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.