Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Simply Brilliant!!

Last night, I sat in front of the TV and felt a bit sad. There were no obscure sports for me to watch. I couldn’t pretend that I knew about judo throws or what the finer points of dressage were.

Like many other cynical bastards, I was completely sideswiped by the Olympic Games. I’ve spent the last four years sneering at that epitome of smarm, Sebastian Coe, as he and all his mates bullshitted us about how well our money was being spent. I seethed at the thought of people being laid off and hospitals closing, as taxpayer’s cash poured into London. The casual way that they announced, ‘Oh, did we say 2 billion? Sorry we meant 9 billion’ had me wanting to kick the telly, as it all happened with the backdrop of the rest of the nation, outside the Olympic bubble, trying to cope with the realities of recession.
I enjoyed the announcement that the security had been fucked up and the roads might not be ready in time, as it affirmed my belief that this was all going to be an horrendous waste of time and money. I chuckled when it appeared that passport control would be in meltdown and that some of the athletes might be in the queue to get into the country till Christmas.

And then the games started.

I still can’t believe how much I enjoyed it. All the points above are salient, but the athletes melted my cynicism cataracts away for two weeks. Because, in the end, that’s what it was all about. It was the athletes that continuously displayed the lost art of winning and losing graciously. When Jessica Ennis won her heptathlon gold, what happened after the final race? All the athletes walked round the track with her, slapping her on the back and chatting amongst themselves as if they were on the way to the pub. There were women amongst them who’d spent the last four years completely focussed on coming away with a gold medal in their hands, yet they were capable of acknowledging their defeat and congratulating the winner.

As a football fan, the scales fell from my eyes over the last fortnight and I don’t think I’ll ever watch my chosen sport in the same way again. Footballers in general have continued their slow descent into moral repugnance since the money of the Premier League put them on a different planet to everyone else - a planet where they could do as they pleased and still be considered ‘heroes’ if they scored a goal. The next time I see a player dive, as if a sniper has took him out, I’ll immediately think of Manteo Mitchell. He’s the American sprinter who ran 300m on a broken fibula. It snapped 100m into his leg of the 4 x 400m. He said he didn’t want to let his three mates down, so he carried on and still got round in 45 seconds.

How can I sit and watch a player holding his face when the replay shows no contact, without immediately thinking of Mark Hunter - the British rower - who had put so much effort into winning a silver medal, he had to be carried from his boat by Steve Redgrave.

The moments just kept coming. I sat on the sofa - barely able to swallow - when Gemma Gibbons won her judo silver, then looked up and mouthed that she loved the mother she’d lost to leukaemia in 2004.

Then feeling so sorry for the broken-hearted, Korean fencer, Shin Lam as she sobbed her way through an hour long protest at her controversial defeat.

For me though, Mo Farah’s achievement on the track is impossible to surpass. My kids already loved him. They’d watched him a few weeks before, becoming the first person to beat The Cube on a celebrity edition of the programme. For my bunch, this was something easily on a par with Olympic gold, so when he took to the track, looking like the most relaxed bloke in the stadium, he already had six fans in his back pocket. Before the games, I don’t think I’d have got a great response if I’d said to my kids,

“Right, sit down for half an hour. We’re going to watch a load of lads run round the track 25 times, when they’ll have completed 10,000 metres. Hopefully our lad will win.”

But, like millions of people round the country, they did watch it and were absolutely riveted by his performance. When he came round the final bend and we realised he wasn’t going to be caught, we roared him over the line. I thought to myself that this was a moment my children would never forget and I was already looking forward to reminiscing with them in years to come.

But he wasn’t done, was he? The 10,000 would have been plenty for everyone and we could warm ourselves for years to come with images of him hugging his daughter and wife on the track.

But then he had to go and win the bloody 5,000 as well. We had friends round that evening and before the race, we discussed the sombre facts that this wasn’t really Mo’s distance and there were a lot of runners in the field who’d gone quicker than him this year. Not that any of us had the first idea about distance running. The Olympics had taught us that nobody minded you regurgitating what Claire Balding or Michael Johnson had said and passing it off as your own, informed opinion.

With each of his steps on the last lap, we got closer to the telly and the kids screams of, ‘Go on, Mo!’ got higher. We tried to warn him about the Ethiopian lad who was going like a train down the home straight. He couldn’t hear us, but it didn’t matter, because Mo started going faster as well. Watching him cross that line was right up there with me being in the Nou Camp in 1999 and seeing Solskjaer’s injury-time winner.

We were just so happy for him and I’m not sure we’ll see another moment like it.

Now, I need to get back to being angry about Cameron and his cronies chucking all of our money away on sporting events, whilst they sell off playing fields and help kids get fatter, but if you don’t mind I’m just going to hang on until the Paralympics are finished.

I remember Ellie Simmonds blubbing her way through her gold medal interview, after she’d won the S6 100m freestyle in Beijing, so I think I’m going to have a bit more of that before I revert to type.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Horror of the Upturned Plug

I was putting the kids to bed last night. The routine is always the same. Casey (11) grumbles that it’s too early, Bryher (9) invents a medical condition that only occurs at bedtime and Caleb (7) just moans for Britain, about anything and everything.

Once they realise that I’ve heard it all before and have no intention of deviating from my plan of getting them all sorted and heading downstairs to watch Alan Partridge, they give in and we can move on to the more enjoyable bedtime routine of inhalers, toothbrushes and daft questions.

The stuff they ask me never gets stale. It must be great being 7 and having a head so stuffed with magic, that you can just chuck out enquiries with no self-consciousness whatsoever. I never know what’s coming. In the last few weeks, I’ve had,

“Was Anne Frank married to Hitler?”
“What’s 247 add 283?”
“Can rabbits wear clothes?”
“Why do you always tell us the same jokes?”

You can see why I might get a bit distracted, whilst I’m sorting them out. The last thing I do before legging it, is put up the black-out blind. I know we’re not living through a blitz, but on these light nights, my kids aren’t content with closing their eyes or burying their heads under a pillow.

Whilst I was putting it up, I had the good fortune to bring my full weight down, bare-footed, on to an upturned plug.

The longest of the three pins buried itself just below the ball of my foot and generated my standard reaction to this level of pain. For a couple of seconds I just puffed my cheeks out and held my foot. The pain hadn’t actually arrived yet, so I just stared at the kids and they wondered what I was doing. When the pain did arrive, I ran through all the swear words I know and reassembled them in a random order, now holding the foot in both hands and hopping round the room.

After a couple of minutes, my sanity returned and I explained to the kids that I wasn’t possessed and asked them to kindly put away electrical items when they were finished with them if they wouldn’t mind, please.

What is it about the design of this thing? It looks pretty innocuous so why is it capable of inflicting such terrible agony on the sole of the foot?

I’ve had a dentist touch an unanesthetized nerve. I’ve been kicked in the balls. I’ve accidentally stuck a fork under my thumbnail when emptying a dishwasher. I had a squash ball hit me right in the eye, but nothing compares to standing on an upturned fucking plug.

I think last night was probably my fifth exposure to this particular treat and I’m glad to report that time hasn’t diminished its effect. Even that little bit in the middle was there, when you think, “Do you know what? This hurts so much I might do a little vom!!”

It has only recently emerged that the upturned plug played a part in the Nuremberg Trials. Herman Göring, Commander of the Luftwaffe had been a particularly hard nut to crack. Immune to all forms of interrogation, he was well versed in the techniques required to evade giving answers to any of the questions put to him by Richard Sonnenfeldt, Chief Interrogator.

It was a chance mishap in his hotel room that led to Sonnenfeldt employing a new technique. Stepping on the plug to his wireless, he bunny hopped round the room for a good ten minutes before he realized that he’d struck interrogative gold.

The next day, a resolutely stoic Göring turned up for his next bout of questioning, only to find his footwear being immediately removed. The door to his cell was then opened and he was presented with a floor covered with upturned plugs. With screams of ‘Nein! Nein!’ he was pushed into the rooms and the lights turned off.

The notorious Nazi food hoover, no stranger to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Wolf’s Lair, was in absolute bits after five minutes, begging through the door to reveal all to his captors.

History tells us that Göring committed suicide the night before his planned execution. Sonnenfeldt’s recently released notebooks present a different story. Determined that there was more intelligence to be extracted from Göring he threatened him with another session in the upturned plug room. Ever inventive, he’d put in some additional items and they were enough to tip Göring over the edge. They included:

3 metal bedsteads

5 skirting board corners

A handful of Lego

and a single drawing pin

Use of the Lego and drawing pin was outlawed by the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Vehicular Trumpage

Doing a blog causes me to occasionally think,

‘Do people really want to know about that aspect of your character, Charlie? Do people really want to read that about you? Will it change how they look at you from now on?’

I go round in a bit of a circle, then emerge at the same point as always.

Nothing I do or say is original. All the things I like/dislike/hate/love are liked/disliked/hated/loved by everyone I know, in less, equal or greater measures.

There are aspects of our characters that we’d prefer people not to know about. Not because we’re particularly ashamed of them, but because we’re not sure what other peoples’ reactions to them would be. You may be the sort of person who, when on their own, likes to have a good pick of your nose, sometimes going to the trouble of rolling it up into a little, algae-coloured ball and flicking it towards the bin. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re never going to put that particular skill on your CV.

You might be the sort of person who likes to do a quick impression of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs whenever you get out of the shower.

I wouldn’t judge you for that, but it isn’t something you’d mention on a blind date, unless you wanted to get home early.
Which brings me neatly on to farting in the car.

There, I said it. When I’m on my own, on the way to work, I will take immense pleasure from having a good fart in my car. I see it as a bit of a treat. Of course I’ll eventually put the driver’s side window down, sometimes all four, depending on diet, but not before I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a thorough, aromatic examination.

Is this something I should be ashamed of? Well I’m not, so there! The reason I’ve come out about it today is that I met a kindred spirit this morning. It was nice to realise that I wasn’t alone in the world of trump-relishing. I was at the lights and had just got to the point where it was time to open the window, as my skin was becoming slightly jaundiced. I noticed a car on the other side of the road, with the driver’s side window down. He wasn’t having a smoke, it wasn’t a particularly warm morning and he wasn’t trying to get someone’s attention. There could only be one reason.

As the lights changed, we drove slowly past each other, exchanging a knowing expression, that simply said,

“I know, mate - me too!”

This unseemly practice does have a drawback. After I’ve parked up at work, I’ve perfected a bit of an elaborate walk from the car to reception, so that I can rid myself of any residue that might be clinging to my clothes, hair or shoes. I’m sure the security blokes must wonder what I’m up to. Usually there’s a bit of speeding up and slowing down, with the occasional pirouette or energetic wafting to increase dispersal.

However, if we’ve had the pleasure of an Indian takeaway the night before, the only way to get in to work without setting off the smoke alarms is to do a complete rendition of Michael Jackson’s dance routine from ‘Billie Jean.’

Monday, 25 June 2012

See You Next Tuesday

I noted with admiration that Ian Brown continues to display a knack for using the correct swear words at the correct time. At the recent Stone Roses gig in Amsterdam, drummer Reni decided that he was a bit pooped and couldn’t be arsed playing on a couple more tunes for his adoring crowd.

Brown was moved to remark that his fellow musician was therefore a ‘cunt.’

It’s a tricky word, cunt. It’s still a real opinion splitter. Lots of people don’t like ‘cunt’. It can be a very vicious sounding word. It’s got the same hard ‘u’ as fuck and the same amount of letters, but the ‘t’ at the end seems to give it added venom.

I think it’s a great word. In a world where eff-you-cee-kay is fairly commonplace and can be spotted in films with a 12 certificate, it’s nice to have a reassuringly offensive word that can be relied upon to do some damage.

It should go the same way as ‘bugger’, losing the original Middle English definition to become something people call each other when nice words just won’t work.

The Oxford English Dictionary has seen fit to legitimise its use, simply stating that a cunt is ‘an unpleasant or stupid person.’

In the last few years I’ve seen it being used in a slightly watered down way, to become an almost affectionate way of describing someone. People will shrug their shoulders and say,

“Well, he can be a bit of a cunt, but he’s alright most of the time.’

Adding words or letters seems to have a dampening effect too, with titles such as ‘cunty-bollocks’ and ‘cunt-chops’ being awarded to people who’ve transgressed in a workplace or social setting.

It’s only when the word is used with a finger jab or the addition of the words ‘right’ or ‘proper’ that it seems to retain its potency.

I’m all for swearing. In the right place and at the right time, it’s a great way to add emphasis or feeling to a sentence or statement.

It’s not big or clever to only be able to communicate through the art of the eff and jeff, but nor do I see it - as some do - as instant confirmation that the speaker is inarticulate. Some of the greatest comedians in history have used expletives to amplify their act, to great effect. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Bill Hicks have spoken eloquently on the subject, littering their monologues with words that dockers didn’t even know existed.

Chris Rock wouldn’t have an act if he didn’t swear so brilliantly.

“I love my kids, man!!!!”

“You’re supposed to, you low-expectation-having-motherfucker!!!”

When I joined the army, I’d come from a background where there was no swearing in the house. The strongest word we were allowed to use was ‘flipping’. ‘Bloody’ was beyond the pale and - until I got to secondary school - I thought the C word was ‘Cheggers’ (not a million miles away, it has to be said).

If there could be such a thing, the army was a Swearing School of Excellence where I met people who could: construct sentences comprising only of swear words; invent their own; or break up individual words, just so they could jam another ‘fuck’ in there. Words like ‘abso-fucking-lutely’ and ‘encylo-fucking-pedia’ entered my vocabulary.

When I left and became a father, a period of adjustment was required. I realised this when my 2 year old son was helping his gran do a jigsaw. A failure to find the right piece caused him to say, in exasperation, ‘Fucking hell!’ (It was in context, I might add).

The industrial language was left behind, but what could I replace it with? I ended up on a 40s throwback gig, using words like ‘blimey’, ‘crikey’ and ‘jeepers’, to replace their more colourful cousins. They were alright. They didn’t pack the same power, though and made me sound like a Mancunian George Formby, but they stopped my mum giving me dirty looks and provided a sticking plaster.

Funnily enough, my favourite swear word is of the same vintage. It isn’t really that offensive, but it holds a very dear place in my heart. Once again, referring to the OED enlightens us to its meaning: ‘An objectionable, unpleasant or reprehensible person.’

The word? ‘Rotter’ - delivered with startling beauty on December the 1st 1976, at 6.15pm by Steve Jones. All the damage had been done to Bill Grundy’s career already, when he told Steve Jones he still had another five seconds to say something outrageous. He used a couple of the more obvious words, but then ended with a flourish, calling Grundy, ‘A fuckin’ rotter.’

It still makes me laugh every time I see it. The Sex Pistols were trying to be so ‘up-to-the-minute’, but there was Jones in his moment of glory, using abusive terms straight from The Beano.

I’m not saying that we should go out of our way to swear all the time, but in the world we currently inhabit, there should always be recourse to express exactly how you feel…

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Destroy It Yourself

Last week, the element in our fan oven stopped working.

I know it’s not the most promising line for the start of a blog, but stick with me.

It’s happened before and its most recent malfunction allowed me to look like I’m handy round the house again. By looking at a couple of Youtube videos and spending 8 or 9 hours on DIY forums, I was able to safely change the element and avoid being massively overcharged by an ‘expert’.

Being utterly shite at all things DIY, this feels like an achievement equivalent to obtaining a Master’s Degree or becoming a pilot and I fully intend to milk it for all it’s worth. I’ll spend the next year, sagely tapping the front of the oven with an index finger with a pen in my mouth, before stating,

“Yep, everything still seems to be ok?”

When I fixed the same problem three years ago, I managed to wring eighteen months of misplaced pride out of it.
My wife indulges the ego-boost that my tri-annual element repair brings, as it marks a brief admission into the club of, ‘blokes-who-know-how-to-fix-things.’

I grew up in a family that had three of these men. Two of my older brothers are excellent at all things mechanical and household. One of them constructed a rudimentary burglar alarm for my mum whilst he was still a teenager and the other has consistently demonstrated an ability to examine non-functioning items whilst holding a pencil behind his ear, then making them work again.

They are chips off the old block and I’m not. My dad, like many men of his generation, has always been able to do all the work that is required to keep a house and garden maintained. The very idea that you might consult the Yellow Pages to hire a tradesman is anathema to him. The list of thing he’s done that I would never attempt is long and shaming. He’s built fences/built walls/took out and put in windows/repointed brickwork/plastered walls/built sheds and completed knockthroughs.

The knockthrough between the kitchen and living room in our old house was his crowning achievement. It started out as a serving hatch, that most popular of 1970s domestic embellishments. It was meant to be a labour saving device, but its principal function was to allow us all to continue arguments when we were in different rooms. My mum quickly grew tired of us re-enacting The Great Escape by clambering through it and instructed my dad - in the manner of Pharoah - to, ‘Make it bigger!’

This he duly did, without any reference to a manual or a qualified builder. The only preparation required in those days was a brew and a short ponder, before the sledgehammers came out. We all mucked in with the manoeuvring of the support beam, after my dad had completed his classic 'risk assessment' consisting of the sweeping statement, “We should be alright.” In no time at all it was done and the work has stood the test of time.

When they sold the house a few years ago, the buyer was interested to see any certification regarding building work or modifications to the house. My dad just chuckled at him.

So I’ve had big shoes to fill, which has left me with a crippling inferiority complex when it comes to having a crack at anything that involves a working knowledge of how things work.

In those carefree days before the kids came along, we got ready to go out for a six hour lunch one Saturday. My wife casually mentioned that there was something wrong with the flushing mechanism on the toilet. I rolled my sleeves up - like my dad used to - and said,

“Right, let’s have a look.”

Three hours later, we’d missed lunch, I was covered in shit and the toilet was no closer to working properly.

My life has been a catalogue of Frank Spencer-esqe disasters, involving wonky shelves, leftover screws and nuts, furniture that nearly fits together and trips to B and Q to buy another fucking screwdriver, even though I know that there are at least a hundred knocking about the house somewhere.

It’s took a long time for me to acknowledge my uselessness in this department. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Every time I twat my hand with a hammer or get so frustrated that I smash the thing I was meant to be fixing, I feel like my dad is stood over my shoulder, slowly shaking his head, whilst smiling sympathetically.

So anyway, did I tell you that I’ve sorted out that element on the cooker? Yeah, it’s a Baumatic 180. As far as I can see, something’s blown and I’m going to have to take the back off. It’s tricky job like, but if you just follow common-sense principles and use the right tools, it’s a job you can crack. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it, only professionals or people like myself who’ve got years of experience.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Pot Noodle - Design Classic

As every nutritionally-astute human being knows, there are six major food groups.

These are:

Fruit and Vegetables
Meat and Protein
Fats, Oils and Sweets
and - of course - since its introduction in 1978, the Pot Noodle.

I know they’re bad for me and I haven’t eaten one in a long time, but I’ve got a nostalgic affection for those little containers of salt and MSG, that no amount of dietary knowledge will ever supplant.

I remember vividly, the day my brother Joe brought a chicken and mushroom one home, having spent some of his paper round money on this most worthy of acquisitions. Our house in 1978 was never at the forefront of technological innovation. We were all still getting over the cultural shock of watching a colour telly and not having to go to number 14 if we wanted to use a phone.

Whilst he put the kettle on, all of us kids sat round the table and just stared at the Pot Noodle. It looked amazing. It was colourful and made of plastic and it had a foil lid. A foil lid, I tell you! When NASA launched the Space Shuttle, three years later, I was far less impressed.

Joe brought the boiled kettle over and peeled the lid. We fought for a better view of what was inside. It was basically a ball of frozen tapeworms with a light dusting of snuff. But what was that lying on top? Joe removed it and held it up for our adoration. I asked in wonder,

“What’s a sat-shit, Joe?”

“It’s sash-shay, you dickhead.”

New ‘continental words’ as well! Was there anything the Pot Noodle couldn’t do?

Then he poured the water in and an amazing transformation took place. It bubbled and frothed and the tapeworms melted. The snuff became a sauce and the sat-shit was distributed for flavour. It was done! But what was this? Joe was closing the lid.

“You have to leave it to rest for two minutes.”

It was the longest 120 seconds of my life. The lid was shut, so we couldn’t see what was going on, but the chemical smells sneaking through the gaps were tantalising and exotic.

Eventually the clock ticked round and the meal was prepared. A pot that was full of noodles. What more from life could anyone want? Joe, being the owner and a tight bastard, didn’t even let us have a mouthful, just a piece of noodle, half a matchstick in length. It was enough for me to boast about it in school the next day, though! This was our teacher asking,

“Who wants to hear Charlie’s Pot Noodle story again?”

So, despite there probably being more nutrition to be gained from eating the foil, I’ve retained a fondness for the ‘Papa November’ (as it was referred to by British soldiers).

When I was in fifth year, one of my mates brought one along to a football match we were playing in. He was smart enough to bring a flask of boiling water with him, but not smart enough to remember not to throw his bag against a wall. With the prime catalyst missing in order for the magic to happen, his post-match snack seemed done for. It was only with mild horror that we watched him fill it up with warm water from the showers instead and I was still up for a gnaw on the semi-solid, savoury rounders ball that was produced.

Somewhere in the mid-nineties, when I realised that food was supposed to supply things other than salt and instant gratification, I stopped eating them. For the purposes of this blog, I had a little look at what’s gone on in subsequent years, in the world of the Pot Noodle.

Someone in their marketing department - in order to combat the Super Noodle - came up with what I think is the most brilliantly named product currently available, the ‘Wot? Not in a Pot Noodle’.

Our friend Clare was round the other night and told of a mysterious dessert version, whose star shone but briefly. Another pal, Tim subsequently hunted around the internet and unearthed the ‘Pot Sweet’. I never had one, which is probably a good thing, as I imagine it would still be stuck to my ribs now.
It’s the way of the world, though, that things that were once fashionable, can often come full circle and enter our lives again, sometimes ironically, or sometimes because we’re sick of food that’s good for us. This limited edition beauty is the ‘poulet et champignon’ flavour that was sold by Harrods for £30 in 2008.

So, as soon as I finish this blog, I’m going to throw all my pad thai in the bin and get myself a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle, with a thick-sliced shitty white loaf. Then I’m going to eat it, making four or five butties, with a glass of undiluted Kia-Ora to accompany it.

What harm can it do?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Don't turn right

Around Christmas time last year, I decided to modify a bit of my behaviour that I wasn’t happy with.

It wasn’t about my glee in relating 70s, schoolkid anecdotes to my children, with all the wonderful elements of Health and Safety removed.

“And do you know, kids, in those days we didn’t even have to wear hi-viz vests when we were in the playground after school.”

“Really dad?”

“It’s all true, in fact at my secondary school, when we were raising money for St Joseph’s Penny, the teachers used to allow us to box at lunchtime. I think that Mr Fedoruk, the Games teacher, used to run a book on the fights, resulting in one of the Maths teachers getting heavily into debt.”

“Wow, I wish we went to your school.”

“Yes, it was great. It was a place where people who obtained more than a couple of O Levels, were seen as professors.”

I love horrifying and wowing the kids in equal measure, with embellished tales of my childhood, so it wasn’t this that needed some thought.

It was about driving. I don’t get the classic road rage that Channel 4 like to make documentaries about.

I’ve been in a car with someone who has, so I know I’m not in that league. It was a Geordie mate of mine and we were travelling up the M6. We were in the left hand lane and as we passed Junction 38, a little old lady came tootling down the slip lane, ready to join the motorway and head for Penrith. The only thing was, she didn’t have her indicator on, so my mate wouldn’t move over and kept pace in his car. As the old lady got closer and closer to me, it became very clear that she was coming straight on. I relayed this urgently to the driver and he replied,

"How man, she’s not fuckin’ indercayatin’, so she can fuck off.”

He wasn’t screaming his head off, but that’s a level of intolerance I know I’ll never reach. He’d have been happy for us all to have a nice big crash, because of a ‘tech-ner-fuckin-cality.’

What I have is more of an urban impatience. If you’re driving round a city, then you need to be quick off the mark, or you can spend your life at junctions or traffic lights.

Over the years, I’ve found myself doing a little commentary as I go along and viewed objectively it’s a bit embarrassing. ‘C’mon mate’, ‘Are you ever going to go?’ ‘It’s on green! it’s on green!’ That sort of thing.

I was never shouting it, but that constant irritation has a corrosive effect on your stress levels. It serves no purpose to be annoyed. It doesn’t get you there any quicker. The person in the other car can’t hear you, so whatever you’re saying is going to have absolutely no impact on what they’re doing. Most importantly, if you’ve got anyone in the car with you, you look like a right dick.

So I decided at Christmas that I was going to stop doing it. I went cold turkey as well. No gradual reduction in the comments or volume. I went from being mildly irked by every perceived bit of ignorant or inconsiderate driving, to not giving a toss.

It’s absolutely great. You should try it, even just for a morning or a day. You’re mental state will be a lot better for it.

I was always happy to let people through on a busy road, where there’s only room for one car, but sometimes I’d make a bit of a snap judgement if they were driving a bit aggressively. Not any more. Happy to wait, on you go, mate, you’re obviously in more of a rush than me. It bloody works, you know. I’ve tried to keep it up and am achieving good levels of success. I occasionally backslide, but note it and spend the following few minutes being extra nice.

My greatest moment was at one of those junctions, where you get a bellend who races up on the outside in the right-turn-only lane and then goes straight over, bypassing the huge queue of highway-code followers in the left hand lane. A few months ago, if I found myself at the front of one of the left hand lane when this happened, I’d have consciously tried to beat him across the junction to annoy him. Last week, when this happened, I just slowed down and let him nip in. Amazingly, it felt really good. Course he’s a knob, but why should I be bothered.

The only nut that I’ve failed to crack, is a particular little junction in Chorlton. It’s where Kensington Road joins Manchester Road. If you’re daft enough to try and turn right here, you’re going to be there for a long, long time. Most people who live in the area will take a big detour, rather than attempt the madness of a right turn there. If you get stuck behind someone who is, you may as well get your butties out.

The couple of times it’s happened to me since Christmas, a quick, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake!’ escapes before I remember my new ethos. I will do it though. By Christmas, I hope, if I find myself in this position to sit there with a smile like a Jehova’s Witness and say, ‘Good luck, mate. Hope you don’t have to wait too long.”

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Embarrassing The Kids

One of the great delights in reaching the ripe old age of 43 has been the realisation that I’m officially uncool.

It’s not like I was ever very cool in the first place, but my children - particularly my eldest (13) - have now confirmed my status, usually by cringing whenever I try to impress them or their mates.

Rather than this eliciting a feeling of sadness, I really enjoy it. One of the great pleasures of being a parent is humiliating your children simply by asking innocuous questions when they’ve got their mates round.

Chester (13) has a pal, who knows all the current ‘street’ words. He was explaining a few to me as we drove home from footy training one night. Whilst I adopted the tone of 'interested moron', he explained that someone who I might have called a ‘villain’ or ‘scally’ is now called a ‘bad-mans.’ The plural confused me, but I wasn’t arguing, because 13 year old kids know more than me.

More confusing was the revelation that ‘bum’ now means good. No longer is it used to describe your arse or an American tramp. If you really enjoy your lunch, you might say.

“That sandwich was bum.”

The final bit of this tutorial concluded with him telling me that rather than call your friends ‘pal’ ‘mate’ or ‘chum’, they were now more commonly known as ‘blad,’ which is a bastardisation of blood. It was all very interesting and I could see Chester shrinking into his seat whilst I asked pertinent questions like,

“So, could I say a sentence like this? ‘My blad is a badmans but he’s bum with me?’”

It was worse for him the week after, as I incorporated some of my new found, linguistic coolness into the training session.

Whilst warming up with all 18 of my intensely self-conscious squad, I put a shot into one of the goals. One of them congratulated me and I replied in an over-the-top, public school accent.

“Cheers, blad. I am quite the badmans when it comes to bum shooting!!”

The horror on their faces was hilarious, so I carried on using ‘their’ words throughout the session. Each time I did, they all recoiled and howled at me to stop.

I assume that they all had to go home that night and invent some new ones, as I’d ruined it all for them.

Embarrassing your children has got to be one of the great pay-offs to being a parent. Having young kids can feel like a pretty thankless task. It’s all one-way traffic. You do absolutely everything for them: hug them when they’re upset; buy them lots of Christmas presents; try to take an interest in their homework; try not to think ‘Oh, fucking hell!’ when they say, ‘Can we take our bikes to the park?’ What do you get in return? Calendars made of spray painted pasta that are of no practical use, which will remain stuck to the fridge until the next bit of tat replaces them.

But this is fine. I can cope with all of it, as long as I get to make them squirm now and again, by doing some robotics to a Kraftwerk song in the car, whilst they try to hide in the footwells.

We were all waiting in the car a couple of weeks ago, whilst my wife nipped into Morrisons. Because I was bored, I tried on my little lad’s (7) cycling helmet. I looked stupid, but it amused me for a few seconds. My eldest then told me to take it off.

“Why? Is it embarrassing you?”

“Err, yeah!”


I had planned to take it off, but then drove home in it, hoping to God we’d see a couple of his mates, so I could shout out my window to them.

Though it seems like I’m doling this 'embarrassing the kids' lark out a lot, of course I experienced it myself when I was young.

We went through a bit of a Bob Marley phase at our house, in the mid 80s, coinciding with the release of his Legend album. Growing up in an Irish household, this was considered quite exotic fare, but - as well as being a stupendously great collection of tunes - knowing the lyrics to Bob Marley songs was an excellent shortcut to street-cred.

Unfortunately, whenever we were listening to the album in the front room, my dad would come in, chuckling and say.

“Is that my mate, Bob? Sure I love this music.”

Regardless of which tune was on, he’d then sing an approximation of No Woman No Cry, deliberately out of tune and with some of the words missing.

Whilst we screamed at him to stop, he’d just wander out of the room laughing, still knocking out his 'Westmeath reggae'.

I try to explain to my eldest that - thirty years from now - he will also be uncool. In 2042, his kids will be shaking their heads slowly at him as he tries to negotiate their world, whilst their grandad Charlie stumbles around in the background, with a tiny cycle helmet on and his trousers pulled up too high, singing the incorrect words to a 68 year old reggae song.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Supermarket Sheep

When I blogged about bargain hunting in supermarkets a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I’d forgotten to include something quite important.

It was about the desire for a protocol around bumping into friends or acquaintances whilst doing your shop.

What are the rules around this?

Last week, I was clattering around the local Morrisons and found myself on the first aisle, amongst the fruit and veg. While trying to find apples that displayed the mutually exclusive characteristics of being cheap and looking tasty, I bumped into one of the other parents from my kids primary school. We had that moderately stilted conversation, that you have in supermarkets, when you’re aware that neither of you had really planned this chat, people are behind you trying to get to the apples and you’ve got other stuff you’ve got to get on with, as soon as the shop’s out of the way.

So you go through the motions, ask each other a couple of questions and not really listen to the answers. Eventually, one of you says,

“Right, better be getting on. See you later.”

Then you go your separate ways. This is where there should be a rule made. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve now had our conversation and that should be it. I should be free to completely ignore you for the rest of my shop. It’s not like we arranged to meet here, like going for a drink or something, so let’s agree to just crack on. Supermarkets are full of things I don’t care for, like rude kids and people who clip you with their trolleys and pretend it was an accident, even though they really meant it, because you’d dawdled for a microsecond too long near the beans. Therefore, I want to spend the least amount of time possible in them.

Instead, because we met in the first aisle, we now enter into some sort of synchronicity and have to have several more verbal transactions. My heart sinks further and further with each one, as the law of diminishing returns forces us both to endure those shit one-liners that were solely designed for this purpose.

“Ha ha, we’ll have to stop meeting like this!”

“Hey, I’m sure I met your twin brother a few minutes ago!”

“Still here then?”


“Are you stalking me?”


“Am I stalking you?”

“We’ll be working here, if we hang around much longer!”

All of the above are delivered almost apologetically, with a rolling of the eyes, as if to say,
“It wasn’t me that made these rules. I’m sorry, but we’re just locked into this. Let’s deliver the lines as best we can and hope to fuck that one of us is going to forget something a few aisles back and break this cycle.”

I have, on occasion, been that cheesed off with this panto, that I’ll invent a bargain on the other side of the shop and go there for a bit, till I’m sure there’s no chance of us bumping into each other again. This usually backfires. Chorlton’s a small place and I just meet someone else and have to start all over again.

The real hell of hells occurs, if you go through the complete circuit and then find yourselves paired in the queue at the checkout. You’ve already used all the ‘conversation’ that was available to you and are reduced to spending ten minutes saying,

“This queue’s not going down very quickly, eh?”

“Why does the other queue always move more quickly, eh?”

“This queue’s moving nice and quickly, eh?”

I have a real terror of this happening. It’s the perfect storm of supermarket synchronicity and to be avoided at all costs. I’ll happily join the massive queue for the cashier that I know will try and break my eggs and squash my tomatoes, if it means not having to feign interest in the price of the chewing gum on the impulse buy shelf, near the till.

There is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. On several occasions, without any conversation occurring, I’ve tacitly agreed with someone to just not enter into this modern dance. I’ve seen him and he’s seen me. We’re friends and are secure enough in our friendship to think simultaneously,

“I really can’t be arsed having a chat. I’ve got to get out of here before I throw a chicken at someone. I’m just going to avert my eyes and pretend to be looking at something else, whenever there’s the possibility of an encounter. When I get to the top of each aisle, I’ll have a quick look. If he’s down there, I’ll skip an aisle and double back. If we bump into each other in the car park after, we’ll continue with the charade and say something like, ‘Were you in there? Fancy that!,’ before nodding in collusion and legging it.”

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Getting Your Farts Out

After dropping the kids off at school last Friday, I nipped to the Barbakan (brilliant Chorlton deli), to have a brew and a read of the paper.

As I got there, I noticed one of my friends standing outside, by his car. He appeared to be dawdling for no particular reason, so I strolled up, said hello and asked him what he was waiting round for.

“I’m just getting all my farts out before I go in, Charlie.”

It made me laugh out loud, primarily because of his candour but also because I thought I was the only person who made sure they were entirely vented of noxious gases before entering social situations.

Not always of course, but if I’m ever unlucky enough to combine the following two elements;

1. Social or work situation involving people who've no idea that you fart.
2. Recent meal including volatile ingredients.

then due consideration needs to be given.

With regards to the first element, for most of us, this is people outside of our immediate families or very close friends. Though having found farting to be an unending source of hilarity for my entire life, i’ve been made painfully aware that not everyone thinks this way.

Element two is often present, because I like to consume things that are known as, ‘gifts that keep on giving.’

I regularly find myself hanging around outside buildings, hovering delicately until I’m certain that I’m completely clear of any contraband. Outside is the farter’s friend, but living in a city means that, even there, timing is everything. My technique is to walk up and down a bit, get rid, then do a bit of a turn, sometimes 270 degrees is enough to sever all ties, but Guinness or curry can sometimes necessitate a complete 360.

This allows me to conduct whatever business I need to do in the building, without the growing fear of a pressure build up. It feels very wrong to subdue a burgeoning guff. I always feel that the horrible bubbling feeling it creates inside, distracts me from my meeting/interview and is probably wreaking unseen damage on my immune system.

I thought I was the only one, until that chance encounter outside a Chorlton deli, but now I know I’m in good company.

A teacher friend was telling me that, as head of a particular department, it’s very important that she keeps up appearances and maintains a strict social protocol of never dropping one in front of a class. Prone as she is to bouts of flatulence, this causes great discomfort. She bungs herself up for the duration of the lesson, suffering greatly. As soon as the kids leave and she has the door shut, she dives into the stockroom and deflates herself, dislodging ceiling tiles and turning the corners of books up. She says that a disgruntled caretaker has had to tighten up the hinges on the door three times in the last year and has modified one of the Chemistry lab signs to let her know he’s on to her.

It led me to thinking that, if I do it, my teacher mate does it and the chap who you don’t know outside the Barbakan does it, then everyone does it, to a greater or lesser degree.
It would be great if some of the social stigma was removed and we could engage in this practice quite freely, leaving people to nonchalantly hang back before a meeting and say,

“I’ll be with you in a minute, everyone. I’m just going to despatch this air biscuit, as it’s been baking for quite a while now.”
Had the subject been less taboo a couple of well documented ‘accidents’ in history, could have been avoided.

On June 26, 1963, when President Kennedy gave his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, his Secret Service men rushed him to the podium. Kennedy had been planning to expunge the byproducts of a bratwurst and Herforder Pils lunch, but missed his opportunity. The photographic evidence is clear. Whilst President Kennedy concentrates on the correct pronunciation of the word ‘Berliner,’ he loses control for a crucial second, leaving the man to his rear thinking.

“Jesus Christ, that one could start a windmill on an old Dutch painting.”

But perhaps the most famous example occurred thirty-five years earlier, at Heston Aerodrome, when Neville Chamberlain triumphantly returned from the Munich Pact meeting to declare, ‘Peace for our time.’ Once again, the urgency with which the Prime Minister was ushered from his plane to deliver the speech, was his undoing. He had planned to hang about near one of the wings and disperse a particularly volatile hooberstank, resulting from the Scotch Eggs and Theakston’s Old Peculiar which he’d shared with Hitler earlier. Once again, the photographic evidence is conclusive.

The fortunate people to the right of Chamberlain have avoided injury, whereas the ones on the left are clearly affected. A no-mans-land has been instantly created, with a courageous policeman attempting to help the man to his front, who was directly downwind during the speech. Chamberlain’s attempts to waft it away and avoid blame were later explained away by claiming he was waving the agreement.

Monday, 12 March 2012

No Ball Games Allowed

Last Friday, I paid a visit to the vet with our male rabbit, Flapjack.

We got Flapjack last October, to give some company to our female rabbit, with the gender- confusing name of Flat Stanley. To begin with, Flat Stanley didn’t take too well to her new friend and took an unusual approach to welcoming him into the family, firstly by trying to beat him up whenever we weren’t looking and then to nibbling a chunk out of his ear whilst he wasn’t looking.

Time proved to be a great healer, both for Flapjack’s ear and Flat Stanley’s tolerance. By Christmas, they were rubbing along quite nicely together; Flapjack’s youthful exuberance being tempered by Flat Stanley’s habit of sitting around a lot.

Then Flapjack hit puberty and our lovely little back garden dynamic changed. Since January, he’s been hitting on Flat Stanley with all the subtlety of a Sid James chat up line.

He’s attempted to shag her from pretty much every angle, whilst Flat Stanley resists stoically. I’ve watched Flapjack’s mind working in an eternal circle that’s on a ten second loop.
‘Mmm this food is nice.

I think I’ll defecate a bit.


This is followed by a bit of a high speed chase that looks like a Benny Hill sketch. Eventually he gives up and goes back to eating, before realising:


Poor old Stan is beginning to look a bit frazzled by the whole situation. The fact that she’s neutered is no deterrent to Flapjack’s ardour.

I’ve been getting tired of knocking out rubbish excuses to the kids.

“Daddy, what’s Flapjack doing to Flat Stanley?”

“She’s a bit tired, Son, so Flapjack is helping to push her back to the hutch.’

It was time to get him done. On the Thursday, I let him have his last afternoon in the sun, oblivious to the coming storm. His sophisticated foreplay technique was interesting to watch. He’d stand close to Flat Stanley for a few seconds, then a bit closer, then a bit closer, then conduct a full frontal assault before being immediately rebuffed. It’s a technique that can be observed in nightclubs up and down the land, usually between 1.30 and 2.00am.

This was him before the op, looking pretty chilled out, a long afternoon of unrequited love behind him and an evening of eating food and dreaming of a repeat performance tomorrow.

When we got him to the vets, I bumped into our friend, Jon. He’d brought their dog Freddie in for the same op. There was the strange, but nevertheless present, feeling that we were betraying our two charges on some level. As the door closed behind Flapjack, with the nurse sizing him up, it took me back to my own gelding six years ago and I somehow managed to concoct some empathy with a small mammal.

I got him back at 6 o’clock and put him back in the hutch. This is what he looked like then.

To the untrained eye, he looks exactly the same. He might be sitting a bit delicately and some of the light is missing from his eyes, but he’s essentially unchanged.

To me, with my daft habit of projection, he’s very different and seems to be saying.

“What did you let them do to me, man? I can’t work it out (because I’m a rabbit) but I feel really weird. Why doesn’t that female rabbit look as good as she did this morning? What’s going on, Charlie? I thought you were looking after me.”

By the next morning, a bit of realisation had dawned on him and he had the look of Randle Mcmurphy after he’s been lobotomised in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I imagine that we’ll return to some normality now, with both rabbits cohabiting in an asexual spirit, similar to Morecambe and Wise or George and Mildred. Or perhaps, after a few days, Flat Stanley is going to start wondering why she’s not getting any of Flapjack’s attention any more. Look out for a blog about Stanley’s mid-life-crisis in the next couple of months.