw some monkeys and sea lions, and even met some of the keepers. Which was nice. Then I woke up.

Last night’s was a bit of a break from the norm though: I dreamt was helping Shakin’ Stevens incorporate a Direct Debit facility on his website. I know Shaky hasn’t released a single for many a year and any kind of facility to purchase his music online is wildly optimistic on his part given his dated style and limited appeal to the modern listener. In addition, I’m not a programmer and wouldn’t have a clue how to go about it anyway.

The jury’s out as to what dreams actually are and what their purpose is, though Freud’s theory that every dream is a journey into the unconscious which reveals our deepest desires is arguably the most popular. However, despite the lack of any better explanation, I’m still disinclined to believe him. I certainly have no desire to help Welsh ‘80s rockabilly pop stars create transactional websites, especially given my other half’s schoolday daydreams already documented in this blog. Believe me, a resurgence in his public profile is the last thing I want, lest he tempt my better half away by flinging open his “green doors” and exhibiting his trademark hot-shoe-shuffle. I fear she’d be powerless to resist…

Monday, November 19, 2007

Farmers' Market(ing)

There’s an oft-quoted figure (that I can’t find after a cursory few minutes’ Googling) that the average person is exposed to X-thousand marketing messages every day. Everywhere you look there are people advertising their wares through a variety of media, from billboards to sandwich boards, small-screen to big-screen (and back again to the tiny screens on mobile phones), and the usual glut of printed media, etc.

When living in London, my daily journey to work probably contained a healthy proportion of these as I encountered a multitude of ads on Tube trains, station platforms, copies of Metro, clothing and bag logos etc.

Nowadays however, in a refreshing departure from this bombardment, if you discount the local Texaco garage and whatever manufacturer’s emblem happens to be stuck onto the rear of the car in front of me, the number of marketing messages I encounter on my journey to work totals nine. These are (in order):

Shooting Supplies
Mr Chips
Farm Shop
Wilja Potatoes
Tack Shop Now Open
OPEN 4 B’EASTS – I think it actually says “B’FASTS” (breakfasts) but the eyes play tricks
Estima Potatoes £7
Boot Sale
Tea Rooms

You know you’re in the country when the amount of adverts you encounter on your journey to work is less than double figures, and two of them are for different varieties of spud.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pumping Up Tyres

In these uncertain times where the modern world is besieged with tales of zealotry, unhappiness and man’s inhumanity to man, it’s heartening to know that the taste for more people-related news stories is alive and well.

Maybe that’s why, in amongst the stories of murder retrials and terrorist extraditions on the BBC News site today, the most read story was Bike Sex Man Placed On Probation.

It’s about a man who got caught having intercourse with a bicycle.

Arts And Minds

The human brain, and its method of information storage, is a mysterious thing. What governs the hierarchy of facts and trivia accumulated as you tootle through life? Who is the miniature cerebral librarian who dutifully files away all the informational flotsam and jetsam gathered daily? Why are some entirely useless nuggets of data instantly retrievable while others, which are much more important, are yanked consciouswards like a difficult tooth extraction?

Everyone knows useless trivia. For instance, my brain has stored the facts that Charles & Eddie’s (“Would I like to you?”) surnames are Pettigrew and Chacon respectively, the word ‘ucalegon’ means a neighbour whose house is on fire, and the guitarist from Swing Out Sister hates celery (he was quoted in No. 1 magazine in the mid-'80s as saying he hated the “sight, smell and crunch of it”).

However, ask me to work out percentages without the aid of the little % button on the calculator though and suddenly I am transformed back to school via a cheap wibbly-screen Dr Who effect. Is it the big number divided by the small number or the other way around? There’s a 50/50 chance of getting it right and irrespective of whether I guess right or not, it will almost certainly be instantly forgotten again.

But how can this important and extremely useful fragment of knowledge jostle for cerebellum space with the facts that Midge Ure’s birthday is the 10th of October, the cow that’s cut in half at the end of Apocalypse Now was a real cow, and the red jumpers Neil Buchanan wears on Art Attack cost upwards of £100 each time as they’re made from a special ‘TV-friendly’ wool (red is the colour which causes the most problems when broadcast)?

Incidentally, I’ve always thought that Art Attack is probably the least sensitively named show on telly. Naming a kid’s programme after a life-threatening medical affliction is more than a little questionable; it doesn’t matter how good a pun it is. Other shows don’t feel the need to employ such a blatant disregard for such serious conditions (with the possible exception of Diff’rent Strokes).

Actually, I noticed recently that Neil is looking much older these days, having been on the show since the early ‘90s, and long may his TV tenure continue. Perhaps one day he'll reach the point where he has a heart attack while creating an “art attack” on Art Attack. Now that’s irony.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Ambulance Than Ambience

While pootling around a supermarket recently, it struck me that the world of household air fresheners seems to have gone a bit weird, with Glade and Ambi-Pur etc. having to develop more and more elaborate names for their scents. Gone are clichéd labels like Summer Meadow and Autumn Spice in favour of increasingly specific labels like Indian Massage, Oriental Secret Garden and the odd-sounding Festival in Tuscany.

I have no idea what a festival in Tuscany is supposed to smell like, though presumably Glade are unlikely to promote an air freshener that smells of sweaty old locals drunk on Grappa. Maybe there are corresponding fragrances in Northern Italy called Festival in Glastonbury where Italian nostrils are assaulted with odours reminiscent of hash, regurgitated cider and human excrement.

While we’re on the subject, there’s an ad on TV at the moment for a plug-in air freshener that doubles as a light, filling a room with both puffs of scent and soft illumination, delivering an alternate red and green glow. What the manufacturers seem to have overlooked however, is that, while filling the room with floral aromas is appealing, not many people want a shitty-looking plastic light in the corner of the room drawing attention to itself like a malfunctioning emergency light. I’m no market researcher, but in the Venn diagram depicting the appeal of a) pleasant smells, and b) a shitty plastic light, the circles would barely intersect.

There’s a similar product from some other company which flickers like a candle when you turn it on, creating the faux-ambience of a naked flame. No doubt because everyone knows how expensive and difficult-to-light candles are…

If I want to buy an air freshener, I’ll buy an air freshener. If I want to buy a lamp or candle I’ll buy a lamp or candle. They’re hardly luxury products out of the reach of most people. These air-freshener/light combos are reminiscent of sporks (the spoon/fork hybrid popularised by Spud-U-Like which, while purporting to be serviceable as two separate items of cutlery, actually fails to be useable as either).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Going Up In Smoke

After thirty-three previous November 5ths in which I can’t claim to have set light to anything, I broke my fireworks duck this year with a less-than-spectacular pyrotechnic display in the back garden.

Gingerly brandishing a lighter at a succession of fuses at arm’s length and scampering back the regulation five metres, the £20 box of Garden Fireworks resulted in a Technicolor display which dazzled the family (and assembled garden life – hedgehogs and the like) for what seemed like minutes, firing miniature balls of coloured flame sometimes literally metres into the air where they swiftly fizzed, popped and died.

I couldn’t help but feel a bit of “fireworks-envy” though as I noticed that neighbours seemed to possess much more impressive combustibles which ka-boomed with twice the noise and exploded with a spectrum of colours that weren’t present in ours. However, as everyone knows, it’s not the size of your firework, it’s how you ignite it that counts.

Sydney 2000 it wasn’t, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. There’s an inherent pleasure to be had at setting light to things (which is sadly, for the most part, legally limited to Bonfire Night and barbeques.)

Now, with my first “display” under my belt I feel confident I can upgrade to more spectacular efforts. If the Olympics ever came to a small village in Wiltshire, I’d be more than happy to offer my services for the closing ceremony, standing in the middle of a 100,000 seater stadium (of which there are countless examples around here) with a couple of Roman candles and thumb poised on a Bic. Hang on to your hats ladies and gents, and prepare to “ooh!” and “aah!”

As a brief aside, it was miles better than those Indoor Fireworks which were around years ago: my only memory of them was watching a small spiral object that half-resembled a mosquito coil and half-resembled a dog turd splutter unspectacularly on a coffee table, much to the disappointment of the kids that encircled it. Setting fire to real dog shit would have been much more fun.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hirsutes You Sir

Lately I have joined the ranks of a special club of men whose age necessitates the need for a little nasal topiary, and I am now the somewhat less-than-proud owner of an ear and nose hair trimmer (clearly a long-overdue Christmas gift for the chap below).

Previously the preserve of those toothy self-made individuals typically seen on Just For Men ads, these items now retail for the princely sum of just two pounds in Tesco, and the great unwashed (of which I strive to be a hygienic member) have no excuse for cultivating those miniature tresses that often protrude rudely from nostrils and ear canals.

It’s actually quite unpleasant to use though. Once I got over the mistrust of inserting (albeit guarded) rotating blades into my nose, I found it to be not painful but immensely ticklish.

I don’t imagine its regular use will be the sort of thing that will knock years off me like a new wardrobe or a new hairstyle (not that the latter is likely anyway), but it’s a milestone in personal grooming for the thirty-something male. It’s a rite of passage which every male has to go through: like being bought your first razor as an adolescent, or wearing your first pair of elasticated-waistband trousers as you slip into old age, or being suspended by hooks in your skin in the ceiling of a hut until nearly dead in order to be accepted as a man like they do in that Amazonian tribe. I bet that’s not ticklish.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Olfactory Factory

"A million micro-capsules bursting on the skin…”
“In a person’s lifetime they’ll see 24 million separate images…”
“64 billion colours….”

Adverts are crammed to bursting with enormous numbers. The above are three current examples which are symptomatic of an advertising ethos that hurls huge sounding quantities at the viewer in an effort to either impress or bamboozle them. It’s not just tellys and cosmetics though. Even Lindt – “the master chocolatiers” – are at it, claiming in their latest TV ad that a bar of their brown stuff emits over 400 subtle aromas.

Personally, I think it’s a load of old tosh. I may not have a wine-taster’s nose, but I am able to detect two – namely bullshit and chocolate. Beyond that I struggle.

The thing is though, any such claim must necessarily be true in order for the advertiser not to fall foul of the Advertising Standards Authority whose fairly stringent rules govern what you can and can’t say to promote your product. The indisputability of numbers in this sense makes it all very black and white; for example, if something is claimed to be “robust” then as there is no universal measurable scale of robustness the statement is highly ambiguous, though if there are 400 smells then there have to be at least 400 smells.

Mr Lindt therefore must be able to justify his claim, and someone somewhere in Lindt Towers must either have a list of what these smells are or be able to produce one (irrespective of whatever ludicrous figure the ad agency have plucked out of the air), and I’m curious to know what they’ll come up with when asked. That’s why I’ve written the following letter and sent it to Lindt HQ: Customer Enquiries, Lindt & Sprüngli (UK Ltd), Top Floor, 4 New Square, Feltham, London TW14 8HA.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I hope you’ll forgive me for writing to you with what might be seen as a bit of a strange request, but similarly, I hope you are able to help!

I am an amateur wine taster and am frequently able to detect even very subtle aromas with a good degree of accuracy, often in agreement with experts. As such, I am intrigued by your latest TV advert which mentions that a bar of Lindt chocolate emits 400 subtle aromas – which is very impressive.

I have been able to compile a list of around fifty or so aromas which I believe to be emitted by an average bar, though am obviously some way short of the total (but then my nose is hardly that of a “master chocolatier”!)

If at all possible, I would be immensely grateful if you could forward me a comprehensive list of these aromas as I’m intrigued to see what I am missing. I am hoping the fifty or so main ones correspond to my own list and that my nose is up to the job.

I would like to add that Lindt is my favourite chocolate. In fact, I’d even say it was “excel-Lindt”! Keep up the good work.

Kind regards,

William O’Donnell

I have, of course, used a pseudonym as I don’t want the chocolate people thinking I’m a twat. On the off-chance anyone replies, I’ll update this entry.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Panasonic And Their Amazing Technicolor Dream Telly

An oft-quoted fact is that the human eye is capable of differentiating 7.5 million shades of colour, which is phenomenal when you think about it.

This pales into insignificance though when compared to Panasonic’s latest telly which, according to their current ad, is capable of displaying 65 billion (billion!) shades of colour. What they seem to have overlooked however is that there’s not a person alive who can benefit from it.

65 billion is very impressive but almost entirely useless as evolution has equipped your average (human) viewer with the ability to only ever see around 0.01% of them. After that, due to our biological limitations, the remaining 64,992,500,000 will be so close to other colours as to be entirely indistinguishable. It’s a grandiose piece of marketing fluff, and essentially pointless.

As long as your average British viewer is able to tell the difference between magnolia and lemon yellow when decorating the lounge, that’s all they need to know (though judging by the horrendous depictions shown on some home improvement shows, even this distinction is problematic).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It’s Better To Give Than To Receive

Christmas is looming, and for all unimaginative morons devoid of even the smallest modicum of anything resembling taste who are currently at a loss as to what to buy their loved ones, thank God for The Bradford Group (fine purveyors of that weird tat commonly seen in Sunday supplement magazines and sub-Betterware catalogues that occasionally flutter through the letterbox like colourful toilet paper).

On offer this festive season for unfortunate daughters everywhere is the Year Of Wishes Musical Jar. It’s essentially a vase with 365 bits of paper in it, each with a special message to “make certain she always knows how you feel”. Presumably the bits of paper say things like “You’re not that special or I would have bought something else”, “I know, I know, but it was almost Christmas day and I panicked” and “You were an accident”.

It’s beautifully crafted out of “…lustrous triple-fired Heirloom Porcelain with hand-applied under-glazes… shimmering platinum accents and simulated gems… with real pink ribbon [I have no idea what unreal pink ribbon looks like]” and if that wasn’t enough, it also plays the melody Have I told you lately that I love you? (and presumably doubles up as a perfect receptacle to hold the average amount of vomit likely to be produced by the recipient within seconds of opening).

For those individuals who find the thought of a jar full of paper a little too mundane, howzabout a dog in an egg? Let’s face it: people like West Highland Terriers and people like faux-Faberge eggs, but it’s taken a Bradford genius to combine them. With 22-carat gold painted thistles and “an expression on his [the dog’s] face that says, 'Let's have some fun!'”, a mere turn of a key in this strange little trinket and the owner is rewarded with a tinkly-tonkly version of Cherish by Kool & The Gang.

Perhaps ideal for the festive period though is the Elvis Presley Illuminated Rotating Tree which is no less than “the first-ever collectable porcelain tabletop Christmas tree to be authorized by the Estate of Elvis Presley”. Quite a coup then for the people at Bradford who no doubt beat off some stiff competition as the estate of Elvis Presley must be deluged with porcelain tabletop Christmas trees of an obvious inferior quality every year.

This must for any festive display features a handcrafted base with "gifts to you from Elvis - a cuddly teddy bear, guitar, pink Cadillac, gold records, and blue suede shoes”, all displayed on a “leopard-pattern tree skirt", while up above, "celestial blue boughs feature soulful portraits of Elvis Presley". Naturally, it’s musical – the song this time is Blue Christmas.

The above are but three examples of an immensely rich treasure trove of worthless shit designed to appeal to the most ardent sentimentalists (with the emphasis on “mentalists”) who, despite the best intentions and burgeoning wallets, have all the purchasing-insight of plankton.

This could have been a much longer post as the above examples only scratch the surface of a collection which includes such gems as: the His Holiness Pope John Paul II Music Box, the Native American Style Shawl Dancer Ornaments and the John Wayne Stained-Glass Panorama. You couldn’t make it up.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Camcorder Never Lies

I’ve recently experienced the discomforting feeling of watching myself on camcorder footage, and wondering who on earth the chap doing an impression of me (and not a very good impression at that) is.

It’s a common cliché that people, on witnessing or hearing a recording of themselves, are surprised at how they look and sound, but when faced with incontrovertible evidence they must uncomfortably admit that the depiction is true. I was no exception when watching myself on holiday; my voice is monotonous, flat and devoid of inflection, while my frame is different to the one I believed I presented to the world.

The most disconcerting thing of all though was seeing that my head isn’t the shape I thought it was (it’s not the profile suggested by the face-on view afforded by the mirror each morning). The back of my head is not a part of my body I generally see, primarily for the reason it’s been positioned by nature in a place inaccessible to by forward-facing eyes. Luckily my wife was on hand to offer words of comfort:

“It’s not a normal-shaped head, but I wouldn’t worry.”
“So you’re saying I’ve got an abnormal head?”
“Not abnormal, no. It just has… corners.”

I now have an image in my (strange angular) head of some kind of Rubik’s cube android or a Picasso portrait subject who can’t turn his head on the pillow when lying on his back.

Spare a thought however for the fabulously wealthy Hollywood elite who must suffer this feeling on an almost daily basis, witnessing themselves on giant screens in virtually every nation on the globe. It’s such a large cross to bear that they feel the urge to command huge amounts of money for the distress this causes.

Little Tom Cruise for example is worth every penny of the £42m he gets for a film these days. That’s around £10m per foot of height.

Four Letter Bonding

According to Yehuda Baruch, a professor of management at the University of East Anglia, it’s good to swear at work. Following extensive studies, she discovered that it’s useful for relieving stress and is highly beneficial for fostering solid relationships among colleagues as well as boosting morale.

Being such a team player (my cliché-riddled CV says so anyway), I can frequently be heard venting my spleen and muttering profanities at my desk, and would heartily recommend it to anyone. Well, pretty much anyone. It may not be suitable for all gainfully employed individuals, notably those who work in retail (“There’s your change sir; I’ll pop your receipt in the bag. Have a nice fucking day.”) or town criers (“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye you tossers…”), and it should also be actively discouraged for schoolteachers:

“Good morning class 5B.”
“Good morning Mr Griffles.”
“Please turn to page 24 in your textbooks. Anyone got any ideas about Brownian fucking motion?”

With such a build up of classroom tension incapable of finding outlet, it’s a good job teachers have got such long holidays to get over it. I imagine the summertime and festive periods are peppered with the sorts of curses and potty-mouthed phraseology that would make a grandmother’s mouth pucker to the tightness of a canine chuff.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Blogs R Us

I’ve recently had need to look up Toys R Us on and am staggered at the amount of hijacked branding that exists where smaller outfits have leapt on the bandwagon by suffixing the names of their professions with “R Us” in order to promote their own little companies, irrespective of the products and services they’re trying to flog.

A swift nationwide shufty has revealed that there also exists the following: Chandeliers R Us, Inks R Us, Costumes R Us, Plumbers R Us, Parties R Us, Nails R Us, Tickets R Us, Accountants R Us, Housekeepers R Us, Cars R Us, Tyres R Us, Fun R Us (grammatically questionable, given that fun is a singular noun), Boilers R Us, Glam R Us (very clever...), Mortgages R Us, Parts R Us (doesn’t specify what the parts are for – could be a Hoover, could be a space shuttle), Driveways & Patios R Us, Tiles R Us, Phones R Us, Chores R Us, Booze R Us, Childrens’ Parties and Portraits R Us, Grocers R Us, Gifts R Us, Tots R Us (presumably toys and other sundry items suitable for tots as I think the law prevents the sale of babies), Tutors R Us, Cakes R Us, Plumers R Us (I assume very similar to plumbers, except without the benefit of a Speak ‘n’ Spell), Marketing R Us, and Tunes R Us to name but a few…

My favourite though is Marmosets R Us – a Manchester-based purveyor of small monkeys, for all your small monkey needs.

About the only professions without a corresponding “R Us” company are those of pimps and hit men, though if they legalised prostitution there’d doubtless be a Whores R Us megamart within weeks.

Given that McDonalds have successfully sued companies in the past for using the “Mc” prefix in a similar fashion (which is why you never see McBoilers, McPatios or even McMarmosets), Mr R Us could be sitting on a little goldmine. The fact that such a wealth of other people have used the name means that either he didn’t register “R Us” as a valid trademark, or he’s just biding his time until there’s a critical mass of companies he can sue and rake in the cash.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Up In Arms

The art world is once again the subject of controversy after an Australian performance artist named Stelios Arcadiou has had an ear grafted onto his forearm, claiming it’s an augmentation of the body’s form. Apparently he’s hoping to pop a microphone in it to allow others to listen to what the extra ear picks up, though his antics have understandably drawn harsh criticism from those people who regard the lack of medical need for a non-functioning ear on a limb as being ethically questionable.

My beef with it is that it’s such a waste of time, money and surgeons’ expertise. It merely illustrates the great lengths to which unimaginative people will go to execute what is a particularly boring idea. Still, it gets his name in the papers, which given the mundaneness of the premise, you have to assume is his primary aim.

Perhaps Mr Arcadiou can be encouraged to continue his theme and undertake a secondary operation in order to graft a penis squarely into the centre of his forehead.

Jingle All The Way

An annoyingly familiar, though unplaceable piece of music has been repeatedly sung in the house over the past week or so. After much thought and collective furrowing of brows it was eventually identified as the jingle which used to accompany Michael Barrymore as he bounded across to the “top, middle or bottom” board following a successful answer to an inane question by a gormless contestant on Strike It Lucky. (“Deet deet-deet deet-deet, dee-deet dee-diddle-dee-deeeee…”)

It’s testament to the genius of the unsung heroes of musical composition that people are able to recall such jingles years later, having burned their way into the collective memory like a branding iron on a bovine rump.

Who can forget the genius of “Doot doot doodle-doot doot doot doodle-doot” which heralded the entry into the ring of the Going for Gold contestants? Or the scene-setting “Diddle-dee-diddle-dee-dee dee-deet” which played when members of opposing families prepared to lock horns on Family Fortunes?

Today’s gameshow composers are continuing to produce memorable musical Marmite. Consider the menacing “Diddle-did, did-diddle did, did-diddle did diddle-did…” which heightens the tension when a sweating middle-class potential millionaire has broken the thousand-pound barrier and must jeopardise any cash he/she has previously won by answering questions of an increasing value.

For longevity (and indeed length) though, nothing beats the Countdown clock: “Dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee dee deet-dee-deet, dee-deet, dee-deet, diddle-dee-deet, pew”.

For anyone still reading, that’s 28 successive “dee dee deet-dee-deet”s, followed by a “dee-deet, dee-deet, diddle-dee-deet, pew” (tell me if I’m wrong). They don’t write ‘em like that any more...

Missing In Action

We’ve been away on a long-awaited holibob for the last week or so, hence the lack of posts since the commemoration of the Chuckle Brothers’ two decades at the top of their tree (which admittedly isn’t a terribly big tree – more a comedy bonsai than a redwood).

A highly enjoyable week was spent in Newquay (evidently the site of an explosion in a centrally-located pebbledash factory sometime in the mid-‘50s) where we paddled in the sea, sat on the beach in jumpers in the traditional British style and ate enormous amounts of nourishment-free food. Mmm! The sheen was taken off the enjoyment though by the knowledge that despite five of us embarking on the trip, only four of us arrived.

Kermit (also known as Kermy, Mr K and lately, Kerm) – our three-year-old’s favourite soft and cuddly companion – failed to emerge from the Citroen Picasso at the end of the 200 mile journey, having vanished en route. After a mental re-tracing of our steps that afternoon, consensus was that the likely location of the unwitting split was during a routine coffee/urine break (the coffee was drunk and the urine was passed, they weren’t in a mug together) at a Moto service station on the southbound M5.

Enquiries to his whereabouts at the same service station on the return journey proved to be fruitless and we’re now reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that he’s gone for good.

To be fair, Kerm had had more than a couple of close shaves before, having been abandoned overnight in shops and nurseries, left at people’s houses and the subject of a thousand supermarket searches, though he always seemed to emerge triumphant, bouncing back like a green acrine penny. His luck finally ran out however at Bridgwater where he was either left in the loos or unknowingly abandoned in the car park.

While the loss has affected me and Mrs C in a manner akin to bereavement (connected, as it is, to an important part of our son’s childhood), our three-year old seems to have handled the disappearance extremely well. Even a little too well. His mind seems wholly unconcerned about the welfare and whereabouts of his hitherto inseparable green gangly friend and the lavish attentions normally reserved for him have switched effortlessly to “monkey” – another bedfellow who had previously taken second place in the affection stakes.

Maybe a ragged and unshaven Kerm will probably knock on the door in ten years’ time, having successfully navigated his way across the wilds of Somerset subsisting on a diet of berries and morning dew, like that scene in The Deer Hunter where Robert De Niro returns from ‘Nam to find Meryl Streep has moved on (though to my knowledge, De Niro never had to rely on two sticks propping up his elbows to employ makeshift animation to his arms. Or maybe he did and they were just green-screened and lost in the edit).

Fittingly, if Kerm was ever green-screened he’d disappear almost entirely. All except his eyes which would still be capable of producing tears, and his mouth which would still be asking the singular plaintive question – “Why?”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Score Of Chuckles

This week heralds an anniversary celebration for two bargain-bin celebrities who are so sub Z-list they don’t even register on the standard 26-letter English alphabet, and require the use of the Cambodian alphabet containing 74 letters.

You won’t see them on the cover of Hello magazine, they won’t ever be the subject of News of the World exposes snorting cocaine off the thighs of supermodels (as the moustaches would almost certainly prove too ticklish) and you can bet they travel to personal appearances in a clanking Morris Marina rather than a stretch limo, but famous they most certainly are, having successfully peddled a very particular brand of mirth for two decades (thereby exhibiting a comedic longevity far in excess of most practitioners of the art).

Chucklevision is twenty years old this week (as opposed to Paul and Barry Chuckle whose combined ages are somewhere around 120). Their sprightly comedy has remained unchanged since 1987 when they first bumbled onto our screens.

Paul Chuckle (the slightly better-looking one with the spikier hair) attributes their success to their timeless slapstick offerings: “If you hurt yourself, people think it's funny,” he explained, going on to say that their tendency for physical abuse has been drawing crowds since Roman times (exhibited by Romans that is, not by them).

However, their time in the dim limelight of kids' TV is increasingly finite. There are only so many times an elderly man can slip on a banana skin before he fails to spring back to the vertical, and his rapidly-approaching pensionable age makes the activity more hazardous by the day for Barry (the odd-wrinkly one who either has too much skin on his face, or a skull which has shrunk over time).

For now though, they’re still going strong and bouncing off pavements with aplomb to the delight of children and students alike. And I defy anyone to carry a mattress up a flight of stairs without engaging in a little Chuckle catchphrasery (“To me… to you…”). That’s the true mark of fame.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Black Day For Blue Peter

After previous scandals involving cocaine-snorting presenters and fiddling the results of phone-in compos, the tired old kids’ TV stalwart Blue Peter is in a bit of trub again, this time for ignoring the pleas of a thousand schoolkids when naming the latest feline mascot. The kids’ moniker of choice was “Cookie”, though the producers trampled on their dreams by sneakily claiming the popular vote was for “Socks”. Ho hum.

It reminded me of a similar Blue Peter competition I entered when I was about five years old involving the naming of a baby owl. Viewers were asked to send in ideas for names and the most popular would be chosen. The prize, as I remember, was a flight in a Spitfire or Lancaster or some military plane or another (the theme of flight – both owls and aeroplanes fly – being an extremely tenuous one).

After careful consideration in my half-decade-old mind, I decided an excellent name for the little fella would be Flaps, and I wrote to Blue Peter to tell them so (though obviously Mum and Dad stuck the stamp on the envelope and popped it in the post). My slightly older/wiser sister opted for the more sophisticated, and indeed topical, Bright Eyes, which I remember made it into the shortlist of the final five.

The disappointment that Flaps wasn’t even considered as an option when the show was broadcast is something I remember to this day. Though considering the sneaky underhand methods recently revealed, I (along with a thousand like-minded peers with the same request) could well have been diddled.

So sadly, Flaps the owl never came to be, I didn’t get my ride in a Spitfire, and the show’s producers no doubt rubbed their hands in glee at the mass swindling of its viewership.

For the record, Bright Eyes didn’t win either (I can’t remember what did). All I know is that it wasn’t’ f*cking Flaps. Bastards…

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Survival Of The Fittest

People are getting more attractive, and that’s not an opinion, it’s a bastardisation of Darwinian fact. A clumsy summary of evolutionary theory follows:

In the same way that the peacock with the best plumage attracts the most peahens, or Miss Wildebeest only has eyes for the most studly gnu on the plains of the Serengeti, humans are hard-coded with biological urges in order to ensure the survival of the fittest members of the species (by “fittest”, Darwin didn’t mean it in the modern sense of the word, though ironically it’s no less applicable).

Humans are, after all, just dumb animals whose purpose is to reproduce in order to pass our twirly strands of DNA onto our offspring. However, evolution dictates that constant improvement must be happening, so any successful genes must necessarily then be usurped by even better ones. Therefore by default, each successive generation must be better-equipped to achieve this than the last.

It logically follows that people, through the millennia, must be becoming more and more eye-catching as they strive to pass down their genes to successors whose ability to find a mate (and therefore procreate) is based on their attractiveness to the opposite sex.

To anybody who’s watched re-enactments of cavemen/ladies on telly, it’s clear that our ancestors were once all munters. No doubt there were cro-magnon nightclubs up and down the land even in pre-historic times, where standards were lowered at 2 o’clock in the morning and these troglodytic individuals engaged in a little bump and grind, no doubt to the smooth tones of the Neanderthal equivalent of Marvin Gaye. And thank god they did as that’s the reason we’re here today at all. Probably.

Further evidence is all around as even the most cursory glance around you will reveal that people are generally a little more easy on the eye than your average caveman (Caroline Quentin is obviously some kind of throwback).

Society imposes short-term cultural trends which temporarily (and superficially) dictate whether or not an individual can be said to be attractive: from corpulent Rubenesque ladies of yesteryear to twig-like supermodels of the modern age, though these fads are passing, and don’t impact the underlying bedrock of natural selection.

The logical conclusion therefore, is that in a few thousand years everyone will look like Brad and Angelina, while the offspring of Brad and Angelina will be nothing short of godlike.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Naughty Naughty Man...

Cambodian police, with backing from the UN, have arrested Pol Pot right-hand-man Nuon Chea for his part in the genocide which took place in the late seventies. He’ll shortly be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity; if he doesn’t peg it first that is.

The BBC news this morning claimed that the 82-year old “denies any wrongdoing”, which I can’t help but think is a likkle bit of an understatement.

To me, nervously driving away after tapping someone’s car with your own in Sainsbury’s car park, or failing to declare a bit of plumbing work while collecting your giro can be classified as wrongdoing. It’s a bit of an inadequate expression to level at the chap partially responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1m people. It’s like accusing Hitler of “misbehaviour”.

Don’t Blame It On The Sunshine, Blame It On Marcel

The world is today quietly mourning the death of Marcel Marceau, the world’s premier mime artist (though I defy anyone to name another mime artist, premier or otherwise).

No more will he struggle to make headway against an imaginary wind or pretend to be confined in an invisible box (unless he wakes up six feet under and there’s been some terrible mistake). One can only imagine his silent death throes, clutching at his heart in a theatrical manner to the admiration of hospital staff believing they were witnessing another trademark performance. I don’t think he had any final words.

Marcel is actually indirectly responsible for one of the worst films of the ‘80s as Michael Jackson reportedly copied his moonwalk directly from the aforementioned ‘wind’ routine. Had there been no moonwalk, there would be no Moonwalker - a motley collection of self-promoting tat masquerading as a film from the monkey-loving weirdo. In it he plays a hero with magical powers and is chased by drug dealer Mr. Big, finding time to save three children and shoehorn a number of his music videos into proceedings. He even copied his white pasty face…

Friday, September 21, 2007

That's (Not) Entertainment

Don’t get me wrong, I like people hassling me for money as much as the next man, though I’m genuinely puzzled by a form of street entertainment (and I use the word “entertainment” in its loosest possible sense) which has sprung up in recent years.

People pretending to be statues. What’s all that about? These struggling actors can usually be found smothered in white emulsion, standing atop a plinth in the middle of the high street, exhibiting as much animation as roadkill.

Pretending to be a statue has no artistic merit and takes no particular skill except the ability to slap on a bit of Dulux, which renders them indistinguishable from slow-moving albinos (who must be quids in since this particular form of ‘street art’ started). Often the only clue that “standing still” warrants some kind of financial reward is a strategically-placed hat at their feet.

Tourists gawp in awestruck wonder “Look, they’re not moving or talking or anything! Amazing…” Amazing indeed, as their ability to mysteriously winkle nuggets out of people’s wallets by doing precisely nothing puts their efforts on a par with telekeneticists.

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer street entertainers to live up to their label and be at least moderately entertaining, or if they’re not, to put the effort in by unicycling or juggling fire or scaring small children (or by scarily juggling small fiery children). Finding entertainment value in motionless thespians is like putting a DVD on only to watch it on pause.

Friday, September 07, 2007

It’s Not Over ‘til The Fat Fella Sings

Sung he has, and over it is for Luciano who delivered his final aria and mopped his brow with that little scarf thing for the very last time yesterday.

Like an operatic Barry White, Pavarotti was of sizeable girth and was renowned for his love of the ladies, though that’s probably not a mental image you want to dwell on with either of them. The two of them are probably duetting in heaven right now (or hell, depending on whether they behaved themselves when they were alive) as a sort of a male version of The Weathergirls.

In his 71 years of hairy super-sized existence on Earth, he popularised opera for the masses, notably as one of The Three Tenors alongside Domingo and Carreras.

In the darker recesses of my record collection lurks a Xmas single by the hilariously named The Three Fivers, made up of Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Kenny Lynch, in which they parody the infinitely more talented trio in piss-poor operatic style.

Let’s see you mimic them now boys. Any volunteers for pushing up a very large number of daisies? My money’s on Tarby.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Brian Of Britain

Big Brother is over for another summer, which means that the summer itself is also almost over. Liam was the preferred choice of victor in Castle Collier, but stupidity eventually won the day with the infantile, but entirely likeable, Brian emerging triumphant and gangling down the steps like Crazy-Legs Crane after too many coffees.

We were just happy that the spectacularly vacuous twins didn’t win. They’re two individuals tuned to a shrieking girlie frequency so high that the dial’s long since been broken and they’re unable to see the world in anything but a shade of fuchsia (which affords them the emotional range of the average Vulcan). Exhibiting unnervingly childlike wonder throughout, they were so shallow kids couldn’t even paddle in them.

On “Planet Samanda” everything was “dead, dead good” and all the people were “dead, dead nice”, and for thirteen weeks they demonstrated a complete inability to engage in the most simple of conversations or speak more than three words without interspersing their strange staccato speech with a series of giggles. Had I been a BB8 housemate, viewers might have witnessed the first ever televised suicide (whereupon they’d probably describe me as “dead, dead dead”), the sweet release of death being preferable to enduring their daily squeals.

You’ve got to admire the resilience of the unfortunate individuals who had a passport to their world for the duration of the show. Being locked in a house with them for that length of time would have tested the endurance of a Green Beret prisoner of war.

Congratulations this year to the BB production people who, in Charley, contrived to find someone even more odious than Jade Goody (a few short months ago I didn’t think such a thing was possible). Thankfully, since leaving the house, she’s revealed herself to be a creature of no discernable talent, which means that her time in the spotlight is happily finite. Hopefully she won’t be held up to be some sort of celebrity pantomime villain which would serve to trivialise her contemptible behaviour, and with any luck she’ll shortly be completely ignored which is the worst fate for a member of the celebrity sect she so longs to join.

Cracking stuff. Roll on BB9…

Why Man Should Not Play God

Geeky scientists have been guffawing nasally and administering weak slaps on the back to each other this week after being given the go-ahead by the UK regulator to create human-animal hybrid embryos for research purposes. They’ll be mashing together human and cow DNA, and teleporting them to the other side of the laboratory (or whatever it is they do) in order to make themselves some stem cells.

It’s a little-known fact that similar secret experiments were undertaken around forty years ago, though sadly the results were classified and have never been revealed. You can’t help but wonder though what the result would have been had the embryos been allowed to develop. Just what sort of hideous chimera or mutant beast would result? I suppose we’ll never know...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Unsmooth Criminal

I nicked my first car stereo on the weekend (I believe it’s called “twocking” in current street vernacular).

I took it out of a white Rover 200 parked in our driveway. (The fact that the car actually belonged to us and I was “stealing” it from ourselves didn’t make it any less exciting.) It was a race against time before the outrageously miserable man from the RAC arrived to pop our vehicle (which was written off in an accident some hours earlier) on the back of his lorry and tootle it off to a compound somewhere.

Rather than ten seconds flat, which I believe is roughly the time you should be aiming for while twocking car stereos, the whole operation took around ten minutes which, if ever there was a Krypton Factor style ‘practical round’ for juvenile delinquents, would probably put me in last place. (Fellow contestants would probably also cane me on the obstacle course as they’re quite used to leaping over garden fences and such like. I like to think I’d have probably made it up on the Boeing simulator and general knowledge rounds though, so I’m not too disheartened.)

It’s certainly not as easy as these talented young criminals make it look. Rather than effortlessly sliding it out of its housing in the darkness of the night and running away with it tucked under my arm in the traditional manner, I wrestled with it for about ten minutes with all the lights blazing, employing a selection of Ikea cutlery (probably not the tools of choice for your average delinquent) to try and winkle it free from the dashboard, ultimately emerging triumphant holding a slightly battered item which may or may not work in another vehicle. Time will tell.

Friday, August 24, 2007

No Way José

The man in the picture is José Luis Hernández, president of luxury Spanish property purveyor, Polaris World. Not that you’d know this by the way he introduces himself in their current TV ad (with robotic delivery and with an accent so thick you could spread it on a slice of bread).

He represents one of the cardinal sins of TV advertising, where the head of the company wants to get in on the act by appearing on screen. This is almost invariably a bad idea. Victor “Remington” Kiam is the obvious example (“I liked it so much, I bought the company!”), but at least he had a bit of spunk about him and a bullish enthusiasm that only American entrepreneurs can muster. José however, is a bit of a spanner and quite visibly, spunk-free.

Colonel Sanders is another example, though the persona created by the advertising agency (a recent ad showed a cartoon version of him breakdancing which I’m sure the real colonel never indulged in) bears little resemblance to the crusty finger-lickin’-chicken-frying ex-military man.

Unlike Victor and the groovy colonel, José has less personality than an ameboa, and is so unpresentably skinny and wooden that every part of him stands perfectly perpendicular to the ground as if he’s been positioned in front of one of his little Lego-style complexes with a protractor. A tall man of disproportionate height and width, his physique is so flat it looks like his immaculately crease-free clothes were ironed while he wore them, and you get the uneasy feeling that if he turned to the side he’d vanish, making him the only two-dimensional individual known to mankind.

“Make sure you pay for your property a fair price” he intones flatly at the end of the ad. I can’t fathom whether his twisted English is ironic scripting suggested by the ad agency to imbue continental personality, or just pisspoor grammar. Either way, I’d be more inclined to give my money to someone who approached me in the street and shouted “My name Crazy Juan and I invitation you to buy one my used cars pliz.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Posh Publications

“The Nice Guy Inside Jimmy Carr” reads the unfortunate (and I can only assume unintentional) double entendre on the front of this month’s edition of Reader’s Digest. I’m not sure who this “nice guy” is as I can’t be bothered to read it, let alone digest it.

The August ‘07 edition, along with a dozen dog-eared older ones, are the sole reading material in the break room where I work. This break room is peopled, thrice daily, by the largely Polish workforce who perform the more menial tasks for the company. Bizarrely, someone has felt the need to affix large, homemade and somewhat threatening stickers bearing the legend “DO NOT REMOVE!” to each cover.

Personally I don’t think even the most kleptomaniacal bibliophile (or bibliophilic kleptomaniac) would feel the urge to pop one of those diminutive little publications under their coat and exit the building nervously sweating. I harbour a pet theory that the reason Readers’ Digest print to such miniscule dimensions is that they're very easily stealable, and that they’re reliant on such thievery to expand their readership.

As these are the only magazines available, the Polish employees are no doubt soon going to be talking with home counties accents, regaling each other with less-than-amusing anecdotes about odd-sounding placenames or ‘the funny things children say’.

As for the “nice guy” inside Jimmy Carr, I can only hope that he’s a seven foot, violently amorous and exceedingly well-hung cellmate with a penchant for posh boys. Couldn’t happen to a nicer chap.

Model Village

We went to a Postman Pat exhibition the other day. The village of Greendale was faithfully recreated, not quite life-sized (assuming Pat and his neighbours, if they were conscious beings capable of cognitive thought, would be of average human proportions), but certainly big enough for you to amble around.

Press a button on a small stand and Pat waved mechanically at you from a doorway. Press another and the hapless Ted would slowly saw away at a piece of wood in his workshop, while another button resulted in the industrious Mrs Goggins stamping a parcel for the eight-hundredth time that day.

Why can’t everywhere be like Greendale? Everyone was smiling; there was no litter or graffiti or boy-racer cars with those peculiar flashing blue lights underneath. One of the younger residents (a small boy named Bill Thompson) does have a hoodie, but a smile adorns his wooden face, not a scowl, and you can bet that his pockets are full of recently scrumped apples, not firearms.

Among the “Patular” paraphernalia which illustrated the scope of Greendale’s appeal was a collection of themed merchandise and educational material from all around the world. Apparently, Postman Pat is called Postmann Pat in Norway. You learn something new every day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Primal Taste Buds

Like everyone (except ladies) I am a man of man of many parts, which strategically arranged, form the organism that is me. (Ladies are made of special lady-parts which Mother Nature picks out of a different box.)

Some of the parts that collectively result in the sentient being that I am, include slender wrists and ankles, myopic eyes, a bit of a chinny-chin and the occasional mole. Thus assembled, I stand alongside three-and-a-half billion or so other chaps as a sophisticated product of millennia of evolution and genetic splicing.

The least sophisticated part of me however is my palate which has a Neanderthal, one-dimensional quality. It knows what it likes and it likes what it knows. Posh nosh like caviar and quail’s eggs isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I’ll cheerfully push aside most good-quality food to get to a plate of cheesy pasta. My favourite meals are to gastronomy what Robson Green is to Shakespeare.

I was pondering this as I sipped warm Moet from a plastic flute in the middle of a nightclub recently, wincing like a girl at every mouthful due to its foul taste. (For clarity, my good lady wife and I are not in the habit of quaffing bubbly, or even venturing into nightclubs, but it was a post-wedding bash and the little man buying the champagne was trying, and subsequently failing, to impress my sister-in-law by flashing a rather large wallet and dancing in what can only be described as a very “European” manner.)

I’m not a philistine, I’ve been in fancy restaurants and nibbled at artistically arranged plates of nouvelle cuisine, but I’m not a bon viveur. I’m not even a mechant viveur (hooray for English/French online dictionaries). Give me a generously pepperoni’d pizza or a bowl of Super Noodles any day though, and I’m as happy as a sandboy. I’m sure my ancient ancestors felt the same.