Posts Tagged ‘writing

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 ****

Advertisements
26
Jan
09

Have you got bird flu? Here are the symptoms

There I was, all smugly bored about bird flu, looking forward to panicking about something new and exciting, like the credit crunch, and what happens? Six new cases of bird flu have been confirmed in China and suddenly we’re all watching the skies again.

For the past two years, the papers have been filled to the brim with stories about bird flu which, we were told, would single-handedly wipe out half the population, like the Black Death with wings, feathers and really horrible, scaly feet.

Suddenly, birds were our enemies. We used to marvel at the timeless grace of a flock of swans sweeping across the sky but overnight they became the advance guard of the Armageddon.

If you found a dead bird, the only decent thing to do was to shoot yourself in the head to avoid infecting your children, pausing only to set all your clothes and belongings on fire to prevent the virus spreading.

Then, of course, nothing happened, other than the death of one swan in a Scottish village. By Christmas 2007, we’d even put away the staff shotgun which we used during lunch hours and tea breaks to pick off passing birds we didn’t like the look of.

I don’t mean to sound like a cynical old goat, but I have to confess that I was beginning to believe that the whole thing had been blown out of all proportion. I mean, how many times can Britain come to the brink of catastrophic destruction and escape unscathed? This is the UK, not Die Hard 2.

Just when I’d let my defences down, made myself a cup of tea and was preparing to have a nice afternoon panicking about global warming, the news broke that an outbreak of bird flu had been confirmed in the far east (by which I mean the orient, not Norfolk).

If you ask me, we should have been better prepared: birds have been showing signs of insurgence for years.

Seagulls, for example, started acting up in 2004. Thanks to rising obesity levels – particularly amongst those who holiday in our less salubrious coastal resorts – there was no longer a constant supply of fish and chip leftovers for the gulls to polish off. Unwilling to spend days at sea hunting for fish which wouldn’t come in batter or with a side-serving of mushy peas, they headed for the bright lights and burger bars of the cities.

But the greedy gulls didn’t stop at ransacking bins. Soon they started concentrating on the diner, rather than the dinner.

In London, Brighton and Scotland gulls attacked people in the street, swooping at 40mph, their cruel beaks filled with the scent of what cannibals  refer to as long pig. In Wales, they even managed to kill a man – we can’t say Hitchcock didn’t warn us.

Peter Rock, Britain’s leading gull expert (as opposed to all those other gull charlatans) has warned the gull population will be “monstrous” by 2014 and that soon we will all be living indoors and hiding in the shadows to avoid becoming the latest victim of a fly-by killing.

I paraphrase only slightly.

“If they swoop, it’s death,” Mr Rock reassured us all, “in order to shoot the lot, you’d need an army”.

I know where you live

I know where you live

There are only five years to go until seagulls outnumber humans and we are all answering to our feathered masters, although to be fair, half of us will have died after contracting bird flu, so it’s not as bad as it could have been.

While I expect all of you have already assembled a well-stocked “bird flu pantry”, crammed with bottled water, tinned tuna and gold bars (for when civil unrest causes the collapse of all banks, as opposed to the recession), it is important that we are all able to recognize the signs of bird flu in humans.

They are, handily, pretty much the same symptoms you’d expect to have for every other common illness.

Look out for a high fever, chest congestion, nausea, fatigue and aching in the joints. And if you suddenly have an irresistible urge to empty your bowels over a freshly-washed windscreen, don’t hesitate: dial 999.

22
Jan
09

PE knickers and the newest way to skive school – get so fat you can’t fit under a desk

School children have come up with a cunning new way to skive lessons – they’re becoming too fat to fit under their desks.

According to a policy commission on the future of education, standard school furniture is based on measurements made in the 1960s when children were smaller and thinner. New research suggests that the average height of children has increased at the rate of 1cm a decade, with the majority of growth in the lower leg, and that the prevalence of obesity among pupils has risen from around five per cent in 1985 to 15 per cent in 2008.

Positively anorexic in comparison to schoolchildren in 2009

Positively anorexic in comparison to schoolchildren in 2009

I’m not sure about you, but when I read those figures I’m not worrying about school furniture, I’m worrying about 1,000 years hence, when all our children will have lower legs that are a full metre longer than they are today.

They’ll look like grasshoppers. Finding them a pair of trousers or some wellies that fit will be even more of a nightmare than it is now.

Additionally, if the obesity crisis continues rising at its current pace, those spindly lower legs aren’t going to be of any use whatsoever – the first time children stand up they’ll buckle under their own gigantic weight and need to be wheeled around on giant skateboards for life. Thank God I’ll be dead by then.

According to studies, unless schools start ‘going large’ with their school furniture orders, children’s schoolwork could suffer as back pain distracts their attention and causes absence from school.

We may not have had an over-sized obesity problem at my high school, but we did have more than our fair share of those freakish early-developers who reach puberty at six and look like 45-year-olds by the time they’re 12, and they managed to fit under the desks.

As for myself, I certainly wasn’t overweight at school, although I may have been slightly under-height for my weight.

But even at my lowest height, ahem, I could still fit under a school desk and have room for a copy of Jackie magazine to read during geography, particularly when we were learning about the import and export trade in Nigeria (a subject as relevant to my life then as it is now, ie not at all).

Maintaining a healthy weight in those days meant not being so fat that your thighs persistently rubbed against the chewing gum left on the bottom of the desk by its previous occupant. These days it means being slender enough not to require being washed with a rag on a stick.

Namby-pamby excuses about desks and bad backs would have been met with hollow laughter and a month of lunchtime detentions in the lair of the terrifying bearded maths teacher whose hatred of young people was considered a bonus, rather than an impediment, to his teaching career.

It practically took the production of a death certificate to get you out of PE lessons, let alone ordinary lessons, and even if you had that, you’d still be expected to carry the netball bibs, keep score and apply pressure to wounds when required.

Forget about small desks and chairs causing backache, the PE knickers at my school in the late 1980s caused the kind of injuries to one’s self esteem from which many, including me, never truly recovered.
Even the good-looking twig-legged girls struggled in those monstrosities, so for those of us who had nice personalities and arses so large they had their own gravitational pull and corresponding solar system, the knickers were an appallingly unsubtle form of torture.

Quite why fostering team spirit amongst people that, on the whole, you probably wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire was considered edifying is anyone’s guess.

More to the point, why that fostering had to be done while wearing a huge pair of pants made from  an exotic blend of manmade fibres – one stray spark during hockey practice and the entire school could have been blown sky-high – also remains at issue.

Skiving PE, unless you were a future Oscar winner, was difficult, but avoiding communal showering was attainable with that classic Get Out Of Jail Free card – your period (unless you were a boy, when it was less likely to work unless you were dealing with one of the foreign student teachers).

There were many girls in my class who appeared to defy biology and have their period every single week of the month in order to evade the showers, but it was when it came to  swimming that the menstrual situation got really out of hand.

In the end, we needed a letter from our parents to prove the painters were in – teachers rightly feared a situation where only one student ended up in the pool, the pregnant one from the fourth year who realised the period excuse was out of bounds for at least nine months.

Come to think of it, even she could get behind a school desk. Just how big are kids these days? Should I be saving up for a winch for when my children hit puberty?

I think all this trouble began when they got rid of the nit nurses.




Add to Technorati Favorites
    follow me on Twitter