Tuesday, July 21, 2009

“I’ll have a pee please, Bob.”

The differences between the sexes is well documented (predominantly in emails which periodically pepper inboxes with titles like Why men are crap and 100 shitty chat-up lines and 100 witty ripostes to 100 shitty chat up lines etc. These usually arrive with such proliferation it’s almost as if email itself was invented as a vehicle to convey anti-male sentiments by dreary imbeciles reliant on similarly comedically-challenged individuals to tell them what’s funny. But I digress…) For all the physiological and emotional differences, there’s one which I find particularly baffling: namely, the ability to pee on demand.

Now, I’m an average bloke. I might urinate, three, or perhaps four times a day, depending on the volume I imbibe and my body’s ability to strip it of its nutritional value and expel the yellowy stuff it doesn’t need. I think this is typical of chaps: when we need to go, we go. When we don’t, we can’t. Femalekind, however, is a very different kettle of proverbials.

The reason it’s recently caught my attention is that we’re in the process of potty training our two-year-old. She’s actually doing very well indeed and appears to have got the hang of it pretty swiftly. This could be something to do with the fact that she knows she’ll be rewarded by encouraging cheers of delight and general whooping sounds every time she produces something. On receiving these, she’s beside herself with glee.

To keep the parental delight coming therefore, she’s able to generate something what seems like every few minutes: more wee equals more praise which, in turn, equals more endorphins coursing through her tiny frame making her feel happy. The fact she’s able to do this at will though, isn’t unusual. Any female can do this. Take, for example, a doctor’s request for a urine sample. Personally, unless it falls into my four-hourly cycle as described above, Doc could be in for a very long wait, though any woman is able to produce something seemingly out of thin air. Long car journeys are another example. Women can generally ‘strain the greens’ before getting into the car whether they need to go or not, though blokes will cheerfully sit in a car for hours without feeling the urge.

There may be an evolutionary reason for this mysterious ability. Perhaps, on making the long journey out of Africa, it prevented our nomadic ancient ancestors from having to stop every five minutes to find a convenient shrub, thereby keeping them from the clutches of long-grass-dwelling predators. It probably didn’t impact other elements of the journey though which remain hereditary to this day: “Brake! You’re walking too fast!”, “I told you we should have turned right back there.” “I’m sure I’ve forgotten something…”, “Did I leave the grill on?” etc. Ho, ho!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“I Scream, You Scream…”

The quality of music these days is amazing: ga-zillion track studios record each instrument with crystal clarity before mashing it all together into a format compatible with a device of your choice. Every genre and taste is catered for – digitally reproduced and delivered earwards to be experienced exactly as the artist intended.

There’s one remaining outpost of music though which has remained unchanged for decades.

When I was a kid, I remember the excitement generated by Mr Whippy’s ice cream van as it chugged apologetically into our street, the arrival of which was announced by a tinkly-tonkly Bontempi cacophony of Beethoven’s Für Elise (which no doubt would have caused Ludwig to turn in his grave with such rapidity, it ironically could have been used as an ice cream churn). The clanging ting-a-linging was often set to a frequency so piercing, our ears would bleed, drizzling down T-shirts like the strawberry sauce atop the ice creams we’d cheerfully ram into our faces.

Thirty years later, ice cream vans sound exactly the same. What’s that all about? True, the vans themselves haven’t really changed much either, though I can’t believe that they’re all the same ones I got so excited about when I was in short trousers. There must be a factory tucked away somewhere where an army of workers, probably dressed in seventies clothes, manufacture not only the vehicles, but the recordings to be bolted onto the top of them. How do they choose the music? Why hasn’t it changed?

Personally, I like the sound of ice cream vans – purely based on nostalgia and the imminent possibility of a ‘99’. It’s true that they’re about as tuneful as a tanked-up Quasimodo in a bell shop, but I’m not sure I like the thought of Mr Whippy merely plugging in his i-Pod, and delivering a symphony of lighthearted classical tunes with sharp digital precision to alert kids as to his whereabouts. It wouldn’t be right.

As an aside, there used to be three vans working our ‘hood, the most popular of which was the aforementioned Mr Whippy. In my naïve, pre-brand-awareness days, I remember thinking how appropriate it was that his name was Mr Whippy and he sold ice cream (how could he sell anything but?) I probably thought he spent his evenings with Mr Kipling and Dr Pepper chewing the fat and munching confectionery. Happy days.

Thank God For Lightearted News Stories

Now, I'm having a particularly shitty day today, which seems to heighten my sense of schadenfreude. Perhaps cruelly this made me laugh.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Shrouded In Mystery

Typical sensationalist documentary on telly the other day, narrated by Sean Pertwee whose gruffly-sombre overtones could make CBeebies sound like The Evil Dead.

The Da Vinci Shroud (Channel 5 - who else?) purported that the Turin Shroud, famously denounced as a fraudulent holy relic when it was carbon dated a few years ago, was produced using a camera obscura by none other than heretical genius, and all-round medieval man-of-mystery, Leonardo Da Vinci himself.


There was actually some tenuous evidence for this which had been inflated in a recent book by a couple of hairy sub-prime academics. You’ve got to wonder though whether it was just another example of inserting Leonardo’s name to a subject to give it a bit of topical clout. For anyone looking for add some conspiratorial gravitas to their latest book/film/TV programme/dance routine/puppet show, all that’s required is to add the words “Da Vinci” to the title, and hey presto! Instant intrigue!

The programme did end with a bit of a cliffhanger though: despite managing to uncover who made it and how they did it, the identity of the man it depicts remains a mystery.

Not a problem as far as I’m concerned. I think I’ve cracked it. Click below.

Friday, June 26, 2009

“It’s easy as ECG…”

Woke up this morning to the news that Jacko’s brown bread (or should that be white bread?) having died of a coronary sometime when I was in the Land of Nod. It’s a sad day for music lovers, simians and sellers of fairground equipment everywhere as the King of Pop has popped his clogs, aged a youthful 50 (though other parts of him were far younger). When the news broke at around 7am, mobile phone networks went into meltdown as the news was communicated to anyone with a bar of battery life left. And at 7:15 they no doubt started to be replaced by the first of the inevitable jokes.

But seriously, rather than reel off a string of gags about someone whose life was a rich treasure trove of weirdness and eccentric behaviour, it’s a shame that he’s (or should that be “hee-hee’s”? Aaargh! Stop it Steve…) no longer around. If only for the occasional strange news story or to keep Channel 5 documentary makers in employment. maybe it's better he went now though as thinking about it, given the imminency of this world tour which was scheduled to start next month, he was in serious danger of doing a ‘doing a Tommy Cooper’. Just like that.

Tellingly, eight of the top ten most-read news stories on the BBC at lunchtime were Michael Jackson related stories. The remaining two were about people being burned as witches in Kenya and a story about Abercrombie & Fitch’s employment policy. The most shared news story of the day though, for the second day running, was ‘Stoned wallabies make crop circles' - an amusing tale of opium-poppy-munching marsupials and the circular patterns they make when under the influence.

It’s a crazy world, but I wouldn’t want to Hoover it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

There Goes The Summer Again…

Once again, we’re hooked in our house. It’s a few weeks in now, and the melting pot of Big Brother 2009 is simmering nicely. It’s another mixed bag of housemate fruit & nuts this year, though the producers seem to have consciously shied away from the usual incendiary band of mutants, with many of this year’s crop being uncharacteristically, err… normal.

Not too normal though. There hopefully won’t be a repeat of last year’s travesty of a result where the eventual winner, Rachel, had about as much personality as carrion and managed to escape eviction by virtue of the fact she was so spectacularly nondescript.

Among the people peopling the house this year are Sree, whose wandering ‘Dr Octopus’ hands among the ladies is creeping a few of them out and causing some consternation among the competition, notably Marcus, whose sideburns of Dickensian proportions and generous “Billy-Bob” mullet give him the appearance of a line-dancing Victorian urchin.

Their affections currently have the thoroughly likeable, though unfortunate, Noireen in an ugly pincer movement from which she’s struggling to escape, though where Sree adopts what he thinks is a respectful heartfelt approach (despite being unable to keep his tentacles in his trousers), Marcus plumps for the brash “show us yer tits” method. The fact they employ these dubious tactics to ensnare the same woman makes for highly entertaining viewing.

Noireen is actually proving to be bit of a magnet for freaks and oddballs, having also drawn the icy attention of the less-than-angelic Angel – an emaciated fitness obsessive who has abs like the corrugated roof of a Belarusian Portakabin and angular features which cause her to look like a Cold War Bond villain or Transylvanian serf. But at least she’s not permanently stuck to her side like a barnacle on the hull of Hagar’s longboat like Sree.

Currently nominated for the third week in succession, though hanging on by his upper-class manicured fingertips is Freddie, whose plans for a post-BB political career have been squarely shat upon before they’ve even started by the fact he’s forbidden from using his real name, instead being known only as Half-Wit. That, and the fact that he’s a clueless fop with a penchant for re-enacting Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally whenever he samples food and bursting into tuneless song at the drop of his Cossack-style hat.

BB wouldn’t be the same without homosexuals, and this year boasts two: Charlie and Lisa. One has a cheeky line in innuendo and hasn’t covered his torso since day one, while the other has a voice indicative of the systematic smoking of 80-a-day and a red mohican. Both have clichés oozing out of them, but they’re pleasant enough.

The token ‘beautiful people’ also make an appearance. Professional Geoff Lynne lookalike Chris, whose unruly hair and unkempt beard are no doubt a hit among the younger female audience, and his current beau – the hefty-chested Sophie with whom he spends much of his time canoodling. The romance, fake or otherwise can only help their longevity.

Struggling to make the grade is Carly who’s of such a concentrated Scottishness that she’s rendered almost unintelligible, talking with a Glaswegian accent so thick you could spread it on a slice of bread and sporting a permanent expression which can be easily misread as “break eye contact with me and I’ll rip them out and replace them with your balls”. With eyes permanently ringed with eyeliner which looks like it’s been applied with a bingo pen and the complete inability to smile, I don’t anticipate she’ll last long. Which is probably just as well as an early exit will give her time to get herself a nice footballer to marry, divorce and bitch to the press about before Davina announces the eventual winner in two months time.

Then there’s the culturally-bewildered and spectacularly effeminate Rodrigo, who despite coming across as a chirpy songbird on his opening night VT, lost his smile swifter than an undernourished con who’s just been introduced to a gang of heavily-mustachioed randy cellmates the instant he entered the house.

My vote’s currently for the effortlessly uber-cool Siavash – reasons being his enviable hair and ability to remain aloof from petty arguments about cans of cider. Brilliant.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wire In The Blood

There’s a bubbling corner of my spleen that I’ve long held back from venting due to the subject’s popularity among people who hold him up as some kind of lyrical genius, but I’ve decided it’s time…

Nicky Wire, the Manics’ bassist, is a nobhead of quite overwhelming proportions. He represents everything that’s wrong with working class intellectuals who think just because they’ve read a few books, they can re-hash the bits that have sank into their spongy brains, pepper their speech with cultural references and bamboozle individuals more impressionable than they are, promoting themselves as some kind of bohemian academic.

The tipping point came when reading the interview in the latest edition of Q, where he name-dropped more people per column inch than Piers Morgan after an Elton John party. In a three page interview, he managed (deep breath): Bill Drummond, Bruce Springsteen, Julie Burchill, Lipstick traces, Greil Marcus, Allen Ginsberg, The Clash, Oscar Wilde, Morrissey, Alex Turner, Crystal Castles, Alan Bennet, Alex Kapranos, Brian Eno, Coldplay, Enya, George Bernard Shaw, Andy Warhol, Stanley Kubrick, Will Young, The Horrors, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Will Self, Andrew Marr, Simon Jenkins, Kirsty Wark, Jeremy Paxman, Alexei Sayle, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Jennings, Carol Anne Duffy, Emily Dickinson and Stevie Smith.

As if this pompous splurge wasn’t enough, he later wrote a series of statements he wasn’t spontaneous enough to voice at the time to the interviewer in the hope they’d be included. Among these were such wanky gems as, “The internet destroys the mystery and serendipity of knowledge.” and “A blank piece of paper and a pen is the greatest invention. It is so exciting to be confronted by possibility.” Hmm, all sounds a little bit ‘GCSE’ to me.

In the sparse text that nestled in between this systematic reeling off of names, he actually revealed himself to be not unpleasant, but the sort of chap who probably shuffled around in his awkward teenage years gazing shoeward and mumbling “But I know I’m special…” under his breath, though he doesn’t seem to have ever grown out of it. The impression he gives now is that of a friendless twentysomething at a kids’ kickabout in the park, impressing young-uns who are in no position to compete with his silky skills but remaining a creature of ridicule among his own peers.

Frankly, we’ve all been there. I know I have, and I’ll unhappily be the first to admit that I spent a few years being a bit of a nob in not dissimilar fashion. I’m not saying he’s thick – far from it. I’m not even saying he’s not interesting, but give it a rest matey-pops; you’re spectacularly normal, nothing more. Stephen Fry once said something along the lines of ‘Real intelligence means never actually using it’. However, at the polar end of the intellectual scale is Nicky, who spouts tin-pot philosophy like an ejaculating adolescent.

I went to a see Everything Must Go once – a play written by his brother, Patrick Jones. The script, which was pretty awful, deliberately incorporated many of The Manics’ lyrics (a dodgy gimmick at the best of times), but far from being seamless, the torturous insertion of these little nuggets were like the textual equivalent of pushing a frantic and reluctant cat into a cardboard box prior to a trip to the vet’s:

“I can’t believe you’ve let me down.”
“Yeah, well you stole the sun from my heart.”

Ouch. It must run in the family.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hippy Hum

It was the longest day of the year yesterday. English Heritage threw open the gates of Stonehenge once more to allow 36,000 people to hug the ancient stones, beat bongos, talk bollocks and drink Tesco Value cider at six o’clock in the morning, err… just like what the druids did in the olden days.

Looking at the BBC’s pictorial coverage of the event showing the great unwashed corralled in tightly-packed groups, my first thought (perhaps cruelly, though probably not inaccurately) was “Jesus, I bet that stank.” An entrepreneurial deodorant salesperson could have made a killing. Or perhaps the authorities could have taken the opportunity to set up some kind of makeshift sheep dip for the crusty masses on exit? Glastonbury would have certainly been a lot more fragrant.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feel The Burn

It’s that time of year again, when the sun finally peeps expectantly out from behind towers of cumulonimbus like an elderly relative checking on kids in the garden, and as it does so releases a stream of ultra-violet unpleasantness capable of turning the average British male from milky white to fuscia pink in the blink of an eye.

You’d think this would make native honkeys hurtle for the nearest shade where they’d spend the ensuing two months (such is the length of the average British summer) in darkness, awaiting the relative safety of autumn when they can emerge blinking into the much weaker sunlight. But no. It seems the first sight of the summer sun causes the entire male population to disrobe en masse despite the unsightliness of what’s been concealed ‘neath winter garments for the previous ten months. Masses of English skin offers itself up to the sun-shee-ine and wide expanses of pasty-white, slightly blobby Caucasian bodies turn as crispy as a hog roast by the time the sun disappears behind the horizon.
Despite being unsightly, this gives an opportunity to look at the range of tattoos on offer. Following Beckham’s lead, the inclination in recent years has been to emblazon your kids’ names across the base of your spine in three-inch gothic script. The chap I saw the other day had just such a set of tattoos, with “Paige” and “Ashton” inscribed across his shoulder blades and the base of his back respectively. At least I assume they were his kids’ names. He could have been a really big fan of Elaine Paige and Ashton Kutcher for all I know. I wasn’t about to ask him though due to the fact he was around twice my size, although if any disagreement did ensue I could have just slapped his sunburn, which can render a man temporarily immobile with more effectiveness than a police tazer.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Les, Matt and Mrs C

Seven years on and my lovely wife never fails to surprise me. Among claims to fame that include: appearing on The Pepsi Chart Show, sharing a bouncy castle with impressively-bespectacled brown-bread TV host Leslie Crowther and being asked to read the news for L!ve TV, the following conversation took place as we drove past a sign for The Bath and West Show the other day.

“That’s where I met Matthew Kelly,” she mused.
“Eh, you’ve met Matthew Kelly? I never knew that. How come?”
“My brother won a regional karaoke competition when we were kids and he had to attend to compete in the nationals.”
“Really? What did he sing?”
Wild Thing.”
“Hang on, are you making this up?”


Friday, May 29, 2009

Hats off to Tom and Barbara

Like many other organically-infused thirtysomethings of the modern age, we’ve got a veg patch (in the sense that we’ve allocated a rectangular strip of garden for growing veg rather than we have a rectangular strip of garden with veg actually growing in it).

It’s a bloody slow business horticulture, and I’m an impatient man. What started off as a bank of mud was, for over a month, a resplendent, err… bank of mud, visually indistinguishable to how it looked when we popped a few optimistic seeds ‘neath its granular surface a few weeks earlier. For ages though – not a bloody sausage (not that sausages grow on trees. I may not be that green-fingered but an afternoon spent trailing round the gardening section of B&Q confirmed my suspicions that meat products can’t be grown from seed). This absence of sausages was matched by a notable absence of actual veg. I’d done my homework and was under no illusions about how long things would take; I didn’t expect a climbable beanstalk shooting up overnight, but it took an age before the tiniest bit of greenery restored some hope.

I’m happy to report though that now there are lettuces, tomato plants and straggly bit of greenery I’m desperately trying to convince people are spring onions. I’m hopeful that some of these may even survive being munched by ravenous slugs, trampled by the kids or shat on by the neighbour’s cat who seems to find our garden an excellent place to crimp one off. If so, I’ll likely be tucking into crisp, home-grown produce for only a singular evening meal (which all the waiting and watering is likely to produce), before the whole process starts again.

I don’t even like veg.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cheeses Christ

Periodically, stories about deities appearing in foodstuffs pop up in the news. These items are usually identified by the owner (and would-be consumer) and taken as some kind of sign that whatever god it happens to resemble is with us and has chosen, for some unfathomable reason, to manifest himself in common comestibles.

The latest of these is a small figurine of Jesus appearing in a bag of cheesy crisps which the owner (who has since housed the statuette in a small plastic box surrounded by toilet roll, lest he be crushed or munched by the cat) maintains is the image of the Son of God. Call me a heathen, but the resemblance could only be accurate if Jesus himself went about his daily miracles and wine-making if he was systematically enclosed in bubbling cheese and painted orange, but anyway…

To me, the tenuous resemblance owes more to the brand of crisps he was discovered lurking amongst. Everyone knows that no two Nik-Naks look the same (a quality that was also their USP in an 80s ad campaign). Surely it was only a matter of time before one resembled Jesus? In my packet of Nik-Naks today I was able to successfully identify an exhaust from an Austin Allegro, an antique telephone receiver and Chunk from The Goonies. And even some crisps. Frankly, I’m amazed that sightings of deities aren’t more commonplace. I’m sure there are similar effigies of Ganesh, Shiva and Bealzebub lurking in packets of Nice ‘n’ Spicy, awaiting some gullible nut to spot them.

The difference between these gullible nuts and everyone else is that most normal people would say, “Hey, look everyone. My crisp looks a bit like Jesus!” before popping it into our mouths and appreciating it as the good people at Golden Wonder intended, rather than taking it as undisputable evidence that the second coming is upon us.

If however, three days after consumption, the lookalikey crisp in question was able to rise from its intestinal tomb and emerge unscathed from the mouth of the person who consumed it, rolling the tongue aside and ascending to crisp heaven, I might just be impressed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jimmy And Graeme’s Aerosol Hair

You know you have those moments where you think “Hang on, was that real or did I dream it?”

I had such a thought recently about a product that used to be advertised on the back on red-top Sunday tabloids, typically at the foot of the sports page. I forget the brand name, but essentially, it was hair in a can. I remember also that it was endorsed by Jimmy White and Graeme Gooch, whose joy at once more sporting a full and luxuriant thatch was evident in the latter image of before-and-after proof.

I’ve just Googled it and can’t find any evidence of the product itself, though there are tantalising reports of hair transplants Jimmy’s undergone and a few baldy forums which namecheck him, which indicate that he’s exactly the sort of person to endorse such a invention.

I’m 99% sure it was real, though my main thought which accounts for the remaining 1% is that surely it could never have worked. Could it? Hair grows in rows. Not as a random foamy bouffant. The image I have in my head is more like that Silly String stuff that children squirt at each other at parties. Though having said that, a hairpiece of such construction wouldn’t look any less convincing than some of the rugs you see on daily display – their owners smug under a tufty toupee that looks as if the kindest thing to do would be to shovel it off their cranium and bury it in some sort of pet cemetery.

Maybe that's why Jimmy and Graeme gave it up and chose to destroy all the evidence.

Jog On

I’ve been jogging lately. Well, I’ve been twice in the past few days, but already this is more than the last ten years so I reckon I’m well up on my average.

I’m no stranger to gyms, but jogging has always been a form of exercise I’m particularly crap at, which is why I thought it high time to face my demons (and the fact that my waistline is expanding at a rate greater than is strictly comfortable), and start regularly pounding the streets – of the village I live in that is, not Mike Skinner.

Everything you read about jogging stresses the importance of getting into a rhythm. Being both male and Caucasian however, as well as really quite unfit (my breathing, as I thumped round my predetermined mile-and-a-half course, sounded more like a pack of huskies being mushed by an asthmatic Rolf Harris) I’m immediately at a disadvantage. Luckily though, no one was awake to hear me as I decided to venture out for the first time at 6am on Sunday morning when there wasn’t a soul around.

The danger with road running, unlike the gym where you can step off the treadmill and pretend it was just a warm-up, is that I could have found myself stranded half a mile from home, too exhausted to return, forced to erect a makeshift shelter and live off berries until such time that I could be rescued. By my lovely lady wife. In our Citroen Picasso. It’s a hazardous business…

Even though my legs feel like they’ve been driven over by a fleet of monster trucks I’m quite looking forward to going out again and might even start to venture further afield. Luckily I’ve been watching a lot of Ray Mears' Bushcraft lately and feel informed enough to subsist in the wilds of Wiltshire and await rescue. Well, Ray seems to do alright out of it as his bulging safari suits will testify. Now there’s a man who needs to go jogging.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Parky’s 2p Worth

I take back what I’ve said about Parky in the past. Fair play to him for not quite hitting the nail squarely on the head, but giving it a good glancing blow, providing one of the more lucid and reasoned comments surrounding the passing of Russell Brand’s “Primark Princess”.

There was more than a smidgen of hypocrisy around on the death of Jade Goody, with hundreds lining the streets and people weeping openly. There’s an unspoken law against speaking ill of the dead, and it’s the fear of breaking this law that too-often results in the Great British public (or maybe it’s human nature in general) having a tendency to over-compensate by waxing lyrical about the passing of someone whose conduct, in their life, was less than perfect. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but if it’s not this, it’s sad that it takes someone’s untimely demise for people to realise they quite liked someone. Either way, it’s a bit of a sad reflection.

At the end of the day (Brian), no one deserved to go through what she went through and I felt desperately sorry for her and her kids, but I’m not going to be a hypocrite and pretend she was someone who I liked; I often thought she was odious in the extreme. "Her death is as sad as the death of any young person but it's not the passing of a martyr or a saint or, God help us, Princess Di," wrote Parky in the Radio Times, "[she represented] all that's paltry and wretched about Britain... the perfect victim of our times".

While you can read this in a number of ways, he didn’t shirk from describing what she was, though he seemed to obliquely place the blame on both society and the times we’re living through. It’s the old nature and nurture thing: was she unpleasant because of who she was, or was she unpleasant because of what her environment turned her into? It’s probably a bit of both; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. A product of society and lifestyle she may have been, but it didn’t stop her being objectionable.

I disagree with Mr P on the role of the press though. I always thought the relationship between Jade and the media was pretty symbiotic. On a steady fulcrum of mutual exploitation, they fed off her pseudo-celebrity to sell their magazines and she was all-too-willing to give of herself in exchange for a few quid. They existed more or less in equilibrium to the benefit of both parties (which is a lot healthier than some celebrities’ dalliances with the paparazzi). The relationship was one of mutual use rather than abuse.

It’s a shame that she’s gone. No right-thinking human being should celebrate the passing of another human being in such circumstances, though the double standards from both individuals and the media is highly questionable. Now she’s gone, she’s undoubtedly left a Jade-sized void which will be difficult to fill, though my money’s on Kerry Katona.

The real benefactor from all this misery is Max Clifford who’s emerged earnest-faced, richer and smelling of proverbials.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nostalgic Workout

There are many forms of exercise around and a myriad ways for fatties to shift the pounds. The problem with exercising though, is that it’s always been arse-crunchingly boring, which is why people are always coming up with novel ways to detract from the fact that you’re actually exercising at all by marrying it with another physical activity.

The naming convention for these hybrid activities often involves nothing more than the unceremonious mashing together of the name of the desired activity, and the second and third syllables of the word “exercise”; hence: dancercise and boxercise (fittingly, there was an on the wall of the caff in Albert Square the other day for an activity called fightercise).

However, not all activities lend themselves to a hybridisation of two verbs, as exemplified by a local advert I saw the other day offering classes in “pole-da-cise” which just sounds weird. I assume it’s something to do with the current appeal of pole dancing. Applying the strict linguistic rules above, it should theoretically be called polercise, which sounds as if it might be something to do with Arctic exploration (when spoken, not spelled obviously).

The prerequisite for these new forms of getting fit is obviously some kind of physical activity: you couldn’t, for example, readercise or drivercise, but you could, in theory, spelunkercise or even scrumpercise.

To my knowledge, no one’s trademarked either of these yet, so watch for my Scrumpercise DVD – out in time for Christmas – in which I can be seen dressed in a tweed leotard, scaling the fences of orchards across Britain and pilfering apples before being chased by angry farmers with sticks in scenes reminiscent of a bygone age of innocent juvenile thievery.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Dogged Determination

Heartwarming story of canine survival on the Beeb (as well as numerous “and finally...” sections of broadcast news bulletins) the other day, where a dog swam five miles through shark-infested waters in Australia after falling off a boat, was marooned on a semi-inhabited island where it lived a feral existence for months, subsisting on a diet of baby goats, before being finally reunited with its owner. Aaaah…

The oddest thing about the story though is not the fact that the dog failed to be shark bait, but that its name is Sophie Tucker. Apparently it was named after a US entertainer from the 1920s.

Most normal people, if they were going to name a pet after their favourite burlesque/vaudeville artiste, would opt for a first name only; dogs aren’t usually given surnames. Or if they are, they’re usually the same as the owner's.

"She surprised us all," said owner Jan Griffith (probably not named after anyone). "We wish she could talk, we truly do."

Talking would be a start. I imagine the piano-playing and showtunes would come later.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Putting The L In ‘Band’

Now I don’t want to sound like grandad here, but how crap is Akon? It’s not just me is it? Whether you like the genre or not, this smiling little cheesemonger peddles a particularly clichéd brand of R&B that’s remained unchanged for ten years.

The ad on telly for his new album at the moment showcases a selection of his latest choons with accompanying videos in which he invariably appears dressed in white, complete with complementary heavies and obligatory scantily-clad filly (who’s also dressed in white). Striking a variety of homeboy poses he croons to this faceless female a childlike selection of spectacularly uninspired words. I struggle to think of a more wishy-washy and banal slice of insipid and unoriginal lyricism/melody than “You’re so beautiful, so damn beautifuuuuuul…”; it out-Lighthouse-Familys The Lighthouse Family.

Coming a close second though is the second song in the ad, entitled Right Now (Na Na Na). Songs are full of “doo-be-doo”s and “a wop-bop a loo-bops and “laaaah, la la lah-lah-lah-laaaah”s, though the “na na na na” in Akon’s effort just seems to be a bit of a placeholder about which he probably thought “Sod it, that’ll do; I’ll just ad lib that bit”.

I’m not suggesting for a second that it’s an R&B thing as there’s good and bad in every genre. God knows there are equivalent indie bands out there content to bash away at Telecasters and arpeggiate a G/Em/C/D chord sequence in a sub-Beatles style that, were it any less imaginative, would be the reserve of lobotomy patients and Oasis-tribute acts.

Not every band/artist can be a trailblazer admittedly, but musical drabness, where the same old kak is just re-hashed in a kind of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ way which tries to ride on the coattails of successful predecessors, bugs me.

Anyway, there. “Neeurgh… it’s all just noise these days… You can’t tell the girls from the boys etc.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Geronimo’s Hairy Carpet

Dan recently wrote a post in which he tried to convey the magnitude of a trillion dollars. It’s an almost unimaginable amount of money and is in danger of sounding like an almost trivial, throwaway number; like it’s just one step up from a billion. To understand just how much money it is, it needs converting into a visual – abstract or otherwise. If you were to stack it up on pallets in $100 bills, for example, it would look like this.

Alternatively, imagine that a Native American chief collected scalp after scalp with the intention of attaining a trillion human hairs to make himself a nice carpet for his tepee. Given that the average number of hairs on the human head is around 115,000* he’d have to lop the dermises off 8,695,652 paleface craniums.

Taking the human head as roughly spherical with an approximate 13cm radius and calculating the surface area (using the formula 4πR2) and dividing by three, we’re able to determine the approximate coverage of the flap of hairy skin our chief’s bloodthirsty braves might remove (though subsequent stretching might add a little extra). Each scalp would give us an area of around 708cm2, or 26.5 x 26.5cm.

The square root of 8,695,652 is 2948.83, and multiplying this by the dimensions above gives us our final figure: a patchwork of human axminster containing a trillion human hairs would measure approximately 0.8 kilometres square. More than enough for the big chief’s wigwam, and almost certainly enough to provide a smashing underfoot experience for his whole village, even without underlay.

Bringing things up-to-date, the traditional method of imagining surface area is to use a common denominator of football pitches. Given that the average football pitch is 100m x 50m, with Geronimo’s carpet, you’d have enough for around 121 pitches. That’s the whole of the Premier League, Championship, Leagues 1 & 2 and Conference (though sadly, not Conferences North and South who’d have to stick with grass).

Given that 8.5m (the amount of scalps needed) is approximately the population of Greater London, in theory, if everyone had hair, there would be just enough in the capital to cover the pitches of the English leagues. However, this doesn’t account for baldies who constitute around 25% of the population to varying degrees. Just across the channel however, the population of Paris is around 10.5m which more or less allows for the chrome-dome contingent. Not that I’m advocating the widespread maiming of the denizens of France’s capital to re-turf the football pitches of England in any way.

It would be quite groovy though.

* Fair hair is finer with around 140,000 peppering the heads of blondies, while redheads only have about 90,000. If you were to embark on such an undertaking and wanted something that was softer (and arguably more sightly) underfoot, you’d be well-advised to avoid the gingers.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Singular Characters

It seems there’s a much under-exploited gimmick by the celebrity fraternity in the adoption of single character names. The only ones I can think of are H from Steps, E from Eels and Mr T (who is often affectionately referred to as a casual “T”, as if “Mr T” wasn’t abbreviation enough). Then there’s always fictional characters like M and Q from James Bond. Zorro also had a single letter moniker which he’d casually slash onto doors as his calling card.

Punctuation marks have been used as signatures, notably, The Riddler from Batman, and famously, Prince had a symbol representing his name (but that doesn’t really count cos it was made up, plus he’s a pretentious little wanker).

Surprisingly though, the vast majority of single letter names are still available. This would make autograph signings much easier as many letters/names could be achieved with a single swipe of a pen. They’re also instantly memorable, can be copied by schoolchildren (to be gouged into desks or marker-penned across rucksacks) and guest appearances on Sesame Street would be inevitable.

If I was a celebrity, I’d choose U. No reason.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Removes Limescale, Skidmarks And All Traces Of Irony

What on earth’s happened to Mr Muscle lately? His depiction in the new advert is a bit of a sad departure from its predecessors.

There was something quirky though comfortingly British about a nerdy, badly-dressed middle-aged superhero cleaning a toilet with undoubtedly sub-super powers. You got the impression that he shared a house with his mum, drank weak lemon squash and routinely cried himself to sleep in a bedroom plastered with yellowing Star Wars wallpaper – the donning of an ill-fitting costume being the only release from days filled with ridicule and drudgery. Still, you knew where you were with him

However, all trace of irony has now been removed with his recent reinvention. He’s been transformed from an emaciated geek with NHS specs to an individual of rippling Schwarzennegarian musculature, a jaw you could stack books on and thighs of an overtly thunderous nature. As if this wasn’t indicative enough of an all-conquering hero, he’s also been given an American accent. (As an aside, I can’t help but notice that Barry ‘Cillit Bang’ Scott has calmed down a bit lately. Maybe the two are connected.)

Despite being beefed-up bigstyle though, I don’t think I’d like the new Mr Muscle wielding my loo brush, even though he’d be well-equipped to administer a bit more purchase to shift the more stubborn traces of excrement. Bring back the skinny fella. I wouldn’t even mind if he missed a couple of skidders.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Game On

I must confess to having a weakness for computer games and my thumbs can occasionally be seen waggling across the front of a PSP of an evening. I don’t own many games, but I’ve realised that for some reason a disproportionate amount of these require me to adopt the persona of a small mammal such as Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Sly Raccoon (then there’s the variants of Ratchet & Clank: Locked & Loaded, Daxter etc.)

While Sly Raccoon is obviously a raccoon and Crash Bandicoot is obviously a bandicoot, Daxter – according to the accompanying notes – is an ‘otsel’ (a biologically impossible hybrid of an otter and a weasel) and Ratchet is some kind of space-travelling creature, clearly based on a small weaselly/ottery/bandicooty/raccoony type mammal. There seems to be a proliferation of these games which I have such a penchant for, which is a bit puzzling.

Another favourite, and not dissimilar game, is Ray-Man, who doesn’t really resemble an animal of any sort, but embarks on similar adventures in a cutesy platform cartoon land. The first time this game was suggested to me I mis-heard it as Rainman, which I remember thinking was the worst idea for a computer game ever. It’s difficult to imagine what a game about an autistic savant would entail. Counting probably. In that sense it’s probably not dissimilar to that that Brain Training rubbish that Ronan Keating and Captain Jean-Luc Picard are always telling me to buy, which looks about as entertaining as watching grass grow. Give me small mammalian cosmonauts any day.

Friday, March 06, 2009


I gave up coffee last week. I would say it was the longest week of my life, but that’s not strictly true as without the benefit of caffeine coursing around my bloodstream, I spent most of it asleep, which made the time between giving it up and resuming it again mercifully short.

Its temporary replacement (which was more down to a [probably misplaced] belief that it did me good rather than because it tasted nice) was herbal tea. This came in a variety of hippieish flavours, which sounded more like an explosion in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s garden than any palatable, or even drinkable beverage.

One cup and one teabag is all you need. After a few minutes soaking, the lucky drinker is rewarded with unspectacular brew which looks like the sort of water you find in the toilet when a stubbornly unflushable turd, produced by the previous visitor, has been allowed to steep for several hours.

My main problem with it though, is not its appearance; it’s the fact that although it smells really flavoursome, it tastes like weak squash (the sort of squash that old ladies used to make you when you were a kid). Despite your nostrils being assaulted by the tangy odour of echinacea and elderflower, the taste is pretty much that of water. It promises so much and then completely fails to deliver.

Also, as well as being almost entirely devoid of taste, the absence of a glop of cold milk (which is such an integral part of other hot beverages) means it’s delivered lipwards at temperatures approaching that of the surface of the sun, causing the drinker to look like a post-surgical Leslie Ash by the end of the day.

Apparently, it takes two weeks for caffeine to leave the system of a regular coffee drinker. My self-imposed one-week sentence was up on Saturday and I’m back on the good stuff. What’s more, I’m awake enough to appreciate it.

Heston Services

Is it me, or is the gimmick with Heston Blumenthal wearing a bit thin now? Yes, yes, yes… he’s a ground-breaking chef who turns snails into porridge, uses liquid nitrogen in a mad-professor type way and pushes the culinary envelope (I’ve never understood that metaphor – why do envelopes need to be pushed?) further than any balding bespectacled chef has done before, but it’s starting to border on sensationalism.

In his show on telly the other night, he recreated Victorian feasts like mock turtle soup (real turtles are extremely expensive and ever-so-slightly endangered), deep-fried insects, and an Absinthe jelly with dildos embedded in it like some deviant Desperate Dan cow pie.

Strangely, as the credits rolled, the announcer announced (as is common with most announcements at the end of cookery shows), that all recipes were available on the Channel 4 website.

Somehow I don’t think many mums will be recreating Heston’s dishes in the little kitchens of their semi-detacheds up and down the land. Or maybe I’ll be proved wrong and the sales of vibrators will increase tenfold, like when Delia started cooking with eggs a few years ago and their sales subsequently rocketed.

Also, call me repressed and overtly English, but I think I’d find the presence of a sex aid in my dessert a little disconcerting.

“Err… sorry Mum, but I’ll just have mine with ice cream thanks.”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Every Cloud...

More gloomy news today as ITN announced that they’re the latest to feel the bite of the economic downturn. They’’ll shortly be making around 400 staff redundant in Leeds and London, with further cutbacks in programming (the production on many regular shows, such as Heartbeat, has already ceased).

The lack of advertising revenue in recent months which funds the organisation has resulted in the need to reduce its programme budget by a substantial £65m, and it’s feared there are more job losses to come in other ITN offices around the country.

Still, good news about Heartbeat though.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“Enthusiastic Self-Starter with GSOH…”

The big fella’s almost five weeks in now and has his feet firmly under the desk in the Oval Office. It’s like any new job: I reckon he’s got past the enthusiasm common among new starters and is now probably spending a high percentage of his day on Facebook, emailing jokes to his mates or nicking Post-It notes. Actually, he’s probably not nicking Post-It notes given that he’s “working from home”; he probably just logs in first thing in the morning, ambles around in his pants watching Loose Women and sends the occasional email to give the impression that he’s actively hard at work. Pretty soon he’ll start having a shave once a week and throwing sickies.

In all fairness though, he’s earned it and all power to him. He’s now one of the few people alive who doesn’t have to lie on his CV – having a job title of The Most Powerful Man in the World is difficult to top and not something many people can boast. If I put that on my CV, eyebrows might raise skywards among prospective employers who would immediately question my sanity. Still, I like to think I’d have got the inauguration speech right.

“He fucked that right up” commented my lovely wife, and I’m afraid she was right.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cha-Cha-Cha? Sh-Sh-Shit…

There’s a question I’ve been subconsciously pondering for years now but it’s like one of those Chinese puzzles in that, the more you contemplate it, the more difficult it becomes to answer. Who on earth watches Strictly Come Dancing? I’m genuinely baffled, not only that it’s lasted for more than the odd series, but that it commands an audience of millions. Who in God’s name are these people? I didn’t think there were that many lobotomy patients in the country.

Having a stab at the demographic (not literally, that’s just wishful thinking), I can only assume they’re either individuals too lethargic to raise a sweaty bingo-winged arm to reach for the remote to change channel, or are immobile hospital patients unable to turn the TV off despite frantic efforts to summon a nurse.

It’s dancing for God’s sake! The only possible entertainment value dancing can ever possess is watching awkward men in nightclubs, stomping around with telltale beads of sweat rolling down their brows, undergoing the ritual humiliation synonymous with trying to engage a member of the opposite sex with desperate gyrations. This would be a much more entertaining show, and one the producers of SCD should seriously think of adopting:

“John Sergeant now takes to the floor, exhibiting the classic ‘white-man’s overbite’, clutching a half pint of snakebite with one hand while using the other for counterbalance, gazing lasciviously at his prospective partner, sweat stains under the arms of his best Top Man shirt… etc.”

The judges would have to rate his chances based on cringeworthy technique, ‘gone-to-bed’ eyes and percentage of the room he manages to fill with the tangy odour of Joop!.

I reckon it’s the shallow celebrity element which is the cause of the inflated viewing figures. You could screen Celebrity Toenail Clipping or Celebrity Manure Sculpture, and the same people would watch it in their droves.

That said, Celebrity Big Brother was pretty good this year. I liked the bit where Coolio had to wear a car costume and get sprayed with foam in a miniature car wash in the garden every time Rose Royce was played. Or there was the bit where that chap who played Mini-Me had to dress up like Lionel Richie and sing a duet with Ulrika Johnsson. In fact, the only thing it was missing was a manure sculpture task. Still, maybe next year…

Friday, February 13, 2009

"With [luke]warmest wishes"

"Happy 100th Birthday!” bore the message on a card I spotted while ambling round one of those cheap card shops the other day.

While the specificness of cards is a good thing, I can’t help but think the market for those commemorating such a comparatively rare event is fairly limited, and I’m surprised that some manufacturer somewhere has deemed it to be economically viable to print a stash of them up.

Apparently, there are about 8,000 centenarians in the UK. Given that the population of Trowbridge is about, ooh, at a guess… 28,163, there’s probably about three or four of them knocking around the local area. The chances of well-wishing relatives of selecting a card to commemorate such a monumental achievement of longevity from a crap collection in a sub-Clintons “three-for-a-quid” card shop is, however, I believe minimal.

If I hit 100 years old, I’d want Olympic-style fireworks and cards hand-fashioned from pulp from the rarest trees; not some wafer-thin half-hearted tawdry effort which I’d be embarrassed to display on the mantelpiece.

It didn’t even come with one of those flashing badges.

Here’s One For You James…

Footage from the Australian Open tennis tournament was on the news earlier this week, including the closing moments of the men’s wheelchair final. For able-bodied individuals to fling themselves around a tennis court is demanding enough, but doing it in any kind of vehicle while brandishing a racquet and having balls belted towards you at tip-top speed must be nigh-on impossible.

“They should invent wheelchairs with those balls underneath, like Dysons,” mused my wife while we sat there, hugely impressed at the ability of the individuals taking part.

Come on James! Let’s see you put your Ball™ Technology to good use and come up with an ultra-maneuverable chair. Balance would, of course, be the primary obstacle – maybe four little rocket boosters could be used to steady the device – but such problems should be mere piffle to an engineer of JD’s undoubted talents. The man is, after all, worth £1.1 bn. (I’ll say it again - 1.1 billion pounds)…

Right, I’ll shut up about him now (though I can’t believe he’s been allowed to trademark the word “Ball”…)

Hot Birds

Strange top story on the Beeb a couple of days ago in which a chap was caught trying to smuggle a couple of live pigeons into Australia by popping them in Jiffy Bags and Sellotaping them to his legs. Looking at the accompanying picture, I can’t be the only person who’s noticed the hairyness of his limbs. I bet the little fellas were warm as toast on their inbound flight.

Apparently, airport police also seized eggs, seeds and an undeclared aubergine from him. He must have waded through customs like John Wayne, or some carrier-bagless Ready Steady Cook contestant ready to empty his pockets onto Ainsley’s table. Maybe he too felt the social pressure of not accepting a bag when asked and chose to inventively secrete his purchases about his person instead.

I ate pigeon in a restaurant once. It made me ill.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Unrestricted Diet

There was another example of the liberal and uninformed use of the word “literally” during a documentary presented by adolescent biffer turned camp sweary fashionista Gok Wan the other day:

“What would you eat in a typical day?” a sincere Gok quizzed a gargantuan teenager, who apparently now wasn‘t quite as gargantuan as she used to be.
“I’d eat anything and everything… literally.” she replied.

I’m not surprised she ballooned to 18 stone. Frankly, I think she did well to keep it below 50.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sucking Up Millions

James Dyson – why do people hold him in such high regard? He invented a bloody Hoover (and I know Hoover is a brand name and I should use “vacuum” instead, but I don’t care).

In fact, he didn’t even invent, but improved an already existing device for picking up dust from carpets. In the grand scheme of things (and call me controversial) this seems a fairly unimportant contribution to the awesome scope of human engineering. Other unnamed and undoubtedly less wealthy engineers have built tunnels under the French/Swiss border to recreate the big bang, landed probes on the surface of Mars or spanned seemingly unspannable distances with cantilevered constructions. James Dyson removes fluff from floors and he’s held up as some kind of engineering hero.

Whilst this post was bubbling in my head, and lest I vented my spleen Dysonwards without justification, I conducted a little research and looked him up on Wikipedia in case there was anything more to him. Strangely, it appears there is. He also invented those wheelbarrows with plastic balls instead of wheels. And that’s pretty much it.

James Dyson is worth £1.1 billion.

Carrot Bop

While idly looking at the telly on Saturday night when the boxing was on, I couldn’t help but notice that both fighters (John Murray and Lee McAllistair) were ginger. To me, this exemplified a win/win situation perfectly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On The Buses

"There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” runs the brave and excellent ad backed by the British Humanist Association, causing miffed Christian bus driver Ron Heather to walk out of his shift and elect to have the day off instead. Not quite sure why he’s so tetchy at what's nothing more than a point of view, particularly when the church seems to put its, err… hard-earned tithe money to similar good use.

"If God exists, what would you ask him?" screamed an ad for The Alpha Course on the back of the Warminster to Chippenham bus as I waited behind it at the traffic lights on the way to work this morning.

On pondering this, I suppose the first thing I'd ask him is where my wife's mobile phone is. The kids made off with it a couple of months ago, and it's bound to be in amongst all their toys somewhere, but we've searched high and low for it without success. The battery was almost dead when it disappeared so we couldn’t even call it to discover its whereabouts.

All that other stuff about war, famine, man’s inhumanity to man and what kind of omniscient being would allow the slaughter of innocent women and children would come later (you know, the usual stuff about how it’s possible to let people to pootle along pre-determined paths towards unjustifiable injustice and torture).

Still, the mobile thing is quite annoying…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recycle, Reduce, Re-use (And Remember)

M & S bloody started it. In an effort to cut back on using so many posh carrier bags (with these cost-saving efforts masquerading as an eco-friendly “save the planet!” crusade to prevent landfill sites being full of non-biodegradable plasticky shit sporting their logo), they stopped automatically giving them out whenever you bought something.

Now other stores have followed suit and it’s become the norm for shop assistants to ask if you want a bag for your purchases (thereby rendering them portable). The problem is that, too often, I buckle under the weight of guilt and refuse one, instead replying “Nah, it’s alright. I don’t mind carrying this collection of large objects in my hands”. Hence I struggle out of shops like a Crackerjack contestant with armfuls of oddly-shaped boxes or untransportable handle-free purchases.

Even supermarkets now keep their bags under the counter like forbidden items or ‘precious things’ and only give them out on request as if they’re made of gold, but there’s no way you can carry your shopping without them. I know you’re meant to recycle them, or use those Bags For Life which look like they’ve been fashioned from hessian, grubby potato sacks and human hair, but it’s extremely hard to remember. Too often, while the tree-hugger at the adjacent checkout fills their hippy bags with humous, nut roast, pond weed falafel bake cake and other sundry items, I pack my items shamefaced by the accompanying rustle of micron-thick plastic, subsequently slunking out the door like a leper in a Hanson T-shirt.

If our consumer society continues ad infinitum down this path, maybe humans will eventually evolve to develop enormous hands not unlike the foamy ones traditionally waved around at sporting events or Gladiators. But then everything would have to be supersized to correspond to the enormous digits. Computer keyboards would be as big as the desk they sat on, mobile phones would be like computer screens and doorbells would be as big as dinner plates. The next time I’m asked if I need a bag, I’m going to proudly say yes to do my bit to prevent this nightmarish vision of the future.