Wednesday, 29 June 2011

You can't beat The Street

It’s never been fashionable to like Coronation Street.

Lots of people I know would never admit to watching it and will always be sniffy about it if it comes up in conversation, before betraying themselves with extensive knowledge of the storylines. I’ve got no such hang ups. I’ve been Corrie-out for years now and it’s very liberating.

I’ve been glued to the soap since the big hair days of Elsie Tanner and Bet Lynch. As a kid, I’d watch it with my mum, any subtlety concerning sexual shenanigans going right over my head, but guaranteed a big pay off of an annual punch up between Ken Barlow and Mike Baldwin. Invariably, this was over an exposé in the Weatherfield Recorder, causing our resident cockernee to issue his regular, finger wagging threat.

“You print anyfin’ baht me in that raaaaaag of yours, there’ll be twabble, Barlow!”

The thing that differentiates Corrie from any of the competition is that it never takes itself too seriously. Despite dealing with heavyweight issues like murder, adultery and the goings on at the Red Rec, there are always a few laughs to be had. The cleverness of the writing means that the two worlds blend well, unlike Eastenders where you’ve got incestuous murderers or panto characters like Minty trying to mix with each other like oil and water.

As well as just enjoying the Strasse for its longevity and cherished place at the heart of British culture, I love spotting the ever present inaccuracies and general strangeness on display. These are things that would be met with a furrowed brow in real life but are readily accepted within the soap, with tacit complicity between the cast, crew and watching millions. Things like:

• If Coronation Street is terraced and Ken and Deirdre live next door to the Rovers, why doesn’t someone attempting to use the pub toilets emerge in Ken’s kitchen?

• When having conversations, everyone sits well within breath smelling distance of each other.

• There is never a request for anything brand specific. The Rovers is the only pub in Great Britain where a shout for a ‘pint’ isn’t met with the response, ‘of what?’ by the bar staff. The closest anyone ever came to narrowing things down a bit was when Mike Baldwin would ask Rita for a packet of, 'my usual cigars.'

• How the fuck has Weatherfield got a Crown Court?

• Why does everyone drink their brews from empty cups? Some of the less able actors find this difficult to cope with and tend to oversup, then chew whatever their pretending to have in their mouths.

•Why are all affairs or clandestine business affairs conducted at the bar of the Rovers, usually within clear earshot of the victim or cuckolded husband/wife?

• How does a street containing a handful of houses sustain two shops selling broadly similar goods, Dev's and Rita's, when their only customers are their immediate neighbours?

The recent arrival of Sky Plus has allowed me to spot and rewind the occasional continuity errors, like pints of beer consumed in record time or hairstyles changing within the space of a sentence.

The peak example of ours and the cast's ability to turn a blind eye to inaccuracies, is the collective amnesia demonstrated about past plot lines. This allows murderers/robbers/ex-wifes/hated former partners/spurned lovers to all share communal space without recourse to immediate brawling. The character who sums this up perfectly is Gail. Never one to keep her own counsel and as judgmental as fuck, I find it impossible not to comment when she’s lecturing someone with a moral superiority she has no right to claim. A brief scan of her past should mean that the instant response she should be given by anyone she’s looking down on is:

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Gail! You’ve got a bit of a nerve. You’ve been married four times, once to a serial killer. Only one of your husbands has survived marriage to you. You carried out a five year feud with your mother in law. You’ve been divorced twice. Your daughter got knocked up when she was thirteen. You’ve had punch ups in the middle of the street with Eileen Grimshaw and the Barlows, mother and daughter. You’ve had to attend parenting classes because David was such a gobshite at school. You were going to have your perfectly sane mother sectioned. You’ve been banged up on remand and when you finally managed to get a decent job you betrayed doctor/patient confidentiality and got sacked, so fuck off, right!!”

This speech is applicable to any character with more than two years service with the notable exception of Emily (though it is the opinion of some conspiracy theorists that she had some involvement in the murder of Ernie. They say that hers is the shadow at bottom right).

I never miss it. It has it’s occasional dips in form, but as the t-shirt I once spotted on Market Street, Manchester said.

“You can beat your meat, but you can’t beat the Street.”

Monday, 27 June 2011

Norbert Dentressangle

Since leaving the army in 1996, most of the work I’ve done has meant me spending quite a lot of time schlepping up and down the motorways, on my own, in a car.

I get bored after a bit.

The radio can only take me so far. If it’s on, something will eventually get played that I don’t like or I might inadvertently hear a microsecond of Chris Moyles and have to change channel. My radio’s search function will then transport me to the nearest local station which will be doing a forty five minute programme about someone spotting an albino crow. After hearing a couple of eye-witness interviews, I’ll have to switch it off.

That leaves me in a dangerous place. Alone with my own thoughts.

I usually spend a while blowing imaginary lottery winnings, but the vast majority of the time is filled with noticing stuff that has no real importance or interest. Things like:

• Norbert Dentressangle is a really, really good name.
• More than 50% of caravans are getting towed by drivers with facial hair.
• As you travel south out of Glasgow on the M8, the ‘8’ at the half mile marker of Junction 8 has been stuck on upside down.
• Coventry’s inner ring road is the nearest most of us will come to the experience of riding a fairground Wall of Death.
• There’s a big brown heritage sign at the roundabout at the start of the A14 that says “Secret Bunker.”

See, neither use nor ornament. I imagine that everyone who clocks up a lot of mileage discovers pointless shite like this, but it passes the time.

There is one thing that I notice on motorways that continues to confuse and worry me, though.

A lot of articulated lorries seem to have custom spray jobs on their cabs. That’s unremarkable, I know, but an unsettlingly large percentage of this cab art implies some connection between HGV drivers and Native American culture. I would love to know what the link is. Every time I drive past an image of Geronimo looking wistfully back down the M6, immortalised in Halford’s finest, I have a look to see who’s driving. It’s never one of his descendants, sat there in full battledress, hoping he’s going to get to the B and Q in Carlisle in time for the battle. It’s always the standard behemoth in a hi-viz jacket, eating a Ginsters and picking his nose.

Try as I might, and I do, I can’t put the two things together. Did Sitting Bull live in his mam’s tepee till he was 50 and have a dangerously high cholesterol level? Before the Industrial Revolution, did the lorry drivers roam free across the nation, before being persecuted, then eventually chivvied and chased into a specified reservation area near Hartlepool? I had a quick look round the internet for a smoking gun that would provide clarity on the subject. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing in the Cherokee account of the Trail of Tears that said,

“And lo, it came to pass, that my squaw did say that I was cluttering up the tepee and must travel north to find gainful employment with the tribe headed by Chief Eddie Stobart and his son, Loves a Full English. My heart cried for the old ways, but times had moved on for us and I was forced to change my name from Soars Like an Eagle to Delivers Predominantly to Homebase.”
If I ever see one of these trucks at the services, I’ll ask the question of the driver. I fully expect the response to be a snack of no nutritional value being dropped to the floor, followed by a thousand yard stare and a tearful account of the years of pain, accompanied by ghostly drumming and the whirr of a fiddled tachograph.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Tiny Calendars

I have four children and they're all quite young. The eldest is twelve and the youngest is six. I love them with all my heart. They're beautiful individuals who I know will grow into adults that will contribute, in their own way, great things to whatever society they become a part of.
That doesn't mean that quite a lot of what they do is rubbish.

I'm not saying rubbish in a mean way. I'm not Joan Crawford. I don't want to undermine their creative efforts or stifle individuality as it struggles to emerge. It's just that, due to the law of diminishing returns, I find it increasingly difficult, to greet the contents of school bags with the delight normally reserved for a big pools win.

Don't judge me harshly. I'm eight years in to this particular sentence. With no prospect of time off for good behaviour I have another five years before my youngest heads for the dreaming spires of high school. Have you any idea how much shite can be generated in thirteen years? It then has to be displayed prominently on the rapidly dwindling wall space available in the kitchen of a three bedroom, semi-detached house.

Maybe there was a time, when a tiny calendar was of some use. If there was, I can't remember it. Perhaps people didn't have as many dates to remember in the seventies. I can recall the proud moment when I presented my mum with a piece of cardboard that had macaroni stuck to it. Not just any old macaroni though. Macaroni sprayed gold. One of the artistic world's true representations of beauty. As if that wasn't enough, there was a small paper calendar attached to the bottom. A calendar that consisted of twelve pages, each the size of a postage stamp, with individual dates printed on there in a font size more commonly found on the fifteenth page of your house insurance schedule. Dutifully, my mum stuck it on the fridge, congratulated me on my newly discovered ability and sent me on my way with a mouthful of neat Kia-Ora. She never used it, because it was useless. Every other tiny calendar, despatched from primary schools before and since has been just as useless.

I examined one that turned up a few weeks ago. I attempted, for the purpose of the blog, to circle a date and write something next to it to highlight the circle's importance. Putting a ring round June 15th ensured that I obliterated the 14th and 16th and writing 'dentist' took care of the following fortnight. That's no good to me. I'm not the busiest bloke in the world, but I sometimes do more than one thing a month.

Giving the calendars a good run for their money are the cards celebrating the festivals of the principal religions. It's a very good thing that my children have a far better appreciation of the United Kingdom's religious diversity than I did. At my primary school, if you were a devout Roman Catholic then that was absolutely lovely. Everyone else was doomed to inhabit hell for eternity with no exceptions, especially the kids from the non-denominational school down the road. Our teachers would always say, 'non-denominational' with a rueful head shake and a tone laced with fabricated sorrow at the fate that awaited those poor children.

Now, my children are mini-experts on the major faith systems alive in their school and we get cards every couple of weeks to prove it. There will come a time when one of them will ask me,

"Dad, why isn't there any food in the kitchen."

My answer will be that every available square inch of space is taken up with reminders that the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu members of our community have got something big coming up.

To give some balance, some of their creative endeavours have achieved the ultimate honour of being framed and placed in a prominent place. The little sketch of me that my eldest did when he was six was a beautiful surprise. He showed it to his mum in a lovely display of self-conscious modesty and i've treasured it ever since, as much for the moment as for the picture.

My daughter spent a couple of years daubing her bedroom wall with graffiti (and the occasional bogey). We used to tell her off about it, but if I was upstairs on my own, i'd go and have a look at it and have a little chuckle at her random statements. Before we redecorated her room, I photographed it all.

I love the things that children say and do, that's why we've got four of them. That, and a casual indifference to contraceptive science. It's just getting really hard to generate the required level of enthusiasm when the bookbag opens and another cardboard and pritt-stick monstrosity emerges. I'm tired of saying, "That's brilliant, son!!" closely followed by "What is it?"

I propose that the teachers and kids get round after each day's work and have a good, hard look at the quality of that day's production.

"Is it really, good enough. I mean really good enough?" the teachers will ask.

I'd like to think that those beautiful, switched on and bright young things will say.

"Actually, looking at it in the cold light of day, post-endeavour, it's a bit sub-standard, miss. The chicken beak thing is a bit clichéd for the modern kitchen. They were fun to make and we've burned a couple of hours, but why don't we do everyone a favour and quietly ditch them."