Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Socks for Christmas please

Parents are hell to buy presents for. You can't surprise them. Only disappoint. I should have got the message when I found the present I’d bought for one parent in the jumble sale pile within 2 weeks. there I was thinking she takes baths, so I’ll buy her some nice bath stuff (a whole range of bubble baths from boots, on a nice decorative hanging shelf type thing).

of course, what i didn't realise was that she likes posh baths. with posh soaps. and my definition of posh soaps was wildly different from hers.

What do you get for the man who has everything? Penicillin.

I'm doing all right. I want for nothing. if a new record comes out and I want to hear it, I’ll pop along to HMV in my lunch hour and buy it. I’m beyond the point where I have to justify the expense. (CD or lunch... hmmm let me think). I also would generally want to buy it now. I’m impatient - I wouldn't want to know that the Killers new album was available, and I hadn’t heard it for 6 weeks.

When you are poor, then presents are easier. I’d be wondering about buying something, saving up for it for weeks, or, if it was released before Christmas, I’d ask the parents nicely, and hope they sorted it in time. I may not have yet watched Batman Begins on Blu-Ray, but I’ve had it since the day it came out. It has been available to me for that time, and that’s the important thing.

I also have a problem with other people shopping for me. If I’d asked my Grandma to buy me batman begins on Blu-ray, one of the following two things would have happened.

• She’d have bought the DVD, as she has no idea about high definition, Playstation 3s or 1080p LCD televisions.
• She’d have paid WHSmith £25 for it, instead of ordering it online for £15 (still expensive but cheaper than 2 cinema tickets, and you don’t have to spend so much time shushing chavs in our lounge.)

(It is my prediction that WHSmith will follow Woolies and Zavvi into administration in 2009, as they can’t keep getting away with relying on high profit impulse buys, instead of the high volume sensible prices that play and Amazon are doing (relatively) well with. Mark my words. Go on – get marking!)

Wasting other peoples money gets my goat even more that wasting my own.

I was thinking about gifts that would be appreciated, and surprising. Gift vouchers are always nice (although it took me months to get through the WHSmith ones I got last year for the above reasons! They went mostly on newspapers and magazines.)

I think next year I might give everyone an hour’s computer lesson, where I tidy up their machine, get them AV and patched up, and leave them with instructions (and my phone number) in case anything goes wrong. I’m obviously not accessible enough based on the fact that my dad had gone to Currys, bought an iPod, failed to get it working and took it back to Currys, all in the space of an afternoon. I’d not received the text saying “how do I get music onto an iPod from my computer?” in time apparently. Don’t ask me what he did when his computer got a “virus”.

As a gift to you all now – here’s a computer lesson. Hopefully many of you are far beyond this level, but here goes, in no particular order:

• Install ONE antivirus product
• Keep auto update active on Windows.
• Make sure windows firewall and spy ware monitors are on.
• Don’t download compressed (zipped) files, unless you are totally confident of where they came from.
• Keep a backup on a totally separate disk (not a partition of the same disk) of anything important. Set a reminder on your computer, or in your diary to do it, as often as needed. A £15 pen drive would probably be big enough for most of your documents.
• Once a month(ish) run “disk defragmenter” and watch your PC speed up.
• Don’t open and print every email you receive.
• Don’t forward on virus warnings. 99.9% of them are bogus. Why would the Australian police force care if your adobe acrobat was up to date, and why wouldn’t they spell check the warning?

Next year – if you have the means, and were wondering what to give me for Christmas, here are some ideas.

• Advice – there are bound to be some things about which you know more than me. Help me out. Teach me psychology. Help me understand Sex in the City.
• Skills – sew my buttons onto my shirts. Turn up my trousers. Make me curtains. Tile my bathroom. Paint my doors.
• Time. It takes me ages to buy socks. I’m a man, so every shopping trip is a special and deliberate one. If I need socks, I’ll make special trip to the sock shop, deliberate about which ones to get, queue, pay, go home, wear them twice, and then wonder what happened to them. (I’ll let you fill in the Blackadder quote yourself.) Buy me socks, just when you are passing the sock aisle. Keep them cheap – I’ve not yet identified the difference in quality between yesterdays Tesco socks, and today’s Jasper Conran.

Happy Christmas, and a merry new year. I put them in the right way round. Why would anyone want anything other than a merry new year (unless they were planning on running a 10k race on New Year ’s Day?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

...for fifteen pounds a year

"i'll sell your memories
for 15 pounds per year"

Muse - The small print

I'm sitting in the spare room, and writing this as avoidance for making music. I used to sit in a dark room for hours on end, eating pringles and getting knobs all greasy. you can hear the results on my myspace page. you'll notice no updates over the last few years though.

Its all the wife's fault. wedded bliss is not good for making music. which would i rather do, get frustrated with my synth for not making the right bleepy noise, or sit in the lounge with a glass of wine, my beautiful wife, and a film?

Lisa's out right now, and i'm still not making music. the thing is, times change... i'm off in a bit to make some pastry, get a pasta sauce on, and attempt an apple tart (ambitious).

Its not just the time aspect though - its about inspiration, as Mr Bellamy says - he'll sell your memories - for 15 pounds a year. he has things to sing about, to write about - and even if they aren't his, they are still being sung. when he became all loved up, he moved from love songs to fears of the apocolypse. smart.

it doesn't always work though. Alanis morrisette is shit while happy. Her first album, is great, and now she's divorced, I understand her latest is back up to the same standard, but the less said about everything in between the better.

The man behind Spiritualised was lucky enough to be critically ill recently, and when he work from the coma, wrote his (second) best album to date. they'll never top "ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space", although I am probably biased towards that one, as for the first 6 months of lisa and my relationship it was our choice of snuggling song, and there are many happy memories associated with that time of my life.

I sold a large chunk of my music setup recently, and in addition to a new tv, I bought a new guitar. (i'm so domesticated, I got one to match the lounge's new decor - although that means it lives in the lounge, so i play it more often, so thats got to be a good thing.)

Its about 9 years since i last wrote a song, and nearly as long since I really sat down and made some music at all. yet still I can't sell the remaining 2 keyboards, drum machine, 2 effects units and goodness knows what else i have hanging around. its a shame really, as i really enjoyed it, but I try and be creative elsewhere. It was never going to make me famous or rich.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Benares vs Pizza Express

Before we first went to Benares, nearly a year ago, I did some research, looking at user review sites, to see what other people thought. Mostly they seemed to be impressed, but I did notice a few bad reviews. Obviously I paid special attention to these, but I soon realised that they weren’t applicable to me. I’ll explain why.

The bad reviews came into two categories. The first category, was “people who were comparing Benares to other top class Michelin star restaurants in London or otherwise”, and thought that Benares was not as good as Tamarind, or Claridges, or The Ivy. This gave me my first reference point. The opinions of people who are able to compare between such venues are of no interest to me, as their expectations will be so much higher than my own, and their desire to put down what others deem to be of a quality, too great. I read them with interest, but didn’t let them sway my judgement.

The second category was “people who are so up themselves, they are not my sort of people”. It’s not so much a category, as a single review, where their entire enjoyment of a meal appeared to be dependant on the fact that when they asked for finger bowls, they were given hot towels! The opinion of people, who would complain about such a thing (in person at the time, and on the review site afterwards,) is of little interest to me, other than to satisfy my own sense of being a normal and rational member of society, who although appreciative of the ability to clean one’s hands is not going to get upset over the manner in which they are cleaned.

I fall into a third category, and I think you should know about this prior to reading my review, so you know if my judgement is of any interest to you. If you would insist on finger bowls, then enjoy my prose, but possibly don’t blame me if I recommend you give Benares your patronage, and they don’t meet your expectations.

My normal eating out is certainly of a higher class than many. I can’t remember the last time McDonalds, KFC, or Burger King (or their poor imitations) passed my lips, but the wife and I will often go to Wagamama, Pizza Express, or if we are in the vicinity, the excellent Mangosteen off Carnaby St is a veritable favourite. The curry houses of Brick Lane and our local Italian restaurants in Tooting have also never so far let us down. If we spend £40 between us on dinner for two, it was because we were really hungry, or shared a bottle of wine, or occasionally both. It is not unknown for our bill to be under £15 if we just want a main and a glass of water.

The occasion for our first visit to Benares was our first wedding anniversary. In April last year, Atul Kutcher had received his Michelin Star, his recipes in the Great British Menu and on Saturday Kitchen had got us excited, and his ability and willingness to make vegetarian food and put it on the menu sealed the deal. What helped too was a superb looking set menu, available lunchtimes and early dinner (until 18.30 I believe) which comprised of 3 courses, various extras, and a glass of wine for £29.99 each. The addition of two glasses of champagne, and the ubiquitous service charge left our final bill just short of 3 figures, but worth every penny.

We returned to celebrate my 31st birthday, although that was just an excuse to go back once they (finally) changed the set menu. I’m guessing it is an attempt to lure people back in following the new year lull, but the changes to the menu meant the price had dropped to £24.99 for the 3 courses, and the only thing apparently missing was that mineral water wasn’t included, where it was before.

We arrived at about 5 to 12, and the restaurant was still being prepared. We were sat down in the bar, given a bowl of complementary spicy nuts, and asked if we wanted drinks (we declined, knowing the wine with the meal would suffice).

Soon enough we were seated in the corner of the restaurant, and provided with menus, wine list and mini poppadoms and chutneys (tomato, gooseberry, chilli, and lime). I won’t repeat myself too much, but I’ll tell you now – everything we ate was the finest example of such a thing we’d ever had. My starter was Lemon Thyme Infused Pollack Cakes with Cucumber Pachadi. Lisa’s Grilled Artichoke Salad with Chat Masala Vinaigrette was amazing too. A generous glass of white wine arrived at this point too (red and sparkling were options).

Main courses of Tandoor Cooked Chicken Supreme with Chestnut Kedegree (rice) for me, and Pickled Pumpkin Risotto with Grilled Portobello Mushroom for Lisa, with a tikka type sauce on both, was accompanied by the lightest, tastiest naan bread.

The most spectacular hot towels we had ever seen arrived once we’d finished our mains, looking like two breath mints on a double tea light holder, the waiter poured boiling water over them, and they expanded upwards to about 3 times their original height into perfect hot damp towels. (Seeing our delight the maitre d’ slipped us a couple as we left!)

Our desserts were worthy of photography, however my telephone’s photography was not worthy of our desserts – see below for the pictures I took. Lisa’s Assortment of Kulfis – mango, pistachio and lychee, complete with flower petals, and my Star Anise Scented Orange Jelly with French Meringue, were almost too beautiful to demolish with spoons, but we did anyway.

Coffee and petit fours followed, (tea would have been allowed) and the meal was complete. Total bill, £60 (we forgot that mineral water wasn’t included) including service charge, which was a delight to pay, as the staff were perfect – attentive without being oppressive, there when you needed them, and invisible when you didn’t, and able to answer important questions (is there gelatine in Dave’s dessert, or will Lisa expect him to share it?) when required.

Obviously, it was all of an extremely high standard, but we were only eating off the set menu, we didn’t explore the £32 Lobster tails, or the £400 bottles of Krystal and Krug, but we left perfectly full (dinner in the evening was cheese on toast!) and certainly satisfied. The nature of the meal got me thinking about value for money, as I often do, so I’ve done some research into what the equivalent courses would have cost at Pizza Express – size of stomach not being a factor – I doubt I’d be able to eat all the below at one sitting.

Intro Noci 1.95
Starter Bruschetta 3.65
Main American Pizza 7.70
Side Garlic Bread 2.10
Dessert Toffee fudge glory 4.35
Coffee Filter coffee 1.75
Wine 175ml Chardonnay 3.80
Total 25.30

It kind of makes eating at the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at seem a totally sensible and reasonably priced thing to do. Next time you are in Mayfair (Maybe browsing the Rolls Royce dealership next door) and you want a £25quid lunch – see if Benares has a table available…

Friday, 17 October 2008

New Years Eve (December 2007!)

I'm not a big fan of New Years Eve. I've had some very enjoyable ones, but I’ve had some very enjoyable nights in general, and if I took all my enjoyable nights on new years eve, and compared them to my enjoyable nights not on new years eve, I think I enjoyed the enjoyable nights not on new years eve a lot more.

Don't get me wrong - I like years, and I like nights out, and I like celebrating new things, but put them all together and they are far less than the sum of their parts. The mighty Lee and Herring did a routine about the similarities of celebrating New Years Eve (particularly the millennium) and celebrating the changing of the mileage on the car from 9999 to 10000, cheering the meaningless change in an arbitrary count of a collection of units of time… I’m kind of with them there, although my innate sense of tidiness does enjoy seeing nice round numbers and I do enjoy seeing them all change at once.

For the Millennium, I went out, with some of my closest friends (and 69996 others), to see the Manic Street Preachers at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It cost £30 a go, and compared to the alternatives, £10quid just to go to the pub, through to £100 to see “some fellahs playing records” as James Dean Bradfield put it, it was a bargain. Feeder, Super Furry Animals, the Manics, and the BBC and all the fireworks on the big screen, gave a great sense of occasion, and we all felt suitably celebrated. I stayed sober – avoiding the ludicrous price of booze at the stadium, and meaning I could drive across town to a party and the lovely Carys (but that is another story).

The next year we went down the civic centre and saw Madness or Shawaddywaddy or some such, and enjoyed the fireworks and sprayed cheap sparkling wine in the air and upset some people who didn’t like cheap sparking wine landing in their faces, and drank some cheap sparkling wine and annoyed Dan by singing the “hey baby” song very loudly so everyone joined in with the ooh aah bit and drank some more cheap sparking wine and went to bed (tired but happy) although I think Dan might have actually gone to the second flight of stairs, thinking it was his bed and wondering why it was so lumpy.

6 or 7 days later, I met the wife and everything changed.

Being in a couple at New Years Eve is great. No pressure to snog a complete stranger, no painful face when you get slapped after snogging a complete stranger, no awkward moments following the snogging of someone who wasn’t a complete stranger, but it might not have been such a good idea to decide to snog them as peer pressure is a terrible thing and you were probably better off just as mates who never snogged at new years eve, instead of being mates who snogged at new years eve and does that mean we should go out on a date, or kiss goodbye after we go out just as friends or should we never speak to each other ever again.

We also found Twisted By Design – the best club night in the world, run by the best DJ/Promoter in the world – Gary Twisted. He also therefore – ran the best New Years Eve in the world. Apart from one, (when we watched the fireworks from an Auckland hotel room) we did all our Cardiff New Years Eves at twisted. Always a great night guaranteed, with the added bonus of ensuring you are by the window at midnight and watching the aforementioned Cardiff fireworks from the warmth of a sweaty dance floor along with the dulcet tones of Half Man Half Biscuit. At £6.50 (for about the last 5 years) it represents perfect value for money – which I perceive as being “would I pay that to go there and do that on any other night of the year – if yes – then its good value for money”.

Then we messed it up by moving to London.

20quid to go to Brixton academy tonight is probably ticking this box for many people – XFM DJs, some cool bands, 9pm till 4am, and reasonably local for us, but I wouldn’t do this any other night, so I wont tonight. Tonight, I have other priorities. Tonight I have the wife, who I may or may not snog at midnight. I have a 10k race tomorrow morning, where I may or may not get a decent time (for me – my last 10k was 2 days after smashing my knee open, so it should be possible to run better than that – even after a couple of glasses of a cheeky Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.) I have a few new DVDs to choose from, and a better than average chance of going to bed with the prettiest girl in the world.

I’m sorry to any single people reading this. I remember how much fun it is not fulfilling your expectations of a night out – let alone a new years eve, so forget about it. It’s only a number. It’s a midnight like any other. Enjoy your evening whatever you end up doing – and don’t do anything you won’t enjoy, just because of the date. The same goes for you loved up couples too.

Happy New Year, all the best for 2008, and sleep well tonight. My resolution is to keep on posting, even if it is only the wife and brother who are reading, I’d enjoy writing this just as much if I had a million readers, or just the two of you. I’m aiming for something new every Tuesday, so slap me if I don’t deliver.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Circular meme email thing. - Jan 2008

Every so often, you will probably get one of these circular emails – either as an email, a bulletin board notice, or a post to your Facebook wall (or similar). First of all – I have nothing against the person who sent it to me- she’s a great girl and one of by best friends. I liked reading her answers, and yes – I guess I did learn something new about her because of what she said. However – I am a perpetual cynic, and I thought I’d do my best to over analyse the whole nature of these things, and the reasons behind them.

First of all – I suspect many of them to be phishing scams. Some of the questions can only be there for this purpose. If my friends (this is who I should be forwarding this to) don’t already know my birthday or my middle name, it is not the end of the world. If they thought it was useful to know this, they would ask me, or I would have already told them. I won’t be answering these questions – certainly not on the open forum of my internet blog. I try to be more careful than Clarkson, and although all sorts of info is available on me (you can easily find the individual who owns every website address for example), I do my best not to broadcast it all round the place.

Many of the questions don’t have any value at all. Question 2 for example – what the heck are you going to discover about me, by knowing I prefer diamonds to pearls? Were you planning of buying me earrings and now you know what sort to buy for me? Maybe my preference is for an entirely different reason… (More on these sorts of questions as we go down the list…

Some of the questions are almost entirely invalid. It is obviously a list of American origin, (use of the word “Candy”, and the choice of popcorn flavours for example) so I’m guessing some things are just more important for our Yankee cousins to know about their friends.

Anyway – here are my answers – trying to give the information in an enjoyable way, and injecting some personality into them (questioning and expanding on the questions wherever possible), is the only way I can think of that this becomes any more than a bit of an ego trip. The assumption that your friends are actually interested in such information is possibly a little vain (although my sticking this and so much other crap all over the internet is certainly vainer).
If you want to get in contact with someone – just send them an email. If I got a note from a long lost friend, or a current friend saying “hey – I was thinking about you the other day – how are you doing?” I’d be far happier about it than getting (yet) another circular email sent to their entire mailbox. This again does not apply to this particular friend who sent this particular circular – we speak regularly, and I have no objection to being copied in on anything she thinks will amuse me.

1. What time did you get up this morning?

This morning was Monday, so I was out of bed at 7.20, had a vast bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes (own brand) for breakfast, then it was on with the suit and work started with a conference call at 8.30. this is pretty normal for a week day.

2. Diamonds or pearls?

What a daft question. I’m a boy. I guess diamonds, because they are worth more and shiny, and vegan too. I’m not a vegan by the way, but I try to be a bit conscientious of such things and make sure animals are well treated. A pearl is only there because an oyster was uncomfortable. Why aren’t there more precious stones made out of animal’s internal problems. “I bought my wife a cow gall stone necklace for our anniversary” might be just as thoughtful.

3. What is your favourite TV show?

Right now or of all time? Are we talking a single show, or a whole series? Are we talking the best I ever saw, or that I’m enjoying at the moment, or should I treat it like desert island discs TV – the one show I would want to watch forever? I’ll answer them all I think. Right now it’s Ugly Betty/Heroes/Lost/Torchwood/Top Gear, as they are the only ones I’ll ensure I never ever miss. If I really had to choose between them all, I think Ugly Betty would win. Of all time it has to be Blackadder. (I’ll leave it at that cos I can’t choose a series or episode). Best single show I ever saw would be the Top Gear with the journey across the Southern states of the USA. If it was desert island discs TV, I would want Top Gear too, as I can watch them again and again and enjoy them just as much as the first time.

4.. What do you usually have for breakfast?

Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes. Now that is an interesting thing, that you might not generally know about your friends, which you might like to know. Certainly if they are coming to stay, and you aren’t sure what their preference is – oooh – you say, Dave mentioned in that email he usually has Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – if I get some of them in, then he’ll be happy in the mornings. Very nice too, however I’m also partial to a bacon sandwich, the occasional Frostie, or, when in America, fruit loops so don’t bore me with what I usually have. As long as the cereal is not made by the evil Nestle, then I’ll give it a go. Its nice to be surprised once in a while. If you have oat cakes and cheese for breakfast – I’m with you. That’s why we go on holiday.

5. What is your middle name?

Get lost. I’m not giving that away here. If you really want to know, give me a call and ask me, but I guess you don’t really care cos you would have already asked me or sneaked a look at my driving licence already.

6. What food do you dislike?

Cauliflower and mushrooms and most offal unless in sausage/pate form. Anything else I’ll give a go. Some shellfish always seem a bit icky, but as I ate a slug once (while old enough to know better) I won’t discount anything. Now again – this is a useful piece of information. However – unless I’m keeping a reference database of all the answers my friends get, I think I’ll just check with them before I cook them dinner…

7. What is your favourite CD at the moment?

Radiohead’s In Rainbows – although that was last week really. I’ve moved on to Patrick Wolf now. Another good question. When geographically separated from your friends, you lose touch of nice things like music recommendations and such informal conversation topics. It is sort of why I started this site up, so if people did care about my feelings on such mundane things, they could see what I’m reading/watching/listening to, and let me know theirs…

8. What type of car do you drive?

I drive a Mini. This is well documented elsewhere on the website. Her name is Matilda, and she’s my pride and joy, although not so much that I wash her ever.

9. Favourite sandwich?

Ask me this 2 weeks ago, and it would have been a chicken breast baguette, with mayo instead of butter, lettuce and cucumber and freshly ground black pepper from the canteen upstairs.
Ask me this today, and it’s a Cheese and Marmite baguette which I made this morning. Why? Because I went free range, and I know the chicken and the mayo being used in any canteen in the land, are not going to be anything like free range, unless they announce themselves as such. Hellmann’s mayo will be at some point this year, although I doubt the canteen would stretch to such quality.

10. What characteristic do you despise?

I’m assuming this is referring to a personal characteristic of other people. Despise is a very strong word, so I’m going to go for “the characteristic of believing that it is ok to make other people’s lives a misery, because you think it is for some misguided greater good, or for any other reason really”. Thus encompassing Bush/Blair and their “lets kill a hell of a lot of people because that must be better than them having a nasty dictator, right through to the idiots on the bus who think that playing music on mobile phones and generally being obnoxious is absolutely fine – in fact we should thank them for introducing us to their fine taste in tunes.

11. Favourite item of clothing?

The Calvin Klein Boxers that came free when I bought 3 pairs in a shop in New York. They are nicer than any other undies I have ever worn, unfortunately they are also more expensive, and I have a lot of perfectly ok undies, so there is no ability/need to extend this variety further into my general collection. Oh, and I love my West Ham United away shirt, with my name and number on the back. It makes me feel like a big kid and I love it. (I’ll be wearing it on Wednesday for the FA cup replay on the telly)

12. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

Very tricky (and very good) question. I’ve just come back from New York, which is probably my favourite place in the world (the only place I’ve been back to 3 times), but if you think of the question as an offer, someone giving me 3 weeks to go anywhere, then I think the South Island of New Zealand would win. We did the North Island a few years ago, but would not have had time to do the whole country justice (we’d have been driving constantly for 2 weeks), so one day we’ll go back and do the rest justice.

13. What colour is your bathroom(s)?

White with blue bits, but who cares? What are you learning about me by knowing such a minor piece of information? Maybe this will become interesting for the one in a million freaks who have their walls in pink sackcloth with burgundy tiles on the floor, and a brown toilet, but they don’t exist in my middle of the road, decluttered, seen too many episodes of house doctor life. Thank goodness.

14. Favourite brand of clothing?

Calvin Klein. See above. I was partial to Cyberdog for a while, but they’ve not excited me for a while, and I’m all grown up now. The only thing I get truly moist about is the lining on a suit, or a particularly snazzy tie. When did I become a yuppie by the way?

15. Where would you retire to?

A sleepy seaside town like Swanage, or a sleepy village like Sixpenny Handley. I’d have to visit the city and annoy people by getting them to stand up for me on the tube regularly though. I don’t think I would retire abroad. Unless my whole extended family happened to be abroad too…

16. What was your most recent memorable birthday?

Probably my 29th. It’s the only one where I can remember exactly what I did. Although I’ve just realised it wasn’t actually on my birthday – it was a couple of days later I saw my first West Ham match at Upton Park. Thinking about it, I can’t remember what I actually did on my birthday – actually on the day – for many many years. Therefore my most recent memorable birthday is my 10th, when I had some friends round, and we watched a film. I think it was possibly the Goonies, but I’m really not sure. I’m also not sure if I actually remember it, or if I think I do because I have photos of it. The more I think about it, I’m thinking of some more… my 19th birthday I was working at Old Orleans, and I actually ate there on a Friday night, with my Mum, Pat and Martyn. It was a great meal (I probably had the rib/chicken combo) and Alica did us a huge (and I believe free) desert. 17th was good cos I had my first driving lesson too, but not as recent as 19th. I’m going to make sure 31 is memorable, as it is on a Saturday for the first time in many years, and I’m having some of my nearest and dearest over for a party.

17. Furthest place you are sending this?

The internet. I’m not forwarding to anyone directly, although I’ll send an email directing them to these answers to Scotland.

18. Who do you least expect to send this back to you?

Tony Blair. (See 10). You see what a pointless question this is when you over analyze it!

19. Person you expect to send it back first?

I don’t expect anyone to after seeing my sarcastic comments about doing such a thing.

20. Favourite saying?

If a jobs worth doing – kill Baldrick before you start. Adaptable for all sorts of situations.

21. When is your birthday?

Yeah. Right. Would you like to know my bank account number too while you are there?

22. Are you a morning person or a night person?

Depends what I was doing the night before. I adjust myself to the needs of my lifestyle.

23. What is your shoe size?

I’ll answer in American. 11. Again – what possible interest would anyone else have in such a mundane fact. Would you introduce yourself at a party with “Hi I’m Dave! I’m a shoe size 11(US)”? No. because the person you are introducing yourself to would say. Hi Dave. Are you a bit odd as well? Of course – as FHM pointed out the other day, the whole blogging phenomenon is a strange one – they asked what would happen if all the bloggers stood in the street and just said it to everyone passing by? (Answer – more stabbings). I think they have missed the point, I’m not forcing anyone to read this crap. It is almost entirely for my own benefit and (in)sanity that I do this. If I want to hear someone spouting their opinions, I’ll go to the labour party conference.

24. Pets?

No. I am neither responsible enough, nor do I have a stable enough lifestyle to even keep a fish. I love cats, but I’m allergic to most of them, and my family are allergic to the rest. One day I might get an iguana, although I think it will be happier in the jungle, so I can’t see it happening. Also, pets eat so much meat, which in turn has to be bred and reared and looked after, the social responsibility of ethically keeping an animal for your/its own enjoyment is too much for me to justify.

25. What did you want to be when you were little?

Bigger. I hated being the smallest person in my family, so the day I felt able to punch my brother in the head, I’m afraid I did. We never (properly) fought again, although you’d have thought he’d learned when he was chasing me round the house, and I ran through the front door, closing it behind me, and he kept going, smashing though it and heavily lacerating his arm. It was a while before the parents left us alone again!

26. How are you today?

Bored enough with my job to have been writing this guff for the last 2 hours.

27. What is your favourite candy?

The common or garden mars bar is difficult to beat.

28. What is your favourite flower?

Chrysanthemums. Cheap pretty, long lasting and come in a variety of crazy colours.

29. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?

13th April. The London Marathon, and my breaking the 4 hour barrier for the first time.

30. What church do you attend?

Why do you assume I attend a church? How odd to encourage me to discuss my religious beliefs by assuming I go to church. This question is almost guaranteed to offend someone. Chapel, synagogue, mosque, hall? Why can’t the question (if it has to exist at all) be “are you religious in any way?” or “do you believe in God?” unless you are trying to stalk me, so you not only know all my personal details, but when I’ll be out of the house on a Sunday morning so you can come round and steal the DVD player… OK. I’ll answer. I don’t attend church religiously, although I do believe in, and have a relationship with God/Jesus, and I enjoy attending church with my Dad when I’m with him. No other vicar compares.

31. What are you listening to right now?

I’m not really listening to it, but I can hear the general hubbub of a reasonably busy office.

32. What was the last thing you ate?

A cheese and Marmite baguette. And a can of tango.

33. Do you wish on stars?

No. is this any star? In Britain I might wish upon a shooting star, should I want to be all romantic with a lady, but as I imagine this is a mostly American custom, I move that this question be stricken from the record.

34. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?

Black. Like Marilyn Manson’s. were you after a more witty answer like “I’d be crimson, because you might not think you need me most of the time, but occasionally, like when you are doing an autumn scene (in crayon) you’ll be glad you had me”? well sorry – you should have phrased the question with that expectation.

35. How is the weather right now?

Very nice thank you. (notice the question was “How is the weather right now?” not “What is the weather like right now?” hence me giving an emotional response, not a physical response.

36. Last person you spoke to on the phone?

The Banks SDM team. It was the conference call I had at 8.30 this morning.

37. Do you like the person who sent this to you?

She’s fab. I just hope she isn’t offended by my taking the piss.

38. Favourite soft drink?

Soft as in fizzy drink - Pepsi max in the morning, Tango in the afternoon. Soft as in Non Alcoholic – Strong black coffee.

39. Favourite restaurant?

Benares. We’re going for the second time ever on Saturday, because I can’t afford to go more often than annually!

40. Hair colour?

On me, Brown with a heck of a lot of grey coming through. Occasionally bleach blonde. On other people, I’d choose very dark brown (certainly on girls. If I had to draw my ideal girl, she’d have long (past the shoulders) dark brown hair with a fringe, although very short hair looks great on girls whatever the colour. The wife’s hair is beautiful, but I sometimes wish she’d be a bit adventurous with it).

41. Sibling?

I’ve already mentioned the brother. I can’t think of a single close friend about whom I don’t know this information though. Test me when you next see me and we’ll find out.

42. Favourite day of the year?

Got to be Christmas.

43. What was your favourite toy as a child?

I can’t think what it might be. I remember toys I wanted, but I don’t remember having a single favourite. It would either be the Star Wars stuff or Lego. Probably Lego actually, although Scalextric was brilliant.

44. Summer or winter?

Winter. It is easier to heat up when you are too cold, than to cool down when you are too hot. Especially when you are wearing a suit on the tube.

45.. Hugs or kisses?

Depends entirely on context. Dan – Hugs. Lisa – Kisses. (thus a stupid question, although I suppose it is inviting a more open answer than the initial thought would imply… maybe it is a very clever question.).

46. Chocolate or Vanilla?

Food or sexual preference?

47. Do you want your friends to email you back?

Always. Why would I do such a selfless thing as tell them all this rubbish if I didn’t expect them to answer in an even more entertaining way?

48. When was the last time you cried?

At the end of Finding Neverland when it was on the telly at Christmas. I always cry during that sort of film.

49. What is under your bed?

A pair of big storage boxes, containing amongst other things, coats I never wear, luggage I only ever take to Glastonbury, and loads of Lisa’s stuff. And a large colony of dust bunnies. And the box to my hair clippers.

50. Who is the friend you have had the longest?

Externally to family (cos they are friends too) it would have to be the whole Weirdo clan. Of course, when you’ve known friends for that long they are pretty much family, which is nice too.

51. Favourite smell?

CK Eternity Moment on Lisa.

52. What are you afraid of?

Being ignored and unimportant. I am an attention seeker, and never like to feel impotent and powerless. The thought of a thousand people reading this while I’m not paying attention excites me. Of course I am realistic about the chances of this happening too.

53. Plain, buttered, or salted Popcorn?

SWEET – for goodness sake you Americans have to make it either REALLY unhealthy, or taste like cardboard. Popcorn plus sugar = joy.

55. How many years at your current job?

2 and a quarter. Longest I’ve ever lasted anywhere, hence my trying to get a change.

56. Favourite day of the week?

Saturday. Proper freedom from all commitments.

57. How many towns have you lived in?

Sittingbourne, Salisbury, Weston. 3. I’ve obviously missed out the Villages and the Cities. I like making questions seem stupid by answering them pedantically.

58. Do you make friends easily?

I don’t think so. I have a very few close friends, and a lot of “people I know”.

59. How many people will you be sending this to?

I’ll point one person at it specifically. Anyone else who sees it will be seeing it on their terms, I won’t be sending it to them.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Why we moved to london (old entry)

People who don't live in London get annoyed when others (especially the likes of the BBC) go on about London as if the second you cross the M25 you fall off the edge of the world. I can kind of understand this, but there is an answer. London is Brilliant.

I grew up in all sorts of places, but from the age of 7 it was rural Gloucestershire, and from 11-18 it was rural Dorset. And I mean rural – the Forest Of Dean has a dialect so strong, within a year of leaving, I went back and bumped into an old friend, and I could understand about a third of what she says. You can spit into Wales from the Forest, and the residents frequently do. Don’t be surprised if the census form allows you to choose between Welsh, Scottish, English and Forester in 2011.

We moved to Sixpenny Handley when I was 11, a town of about 1000 people, where my Dad was treated as a local celebrity (he was the Vicar) and therefore everyone knew me. Great when it came to getting the plumb babysitting jobs, but not so great when it came to the “sniper” incident. (note to babysitters, if the 14 year old you are looking after (when you are 16(!)) suggests you both have a go on his brother’s air gun in the back garden, you say – no – the super Nintendo is just fine thank you.)

Sixpenny Handley is 15 miles from anywhere. Salisbury, Wimborne, Ringwood, (you’ve probably never heard of the last two, which aptly demonstrates how remote it is. There is one scheduled bus, which takes a detour through the village on its route between Salisbury and Weymouth. The School bus took us the 15 miles to Wimborne Minster, where I attended QE School, until I was 18. Despite their best efforts, I got the Bs at A level I needed to go to University.

Cardiff is a great City – so many of the wonderful things that go with being a national Capital, (nightlife, shops, museums, gorgeous waterfront, beautiful parks) but shared only between about a quarter of a million people. Going from sixpenny Handley to Cardiff was quite a shock. In Handley I’d learned to drive at the earliest opportunity (3 months from 17th birthday to passing the test – with a 3 week gap to have pneumonia in the middle) just in order to be free from the local pastimes of sitting on the bench drinking cider, or (the very entertaining) terrorising the cows on Woody’s Quad Bike. With free reign over Daddy’s Astra, I could visit friends (they all lived in Wimborne or around), go to the shops; see a film at the cinema… In Cardiff, my friends lived in the same block of the halls of residence, a 5 minute walk took us to the cinema, night clubs, girls (not that they noticed) and all the associated fun of the city.

10 years and one engagement later, I realised I was tired of Cardiff. Our circle of friends were now spread far and wide, I was working in Bristol, having exhausted all the IT Company in Cardiff, and we were travelling to London for culture fixes far too often. We might as well move to London. Commuting would take less time and cost less, gigs would cost more, but at least they would happen (too many tours not visiting Wales at all – still a problem.) and so many museums, venues, shops and restaurants that a 30 year old family of two would take a long time to get bored – or more likely the female member of that family would decide she’d rather have ponies than see the New Young Pony Club and an escape to the country would be required (the 10 year plan).

So we found a nice house, in a nice area which we could afford (just!) and settled down. Saw plays at the national Theatre, The Globe, the West End, gigs at Ally Pally, the 100 club and the Natural History Museum, and got membership to the Tate Modern, but ensured we never missed anything at the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy…

Every so often we have the odd moment when it all makes sense, and we bask in that self satisfied glow of people whose lives are going pretty well.

A couple of weekends ago, we had a weekend of those moments. Lisa and I had recently started new jobs, hers a promotion, mine a new start with a new company, and we had a weekend of gigs. Straight from work on Friday, to Mangosteen, the best Thai restaurant in London, then on to the 100 club to see Brakes, preceded by 3 support acts ranging from shouty electro pop, to 2 of the most beautiful Japanese girls playing traditional Eastern instruments to an awesome electro beat backing.

Saturday we had a lie in, got to Camden market and looked around, had a drink at a bar where a work colleague of Lisa’s was DJing, ate huge amounts of cheap food as the markets were closing, jumped on the tube to South Kensington, had a drinks reception in the main hall of the Natural History Museum, before being led to a closed of room where British Sea Power treated us to a free gig! None of this happened in Cardiff (not at that scale anyway) and nothing ever happened in Sixpenny Handley, and we shared a whole weekend of those reassuring moments that everything you’d planned was coming together nicely.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Warning - this entry may give you OCD

Pierre Bonnard painted a lot of paintings of his wife. Invariably she was getting into or out of the bath. Some might think he was a dirty perv who liked to take any opportunity of catching her with her frock off, and this was the only time guaranteed that she would be in this situation, others (some might call them people who know the truth, or who have researched things more than my usual making of blind assumptions for comedy purposes) believe she had a skin condition that meant she had to stay damp most of the time (this was before Oil of Olay was invented).

I have another theory.

I came up with this one when I noticed that many of the aspects of public toilets were becoming automated, and automated in such a way as to minimize contact with hands. Dirty hands. Hands that have just done unspeakable things with unthinkable areas. I don’t need to go into the detail (although it would be far easier to fill 1000 words if I did).

The idea is, that if the hand drier works without you having to push a button to activate it, you are less likely to pick up the germs from the person who was so filthy to start with, that the hand washing process did not fully remove all the filth. Drying filthy hands is fine, as long as you don’t have to make the drier filthy to do so.

After that, I noticed that taps are starting to have sensors, so they activate only when you wave your hands nearby. There is nothing worse than using a filthy hand to operate a tap, then washing your hands, and re-encrusting your clean hand with the filth that you left behind when switching the tap on.

The toilet flush is now invariably motion controlled, sometimes sensing the motion of the back away from the cistern (or the leaning forwards to achieve a more comfortable position, relieving a trapped nerve, or letting the blood get back into the lower leg and preventing that excruciating post pins and needles hypersensitivity) and risking a monumentally damp posterior, requiring further careful wiping… you get the idea.

This is all, of course – completely pointless. I’ll come onto the reasons for this pointlessness later, but in the meantime, the other aspect of the sensitivity can be addressed – which is the environmental concern.

There are a number of potential hypocrisies involved in being green.

If the solution to using too much water is to have movement sensitive taps, what is the solution to powering the movement sensors?

If I re-use carrier bags, how do I compensate for the additional fuel used to carry them all the way back to the supermarket?

Is it better to have the supermarket deliver to me (using an inefficient van, but doing a big old round trip instead of all those little trips in cars) or for me to go to the supermarket (it is the former, as I have a Mini, and it takes about 20 minutes to order online, plus about 15 to put it all away once it arrives, instead of the 2 hours it takes to drive to Sainsbury’s, park, find a trolley, find every thing I want, then go back and find everything I need, then search the entire place for Marmite, before queuing for 25 minutes to get through the checkout…

If I cycle to work instead of driving, I have to eat the equivalent of a mars bar to replace the energy expended in the ride. What impact do the food miles of a mars bar have on the environment?

Of course, if we thought like that all the time, we’d never go anywhere or do anything.

When I go to the loo, there are any number of occasions where my clean hands have the opportunity to become muddied up. I open the door to get into the loo. This is fine. I open the cubicle door, which is also fine. I then lock the door, which is where the problems begin. The last person to leave that cubicle had no option, but to use his nasty fingers to unlock the door. The flush might be movement sensitive, but the inside of the door isn’t. then, I use my sullied digits to undo my trousers, contaminating not just my hands, but my belt, buttons and undies. Then I sit.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t do anything these days without being entertained while I do it. I can’t walk to the tube without the iPod on and I can’t sit on the tube without a book. And I can’t sit on the toilet without playing worms on my mobile phone.

Never ever touch my mobile phone. It must be the most germ ridden device in the world. Once I’ve dispatched Rockard, Nails, Killer and Deadly, the phone goes back in my pocket, my hands, stink waves emanating off them like Ralph Wiggum’s portrait of Moe the bartender, leave my own trail of residue on the clothing, the door lock, the inside door handle, and (if it isn’t movement sensitive) the tap, and only when I wash my hands, so do I finally become content that I have done all I can to remain clean.

Of course, not everyone washes their hands. Some people walk straight out, gripping the inside of the toilet door (toilet doors invariably open into the room), leaving a malodorous palm print of bacteria for even the most cleanliness minded individual to pick up.

In short, every aspect of our daily lives is dirty. We can’t escape it, and we might as well wrap ourselves up in sterilized Clingfilm and sleep in a bath of alcohol based hand sanitizer.

Or, bringing me back to the bath obsessed wife of Pierre, perpetually bathe – morning noon and night, because only by constant cleansing can we ever be truly clean

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Save The BBC.

Funded through a poll tax (why aren’t people taking to the streets to object about this one – even the blind only get a couple of quid off, and the deaf, who can’t use radio at all get nothing off!) the BBC has a tough job of providing public service broadcasting, and trying to appease the general population, being socially responsible and unbiased, and keeping to a remit of entertaining and informing, within the budget given by the licence fee.

The BBC’s purpose is:

To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.

Nice and broad and woolly, but succinct and accurate. However – there are a few things that worry me about them. Back in the day, the BBC was quite happy to give us 2 TV channels, and 5 radio stations. They charged us a licence fee, and all was well.

Along comes digital, and the BBC thinks – hey – people can have hundreds of TV channels and radio stations – lets chop up our services and give people more choice. Thus we end up with 7 TV stations, and 9 or more radio stations (I can’t be bothered to count them).

We’ve always had local variations – hundreds of radio stations, and local sections on the core stations too. Very useful for traffic info, and local news is a vital part of any society.

Of course, with digital, they can’t be local any more, so there are 4 (I believe) BBC regions, 1 for each of the countries of the UK.

The wonderful BBC website came along, and became the most trusted news and information service in the country – aided by the BBCs remit not to have adverts. The worldwide brand meant services sprang up around the world, either charging for content by subscription on cable networks, or providing service with adverts. I’m the first to say I don’t want my licence fee paying for some ex-pat to watch eastenders.

Recently the BBC asked for a well above inflation rise in the licence fee, and even threatened that some of the services might be cut if they didn’t receive the extra cash. I’m wondering if the government asked “why did you provide such a lot of extra services? Were you assuming you’d get more money?”

One thing the BBC can do – is take a chance, and make a fortune out of it. The BBC took a dodgy US show and turned it into Robot Wars – selling the format and the shows round the world at enormous profit. Every Attenborough documentary series sells enormously on DVD, and the quality of general programming is the envy of the world – hence their willingness to pay for it themselves.

Yet the BBC still seems to be in a bit of a mess – complaining of a lack of funds, and threatening cuts. Some of the cuts are sensible, moving out of London is a good move – saves them about 10k per employee in staff alone, let alone office space! They’ve stopped paying for movies – except in special occasions, when the public demands them (Christmas, and Ben Hur at Easter I guess).

They don’t bother paying a great deal for football, and on a personal note – I’m glad they have what they do have, as I’m the sort of footy fan who will watch it if its on, but not want to pay a fortune for games of which I have little interest. Some of their staff are on enormous salaries – Jonathon Ross, Chris Moyles, Terry Wogan to name a few – but they’ll be included in my big plans later. Some programmes cost a fortune to import, and much as I love Heroes – I don’t think the BBC should be paying 400k an episode or whatever it was…

How to fix the BBC:

1 – Sell Radio 1 and Radio 2. Both would be viable businesses, and any advertiser would love to get their message across to them, and pay top dollar for the opportunity. In addition – the BBC should use its power and size in this respect to refuse to pay artists for playing their records – it should be the other way round. It would not surprise me to find this already happens – there can be no other reason for Radio 1 playing “the Feeling” 19 times a day.

2 – Bring our correspondents home. The latest News promotions on the BBC are selling the fact that they have about 30 people permanently stationed around the world ready to bring the stories when they happen. Fantastic - but what about the 364 days a year when Indonesia isn’t being bombed? What is this poor girl with the mic and the suit doing there the rest of the time? Not to mention the camera man, director, and goodness knows who else… how about we just pay whoever happens to be out there for a local news company for their report – as and when we need it? Alan Johnson would never have been kidnapped if he’d been standing in front of a TV screen in a Bristol studio, watching Reuters’ footage of men with AK47s telling us about it from the safety of the UK. I’ll agree that a conference call isn’t as good as a face to face meeting, but it is certainly cheaper, easier, and hey – we have the technology.

2a – Shut down news 24. What does this give us that Sky News and ITN’s 24 hour news doesn’t give us. Why do we even need 24 hour news anyway? I’ll admit a lot happens round the world, but why not just repeat the one o’clock news (on the red button) until the 6 o’clock news kicks in and we get an update. If anything massive happens (Royal deaths, war declared, prime minister caught in cupboard with chancellor) they’ll switch off BBC1 and put it on there anyway! Remember when George Best was dying? He took about a week to go, but there wasn’t anything else happening (other than civil war in Africa, gun crime in America, drug running in south America I could go on…) so we had a whole week of “George Best is dying” followed by “George Best is still dying” and “George Best is at death’s door” so when they finally added the second date to his name it was a relief that the tedium was over!

3 – Sell Eastenders. Just palm it off to the highest bidder out of ITV, channel 4 and channel 5. They won’t put it on sky, ‘cos that would be depriving the poor of their fix of people with worse lives than theirs, but there is a fortune to be made, and it isn’t surely in the BBC’s remit to keep top rated shows. Sell it on, and use the cash and the airtime to do something educational or entertaining. Like it says in their “purpose”. It’s worked with Neighbours – no-one misses out, BBC saves cash.

4 – While we are there – sell anything that gets popular. Dr Who, Top Gear, Robin “bloody stick it in the sheriff’s neck and deal with it” Hood, could be made to the high standards of the beeb and by the beeb – then sold at a profit every time. Same with shows like Jonathan Ross. I’ll watch them - adverts or no adverts, or even better – tape them and fast forward through the adverts like everyone else does.

5 – Start charging for non TV/radio output. I love going to the recordings of Radio shows, - I saw (heared?) Arabella Weir interview Paul Whitehouse a while ago. Yes – I’ll be doing them a favour by helping out with their laughter track, but I’ll be the winner, as I’ll get the equivalent of a £10 comedy show for nothing. Charge a fiver a time, and you are sorted. I’ll still go, they’ll make cash. They don’t seem to do competitions any more, so why not sell tickets to the intimate Red Hot Chilli Peppers gig in Maida Vaile? Oh – because I already privatised Radio 1 earlier.

6 – Put adverts on BBC3 and BBC4. They’ve given us these channels out of the goodness of their hearts have they? They must be mad. Get them paid for. Same programmes – same proofing ground for new talent and ideas, and more money for paying for those ideas.

So there you have it. A simple solution – and I didn’t even have to cut jobs, relocate families (except the ones living in Columbia, who might appreciate it), or prevent any of the fine programming being unavailable to anyone with a TV set and a radio, for nothing.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Ash - 1977 - Live at the Roundhouse.

I’m about 8.

I like Adam and the Ants. A babysitter brings her make up box, and for about 15 minutes before bed, I am Adam. Lipstick stripes on my cheek and everything.

I'm about 16.

I was very late getting into music. by this time, I have about 5 tapes, Kylie, Bros, Michael Jackson, and Hits 8 or some such compilation (it counts as 2) and a couple of 7inch singles. One of them is Alice Cooper's "Poison". Another is my dads, so doesn't count. I know my friends at school are into music, but I don't bother to ask them about it. I know Alf like Genesis (he's a drummer) and I remember Andy has all sorts of things written on his rucksack about Ned’s atomic dustbin, the levellers and EMF.

Music for me at this time is what I hear on top of the pops, recording the charts (being careful to press pause before the talking starts) and reading the reviews (but still not bothering to seek out the music deliberately) on teletext.
CDs are something other people can afford.

I'm 17.

Two of the girls seem devastated at the news that Kurt is dead. I have no idea who Kurt is. Even when I find out, I am mystified as to why it matters. They are in tears. Probably about 2 weeks later I get Nevermind (I’ve graduated to CD) and it becomes my angry music (replacing the aforementioned Alice cooper). I somehow get into Extreme, driving my girlfriend to my first proper gig (in Hammersmith) and falling asleep in a little chef car park on the way back, because falling asleep while driving is not a good way to keep a girlfriend. Living in rural Dorset, the choice of places to go to concerts was limited. My parents would point out that they took Martyn and I to see Status Quo prior to this, but that was their gig. (I still loved it though).

I'm 17 and a half.

It is the height of the Blur/Oasis battle of Britpop, and I'm throwing the same girlfriend out of the front of a moshpit at blur's showbar gig, while the crowd go worryingly wild to Girls and Boys. (This gig gets top billing in Alex James' autobiography as his homecoming gig. it is an "I was there" moment for me.)

I’m 18

Getting into music properly now. Plenty of Britpop, a bit of techno, Orbital, The Prodigy. I take photos at the Prodigy’s gig in Bournemouth. Fat of the Land tour – they are at the top of their game, and I touch Maxim Reality’s sweaty back.

I'm 18 and a half.

Young enough and old enough for the half to be important. I'm working a summer job at Salisbury hospital doing gardening. Not the last time I did manual labour for money, but the only time I stuck it our for more than a morning before walking out for my lunch break and never coming back (call me a snob, but people with degrees in Biochemistry should not be stacking shelves in Tesco. I think the fact that I earn 5 times what I was getting then by sitting on my butt all day shows who was right about that one). I have a walkman (remember them?) Think an iPod with only enough room for one album on it, and there was about a one in 10 chance that it would destroy its own music collection without warning if your pinch roller was a bit sticky.

My walkman is special though. No - not special like the poor souls who shuffled about in the bit of the hospital I was working in. the bit where I felt slightly uneasy when one of the crocodile of patients recognised me, called me by my name, and I later realised I'd worked with him the last summer, selling furniture at the Game Fair. "What happened to you?" I naively asked. "Oh, you know" he muttered. I didn't know. I still can't remember his name.

My walkman has a radio. CDs are something other people can afford. I listen to Radio 1. Simon Mayo has done the golden hour (always featuring Arrested Development - was he on their payroll?) and the daytime show is starting.

Guitars. Drums. It may well have been Jo Wiley introducing Ash, and she mentions that their album is out soon, called 1977 as that is when they were born, they are about to learn their A level results. So am I.

Girl From Mars belts onto my headphones. The sun is shining, I’m sitting on a wall, clipping a bush with secateurs, and a band made up of kids like me (or so I wished) are on the radio, singing about the girl they knew and still think of (ringing any bells – see my previous entries!) I’d been playing guitar for a while, I’d sung songs I’d written myself with Alf on drums, but these guys were doing it, and doing it well.

Girl From Mars got heavy rotation, and it was a massive boost to my day when it came on the radio. Looking at the chart of the year for `1995, it is dominated by Robson and Jerome, Celine Dion, Take That, Simply Red and Michael Jackson. Blur are there at 10, with Country House, but hearing a good song maybe twice a day on radio 1 was worth it, and Girl From Mars became the anthem of my Summer.

On arrival at university, I found myself in a house with 4 blokes of my age, who mostly (apart from Chris, and his continuous rotation of Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) had great taste in music. I also found myself with a bit of money (I was one of the last recipients of the Student Grant, and the parents were good to me too), and Ash’s 1977 album – on tape (£4.50 on the day of release! Awesome!) Had to be done.

When you are young, and you’re music collection fits on a single shelf, you get to know it intimately. I can still sing Michael Jackson’s Bad in its entirety all the way through – every word and “hee heeee!!!” Extreme’s Pornograffiti visits once in a while like an old friend. Ash’s 1977 was similar, although not on such heavy playback, but the chance to hear them play it in full, 12 years later, had to be done.

Back to a 3 piece, after losing their 2nd guitarist, Ash’s last album didn’t do well. Put it this way, Lisa and I have all their albums, except that one. Free All Angels was probably the last album we bought 2 copies of, unsure at the time of our level of commitment. However – last Friday night, they were rejuvenated, as was the whole of the Roundhouse. We may all be 30(ish) now, but there is nothing like seeing your favourite band of your teenage years, playing their best album, like it was 1995 all over again.

I’m old enough to want to sit down for a gig these days, and Lisa is short enough to want to see too, so the balcony at the venue suits us fine, but if I could have swapped places with anyone in the seething mass of sweaty bodies below us, feeling and acting 13 years younger, 13 years more care free, and 13 years more happy to sit for 45 minutes on the Northern Line, stinking of BO and spilled beer, I would have done like a shot. Then I’d have worried about the wife getting elbowed in the head, and it wouldn’t have been such fun. Some responsibilities never change.

Oh – and they had Stormtroopers too. Cool.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Smelly memories

It is believed that smell is a major factor in triggering memories. I recall an episode of MASH where a soldier ended up in a state of shock when a smell took him back to the moment when his comrades were killed in an earlier conflict, a memory he had understandably repressed.

Earlier this morning, I was washing up, and as I sloshed the water down the sink, the unpleasant smell of stale Mexican enchilada sauce, diluted in detergent and mixed with all sorts of milky badness, only sparked in me the happy memory of the enjoyable meal of last night. A far more unusual example is to follow though.

On Tuesday evening, Lisa and I went to the Camden Roundhouse to see Reverend and the Makers. It was an awesome gig, great support, great crowd, and the main attraction did not disappoint. We were in the seated area of the balcony, and not long after we found our allocated seats, two chaps came and sat next to us. They were both rather drunk and boisterous, but absolutely fine – in fact – bizarrely, they had been allocated the seats on either side of Lisa and me, so we moved up and they sat together. Just before the second support act finished, one of them went to the bar. The other one started up a conversation with me, the usual male stuff of football – he’s a Newcastle fan, poor thing. He had to shout in my ear, so I could understand him, as the Geordie accent and a very loud three piece rock band don’t make for easy listening for me. This also meant he got very close, and I could smell him. His breath. His general odour. Much to my amazement – I loved it.

He was a smoker. Now since the smoking ban, instead of getting cancer by sitting next to people smoking in venues, we now just have to deal with people wandering our and smoking in the open, before coming back with all the evidence of having been out for a fag: a cold blast of air from the door, a wet coat and the stale smell of second hand cigarettes. Happily, when this chap was talking to me, I quickly realised why I was enjoying the smell (not realising might have put me in a very strange situation of homoerotic lust. The association of cigarette breath at such close quarters, was one I’d only ever previously had with my days of going out on the pull. The young girls of Cardiff and Bristol were often smokers, and I was never in a position to be picky enough to say – “no – I’m not snogging you because you are a bit whiffy”, so I quickly became used to the “kiss my ashtray” effect of being intimate with smokers. I even smoked myself (very occasionally, and only to look cool you understand) so I could hardly complain. There is a wonderful sense of realism involved in actually tasting another person, the intimacy of being so up close and personal, that I can be in such a position, far outweighed any unpleasantness of taste and smell.

Being shouted to by my drunken Geordie friend – took me straight back to all the smokers I ever got off with. Hanna, Emily, Monique, Rachel, and one or two more – all unique in their own way, and all well and truly in my past. I’m married now – and very happily so, to a non smoker. I’ll never again experience the feeling of moving in for the first kiss – hoping I’ve read the signs right, that she’s as interested as I think she is, and experiencing the subtle variations in everyone’s lips, teeth and tongue. It is certainly something I miss – but of course I’d miss far more if I decided to go back to such ways! Our memories make us who we are – and from unlikely sources do they make us remember them.

Monday, 14 July 2008

HannaH - still on my mind after 20 years...

There are a few people who meant a lot to me in the dim and distant past. Mostly early girlfriends, some proper "Best Mates". Here’s what I know of them so far.

Lucy - Infant School Girlfriend.

Lucy appeared on Friends Reunited a while ago. Mysteriously she appeared about a week after my initial subscription had expired. the cynic in me would wonder if they checked who people searched for, and waited till they had expired before making the profiles available, hence forcing you to renew to contact them. If that was the case, it worked on me - I renewed and dropped her note. She’s ok - I got a polite response back, I replied to this, she disappeared.

I realised that she probably hardly remembered me. She was 6. So was I. She might have had a dozen guys who offered to marry her, bought plastic rings, and got their brothers to do the ceremony in church. I only had one girl. It would seem she meant a lot more to me than I did to her.

Louise - Unrequited at Junior School.

Taking a step back, before the wonders of the internet, I looked up another "old flame" in the phone book. Knowing her family moved to Swansea, Louise Woodcock should be easy to find. I called her mum, got her number, and we had a chat. I was living in Cardiff at the time, and we met up, had some drinks and a laugh. I asked her how she remembered me, and I was just some guy in her class. She was the object of my junior school affections, consistently out of reach as she was going out with a guy from another school. Single when we went out, I asked her if we could give "us" a go. We couldn't. She's happily married with one baby and another on the way now (I know this through Facebook) but although she accepted my friend request, we've not messaged since. It is nice to know she's happy. I like to think she is happy to know that I'm doing ok too.

Toni - Jilted by me at junior school.

I found Toni on Friends Reunited - she left me with a bit of a worry. Throughout junior school, Toni had a bit of a crush on me, and I don't think I ever returned her affection, except on one occasion, which I won't go into detail on, but it got me into trouble with the teachers, and had the potential to scar the poor girl for life.

The question is, when 20 years later, you get the opportunity to apologise for such an act do you:

A - Apologise, and give the victim the satisfaction that not only do you remember the event, but you have felt remorse for it ever since, and can only now beg for forgiveness now we are all grown up and moved on

B - Apologise, thus reminding the victim that the event happened when it meant little or nothing to them at the time, and getting them all concerned about my memories of the event, re-opening old wounds and sparking the need for months of expensive therapy.

C - Don’t mention it, hoping that she has forgotten it ever happened, but running the risk that she is fuming about it, and has been expecting an apology for every one of the 15 intervening years.

D - Tell the internet about it to show I have thought about these things, and to make me seem all sensitive and caring about all aspects of the poor girls feelings.

I chose C at the time, and I have now done D. I'm still not sure either is sensible.

Which brings me on to my current dilemma?

HannaH - junior school girlfriend (of about a week) but regularly thought about ever since.

Hannah used to write her name with 2 capital H's. (It’s a palindrome you see). She loved Michael Jackson, and had a wall of her room covered with a thousand pictures of him. she's the tall one standing next to me in our school photo, aged 11, when I’m all crew cut, tank top and sticking out ears, and she's all youthful beauty, curly hair, and carefully arranged kiss curl on her forehead (MJ style). She probably would get the credit for getting me into pop music (sorry Dad – playing me your Byrds albums doesn’t count).

Other than our brief "being boyfriend/girlfriend" (I have no idea how it started/ended, only that it happened and we played some form of happy families game with another 2 kids (Ian and Jessica?) which I probably decided should be strip happy families game (I was a 10 year old perv - ok? See Toni above) in her room,) I have very few memories of her.

Somewhere I still have a photo of her blowing out the candles on her 4th birthday. I have no idea why she gave me this photo. Of all my old school friends, she was the one I always wondered; "Where is she now? Is she still as beautiful as she was in the school photo? Did she marry; have kids, and most importantly, DID SHE EVER THINK OF ME?"

I now have the opportunity to ask all these questions. She appeared on Facebook. I noticed her while browsing another school friend of that era's friends, and there she was. Married name present, but kindly also giving her maiden name. I sent the friend request, with a simple note "hello to my second girlfriend".

She accepted the friend request, but didn't reply to the note. This was about a week ago. Now I can see her full profile, it is clear she's been on Facebook for a while. Lots of applications, lots of messages, loads of friends. I started finding answers to my questions.

Where is she now? - working on the ambulances, not far from where we grew up.

Is she still as beautiful as she was in the school photo? - (yes. very different (she could have walked past me in the street, or chatted me up in a bar (like this would happen), and I’d never have recognised her))

Did she marry? (Yes she did)

Have kids? (Not worked that out - no baby photos on Facebook, but that’s no guarantee)

And most importantly, DID SHE EVER THINK OF ME?

Based on how long she has been on Facebook, the (now) mutual friends and the extent of her networks, it would seem the answer to that question is an emphatic NO.

I'll write a proper note to her. I might just send this whole blog entry (and bore her silly, but at least get the full message across), but it seems I’ll have to get used to the fact that:

Certain people meant far more to me than I ever did to them.

I'm very egotistical (can you tell). The world revolves around me, and this revelation does not compute with my high opinion of myself. There can be only one reason which will leave me believing I am still worthy of such a position in my own head.

Somewhere out there, there are a thousand people (or so) who are wishing this blog had been about them, and are sorely disappointed that I never even mentioned them once. Sorry girls. In case you are wondering, I’m doing well, happily married, don’t want kids and I clearly never think of you at all.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Social Networking Online (Sept 2007)

Filling up space with old blogs...

I have about 60 friends on Facebook, and 200 on myspace. I don't know the vast majority of the myspace ones, as they are fans of my music (or more likely I am a fan of theirs, or we are all deluding ourselves.)

Of my Facebook friends, I know all of them. At some point in my life I have met, dated, married, gone to school with, been related to or worked with them all. I like them. there was one chap on my list who I used to work with, but I realised I never got on with him that well, so I stopped being friends with him.

People find it strange that so many of us have people we consider friends who we never meet. (I have had friends who I have never "met" - only spoken to on-line.) The truth is, that Facebook has an equivalent in old peoples lives.

the "Christmas Card Friend".

Every year, my parents send and receive so many cards they have to go out for extra blu tac just to attach them to the doors, windows, mantelpiece and any other appropriate surface. many of these will have a personal message, about how the kids are doing, great auntie Marjorie's latest bunion update and their new address.

Every day when I'm on-line, I check on Facebook and i find out far more interesting and often personal things about my friends. Lisa is glad its Friday. Max is off to Manchester, Dan is tired. Stu is about to sneeze.

If Sarah goes inter-railing, she comes home, and puts photos on-line. I am told this, so I look at them, and share the experience. I can comment on them and welcome her home.

A conversation on Facebook can take several days, and only be a few words, but at least it happens. Many of my Facebook friends aren't people I phone regularly, if ever at all. (I don't phone my grandma, and she doesn't phone me, but we both know we are there, and love each other very much, we aren't any less friends because of this. (she's not on Facebook by the way - but it would be even better if she was).

Long since deleted from this site, is a letter I sent to some of my closest group of friends, berating them for the effort they put into our relationships. Although it would be vain of me to suggest that the timing of this almost ruined Simon's stag weekend, I'm sure it didn't go down well, and I've felt bad about it ever since.

The outcome of that letter, and the replies I received from the lads, was that I realised that friendship is not necessarily about how often you call, visit, write to or email your friends.

It is about being there when you need them, caring enough about them to want to be there, and enjoying whatever interaction you do have, be it an email every 6 months, a phone call every week, or just knowing that Chris and Sam have added "deep blue something" to their favorite music.

I like it that way.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Big Brother Blog - 08/06/2008

I used to enjoy a blog on where grace dent gave her opinion on big brother, the apprentice, x factor, and when they weren't on, it was like having an abstract of whatever television everyone else was watching, so I didn't have to watch it, but still knew what was going on. She's writing a book now, so I’ll try and find another way to avoid having to spend the next 13 weeks of my life glued to channel 4 watching 16+ freaks (they've touted them as such) monging round a house having arguments all day, and being heavily edited to make it seem like they are nice/evil/exciting/racist people, dependant on the whims of the director on the day.

I love big brother - I love watching it, and I would still go on it if you offered me. I've not applied since about the 3rd year, when my groovy video (best party clothes, filmed from the top of the church tower,) was totally ignored, but I still think I’d have fun, learn a lot about myself, and end up a washed up z list celebrity DJing at butlins, before begging for my old job back.

my official reason for going in to the house, would be based on a big insecurity of mine, which is that I have such a big ego that I firmly expect that every time I leave the room, the other 15 people (using the BB house example, but it could easily be the office, a tube train, my living room at home with only the wife there) would immediately start wondering:

Where’s Dave?
Is Dave ok?
When is Dave coming back?
Wouldn’t it be great if Dave was here?
I bet Dave would know what to do.
No-one does any washing up any more; I wish I hadn't voted Dave out. Hey lets all go on hunger strike and say nothing but unbroadcastable swear words until they let Dave back into the house.

That sort of thing.

The great thing about coming out of the big brother house is you get to watch the tapes afterwards, and realise just how invisible you really are. One of my favourite moments of previous BBs, was the secret eviction, where they removed two girls and put them in a house next door, complete with full watching and listening capabilities. not only were they not missed by most of the housemates, but one of them promptly watched her crushee (is that a word) get hit on by another housemate, remove the bracelet he promised to wear to show he was thinking of her, and pretty much forget all about her immediately.
After a hilarious "fight" when they went back in, I think they ended up getting married or something tortuous like that. She called him chicken a lot. It made us all want to throw up/shout "SHE'S A PSYCHO!!! RUN AWAY WHILE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR SEX ORGANS IN PLACE" at the telly, and after all - isn't that what the best entertainment should do?

we watched the launch night of this years extravaganza with a glass of wine, an open mind, and the ability to forward wind through the guff and just watch the freaks go in. they seem to have picked the real life cast of Little Britain, right down to the sexually ambiguous Thai midget. now we have the ability to record TV and forward wind through the adverts, dull bits, Davina, people smoking in the garden (guff) I might put it on series link and take 8 minutes to forward wind through each episode until the blonde one decides naked mangling is the only thing that will keep her in the house (as if heterosexual males actually vote in this thing?)

Every year I picture myself in the house (maybe replacing the one I am most like, John Tickle, Craig (didn't we all want to be Craig?) Nadia, and this year, the ultra vain "Dale". I'm not their sort of person. I’d have a terrible time. I’d be rocking backwards and forwards in the corner within 20 minutes drooling and wondering how to get the mobile phone out of my bottom to call Lisa so she could tell me I don't look like a complete tool.

But as I said - tell me I can go in, and I won't even stop to pack.