Archive for the 'Diary' Category

26
Jul
10

How I am single-handedly saving the planet with my (vast) collection of Bags for Life

According to Friends of the Earth, every household has around 80 plastic bags – including Bags For Life – in their possession.

By ‘in their possession’, I assume they mean ‘stuffed in a drawer’ or ‘rapidly filling the car boot’ rather than suggesting that people carry 80 plastic bags on their person at all times.

That would be ridiculous. I can only fit about 22 in my coat without looking like a terrorist.

Asking for a single-use plastic bag at a shop counter is now only marginally more socially acceptable than lighting up a fag in a pre-school and asking an asthmatic toddler to hold the packet while you open another can of lager.

This man has never, ever used a plastic bag. Or a bar of soap.

If you do forget to scale the Bag For Life mountain before you go shopping, you are duty bound to buy yet another BFL lest you are singled out as the kind of person that chokes birds on the seashore or fly-tips in beauty spots for larks.

Generally, the reason I forget to bring my shopping bags into shops is because I ‘only pop in for a loaf of bread’, only to be utterly hoodwinked by absolutely any offer being advertised in-store. One loaf of bread swiftly becomes a basket full of Buy One Get One Free offers that truly could feed the 5,000 and definitely couldn’t be carried to the car without a bag.

The new bag joins its plastic siblings until the mountain grows so high that even I can’t ignore it any longer. At that point, I take a bag full of bags to a charity shop so they can offer them to customers.

Yes: I use my own profligate bag buying to make me look good. I truly am the scum of the Earth.

The answer, of course, is to carry those jute bags, aka Bags That Smell For Life. I have about 50 of them, too, and the charity shop won’t take them on the grounds that since Mary Portas (ruthless reality TV show retail doyenne), they’ve moved away from selling unpleasant things that whiff and started charging £3.50 for Peter Andre’s autobiography even though you can get it on eBay for 99p.

But that’s another story, and one that makes me look miserly as opposed to selfish, so we’ll save it for another day.

NB: Britons believe that all Americans carry their shopping home in brown paper bags. Is this true? I’d like to see you try that trick with my weekly shopping.

19
Jul
10

Why ‘Girl Power!’ makes me want to climb into a microwave oven with a pocketful of spoons.

News that The Spice Girls are planning a West End musical is a bit like receiving notification in the post that you’re due for a smear test.

You’ve known it’s been on the cards for a while, you haven’t been looking forward to it, but if you just grit your teeth and get on with it, hopefully the pain will be short-lived.

After their disastrous reunion in 2007, Our Ladies of the Hideously Unsuccessful Solo Careers have announced they are ‘brainstorming’ with Mamma Mia! Producer Judy Craymer to create Viva Forever: The Story of the Spice Girls.

Brainstorming with the Spice Girls: there’s a concept.

On the plus side, the working title of the musical isn’t “Girl Power”, a phrase I loathe so completely that when I heard it on Britain’s Got Talent a month or two ago, I had to fight the urge to gouge out my ear canals with a pair of nail scissors so I would never hear it again.

For those of you who might have forgotten, Girl Power involves turning a blind eye to your husband’s infidelities, having eye-wateringly extreme eating disorders which include rooting around in George Michael’s bin for leftovers and hiring witch doctors to perform love spells involving Eddie Murphy’s pants and a pickle jar.

Victoria Beckham's figure is the envy of the world

The Spice Girls tirelessly fought for a woman’s right to wear microscopic hotpants and halter-neck tops – think Emmeline Pankhurst if she’d dolled herself up a bit and stopped banging on about politics.

They sang one feminist-lite song about telling men what they really, really wanted and then stuck to beige love songs and choreographed dance routines – all of which served to make the male svengalis behind the band hugely wealthy. Girl Power!

With the launch of a musical, we can look forward to lots of personal appearances, photo calls and endless interviews about ‘empowerment’ and ‘friendship’.

Of the Spice Girls, only Mel C – dubbed ‘the ugly one’ back in 1996 – and Emma Bunton – ‘the fat one’ – look as if they don’t earn their money hanging around on street corners offering sailors saucy cuddles for a handful of grubby small change.

Indeed Mel C looks positively radiant next to Victoria Beckham, who resembles a Versace-clad preying mantis wearing an Andy Warhol wig and the rictus grin of a cadaver.

Mel B, once a terrifying harpy who looked as if she was only one misjudged comment away from glassing you in the face, now looks about as scary as a bowl of blancmange being gently agitated by Dickens’ Tiny Tim.

Mel B at the height of her sexual allure

One’s ability to terrify mankind diminishes somewhat when your public learn that you’ve tearfully demanded a DNA test from the Donkey in Shrek in order to prove he’s your daughter’s father and taken part in a ballroom dancing competition.

Geri Halliwell, meanwhile, remains the haunted shop mannequin we have grown to know and ignore, a talent vacuum who has completely refused to let a lack of any discernible ability prevent her from describing herself as ‘an entertainer’.

It’s this kind of plucky attitude which would have netted her the consolation prize for village idiots at school prize day for learning to put her clothes on the right way round after PE.

The Spice Girls’ ill-fated reunion was believed to be the result of Take That’s triumphant return to the charts some months beforehand.

What Victoria and clan conveniently ignored was that the secret behind the incredible success of Take That’s reunion and subsequent follow-up singles was due to the fact that the public were genuinely interested to see some old faces again.

Bar the odd appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, or news from my cousin in Manchester that Jason had joined her pilates class (apparently, he was hung like a donkey), we’d heard nothing of Gary, Howard, Mark and Mr Orange for years.

Since the Spice Girls went their separate ways, barely a day went by without at least one of them appearing on a reality show, judging a reality show, writing an autobiography, having a baby, failing to chart or being involved in a love triangle involving a footballer, a Hollywood actor and a woman who pleasures pigs on farms.

The Spice Girls didn’t so much split up, they dispersed.

Scary, Ginger, Baby, Sporty and Posh were what happened when you base your music career on an image and not talent, Take That were what happens when you let the fat one stay in the group because he can write good songs.

We can but hope that the musical is as successful as the world tour – not that that stopped them last time.

13
Nov
09

Baguette eating surrender bird threatens humanity. Well, France and Switzerland.

A bird has pulled off a clever parody of Dan Brown’s interminable yawn-fest Angels and Demons by disabling Cern’s Large Hadron Collider with “a bit of baguette”.

The LHC, for the unenlightened, is a huge particle accelerator housed on the French/Swiss border which scientists hope will unlock the so-called ‘God particle’ and recreate the birth of the universe in miniature.

Astro-physics explained brilliantly, for free. Don’t say I don’t spoil you.

While I don’t know much about unlocking the secrets of the universe (I dropped physics when I was 14), I am fairly sure that the key to the lock isn’t a baguette dropped by a bird.

According to Cern, a bird – still on the wing from authorities – dropped a piece of baguette into the atom-smasher’s outdoor machinery last week and caused a short circuit and untold financial damage.

A spokesman confirmed the bread was “naked and unfilled”, ruling out customers from Subway, and that scientists believed the culprit to be a bird which “had been spotted beforehand near the substation carrying bread.”

This incredible machine will unlock mysteries that have perplexed the human race for centuries. Oh, hang on, there's a bit of baguette. Forget I said anything.

Behold! The key to the universe! Oh hang on, there's a bit of baguette in the hard drive. Forget I said anything.

In its bid to twist time and prevent scientists from answering the big questions that have plagued mankind since we stopped believing we’d fall off the edge of the world if we sailed for long enough and that the Earth was the centre of the universe, the bird had made a textbook error.

Everyone is going to notice a bird carrying a baguette. I’d be surprised if grainy footage from a mobile phone doesn’t turn up on You’ve Been Framed – why take the risk when a well-aimed spot of defecation could have done the job just as well, if not better?

Because the machine wasn’t switched on, the baguette damage was collateral rather than cataclysmic. It would be adding insult to injury if in addition to giving us avian flu, birds also created black holes large enough to swallow entire tracts of Europe.

Lunatics and straw-clutching fatalists who believe the world will end in 2012 (when my mortgage is still outstanding? I should be so lucky) have claimed that ‘baguette bird’ is an example of the LHC sabotaging itself from the future.

A bit like smoking when you’ve got a history of heart problems in your family, or drinking 12 cocktails and then telling your best friend’s husband that you’ve always wondered what it might be like if he took you from behind.

They believe the frequency of Cern’s accidents is more than a coincidence and that the Higgs Boson, which sounds like the double-barrelled surname of a posh boy at boarding school but is, in fact the particle physicists hope to produce with the LHC might be ‘abhorrent to nature’.

Avid watchers of Doctor Who take note: this means that the creation of the Higgs Boson at some point in the future would ripple backwards through time to put a stop to whatever it was that had created it in the first place.

Let me give you a moment while your brain stops spinning.

Given this science fiction style scenario, you’d hope that the £10 billion LHC would have come up with something better than a baguette carrying bird.

An invisible cyborg teleported into the heart of the machine to wage war against time, perhaps, or a tiny alien robot ant hidden in the mail; anything, in short, than a cack-handed French bird on its way to a picnic.

In addition to our feathered friend, the LHC has been hit by other mishaps, ranging from an explosion during its construction to a malfunction during its first use.

The devout believe it’s God’s way of calling a halt to humans messing with the fabric of time, much in the same way He stopped me from making a circuit in an IT lesson at school because He knew I should never be afforded that kind of power.

Today a circuit that illuminates a fairy light bulb: tomorrow a particle accelerator that can be derailed by a bird and single-handedly wipe out the world’s supply of Lindt chocolate and Camembert.

Baguettes not withstanding, scientists are planning to fire up the LHC in the near future to see if it can produce the Higgs Boson particle which will open the door to all kinds of other mysteries, such as the origins and nature of dark matter, extra dimensions in space and why Richard Hammond thought that advertisement for Morrisson’s was a good idea.

Frankly, if it can be short-circuited by a bird flying overhead, I’m not holding out too much hope that it’ll give us an answer to the meaning of life any time in the near future.

But if it does, I will refer you all to my post wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supporting the LHC that I wrote in 2036.

*** Apologies if you thought I had fallen into a black hole created by the Hadron Collider. I haven’t. I’ve just been working myself into an early grave, which is far less exciting ***

06
Sep
09

Women allowed to box at the Olympics? Next thing you know, they’ll allow us to vote

For years, women were denied the right to box in the Olympics on the grounds that pre-menstrual tension made us all ‘unstable’.

Now, the Olympic Committee has announced that women can compete in 2012 and have the same right as men to willingly open themselves up to brain injury, flat noses and black eyes: hooray for equality!

Personally, I’d have to be suffering from PMT 365 days of the year to even contemplate getting into a ring and punching the bejasus out of an opponent. And the opponent would have to be someone who I felt had wronged me: a snippy shop assistant, maybe, or someone who cut me up on a roundabout without raising a hand to say sorry.

I’d have thought that PMT would be an absolute bonus when you’re in a boxing ring, offering you the opportunity to channel all those ‘why is everyone getting at me? Why is life SO UNFAIR? Why is everything so totally and utterly SHIT?’ feelings into a series of mindlessly violent lobs and lunges.

In fact the only issues I can see being a problem are making sure your boxing matches are carefully timed to happen at the right moment during a 28-day window (my fights, bearing this in mind, would be on the first of every month. I could take down a rhino).

OK, I want a good, clean fight. No punching below the belt, no holding, no Kylie, you havent got time to have a kebab first

OK, I want a good, clean fight. No punching below the belt, no holding, no Kylie, you haven't got time to have a kebab first

Only 40 years ago, women were banned from taking part in marathons because the powers-that-be thought their wombs would fall out (no, really) because “of constant jarring”.

When it was proven that wombs didn’t fall out – although I’m fairly sure that if I ran a marathon mine would, along with my liver, lungs, heart and toenails – women were given the green light to compete, although it took until 1984 until they could participate in the marathon at the Olympics.

In 1896, Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, described the concept of women participating in the games as: “impractical, uninteresting, ungainly and improper” (I wonder if he had access to a time machine and had watched me taking part in PE lessons at high school).

To this day, women are still barred from a whole range of Olympic sports – of seven track disciplines, women are only allowed to compete in three – so I suppose it’s a step forward that we’re now allowed to box. Even though boxing is really, really horrible and reminds me why I am a lover and not a fighter.

It’s because I’m a coward. And I paid good money for these teeth (please note, US readers – some Brits do have nice teeth. Sometimes they’re even our own).

20
Aug
09

Do not stand at my grave and weep – I’ve emailed you. There is no escape.

A new messaging service from beyond the grave has been launched, allowing personal notes written prior to death to be sent to loved ones in the future.

The Last Messages Club offers busybodies and those who insist on having the last word – even when they’re dead – the opportunity to keep poking their noses into other people’s business for days, months and years after they’ve breathed their last.

For a small fee, members can write up to 100 emails that can be released once they have died at times of their choosing, such as when a loved one marries, has a child or needs prompting to put the bins out on a Thursday.

Simon Gilligan, 63, from Cambridgeshire, has signed up to the service and has written messages that will be sent to his wife, children and friends after his death.

“The messages are personal, but most of them are humorous,” he said.

“It also makes you think about smaller details, like making sure you remind someone to cancel your bus pass.”

In other words, the new service is like really low-level haunting.

Rather than all that pointless banging on the pipes at night, or moving objects or causing people to feel a chill down their spine, you can just email them and cut out the hassle-factor.

Thanks for the funeral, although I did think I might have warranted a slightly more expensive coffin. The fixed rate on the mortgage ends next month, make sure you shop around. Off to see Michael Jackson tonight - Elvis is the support act. Love, WIB

Thanks for the funeral, although I did think I might have warranted a slightly more expensive coffin. The fixed rate on the mortgage ends next month, make sure you shop around. Off to see Michael Jackson tonight - Elvis is the support act. Love, WIB

I only hope that the messages are sent under a comforting pseudonym, rather than the name of the deceased: I can see how it might be a bit disconcerting to see that the person you buried six months ago has clogged up your inbox with messages about shopping around for an insurance quote on the Mondeo or remembering to have the boiler serviced.

Otherwise, the messages might serve one purpose early – to reunite the loved one with the deceased by virtue of a catastrophic heart attack caused by sheer fright in front of the computer.

Personally, I’d find it incredibly frustrating to be limited to just 100 emails after the grave – I bang out that many in a day, and I’d hate to be constrained in the afterlife, especially as I’d have eternity to be frustrated about it.

No, if I’ve got the option, I’d like to send an email for every conceivable eventuality.

I sincerely think that my reassuring voice from beyond the grave would be a huge comfort to all, especially if it was regarding a matter of great importance, such as whether or not my daughter should get her belly button pierced (no) or if my son should be stopped from leaving the house if he insisted on gelling his fringe (yes).

And then there are other equally pressing issues I need to advise my children about.

They need to know that it’s socially unacceptable to call themselves ‘Dr’ on their chequebook and in non-academic situations after post-graduate studies UNLESS they become a proper doctor, in other words one that can write a prescription and remove in-growing toenails.

They must also be stopped from pronouncing ‘clique’ as ‘click’, dating men who wear patent shoes (or women who wear t-shirts with ‘Pornstar’ written across them or talk in ‘little girl’ voices to get their own way), thinking Peter Kay or Lee Evans are hilarious or wearing any form of yellow gold jewellery.

In fact, come to think of it, there are so many issues that I have an opinion on that I’m minded to dedicating the rest of my life to writing emails about them just in case I drop dead without any notice.

After I’ve dealt with the really important stuff – the patent shoes, the show-off ‘Dr’ titles and so forth – there are practical matters to contend with.

Who, other than me, for example, understands the complexities of the family tumble drier and realises that if you run the tap in the kitchen during the final spin it will render the entire drying process pointless?

Explaining the tumble drier alone would take 100 emails. And that’s before I’ve even started on how you make back right-hand oven ring work by twiddling a knob in several directions while giving the whole apparatus a sharp shove.

And finally, I don’t think I’d be able to pass up the opportunity to send a few unsettling emails to people who have wronged me and who deserve a damn good haunting.

You know, a few titbits about the afterlife to give them food for thought: eternal burning lakes of fire, demonic servitors of Belial, hell’s uncanny resemblance to an Ikea warehouse on a Bank Holiday Monday, that kind of thing.

It’s important to me to know I won’t be forgotten when I’m gone. My only fear is that the WiFi connection in the afterlife will be as ropey as the one I have in the land of the living.

PS I promise not to send ‘hilarious’ jokes titled ‘ You HAVE to see this!’ or links to YouTube clips or terrifying, but false, pieces of ‘health information’ that suggest wearing a bra gives you a brain tumour. Unless you’ve really pissed me off. In which case, that inbox of yours is going to need some extra memory.

15
Aug
09

Mix tapes – the lost art of trying to pull someone at school with a Memorex C90

It’s a terrifying 30 years since the Sony Walkman was introduced and music became portable in a way that didn’t alienate everyone within a 500m radius.

I didn’t have a Walkman 30 years ago, obviously, because they were ruinously expensive and I was only little – I simply didn’t have the strength to carry one.

They started to creep into my consciousness when I was at high school and a fellow student, one of the ones who always had the right coat, bag, shoes and highlights, brought a giant yellow Walkman on a school trip.

It was passed around the coach with the kind of reverence you might expect if you whipped out the Turin Shroud at a convent.

Despite being the size of the Yellow Pages and boasting the kind of sound quality that made listening to music underwater seem crystal clear, it represented an exciting, high-tech future.

Cliff Richard could make anything look cool (nb: leotard-wearing models did not come with standard Sony Walkmans)

Cliff Richard could make anything look cool (nb: leotard-wearing models did not come with standard Sony Walkmans)

Having only just persuaded my parents to buy one of those tinny made-for-teenagers ‘ghetto blasters’, I knew it would be a while before I could tap them up for a Walkman, or rather a Walkman equivalent available from my Mum’s home catalogue.

As archaic as it was, my own tape player had released me from the tyranny of my father, who was somewhat of a stereo Nazi, owning a set of hugely expensive ‘separates’ which made me the only person I knew who had to master a tuner and graphic equalisers before being able to put Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ on the turntable.

Everyone else’s Mum and Dad had a nice, simple Hinari or a Binatone stereo that could have been operated by an earthworm. Mine required tutorials from What Stereo? magazine before you felt confident enough to even switch it on.

On the plus side, my Dad’s technical fascism did mean that I made the most professional mix-tapes this side of the Western hemisphere.

He even taught me how to produce ‘quality silence’, a lost art these days, especially in cinema or theatre audiences when I’m in the auditorium.

In the good old days, if you made someone a mix-tape, it represented a fair chunk of your entire Sunday given over to faffing around with the record player and hovering over the pause button on the tape deck.

(I think, by the way, that that’s a contender for the most biddified, grey-haired, mobility-scooter riding sentence I’ve ever written.)

I would spend hour-upon-hour carefully working out an intricate play list that would fit on each side of a Memorex C90 without cutting Morrissey off midway through ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ or, more likely, Aha off during ‘Take On Me’.

Helped me to seduce older boys with cars and jobs. Although ye Gods, look at this picture. How many shades of wrong? And lets face it, teenage boys are pretty simple to seduce - I doubt I needed Aha: a pulse was enough.

Helped me to seduce older boys with cars and jobs. Although ye Gods, look at this picture. How many shades of wrong? And let's face it, teenage boys are pretty simple to seduce - I doubt I needed Aha: a pulse was enough.

It could easily take eight hours to make one 90-minute tape. An hour of which would be spent making ‘quality silence’ (also known as ‘sulking’ if my Dad was still lurking around trying to be ‘helpful’).

Each tape was compiled with the recipient in mind or, less nobly, as a blatant attempt to persuade the recipient to want to get off with me – those tapes cost good money, and I was keen to see some form of return. Teenage boys being teenage boys, I wasn’t often disappointed.

Hours would evaporate as you tried to cut out the recording ‘click’ between songs, struggled not to put two songs by the same artist in a row, resisted the urge to kill any parent unwittingly walking into the front room and jogging the needle on the record player and then struggled to fit all the track names on the tape insert in felt-tip pen.

After all that effort, keen to get the mix-tape to the recipient, I’d then bike it round, by which I mean I got on my bicycle and pedalled to their house rather than called on an in-house courier (even though I lived in a Grade  II listed house with a balcony AND window boxes, I wasn’t that posh).

These days, I can burn a CD in about three minutes (is it illegal? If it is, when I say that I burn CDs, I refer to music made by my family. On, er, spoons) and email it to someone immediately. It’s taken some of the magic away, frankly.

Equally, I can now have up to 10,000 songs on my iPod and if I shake it, it randomly chooses a new track for me to listen to.

Try that with the Walkman and you’d have been listening to a decidedly old record: your parents giving you the ‘you never look after anything properly’ speech for the gazillionth time before grounding you indefinitely.

NB: I still have some of my Dad’s stereo equipment, even though he went to the big hi-fi shop in the world back in 1992. And it still works, which kind of annoyingly proves his point about quality. Any of you fancy a mix-tape?

**** It’s been many a long week since last I graced WordPress. Lots of work, a lovely dose of swine flu (I didn’t throw a party for others to catch it), the odd weekend away (empahsis on ‘odd’), general apathy and ennui have kept me from posting. I will be visiting you all later to see what you’ve been up to. You’d better have been good while I’ve been away or I’ll know not to leave you home alone again. And don’t think I won’t be checking the phone bill. And the liquor cabinet ****

26
Jun
09

Is that a moon rock in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Frankly, I’m still smarting over all those lies we were told at primary school about how we’d all be living on the moon in the year 2000 and flitting about in hover cars with robot slaves to attend to our every whim.

It’s a harsh blow, therefore, to discover that not only were my teachers big fat liars, if their uneducated predictions had been correct and the human race was living on the moon, we’d all be big and fat too. Oh, and bald. Big, fat and bald – three cheers for the future.

Dr Lewis Dartnell, from the University College London, has single-handedly burst the space bubble, meaning that only the terminally masochistic would consider signing up to a long period away from the earth.

“With very little effort required to move around in microgravity, future spacemen and women are likely to become pretty chubby. Also with no need for hair to insulate the head or eyelashes to flick dust from their eyes, future humans may become totally hairless,” he said.

BEFORE: Mum? Im off to space for a decade. Remember to record Cash in the Attic

BEFORE: 'Mum? I'm off to space for a decade. Remember to record Cash in the Attic'

It’s one big step for mankind that I’m not sure many astronauts would be willing to take – or able to take, once they’d halved in size.

Jetting off into the stratosphere is pretty sexy: returning as a hairless, rotund dwarf is slightly less so, even if you do have a few moon rocks in your pocket and an absolutely enormous helmet to show for your intergalactic troubles.

AFTER: This is a wig, you know

AFTER: 'Ladies? I've been to space. Form an orderly queue'

If we had all decamped to the moon, Gillette and Immac would have gone into administration overnight, no one would be able to reach the top shelf in the kitchen and the human race would be slowly dying because no one would be able to summon up the enthusiasm to go on the (gravitational) pull. It’d be like living in Wales, albeit with a far better view.

And it gets worse. If our future truly does lie in the skies, we’re not only going to be smooth, shiny dwarves who break a hip if we brush up against a cobweb thanks to our muscle and bone wastage, we’re also going to have huge, swollen heads.

Dr Dartnell added: “Without gravity, fluid would float up to pool in the skull, which would cause the head to look permanently swollen and out of proportion.”

Bloody marvellous. Anything else? Will we grow horns? Or tentacles? Or start farting smoke?

I’m waiting until they invent a space where you come back home thinner, better looking and more intelligent. I still want the robot slave, though, that’s a given.

PS My Uncle works for Nasa (FACT!), which means I’m pretty likely to get a trip on a rocket any day soon. Will you still love me when I am a fat, bald, huge-headed dwarf? Oh hang on, I already am. Phew.

23
Jun
09

Tell me what to write in my newspaper column again, and you’ll be reading it in hospital

When you write a column for a newspaper, people are forever making the mistake of telling you what you should be writing about.

They forget, of course, that I am a world expert on everything and therefore always know exactly what I should write about, even though I don’t actually do so very often.

Sometimes I write a not-so-brilliant column just to make the other columnists feel better about themselves – in addition to being an expert on everything, I’m also an extraordinary humanitarian (although I don’t like to talk about it).

Anyway, if I had a pound for every mind-numbingly dull tale which has ended with “…put that in your column!” I would have about £392.

And had someone actually paid me that £392, I might have been slightly more cheerful about being told to highlight someone else’s problem with their plumber/hip operation/neighbours/corns/demonic possession on my page.

As it is, I have developed an impressive ability to switch off while nodding – a bit like your work colleagues do when you show them your holiday photographs – because I figure that it’s hard enough to have my own opinions, let alone someone else’s.

People release their venom about the builder, the buses, young people today, old people today, MPs’ expenses, interest rates, Iraq, men, women, children, animals, humanity as a whole or the fact that BA lost their baggage on a flight back from Ibiza and so forth, then step back slightly, look at you expectantly and boom: “Well? What do you think to THAT?”

There are three answers to such a question.

The first is the answer the person wants you to give them. “WHAT? You mean to say the builder expected you to PAY for that driveway? Despite the uneven bit near the garage? If you’ll excuse me for a moment, Sir, I must call our presses immediately and stop the front page.”

Or you can try a stalling technique: “I will definitely bear that in mind.”

And finally there is the truth. “Sir, I am standing in the frozen food section of Sainsbury’s. My children were last seen scaling the shelves in the crisp aisle three hours ago. Although I hear what you are saying, I cannot pretend to give a monkey’s chuff about your piffling problems.”

I never try the truth.

Anyway, I lumbered out of the dentist’s the other day, a few hundred pounds lighter (sadly only in monetary terms, which is a shame, because hiring that winch to get me in and out of the bath is proving to be costly) and was innocently waiting for a bus when I felt a jab in the ribs.

“You want to write about that (jabbing man gesticulated with his head towards a new development of flats at the site of a former furniture shop called Courts in Norwich) in your column. Bloody ridiculous. What do we need more luxury flats for?” said the man queuing next to me.

Although anaesthetised to a point where my head felt like a balloon only loosely tethered to my shoulders, I still had enough mental and physical fortitude to pretend I hadn’t heard anything. Not that this ever stops anyone.

“Eh? Them flats. Ridiculous.”

I have to admit, I am not aware of a huge gap in the market for luxury loft-style apartments in Norwich, even if they have got scenic views of a roundabout, an office block, a travel lodge and a funeral director’s.

Practically every disused building in the city has been converted into a luxury apartment – I’m surprised someone hasn’t put plate glass windows and some laminate floors in the disused, haunted toilets at the bottom of a hill near my house and marketed them as a low-rise luxury studio flat. With lots of en suites.

You see vile old boarded up public toilets full of rats and dribbling tramps, I see luxury flat(s)

You see vile old boarded up public toilets full of rats and dribbling tramps, I see luxury flat(s)

And since when has “loft-style” been luxury? Aren’t they just unfinished beige warehouses with nice taps?

I’m always concerned about the history of the places where I have lived and to this end have never bought a property on the site of an old abattoir, in a converted warehouse, next door to a concentration camp, in an old nuclear power station or on top of what used to be a Native American burial ground.

Thankfully this has been fairly easy to do in Norwich, although the housing development at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital sailed pretty close to the wind on several counts.

With this in mind, might not the spirit of Courts be lurking in the very fabric of these new flats? Might you find yourself looking for minimalist furniture for your aircraft hangar only to find yourself drawn to the mahoghany-look TV and video cabinets, the stained-glass effect spice racks and the nests of wicker tables?

Anyway, there you go, Sir, I did bear your suggestion in mind and I did write about them bloody flats.

Although I have to say, you were pushing it when you asked me to try and settle that problem you’re having with the milkman (maybe he didn’t GET the note about the orange juice – did you think about that?).

**** Apologies for my absence, again. All I do is apologise to you, like a pathetic partner who has been unfaithful – or hit you – yet again. In my defence, I’ve been working on the mother of all freelance projects which has not only eaten my time, but also a vast proportion of my soul. So blame Satan and his tempting freelance jobs, that’s all I can say. Don’t tell me what you’d like me to write a column about. I’m not listening, even though I’m nodding ****

05
Jun
09

My children love me reading aloud to them. Selfish little sods.

A major new survey of children’s reading habits has revealed that a third of the multi-GCSE owning youngsters of today believe that books are for “nerds” and half think libraries are boring – and that’s despite plans to introduce gay fairytales into the National Curriculum.

Personally, I thought that gay fairytales had been around for years – Snow White and the Seven Co-Habiting Dwarves, anyone? – but thanks to Clause 28, a bill which in my day banned schools from “promoting homosexuality” in case children became gay overnight after discovering that there’s more to love than boy meets girl, I never got to read ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’.

Poor old Jenny caused uproar in the 1980s, when the Daily Mail discovered that the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority had placed copies of the book about a little girl living with her father and his gay partner in school libraries.

 

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. Deal with it.

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. Deal with it.

She was quickly removed, and replaced with lots of staunchly heterosexual books about morally upstanding subjects like algebra, geography and the Cold War. By God no one was going to catch gay from a school library, or if they did, it’d be because they’d looked it up in an uncensored dictionary.

These days, children are so intelligent that they are passing 34 GCSEs each while simultaneously being the least literate generation since we sent nine-year-olds up chimneys or down mines. When pupils from 35 schools were asked what they thought about reading, one wrote: “Reading is the last thing i (sic) would want to do i would rather die.” And that was the most enthusiastic response.

The gay fairytales need to be drafted in quickly before reading becomes something quaint which used to happen in the olden days, like riding side-saddle or smiling at people in the street without being knifed. Who could resist ‘And Tango Makes Three’ about gay penguins who fall in love and raise an adopted child? Or ‘King and King’ about a prince who searches his kingdom for a princess to marry before realising he actually fancies other princes?

I only wish my own children favoured such literature instead of steadfastly sticking to the kind of books which give you newfound sympathy for the unnamed pupil quoted above.

For example: I challenge anyone in full possession of a working brain to read The Scooby Doo Storybook Collection without mentally assessing any nearby beams for their potential to bear the weight of a noose and a swinging body.

Hours of my life have been squandered to that damnable book, clearly written by a revengeful depressive attempting to bring the rest of the world into his dark nightmare, and I will never, ever get them back.

 

Now let me think: where did I put the Scooby Doo Story Collection again...?

'Now let me think: where did I put the Scooby Doo Story Collection again...?'

On the rare occasions that I have been able to hide the Scooby Doo Storybook Collection somewhere so cunning that my son can’t find it (past successes have included putting it in a plastic bag and placing it in the toilet cistern) I am faced with a book about the revolting personal lives of insects.

I say “a book”, I mean one single passage, which I have now been reciting on a continuous loop for several long years. Let’s put it this way – I finally have a specialist topic which I could take to the Mastermind studios.

My boy is endlessly fascinated with the life and times of the Bombardier Beetle, a highly-strung creature which defends itself from predators by firing a high-pressure jet of toxic boiling liquid out of its rectum. 

 

Whos up for some water sports?

Who's up for some water sports?

No laughing yet, you haven’t seen the money shot: if the Bombardier Beetle gets really, really angry, it squirts so much toxic liquid out of it brown eye that it blows its own arse off. Now imagine how much my son, an eight-year-old boy whose idea of highbrow comedy is farting on a leather sofa, loves the Bombardier Beetle.

Personally, I long to hear what other insects can fire out of their arses or whether they can blow off their thorax with a particularly loud belch. But we have settled on the Bombardier Beetle, and I fear we may never turn the page – I should be so lucky as to read the adventures of a gay penguin.

My daughter, thankfully, would rather die than listen to me reading after suffering years of my attempts to emote my way through the latest Spot the Dog potboiler or yet another identically-plotted Rainbow Fairy “adventure”.

Now she disappears into her bedroom with a Harry Potter book which, judging by the slow progress of the bookmark, is less to do with her thirst for literature and more to do with a large bag of sweets she has hidden under her bed (more on H Potter another time. I have much to say about that magical little shitfish). 

Personally, I say bring on any books whatsoever which might capture the attention of children, whether they be about gay princes, co-parenting same-sex penguins or transexual elephants who’ve lost a balloon. Anything bar Scooby effing Doo or the Bombardier Beetle. Even if they start co-parenting together.

**** What can I say? Work has been insane. Apologies for my sporadic posting – I will try and be slightly more productive. Blame my son – that bastard beetle eats up precious time when I could be writing for you and he’s only eight, so most of you (Ram not withstanding) could take him in a fight ****

17
May
09

‘The new baby will fit around our lives’ and other lies you tell yourself pre-children

It takes a brave soul to offer a new mother advice about how to look after her baby – when someone tried it with me, the mood swiftly degenerated into something closely resembling a scene from Saw V.

The other day, while listlessly flicking through TV channels in a bid to bore myself to sleep, I came across a series that aired a year or so back on Channel 4 called ‘Bringing Up Baby’.

I figured that it might just be dull enough to banish insomnia (which is ironic, because insomnia was the last of my problems when I was bringing up babies. Babies bringing up milk in my face, however, was definitely on the list).

The programme tested three different baby care techniques, Truby King, the Continuum Concept and Dr Spock, to see which method is best for children and parents. My own choice ‘The Path of Least Resistance’ has perhaps been left for a later series.

The latter method, Truby King, is ideal for parents who, on the whole, would rather they’d given birth to Sky+ or an iPhone.

Having brought your newborn home, you then set out to ignore it as much as possible so you can start having loud dinner parties at 7.30pm the day after you’ve given birth to illustrate the fact that you’ve given birth to a robot who could sleep through Krakatoa erupting next door.

Truby King nanny Claire Verity, who tellingly has no children of her own, is often hired by the rich and famous for £1,000 a day to practice the method on their offspring.

The technique involves rigid four-hourly feeds, no cuddling during the feeds or at most other times (‘attention seeking!’) and leaving babies outside in their prams for three hours a day in Siberian temperatures so that they can scream themselves knackered enough to sleep through the night.

It lends a whole new poignancy to Tom Jones’ hit, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Verity’s aim is to restore ‘normality’ to new parents as quickly as possible. As far as she’s concerned, a baby is a bit like a flat-pack wardrobe from Ikea: a nightmare to begin with, but it swiftly blends into the background to the point where you forget it’s even there.

In essence, ‘normality’ appears to involve getting the parents to have a bottle of wine at 7pm every night to prove what little effect having a baby has had on them.

Parents clink glasses and look unbearably smug as Verity lurks outside the baby’s room, muttering darkly about how she refuses to be ‘manipulated’ by a distraught baby who is screaming itself mental in a darkened room.

It’s a definitive guide to the class system: pay someone a grand a day to tell you to get bladdered while your baby screams for attention and you’re middle class, ignore your kid on your own initiative while you down a few cans of cider and you’re working class scum who can expect a visit from Social Services any day.

Using the Truby King method, parents can expect their children to be sleeping through the night from six weeks, goose-stepping by six months and uttering their first sentence (‘who are you again?’) by nine.

Being ignored as a baby never did me any harm!

'Being ignored as a baby never did me any harm!'

Another method on trial in the C4 programme was the Continuum Concept, also known as the ‘Osteopath’s Meal Ticket’.

Parents must maintain body-to-body contact with their baby at all times for the first six months of its life, carrying the child in a sling throughout the day and allowing the baby to sleep in the parental bed at night.

The concept was inspired by the child-rearing techniques of the Yequana, a tribe of Amazonian Indians, who carried their babies continually throughout their first few months and seemed to raise particularly well-adjusted, happy children.

There are many good points about the Continuum Concept, not least the fact that you’re not expected to ease a six-inch lip plate into your mouth like the Yequana in the spirit of authenticity, but the technique has its downsides, mainly the whole non-stop carrying thing.

Just for the record, I’d like to make it clear that I maintained body-to-body contact with my babies for nine, not six, months – I called it ‘pregnancy’.

Finally, there’s the Dr Spock method, which is the perfect baby-raising technique for anyone too lazy, tired or sensible to read a baby manual.

Spock babies are fed on demand, sleep in the parent’s room in a Moses basket and basically rule the roost like miniature dictators without the facial hair (some even have the facial hair – there were some monsters born when I was in hospital).

As a Spock baby myself, I am still feeding on demand, although I am making a concerted effort to cut out the 11pm and 5am bottles thanks to continuing support from Alcoholics Anonymous.

With my own children, I decided that I could either study baby manuals and equip myself with as much information about child-rearing as possible so that I could make an informed choice about which technique to use, or I could spend the time I’d have wasted reading claptrap sitting on the sofa watching Hollyoaks and eating chipsticks.

By the time I gave birth, I knew nothing about child-rearing but a great deal about Chester teenagers and the differing quality of own-brand chipsticks from several leading supermarkets.

As a result, I made it all up as I went along. We quickly established who was boss in the house (the babies) and what kind of routine would work for us (one that involved me not getting dressed for days on end and looking as if I’d recently escaped from an asylum).

Instead of trifling matters like routines and consistency, I concentrated on far more important issues, such as buying really nice babygrows, identifying which jars of Organix baby food caused the much-feared ‘up the back and into the hair’ nappies and honing my withering put-downs for non-parents who dared complain about feeling tired in my ear-shot.

There’s nothing that irritates a parent more than a non-parent telling them how tired they are. Even if the non-parent has plenty of good reason for being tired, parents never accept that it can be the same kind of ‘I just washed up the margarine and put a hair brush in the fridge’ tired that we suffer from.

In turn, non-parents feel patronised when new mums and dads claim to have the monopoly on being knackered.

Of course, both camps have valid points, although you’d think those disposable-income spending, mini-break taking, tidy house owning, wide-awake, well-rested childless gits could cut us a bit of slack now and again.

Yes, you’ve just climbed Mount Everest with a fridge freezer on your back for charity and you’re moving house again, but I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since 1997.

I see your stress at work and I raise you impetigo, head-lice, threadworms and children’s entertainers. Now tell me you’re bloody tired again and I’ll brain you.

As I see it, I am selflessly continuing the human race so that there are enough care workers to wipe the backsides of the people who won’t have any sons or daughter to do it for them when they are old and infirm.

Obviously it won’t be MY children doing that particular job because they’re both going to be architects, but my point remains the same.

The least the childless can do to repay us is to let us have the upper hand when it comes to being shattered.

Oh, and maybe they could babysit a bit more often; say twice a week, preferably on the nights one of the kids has got tennis and the other one has football, simultaneously.

**** I’ve been away. I am going away again. But I’ll always be back ****




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