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.