Thursday, 12 November 2009

C - Man To He-Man


I’ve heard it said that human beings, whether they’re aware of it or not, tend to instinctively assign specific rolls to others within their so-called ‘family unit’ in order for it to function more effectively. Survival thing apparently. Dates back to the days of pack hunting or clan fighting or something, I dunno. May well be true. However if it is, then frankly I’m still at a bit of a loss as to just exactly which role I’m supposed to fulfilling for my unit. The only position I think we can safely rule out at this stage is that of ‘the intellectual.’ Incidentally, if this point you’re quietly thinking to yourself, ‘Pff, clearly. Look at the spelling’ then shame on you, shame I say! Yes, I know I spelt it ‘rolls’ the first time and no, I’m not going to change it, because maybe if you’d hop off your grammatical high horse for a minute, you’d realise that there are certain life scenarios where this particular spelling is perfectly appropriate. So, small independent family bakers and travelling acrobat troops, that one’s for you.

The brains of the family has always been more my sisters thing really. I mean this girl’s up to her eyeballs in qualifications already and currently in the process of perusing more. Me, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no favouritism in our house – both offspring’s respective achievements have always been celebrated completely equally – but let’s face it, a BSc Honours Degree pinned up on the wall next to a fully completed Little Chef Children’s Menu Wordsearch tells it’s own story (even if the word ‘sausages’ was hidden diagonally AND backwards.) Yup, despite my loved ones being both emotionally and contractually obliged never to say it out loud, I think it’s quietly accepted round our way that if I ever come home with a degree of any sort, I should be taken directly to casualty where it can be adequately dressed and sutured as soon as possible to avoid permanent scaring. Moreover the only test I am likely to be given which may result in letters being put after my name will be on a breathalyzer. Not that any of this bothers me you understand. Life’s all about balance I reckon and me and my sis both play our important parts in maintaining a healthy educational one. She allows the family to hold it’s head up high, while I keep it’s feet firmly on the ground. It’s a good system. Her ambitious, intelligent, successful ying; to my lazy, average, unimposing yang.

Having said that, I did briefly entertain the idea of going on to further education, though truth be told, as horribly superficial as it may sound, the only reason I ever fancied becoming a Bachelor of anything was precisely so I could use it not to stay one for long. A chat up line basically. Now I suppose I might just have gone out and pretended to be university alumni, but in the end I deemed that too risky. For all I knew there was some secret handshake or hidden codeword they taught you upon completing your course, which savvy people could use to catch you out. Perhaps even a special intimately placed tattoo they brand you with when you finish that those in the know could demand to see. Besides I could only pull the whole charade off convincingly after years of acting school. Just more work. No, best play it safe: buckle down for a few years, work hard and try to come out the other side with something suitably impressive. It was simply a question of what to aim for. Far as I was concerned it was all about how it sounded, so I decided to try the respective boasts out in my head first (and when I say ‘head’ I mean of course, mirror.)

Hello, I’m a Bachelor of Science.” Hmm. Bit too niche maybe. Lot of people find science slightly daunting – including me – could be quite alienating. A tad cold and clinical too, not very sexy. “Hi, I’m a Bachelor of The Arts.” Better. Still somewhat vague though and a smidge delicate sounding, not very manly. Trouble was, none of these credentials – with all the years of hard work they entail – came anywhere close to matching the tried and tested power of those three magic words, “I’m a fireman.” Undeterred however, I ploughed on and discovered there was such a thing as a Masters degree. 'Master' eh? Now we’re talking. Back to the drawing board (again, mirror.) 

“Hey there, I’m a Master of Science.” Much more like it. That suggests unparalleled genius – we’re talking science fiction territory – somebody with the potential to build robots, give superpowers, harness the use of time travel even. Chicks dig time travel. It’s a lot to live up to mind. The genius act is a tough one to sustain for any length of time. If we’re out in a pub for example, one trip to the quiz machine and I’m scuppered. Next! “Sup? I’m a Master of The Arts.” Excellent. No qualms about manliness there, if anything the ambiguity is a plus. If anyone asks which arts, I can choose between ‘Ancient’ to make me sound like a Wizard, or ‘Deadly’ to give the impression of a Ninja. Unfortunately this option wasn’t without it’s pitfalls either. All it would take on an evening out in a bar, is for one pissed up man mountain to hear of my rumoured abilities, get a bit competitive and bam, that’s me dead in the water...or more accurately, the bar.

It was no good. I had gotten close, but nothing seemed to impress adequately. I was all set to give up and head for the costume shop to book the helmet and hose ensemble (leave it!) when it hit me. He-Man. More specifically He-Man: Masters of The Universe. It was perfect. You tell someone you’re a Master of The Universe they’re too busy being struck dumb with awe or swooning to ask questions. We had a winner. A little bit of research and I’d be setting off on the academic glory trail. Except, annoyingly, that’s when the trail went cold. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Master of Science: five years, Master of Arts: roughly the same, but no Masters of The Universe. Strange. Adam Grayskull must’ve got it from somewhere. Maybe it was an Open University thing. Nope, no sign of it in their prospectus either. Then, gradually, I began to realise the sad reality of the matter. It wasn’t just Adam Grayskull, was it? It was Prince Adam of Grayskull. Oh I see. It’s like that is it? Something only open to the privileged few no doubt. One big boys club. Not so much ‘I HAVE THE POWEEEER’ as ‘MY DADDY HAD THE MONEEEEY’ eh He-Man? Clearly everyone was so dazzled by the giant silver sword on his back, they neglected to notice the giant silver spoon in his mouth. Bloody typical.
Well if that’s still the state of our education system in this day and age then you know what? You can keep it. Besides if you thought those gowns looked slightly ridiculous, imagine having to graduate in this:

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Where The Cheats Have No Shame.

Cor blimey, it seems there truly is nowhere that U2 front man Bono (real name Paul Hewson) won't venture these days in order to raise awareness of the terrible plight currently faced by third world Africa. Of course we know about his well publicised jaunts to places like No.10 Downing Street, the White House and even the United Nations, all in the name of gaining justice for the planets underprivileged nations; but imagine my surprise when, on a routine stock up at the local shop, I heard whispers that none other than Bono himself (real name Paul Hewson) was in attendance at the bowling club not five minuets walk away! Needless to say this I had to see.
Naturally I was more than a little sceptical on my way there, but sure enough, when I arrived at the outdoor venue I found a huge crowd jostling to get a better view of what was apparently some fantastic spectacle. Maybe one quarter of the slightly overrated Irish stadium rock giants really was here I thought. There was only one way to find out for sure though, so I started working my way carefully through the reverentially hushed mass of people, until finally coming to a stop behind a quite unfeasibly tall man whom I assumed was most likely to have the best view of whatever was going on. When I asked him what all the fuss was about, initially he just looked at me as if I had three heads, before finally asking if I was serious. I said I was, and so my freakishly tall chum was kind enough to briefly and quietly fill me in on the cause of all the obvious excitement. Seemingly that particular afternoon the green was playing host to an important men's semi final in the fifty-first annual Local Lawn Bowls championship. I had arrived during the tense second set of a grudge match between Terry 'Golden Bowls' McManus and Jack 'The Jack' Thatcher, who had a rivalry stretching back nearly as far as the early nineties.
Now intriguing as that sounded, it wasn't quite what I had come expecting to see, so feeling a little disappointed by such an anticlimax I reluctantly started back towards the exit. Ironically it was just as I was approaching the main gate to leave that my attention was caught by an loud, invasive cough followed by a definite murmur of discontent from the assembled bowls enthusiasts. I turned instinctively to see what the commotion was and that's when first laid eyes on the man sitting on the bench near the back; there, kitted out pretty much entirely in stylish rock 'n' roll leathers apart from a straw Stetson and trademark dark glasses, stroking his chin, concentration locked on the bowls – to my amazement – was renowned humanitarian Bono! (real name Paul Hewson.)
I did, in all honesty, feel a momentary rush of adrenaline and even fleetingly considered approaching him for a casual chat. As it turns out though I was glad I didn't, when – after three more unnecessarily distracting coughs, two ruthlessly precise loud sniffs and one mercilessly calculating, extraordinarily drawn out creak of leather trousers – it became shamefully clear that the globally celebrated rock star was blatantly attempting to sabotage the game plan of one Terry 'Golden Bowls' McManus! Of course the match officials were quick to act, taking immediate steps to have the offending observer removed. We all watched on with a mixture of sheer disbelief and excruciating embarrassment, as unexpectedly a clearly enraged Bono (real name Paul Hewson) suddenly erupted, struggling violently against the valiant attempts of three elderly stewards to forcibly eject him. He kicked his legs and flailed his arms wildly, all the time screaming at the top of his lungs about once giving his shades to Pope John Paul II, having George W Bush as part of his BT friends and family discount service and the time he beat Nelson Mandela in an arm wrestling competition. I don't mind telling you, it was a genuinely sorry sight. Finally he was awkwardly jostled out and the match was allowed to continue.
After what will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest (and most controversial) matches in the history of regional lawn bowls had concluded, I decided to round off what was a pleasant summer evening in the local pub. It was here I found the fallen Irish icon sitting alone in the corner, nursing the dregs of his third pint and looking thoroughly dejected. Taking a degree of pity on him, I decided to buy both he and myself fresh pints and join him. It was later that evening he rather drunkenly confessed to having an accumulator bet on the result of the match which would've been worth almost £250 had Jack 'The Jack' Thatcher triumphed. He did try to qualify his sporting skulduggery however, by assuring me that the winnings would've been going straight to Sir Bob Geldof either to use on aid for Africa...or at least decent haircut.
The night looked as if it may end on a positive note after all, when myself and said rocker decided to form a team for the pub quiz later that evening. It was going well too; that was until it came down to the crucial tie break and Bono (real name Paul Hewson) was asked to name any African capital for a crucial two points...and d'yknow he couldn't name one. Not one. Sad

Monday, 21 September 2009

Quack Addict

Look I’m no prude right. For the most part I believe that people should, within reason, be left to their own devices and allowed to do whatever they want with their respective lives. Having said that however, evidently there are some people out there who should just steer well clear of drugs. Don’t get me wrong, addiction is a terrible thing that destroys the lives of near enough everyone it touches, but for some reason that destruction seems all the more pitiful when it affects someone with a degree of talent. Y’know, something special, a bit of promise. I mean, it’s bad enough watching the systematic decline of someone like Amy Winehouse in the papers every day, but when you’ve personally witnessed drugs take their toll on a hitherto talented performer, that stays with you. Believe me.

A little under two decades ago now I went to a pantomime – Jack & The Beanstalk I think it was – and a few of us in the audience were lucky enough to be invited backstage to meet the stars after the show. Now anyone who is at all aware of Keith Harris & Orville, will no doubt know what giants they were in the field of light entertainment around that time and therefore understand why this was the kind of once in a life time opportunity you simply do not pass up. So I duly went behind the scenes where I met Keith Harris, on his own at first. I remember he seemed a amiable sort of a fellow and we had quite an interesting chat in which he explained the concept and basic principles of fondue, which I was unfamiliar with at that point in my life. Eventually Keith excused himself, saying he was going to chase up Orville and that he’d be back in a minute.

Longest minute of my life. I don’t mind telling you I was nervous. This was big moment for me. We all have our idols – my dad had Bob Dylan, his dad had Marlon Brando and his dad had…I dunno, someone from his era…Moses or somebody – it just so happened that for most of my very early years I chose to aspire to Orville Theduck. Sure enough when he returned he was accompanied by his showbiz partner. It’s true what they say you know, you should never meet your heroes.

We struck up conversation again and it was soon clear to even me, a mere child, that something was seriously wrong. For a start Theduck was quite obviously having to be physically propped up by Harris, clearly in such a state he was unable to stand of his own accord. Also, I’m no neat freak by any stretch of the imagination, but he was hardly what you would call presentable either. In fact, shocking as it may sound, he was topless and wearing nothing but a nappy. I’ve since learned of course that concern for their personal appearance is often the first thing to go when the lethargy of chemical abuse sets in. I’m sure that’s what it was. His eyes were glassy and vacant, his pupils were huge, almost taking up the whole eye and his eyelids drooped slightly in the manner of someone struggling stay conscious. He said very little. Admittedly Orville's persona was always famously timid but that particular day he seemed shy to the point of paranoia. An impression backed up by the fact that the only time his eyes did move it was to dart shiftily momentarily to the left and right. Harris must’ve known something was amiss too because on the rare occasions when his friend did speak it was usually childish nonsense and you could see Keith's lips almost moving like he wanted to interject but just couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. After about fifteen minutes Keith Harris graciously said his goodbyes and literally carried an almost catatonic Orville Theduck back to his dressing room.

Sad. A difficult lesson for a boy of that age to learn. I should say at this point that I also met Cuddles, who was clearly speeding off his face. He was hyperactive, abusive and borderline violent. Amphetamines I shouldn’t wonder. But Cuddles was an arse, y’know, you expected it of him, not Orville. Puts a whole new perspective on that song he used sing, eh? “I wish I could fly/high up in the sky/ but I can’t” We all thought it was a touching lament about the limitations of flightless birds. It really a cry for help relating to his inability to achieve the same high as at the start of his habit, as also tends to happen. Don’t hear much about Orville Theduck these days, do you? I only hope he’s somewhere getting the help he needs.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Eyes Have It


They say you can tell a lot about a person by studying their eyes. Supposed to be the window to the soul, aren't they? I think there's a lot in that actually, often I've found that upon meeting someone for the first time, a quick glance into their eyes can reveal several answers to many of the questions I might have about that individual without me even having to ask. What colour are their eyes? How many eyes do they have? Are they cross-eyed? Do they wear glasses? Are they asleep? That's to name but a few. Yup, take it from me, if you know where to look and what to look for then a person's eyes can hold a veritable wealth of information about them.

What you probably couldn't tell about my eyes in particular just by looking at them, is that I have an astigmatism in the right one. Basically this means that instead of being the proper round shape like the left, my right eye is elongated at the back, sort of like a rugby ball. You can't tell from the outside because the messed up bit is all backstage in my skull, but it means I have blurred vision when viewing anything past the end of my nose pretty much. Why I am I telling you this? Aye well just cool your boots a second, alright? I'm getting to that. God, I don't know, honestly, you can't wait a minute, can you?

Anyways, I was offered two possible solutions to fix the problem. I could get a corrective contact lens which would crush the offending eyeball back into shape, or alternatively I could just plump for the tried and tested pair of glasses. Didn't really fancy either of those options frankly. The lens sounded bloody awful, like some sort of hideous, medieval torture device; although I thought I might be over reacting, so just to put my mind at rest I asked my optician if it was as uncomfortable as it sounded. He laughed, shook his head reassuringly and said, "Oh yes, yes. Quite painful, yes." Bit of an oddball my optician...still, at least he's honest. As for the specs, well, aside from them being quite old fashioned these days, they'd be a hassle too. In my experience if you're not constantly cleaning them, you're losing them or breaking them. Plus Macaulay Culkin had glasses in 'My Girl ' and look how he ended up. Exactly. Dead. Stung to death by bees. I wasn't about to make that same mistake, no sir.

Eventually I declined any treatment and soldiered on for a while, blurred eyesight and all. It was during this short time however that I'm sorry to say, I discovered what put the 'stigma' in astigmatism. I mean sure, they said nobody could tell the difference between my eyes, but I soon found this wasn't the case. People were subtle about it, but I could read the signs. I think it was the way when I was talking to someone, they would be smiling and holding eye contact most of the time. Bastards. Clearly smirking at my facial affliction! Suddenly I could relate to how The Elephant Man must have felt all those years ago. The final straw came when I was sitting at the dinner table one night telling a story and happened to say, "Steve and me" Straight away my mum jumps in with, "Steve and eye son, you say Steve and eye." I couldn't believe it, my own mother was at it now! I genuinely don't know what hurt more around that time, snide jibes like that, or the numerous lampposts I walked into due to my impaired vision. Probably the lampposts, to be fair…there was a lot of them you see…those really sturdy stone ones too…yeah, thinking back on it now actually, the lampposts, definitely the lampposts. Nevertheless eventually I got fed up with such devious mockery and made an appointment to be fitted with a corrective lens.

God, it was excruciating. Literally the only way I can think of to describe the feeling of having this contact in, is to say that it was as if those little guys from Gulliver's Travels – the Lilliputians – were having a 24-hour rave on my eyeball. I stuck it out the best I could for four days, but breaking point was reached on the morning of the fifth, when I woke up sprawled out across the floor with a raging hangover, a half downed bottle of cheap whisky in one hand and a crudely sterilized teaspoon in the other. I don't know what I was thinking, I guess in a moment of madness I just figured if Colombo could successfully pull off that look (which he really can, can't he?) then maybe I could too. It's just lucky I'm such a locally renowned lightweight or I'd have been in real trouble. Admitting defeat, I took the lens out and decided to take my mind off the whole thing for a while by surfing the net. Ironically, it was while doing this that by happy accident, squinting with my nose pressed right up against the monitor, I discovered this:



Nuff said really. Glasses seemed the natural choice after that. I hadn't forgotten the afore mentioned risks that went with such a decision mind, but I managed to find a pair that went nicely in an ensemble with my full protective bee keepers suit, so it worked out okay in the end.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Keep It Under Your Hat

You know what really winds me up? Course you don't, haven't told you yet, but I'm gonna, ohhh I'm gonna, I'll tell you alright, don't you worry bout that, you ready? Okay, here goes…

Right, so last December I'm out doing a bit of Christmas shopping, I'm wandering through the town centre, minding my own business – generally browsing up a storm – when all of a sudden this greasy little guy breaks away from a passing group of teens, stops dead in his tracks, points straight at me and shouts, "Ha! Check out Pete Doherty, man!" Now he had caught me slightly off guard to be honest, so I just sort of stood there for a minute staring blankly back at him as he triumphantly lapped up the weasely cackles coming from his band of cronies, before eventually slipping back in amongst them and shuffling off into the distance.

I genuinely didn't know what to make of it at first. Pete Doherty? What was that supposed to mean? He had definitely been pointing at me. Was it because we're both pale? Cos it's true, I am kinda pasty – always have been – but then, it was winter and nobody's exactly a bronzed god around that time of year, so I wasn't having that. Could be a sweat thing. There's no denying it, Pete's a pretty sweaty guy and while I like to think that I'm not normally, I was Christmas shopping and that's tough y'know, there's usually quite a lot riding on your decisions – especially when you're buying for women, because you're essentially out of your element. What might explain it then, is the fact that just previous to this incident occurring, I had been in this feminine looking shop searching for a feminine gift to give to someone, well, feminine (nah, nah, don't worry, it's nothing like that) and I had my choices narrowed down to either a small, but finely crafted ceramic duck (see?) or a big tub of sorta moisturising-relaxation-goo type stuff which looked like crap but smelt like heaven. Hands up, I'll admit it; I was seriously torn on that one for the first three and a half hours or so (look, I did say I was out my element) therefore it's entirely possible that all the pressure had got to me a little and I was now unknowingly sweating. I took off my hat and checked my brow…nothing, so I was ruling that out too. Then it hit me. My hat. I was wearing a pork pie hat.

So that's it, is it? It's come to this. If I choose to wear a pork pie hat, it has to be because I'm attempting to emulate a self destructive young indie musician with a heroin habit which – depending on your opinion – is either systematically destroying his talent, or else always outweighed it in the first place? It can't just be cos it suits the shit outta me? Y'know, if I'd been in the mood or the shape to chase after that gang – and I hadn't been completely convinced that they would've happy slapped me half to death if by some miracle I'd actually caught them – I might have explained to those giggling gimps that traditionally, the pork pie hat is only really connected with one sort of addiction and basically the clues in the name. That's right, when a person wears a pork pie hat they're, perhaps unwittingly, paying silent tribute to a legacy of rebellion and non-compliance stretching back much further than any recent troubled tabloid star with a guitar. What's more, in an effort to stop people attributing my headwear to some passing fashion fad in future, I'm taking this opportunity to officially document the secret history of the pork pie hat, right here, once and for all, just for the record.

You see, though it didn't actually come into existence until the early twentieth century, the origins of the pork pie hat date back as far as North America's first wave of lobbying for National Prohibition in the nineteenth century. It's a little known fact that, along with the supposed evils of alcohol at the time, pork pies were also being accused of having an almost equally negative influence on society. This was largely because, like alcohol, the consumption of pies during this era was staggeringly high, making these two vices in particular a target for both the Methodist and Baptist churches, who considered the excessive intake of each to be symptomatic of the sin gluttony. It's for this reason that still to this day, when overweight people are being taunted, reference is often made to their fondness for pies. Likewise, most people don't realise that even the famous British football terrace chant 'Who Ate All The Pies?' ironically has its roots on the other side of the Atlantic. The derogatory lyrics are said to be an exact recounting of the mercilessly repetitive cross examination inflicted upon one Robert Pinkerton – a famously stout, petty thief from Massachussets, locally rumoured to be of illegitimate birth – by the prosecutor Franklin Tudor-Grape, as he stood trial for a butcher's shop robbery in 1876.

Anyway, thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment of The Constitution, alcohol was finally banned in the U.S by 1920 and pork pies were to follow suit a year later when it was discovered that some bootleggers were soaking the pies in hooch and allowing customers to suck them dry before eating the evidence. To strengthen their case for widening the ban, the authorities hastily commissioned and released a flawed (and since disproved) scientific study, identifying the pork pie itself as a powerfully addictive opiate. Hence just as the outlawing of booze had lead to the creation of underground drinking clubs, so the clamp down on pies lead to the invention the pork pie hat. First credited to infamous bootlegger and mobster Johnny Toenails in 1923, this new variety of hat allowed people to safely transport illicit pies down to the local Speakeasy without fear of arrest, simply by positioning them under the hat (leading to the popularisation of the expression 'keep it under you're hat.') The genius of this new design was it's low centre of gravity and narrow brim, which meant there was little chance of the wind catching it, blowing it off and exposing your crime, as was known to happen in the early days of those daring enough to attempt to 'snack stack' as it was called, under a top hat for example.

There you go. Now you know how the pork pie hat came about. That's all true that is.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Part II: Seal Of Approval.

Actually to say nothing of note happened in London isn't strictly true. I was going to leave this last bit it out actually, as I consider it a bit of a pointless detail – but then I remembered that in fact everything I've ever written in this blog up to and including now has really just been one big collection of pointless details, so it'd be silly to start messing around with the formula at this late stage. Besides, I kinda need to see this written down, simply for myself, if only to try and help make sense of what I read back. You'll understand when you hear it. Right so, to save money on a hotel the in the centre of the city, we decided to bunk down at a little guest house on the outskirts of town. I'm not kidding, this was quite possibly the weirdest place I've ever spent the night and (thanks largely to my drinking habits) that's a pretty competitive list. For a start from the outside the place was like this quaint little cottage – similar to the ginger bread house in Hansel & Gretel I thought – but somehow it had ended up sandwiched between two really tall blocks of ultra-modern looking flats. It seemed properly bizarre, but I didn't really pay that much attention at the time, as I was still sore from the service station and just wanted to lie down. Anyway, turns out that was nothing because when we got to the little room, the whole thing, walls, ceiling and all, were painted the exact same shade of bright primary blue. The place felt a little like the Red Room from Twin Peaks…except blue. I half expected a smurf to appear during the night and start talking backwards. No, but wait, here's the strangest thing; while I was unpacking I happened to look up and see a professionally taken photo of a white baby seal cub hanging on the left hand wall, I turned round and saw another comparable one situated opposite on the right hand wall. You know the type, something like this…


Fair enough I thought, I suppose some people might find that quite soothing. Then as I was turning back round to continue unloading my suitcase, I caught sight of – on the adjoining wall, in between the two pictures of seal cubs – a massive photo of Seal...you know, the nineties soul singer guy...



What's that about?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Part I: Relax, It's Only The Electric Char


A while back now I was in London for a few days visiting a mate. I know, exciting right? – London! Londinian! The Big Smoke! The Bright Lights! The Nation's Capital! - well no, not really actually. It wasn't that great at all as it goes. I mean, I've been there before and it's alright I guess, but I just never stop being disappointed by the sheer lack of stereotypes in the area. Literally nobody you'll meet ever says, 'What a palaver!' nobody says, 'Ave a banana!' and no-one shouts, 'Cor blimey!' or 'Love-a-duck!' It's all a bit disheartening I find. Plus I don't know what they're using to clean their chimneys down that way nowadays, but it sure as hell ain't chimney sweeps, I can tell you that much. I couldn't find a single one and it wasn't for lack of trying. Don't get me wrong, I'm not slagging it off or anything: it's a very modern, multicultural, thriving place – which is brilliant – I'm just saying that, very early on in life 'Mary Poppins' gave me certain expectations of that town, which the reality has just never quite managed to live up to. Maybe that's the reason why almost every time I visit, I can't help feeling that if London really is calling, it must be talking to somebody else.

Still, I enjoy the drive down at any rate. Or at least I usually do – this particular journey was a bit of a pain, tons of delays and diversions and stuff like that, so I was glad when we eventually pulled in to a service station for a break. Always am. See I kinda like service stations...dunno why really, I'm the only person I know who does. They interest me in an odd sort of a way; everyone in them has somewhere different to be and is typically in an incredible hurry to be there, giving the whole place this sort of mad, frenetic energy which is sometimes fun to just sit back and watch zip around you. Nights are good too because when they're really quiet and near deserted, you can use the poignant alone time to just ponder life, the universe and everything, if you're the philosophical type. I'm not though, so I much prefer to spend the hours after dark gliding around on the slidey floors and playing the Dance Dance Revolution arcade machine until my ankles shatter. Once me and a few other nocturnal travellers recreated the Thriller dance routine step perfect on one of those things…and I mean step perfect, absolutely in sync, not one of us missed a move. It was genius. Nobody saw it, I can't prove it – but the important thing is that me, Martha the cleaning lady, a travelling salesman from
Ipswich called Gary and the entire night staff at the Welcome Break branch of The Little Chef will always know what we achieved in those early hours.

On this most recent trip however, I didn't have time to stick around like that and was really only in to quickly pick up supplies. But while waiting in the queue to pay for my items, I spotted an advert for the in-station Electric Massage Chair. I had never seen anything like it before and was quite intrigued. The poster claimed that if you had one pound coin and three minutes to spare, the relaxing chair could leave you as stress free as the man pictured. Now you didn't see this guy, but take it from me, he looked almost illegally chilled out, so – bearing in mind the car ride hadn't been the best thus far – I figured I could do to get me some of that before hitting the road again.

When I finally found the chairs they looked comfortable enough; they were big wide, black leather things with a timer and a slot for money in the arm. Hopping on, I inserted the cash…nothing happened. I had expected it to start vibrating or something right away but I couldn't feel anything so I leaned forward to check the arm for any switch I might have missed. Nope. I slumped back in the seat feeling a bit ripped off…and that's when I felt it. These big metal lumps suddenly jutted out the backrest and cushioned only by a thin plastic cover, thumped mechanically into my spine repeatedly. It was agony! They started in the middle of my back, gradually smashing all the way up, before starting an excruciatingly painful vice-like, pincer motion, crushing my neck. I began to seriously wonder if the chair was trying to relax me or recycle me. Then the wrecking balls were off again, slowly beating back down to and working my kidneys. My kidneys! You can't even do that in boxing! I swear to God, if the inventors ever decide to market that thing to the public, they should call it the Sado-9000 and give it away with complimentary nipple clamps and a ball-gag, cos I promise you, that's the only sort of demographic who would be partial to this experience.

It soon became apparent that this process was going to repeat once a minute for two more minutes. I decided at this point I was gonna have to cry out. I was fine with it, I'm not proud like that. Unfortunately just as I was about to do so, a young mum and her child walked up to watch the chair in action and seemed to be pleased by the spectacle. Obviously I couldn't do it now. The blood curdling scream would have scarred the kid for life, so I put a brave face on for the remaining time. After it had finished and the audience was gone, I just sat there limply for a minute until I saw what looked like a station employee coming, giving me a chance to complain. When I sat up to do so she just winked at me, smiled and said "Another satisfied customer, eh?" before walking on. At first I thought she was taking the piss, it was only afterwards when I caught sight of my own reflection, I discovered that – thanks no doubt to the effects of the chair – my face was now locked in a weird lopsided smile and I was winking completely involuntarily.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Hands-On Advice.


Growing up is a pretty universal experience. It’s something almost all of us will have to go through at some stage. It’s not always the smoothest of rides either, which is why I think it’s natural that some older people who’ve already stumbled the chaotic path to adulthood will occasionally try to offer you advice on your own life, even if they don’t know you that well. I’ve actually noticed myself doing it a bit lately, fighting the urge to distribute words of so-called wisdom to strangers when they’re probably no required and definitely not welcome. On one occasion I saw this teenage guy in the foyer of a cinema and just felt like going straight up to him, grabbing him, spinning him round, looking him dead in the eye and saying, “For the love of god, man, do not get another piercing in your face. You look like you’ve been caught in an explosion at a scrap metal factory as it is.”

But I didn’t. I just bit my lip (which incidentally still stings like a bastard, ever since I had it pierced as a teen and it got infected) and left it. You’ve got to let people make there own choices I think. See, when you’re younger, yes, you get a lot of advice and yes, on the whole it comes from a good place, but the vast majority of which will turn out to be utter bollocks. So it’s all a matter quality control really; sifting through the mountain of tired old platitudes, which anyone can spout but will never help anyone do anything, to find those few genuinely valuable life lessons. For example, I’ll always remember this one afternoon, a good few years back now, when me and an elderly gentleman I knew to see though not by name were simply sitting quietly watching the snooker on TV in a pub. All of a sudden, without taking his eyes from the screen, he said to me,

“Aye. The important thing to remember is son, you can always tell a post-op transsexual by their hands.”

I don’t know why he chose that precise moment to share such a gem, but I suppose by this time he was getting on a bit and like all worthwhile guidance handed down to subsequent generations, it was designed to stop me making the same mistakes he had made. Maybe not. Who knows? I do sometimes wish he’d found the time during those long frames of snooker, to cover couple more of the basics though. More traditional stuff, like…oh I dunno…it may be a good idea to look both ways before crossing the road. I had to find this old chestnut out the hard way.

Initially, lying on the tarmac listening to the panicked high heels of the driver approach, I was all set to blame this accident on the inferior capabilities of women behind the wheel – but that was probably just the concussion talking, because in reality the whole, ‘women make worse drivers’ thing is a bit of a myth I reckon…besides, judging by the hands that helped me up, that particular maxim didn’t technically apply in this case anyway, true or otherwise.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Ahhhrrrr N B


Sometimes the English language seems properly weird to me. Like the evolution of some words, the way they start off meaning one thing and end up meaning something else completely different is just mental. I mean I've spoken and written in this stuff for twenty odd years man and boy, but I swear, how the word 'booty' ever made it's way from the world of seventeenth century piracy on the high seas, only to eventually finish up becoming the staple term for a woman's backside in the massively oversexed, dry-humpathon which passes for R&B music these days, is a total mystery to me. Bizarre. Suppose booty had had the same dual meaning all those hundreds of years ago; it would've just been utterly unworkable.

Say you're a pirate right and you're sitting in a tavern when some grizzly old seadog – you know the sort: bad cough, walking stick, eye patch, parrot, the works – hobbles up to you. Says he's a sick man, dying, too feeble now for sea faring and thus he's willing to part with his most coveted possession in return for one last mug o' grog. You agree and the reward turns out to be a treasure map with a very convincing back story to it. So you spend the next couple of months and every last penny you can beg, borrow or steal chartering a good sized ship and hiring a tough but capable crew. Setting sail in due course, you spend most of the ensuing year on a hellish voyage; fighting ferocious seas, fending off rival pirates, battling the Royal Navy and quashing countless mutinies onboard your own vessel by the treacherous crew. Even when you do ultimately reach the strange island detailed on the map, there's still the numerous hostile natives to be disposed of and dozens of brain melting clues to solve before you can pin point the exact location of that all important 'X.' At long last though, after days of navigating through terrain as baffling as it is dangerous, you locate the proverbial sweet spot and start digging. You dig for hours non-stop, without sleeping, all night, into the early hours of the morning. You're exhausted but determined so you just keep on digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, digging until you finally hit…an arse.

A woman's arse. That's all. Just a woman's arse, sticking up out the sand. It's a very nice arse, sure there's no denying it, almost worth singing about even, but that's got to be small consolation after you risked life and limb travelling all this way – after all, that kind of booty isn't going to pay many ransoms or bounties now is it? Imagine the disappointment.

Mind you, thinking on it now, there is another thing that Mr Timberlake and the like have in common with pirates aside from the love of booty - they could both use a shower. A extremely cold one in the case of the R&B artists, if only to calm those dirty rascals down for five minutes and any sort of shower for the pirates really, just to spruce them up a bit.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Stalk This Way.

Occasionally just for a change of scene, I'll go and spend some time at my aunt's place up north. I really like it up that way y'know; it's a spectacularly scenic area and the sky in particular is truly breathtaking. Sky Sports, Sky Movies, Sky Box Office – they're all there. I swear I could gaze at them all day. Genuinely incredible.

Anyway, I was staying there a few months ago for a short holiday and one night I'm just taking it easy as usual – lounging around in the early hours of the morning, flicking through the music channels, when I happen across the video for that Aerosmith single, 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing.' Now I've never had much of an opinion on this song one way or the other frankly: it's sort of your generic, everyday, fist clenching, orchestral, movie ballad, isn't it really? Although I've heard worse to be fair, so...if it was on the radio I wouldn't turn it up, but I wouldn't turn it off, let's put it that way. Same goes for the T.V in fact, which is why I had already picked up a magazine and was simply letting the tune run casually in the background when – almost without knowing it – I heard those lyrics properly for the first time. I dunno, I think it's like that thing with magic-eye pictures, where you only really see what's hidden in there when you're sorta only half concentrating. Because it was at that precise moment I suddenly noticed that Steven Tyler opens that track with these words:

"I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
Watch your smile while you are sleeping
While you're far away and dreaming…"

Eh?? I don't care how romantic their sentiments are, if someone actually said or sang that to you, I think most people's perfectly reasonable response would be something along the lines of: "Uh…well yeah, you could I suppose...but I...I just…I'd really rather you didn't." See, you'd think at this point he might realise he's coming across as a little odd. Let's face it, who hasn't been there in the past – started a conversation badly despite having the best of intentions; there's no shame in that, everybody's done it at some point. The good news is, it's still relatively early on in proceedings, if he stopped now, he could probably make a half decent stab at salvaging the situation. He could apologise, say that wasn't quite what he meant, say it came out wrong. He could try again and hopefully do bit better so later both parties could have a good laugh about how strange he had sounded before this whole hilarious misunderstanding was cleared up. Does he do this? Does he bollocks. On the contrary as it happens, he goes ahead and cranks the crazy right up from here on out. Seriously, the chorus is even worse:

"Don't wanna close my eyes,
Don't wanna fall asleep,
Cause I'd miss you baby
And I don't want to miss a thing
Cause even when I dream of you,
The sweetest dream would never do
I'd miss you baby,
And I don't want to miss a thing."

Aw come on! That's not sweet, that's not tender, that's not moving. That's mental. It's not even so much the fact that he's just watching this poor woman sleep, which is unsettling enough, I'm more concerned by the whole, 'Don't wanna close my eyes' bit. Think about that: this man isn't closing his eyes. At all. Not for one second. Never, okay? D'you understand me, he's not even physically blinking. I mean, is that even possible? For god sake it's gotta be like four in the morning, so what exactly is it he think he's gonna miss? What's she gonna do, levitate? Spontaneously combust? Try and escape? Actually, given the circumstances, that last one probably not a bad idea. Mind you, good luck with that – remember we are dealing with a man with no apparent natural need to blink, here. Aside from anything else though, the fact remains, if you were in this woman's position and you happened to wake during the night, for whatever reason – glass of water, call of nature, full blown power ballad being blasted at you inches away from your ear – whatever, this is what you'd see staring out of the darkness at you.


Exactly. Suddenly this song's taking a whole new dimension, isn't it?...and he's not done yet, not by a long chalk. Why's he pouting like that? Ah well, get a load of this from the second verse:

"Then I kiss your eyes
And thank God were together
I just want to stay with you in this moment forever
Forever and ever"

That's right, 'kiss your eyes' There's every chance you're gonna wake up with this singing sociopath slobering all over you peepers – and I think we all know, if that happens, nobody's getting any sleep for the rest of that night. Your left over slumber time just turned into a marathon staring match against the incredible unblinking man. He doesn't want to close his eyes or fall a sleep cos he doesn't want to miss a thing; you on the other hand, you don't want to close your eyes or go to sleep in case Scary McStarey over there makes another attempt to get hot 'n' heavy with your eyeballs. Might as well accept it: it's matchsticks 'till dawn. Just for tonight though, right? Right?? Well maybe. Or maybe, 'Forever and ever.'


P.S – It's just occurred to me that he may be watching this lady so closely on account of her having a serial sleepwalking problem - in which case I've done him quite a big disservice, as in severe cases those people can unwittingly be a real danger to themselves and routinely need to be monitored. It's possible he could be doing her a big favour, regularly depriving himself of rest, all in order to look out for this woman. So if (and only if) this is indeed the reason, I would like to formally apologise to Steven Tyler for the above material. As you were Steve - you don't want to miss anything.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Dead Romantic.


Friend of mine got me thinking the other day when she asked me what I’d do if the world were suddenly to be overrun by the reanimated corpses of the flesh-eating undead. Now I’m sure there are many who would simply have dismissed this question as ridiculous, however it struck me at the time that maybe ‘what to do in the event of murderous cadaver attack’ is one of those things which more people should really take the time to consider, but just would rather not. That’s understandable. It’s similar I think to sitting down to work out a fire escape route or writing your Will – even though you know it makes sense to do it, naturally you put it off. Course you do, it’s morbid, it’s depressing and in a weird way you feel like you’re almost tempting fate. Nevertheless, likewise these two examples, there are several advantages to be found in formulating a Zombie Survival Plan earlier as opposed to later. It doesn't take long for a start, an afternoon at the most, possibly less if you have good awareness of your local area; the layout, strongholds etc. Convenience, is another plus. Once it’s done, it’s done. It’s out the way. You can toss it in a drawer, forget all about it and go on enjoying your life, safe in knowledge that it’s there if and when you need it, even though you probably never will. Probably. Last but my no means least, as every good public safety information video or leaflet will have told you before: it could save your life one day. Still think it’s a nonsense, eh? Fair enough, though just remember what they always say at the end of those disaster documentaries, “ You just never think it’ll happen to you.”

So what’s my plan I hear no-one ask, how would I survive Satan’s armies on the march? Well the simple answer is I wouldn’t. Wouldn’t even try. No, no, please, I’m fine with it. You see from the little research I’ve done it would appear that in order to live through a scenario such as this, ideally you need to be the following: fast, sexy, young and a woman. The further you are from this archetypal survivor the less chance you have of being one. Swing and a miss for me on nearly all counts there I’m afraid. Technically I suppose you could possibly live if you were old, moral, world weary and a man – but if that’s the case, you’d better be prepared to nearly make it all the way through this nightmare, come agonizingly close to it’s conclusion and then have to sacrifice yourself for the fast, sexy young woman, causing a distraction so that she can make a fast, sexy getaway and live to be fast, young and sexy another day. I know, it sounds unfair but if your truly world weary you won’t mind that much. I’m doing a little better on the requirements for that one, although putting all that effort in just to fall at the last hurdle for the sake of some high speed bimbo doesn’t appeal to me at all.

That not to say I wouldn’t do anything you understand. I said I didn’t plan to survive which doesn’t mean I can’t be of some use before my demise. By the by, if you think this is the part where I say I’d grab as many guns as I could find, along with as much ammo as I could carry and hit the streets giving it my best gruff voiced action hero – If I’m going to hell, I’m takin a few of you sorry sonofabitches with me! – type act, then you can forget it. Not really my style. No, the fact of the matter is, based on the onscreen evidence I’ve seen, the human race is never more selfish than when faced with an uprising of the deceased. “Ohh, help me!” “Save me!” “Hide me!” “Please don’t kill me!” Me-me-me. What about the zombies? Some of them will have been through hell and back (literally) and might not have been out and about for years, decades maybe, centuries even. Therefore I have decided that what I would in fact do if the world were suddenly to be overrun by the reanimated corpses of the flesh-eating undead is get straight down the office of public records. Once there I will find the names of a now sadly deceased couple whose wedding anniversary falls on whatever date it is when the dead choose to rise. Having located – oh let’s call them Marjorie and…I dunno, Klaus – I’ll head to there twin burial plots (sweethearts after all) where, if they’re already up I shall personally invite them to my house, or if not, leave them a note with detailed directions.

How, you might wonder at this point, have I endured long enough to do all this if I’m so dreadfully slow, so disappointingly unsexy and so completely not a woman? Good question. I can see you’ve been paying attention so I’ll tell you. I have survived using only my wits, my natural resemblance to a zombie, and my neighbours mobility scooter. Why then, you may speculate here, do I not use these advantages at my disposal to try and successfully ride out the disaster to the end? Well...I could do I suppose but chances are mankind has just made it and no more hence there’s probably been a lot of looting, explosions and general anarchy. Think of the mess. I can’t be bothered with that, I don’t even like tidying my room let alone rebuilding civilisation. I guess it could be fun to hang around and repopulate the earth...on the other hand, take into account what we’ve all just been through, nobody’s gonna be in the mood for any of that malarkey for ages. Nah, I’ve made up my mind. Besides there’s no guarantee I’d make it, those scooters have terrible mileage.

Anyway, back at the house – Marjorie and Klaus will be a while, zombies are notoriously slow – I’ll have set the table with the good cutlery, lights down, napkins folded all fancy, couple of candles…I think you see where this is going now. What? It’s their anniversary for goodness sake. Just because it happens to fall on the same day that the gates of hell opened that doesn’t make either occasion any less special. I used to have know a guy whose birthday was Bastille Day and we always took time to celebrate both. It's not quite the same I grant you but y'know. Let’s see, what else could I do? If I’m really out to impress I might gnaw my own fingers off and leave them by a selection of dips to start. Maybe a nice Salsa or Guacamole. Finger foods if you will. Must remember to prepare and set out dips before gnawing fingers off though. Is that everything? Don’t think I need to bother with sorbets really. If I’ve got time I could always baste myself with a nice chicken stock, but after that there’s not much I can do except hop up on the table and wait. I thought I’d let them serve themselves, a buffet of sorts. Obviously, being a good host, I’ll make suggestions while I’m conscious: “Have you tried the liver?” “The knee is excellent this evening.” “Ah, an eyeball, exquisite choice!” That sort of thing. Hmm, have I forgotten anything? Oh the Barry White CD. Actually forget the CD. as they're celebrating and the dead have risen anyway, there's a chance we could talk the man himself into making a personal appearance.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Don't Panda To Their Needs.


I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I have no sympathy with the ‘plight of the panda.’ You heard me. Pandas are an endangered species, there’s only like a thousand left in the wild, and I just plain don’t care. “Boo! Hiss!” I hear people cry – which is a bit odd as there’s nobody else in the room with me...I may have to look into that later…but anyway – “How could you say such a callous thing about such a beautiful beast? The panda has been an integral part of far eastern tradition and culture for centuries, it would be a tragedy to lose it now.” Well, true, but the fact the matter is, I don’t see why I should be expected to give a monkey’s about the pandas, when even the pandas don’t give a monkey’s about the pandas, y’know what I mean? Possibly not. Last bit there got a kinda confusing to be fair.

About fifty years ago the giant monkey - I mean panda, sorry - was hunted for it’s fur, which is terrible. Around the same time, large parts of it’s natural habitat were being destroyed due to rapid industrialisation which is also awful. But around 1990, several land conservation and animal poaching laws were passed which went along way towards curbing these problems. Yet the panda remained on the brink of extinction. The reason for this? Low birth rates in the wild. Alright, fair enough, I can see how that could happen. It’s a jungle out there after all. I imagine trying to reproduce in their untamed homeland might be bit like trying to pull in some of the tougher pubs I’ve been to: You’re on the lookout for someone you like, but you’re also well aware that your surrounded by a multitude of prowling, violent, unpredictable, feral creatures who’d kill you as soon as look at you. Understandably you might not be in the mood a lot of the time. So what to do? Thus it was precisely because the panda is deemed of such importance that reservations were set up. We’ve all seen these places on the news, they’ve got a guy panda and they have a chick panda flown in (again confusing, sorry, must stop bringing other animals into this. I mean a girl panda, flown in on a plane, not some kind of weird panda/bird cross breed who can fly) then everybody waits for something to happen. Great. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Panda numbers continued to dwindle, with low birth rates even in captivity.

Now this is where the strings on my violin break I’m afraid. They’ve got every advantage and they’re evidently not interested. There species is dying, it’s handed to them on a plate and still they’re too tired or have a headache or whatever. People who actually worry about these animals have spent millions setting them up in their own little love palaces, catering to their every need, removing the stress of dating by shipping in partners and still their having none of it. Literally. No, they’d rather sit about scratching themselves and eating bamboo. Well if that’s their attitude, then cheerio quite frankly, don’t let the planet hit you on the way out. Listen, maybe they just don’t like sex. That’s fine, stranger things have happened, but I mean if the threat of extinction is enough to get one of these boys to lie back and think of China, I dunno what is. It was suggested to me by a friend of mine that pandas ‘like the thrill of romance’ which is difficult to recreate in a synthetic environment. Well it’s tad late to be getting picky, eh no? It was being so bloody high maintenance that got them into this mess in the first place. They need to learn that the term ‘survival of the fittest’ doesn’t refer to ‘fit’ in the Hollyoaks sense of the word. Beggars can’t be choosers as they say and now neither can pandas.

They’re going to be wiped out for god sake. I’m pretty lazy admittedly, but I like to think that when the human race has been enslaved by all powerful aliens, if Emperor Krooooog The Overlord comes to me and says, “Andy, we’ve noticed the your sort have been getting a bit thin on the ground of late. Now sure, we killed a lot of you for your skin and destroyed a lot of your cities to build our life globes, but we don’t want you to die out completely, we like mankind, your kinda cute and cuddly looking, especially when you eat. Anyway we wondering if you wouldn’t mind doing a bit of breeding for us. ” I might say, “Love to Krooooog pal, but like you say, we’re nearly extinct, slim pickins eh?’ Then if he said, ‘No bother. We’ll have an earth female shipped into a specially designed habitat. I believe your people call it a 'shag pad' It has all your earth comforts; pizza, TV, DVDs, stereo. You just relax and reproduce. All we ask is that you occasionally let paying customers in to observe and take pictures of you.” I’d reply “Count me in. A man’s gotta do and all that. Best start working out if there’s gonna be cameras.”

My point is the human race has done it’s part, if the pandas refuse to meet us half way, that’s there lookout. Why should we help them if they won’t help themselves? There are plenty other endangered species we could be expending our energy on. The White Rhino for example, never have to worry about that not being horny. (ahhh, you see what I did there?...Cos a rhino has…aw forget it.) We don’t even really need pandas anyway y’know, we’ve got raccoons, they’re like portable pandas. Of course there is always the outside possibility that pandas are gay. In which case I suggest they start same sex enclosures. Won’t save em from eradication, but they could at least go out with a bang. In every sense of the word.

Friday, 10 July 2009

These Shoes Are Killing Me.


Check her out man. It'd be a pretty brave foot fetishist who shacked up with her, eh? Still, she is an undeniably attractive woman, so I suppose you could reasonably argue that it might just be worth the risk.

Probably one the unluckiest situations you could find yourself in with a lady such as this I should think, would be if you were working part time in say, Clarks shoe shop or somewhere like that, when she came in for a fitting. Y'know, cause what are you going to do then? Straight away you're professionally obligated to take all the same risks that her brave beau chooses to take but with none of the potentially sexy rewards. You certainly can't simply refuse to serve her because – aside from that just being downright rude – she might think your discriminating against her solely on account of her quite obvious physical impairment, which would not only make her feel extremely self-conscious, but would also give her fair grounds to lodge a complaint. Thus because she didn't get a shoe, you could end up getting the boot, as it were. On the other hand, is your job all that important in the scale of things? I mean it's only really a Saturday thing, it doesn't pay very well, there's probably plenty more of this sort of work out there and she does have a huge fuck-off machine gun for a leg. So what's the solution? They just don't give adequate training for scenarios like these in the shoe retail business anymore.

Okay, you might say "Look at the poster though, she doesn't have a shoe on the gun, you won't be dealing directly with the actual gun, she probably just wants something comfortable – like a Hush Puppy – for her one remaining, non lethal foot." Well, fair point…but then what if - as a lot people are - she's a little sensitive about her feet…or foot, so she - as a lot people do - lies about her shoe size and drops it down by maybe a size, size and a half. Clearly now it's going be a bit tougher getting her chosen footwear on. But she's adamant; determined to manage it because she's embarrassed and doesn't want lose face in front of the staff. Understandable, we've all been there. So there she is pushing hard to get it on, with Barry, the shop assistant who drew the short straw, lost two coin tosses and four straight games of paper-rock-scissors, down there helping her by pushing hard in the opposite direction; she's struggling, Barry's struggling, she's squeezing, Barry's squeezing, she's straining, Barry's straining...they're both...they're just about...and they've just nearly…BANG!!!…all of a sudden the gun's gone off accidentally, everybody's screaming and in the end the only one who lost any face was the work experience girl, whose now missing the majority of hers.

It's food for thought. My feeling is if you do own or manage a shoe shop, it's probably better to have a solid procedure already in place for dealing - cautiously but respectfully - with customers who come in with dangerous weaponry in place of limbs. You'll probably never even have to use it, but I think everyone concerned would generally feel a lot better just knowing it's there.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Not So Squeaky Clean



In Italy they have the Mafia, in Japan there's the Yakuza, in China you've got your Triads and in South America it's the drug cartels you have to watch out for.  Where I live we have the window cleaners.  That's right, the window cleaners. No, that's not just some nickname for a street gang in my area - like say the Bloods or the Crips in Los Angeles - I'm talking about genuine window cleaners.  The actual people who make a living cleaning the windows round my way.

Now, I can understand why it might be difficult to accept that a trade as unassuming and run-of-the mill as window cleaning could ever possibly have anything in common with the afore mentioned volatile crime organisations.  After all, since the beginning of the twentieth century the window cleaner has rightfully built up and enjoyed the relatively positive reputation for being this cheery guy who comes around maybe once every couple of months and whistles a merry tune as he polishes those hard to reach panes of glass, before finally arriving at your door and engaging in some friendly banter while collecting a satisfactory fee for a job well done.  Indeed this squeaky clean image, so to speak, proved so durable that it not only survived a major scandal in 1936 - when one George Formby openly made allegations of voyeurism and invasion of privacy within the profession, with his thinly veiled protest song 'When I'm Cleaning Windows' – but it also eventually won over the general public to the idea of giving their local Glass Hygiene Maintenance Engineers the freedom to decide how frequently their own services were required.  This system of trust worked fine for a while and in fact probably still does in most places, but not in my town.

In my town – just as is the case with most crime syndicates that are born out of legitimate business – corruption reared its ugly head.  Somebody got greedy.  They violated the unspoken code of honour within the industry.  As a result my window cleaning service is no longer a service; it's a protection racket.
I'm telling you; I'm pretty sure I remember one time when the guy came to 'do the windows' twice in one month.  Sounds reasonable enough you say?  Yeah well don't bother saying that, because it just so happens the month in question was November and it had done nothing but piss down solid with rain every day of those four weeks, except on the two dates when my windows were apparently suddenly deemed to be in urgent need of a sporadic cleanse. Now you tell me, why would I want to pay somebody a tenner to do a job which Mother Nature or god or whatever had done twenty four hours ago for free?  I remember while he was working I even pointed out a few still fresh raindrops on the windowpane from the other side, d'you know what he did?  The cheeky monkey just winked then sudded up the glass.  He knew though…he knew.  To be honest it's not even like my windows ever really get that dirty.  I mean are they situated in Amsterdam's red-light district?  No.  Are they often affected by dust storms or the like?  No.  Do I hold wild mud wrestling competitions in my front garden?  No.  Not yet anyway.

For those still not convinced as to any criminal elements here, get this; the time before last, when the guy came to collect his payment he gave me his business card to pass on to anybody else living nearby whom he didn't already know about.  When I looked at it later, I noticed it read: "Don McKay, Window Cleaner."  Okay, his name could just be Donald, or it could just as easily refer to the head of some notorious McKay crime family, no doubt with strong links to the Cosa Nostra .  I think it's time someone stepped up and blew the whistle on this extortion before corruption engulfs the whole of what is otherwise the noble art of window cleaning.  Of course I've probably said too much already.  They'll probably find me in bed one morning with my window panned in, doused in soapy water, squeegeed to within an inch of my life, with a little piece of paper stuffed in my top poket saying, "Window cleaner was here while you were out."

Actually as it happens I think his name is just Donald.