Sunday, 30 December 2012

Prepare to be vajazzled

When someone recently told me about something called vajazzling I was a bit confused. So I've done a little research to find out more (thank you Google), and I'm still confused.
Vajazzling basically involves the decoration of a womans freshly waxed pubic area with shiny things.
Now as a man I can honestly say that I'm never looked  down at the old chap and thought "What that really needs is a bunch of rhinestones in the shape of a heart to really set it off, and while I'm at it maybe I'll paint the spherical bits gold so they look like christmas baubles."
So why on earth would a woman want to do this? Granted, at least it's not permanent like a tattoo (god, you really don't want to get me started on the tattoos on women thing) but it does raise some questions.
Firstly, why go to so much effort on something that's going to have such a limited audience? Get your hair done and everyone can see it but I seriously doubt you could go showing that off to all and sundry without raising a few eyebrows.
Also, if you've gone through what must be such unimaginable torture having all the hair ripped out in the first place, why would you just replace it with something resembling Michael Jackson's favourite glove? I'm by no means a fan of the 'scary hairy' look and if the short and curlies are making a bid for freedom out of your knickers and down your legs then maybe it's time to do something about it. Regular tending of the garden with some judicious topiary never goes amiss - after all, a nice picture is always better mounted in a decent frame.
But as a strictly heterosexual bloke I can't help wonder what would make someone want to adorn one of natures most beautiful creations with bits left over from homemade greeting cards. I mean it's bad enough getting a blackberry seed stuck in your teeth let alone a miniature fake jewel.
At a time when women are increasingly and unfathomably drawn to body editing involving ugly great tattoos and piercings in inadvisable places I dread to think what we're going to see next.

Peace in our time

Listen, can you hear it? No? Me neither. The neighbours have gone away for a few days and the peace and quiet is wonderful. OK, I haven't been to crow-bar the boy out of his whiffy pit yet and I know that once he's showered the zombie mode away the mere notion of peace and quiet will be a distant memory as he'll either be playing crap music or shouting abuse at other players on various online Xbox games. Or both at the same time.
So I'm pacing myself this morning. I'm not going to launch myself at jobs like yesterday when the need to do something about the six foot featherboard garden fence that was blowing around at worrying angles resulted in taking the whole thing down, leaving just a four foot chain link behind. Bit of a bummer as I only put up the extra tall bit to get some privacy from the olds next door about seven years ago. Can't be arsed to do anything more with it now though as we'll probably be moving house this coming year.
The downside of the way so many people live their lives at full volume, combined with a general lack of consideration for others, is that true peace and quiet is hard to come by. Is it really too much to ask to be able to sit and read a book without ending up reading the same sentence ten times before giving up because some bugger's distracting you with comedy sketches on YouTube in the corner of the room or some old fart is shouting loudly down the phone next door. What is it with old folk that they assume that just because they're deaf everyone else must be? Especially on the phone because they're a long way away so you have to shout if they're going to hear you all the way up in Scotland... And now the bastards have got themselves a speakerphone. Great, so now we get to hear BOTH sides of the conversation. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!
In my dreams I'd be able to live in a detached house with no neighbours for at least a quarter of a mile. Obviously this would bring about the need for major security involving high steel fences topped with razor wire and a pack of very hungry dobermans if the thieving parasitic f***ers are to be kept away. And some of those automatic sentry guns like they had in 'Aliens' would be cool too.
The reality is though, that we're likely to end up in the midst of many other people with the risk of summers filled with family garden parties, screaming kids, and teenagers playing their music loud with the windows thrown wide open so the rest of the world can appreciate their music tastes too. All things we don't get here, where we could just spend a couple of grand putting up a soundproofing wall and maybe not hear the neighbours at all, but next door isn't the only reason for moving house.
It could be that old age is when you finally get your peace and quiet. You've done your bit for the country by working, paying your taxes and national insurance, and it's time to get something back. Time to relax, have a nice cup of tea and a HobNob, and read your book without any distractions because now you're the one who's deaf.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

What's wrong with this picture?

The madness of the sales is in full swing. Having just returned from a trip into Cambridge I think it's fair to say that the world has run mad. We went in mainly to get a replacement phone for the boy as his other one decided to turn up its toes, and made the wise decision to use the park and ride so we didn't have to cope with the nightmare that is parking in Cambridge.
Wandering around there were a number of things that hit me, apart from a great many raindrops.
The obvious thing was the number of people who were clearly on a mission. With a lustful urge for maximum retail therapy, these folk were determined to let nothing get in the way of their goal; clutching numerous bags plastered with designer shop labels and a disturbingly large number with a large picture of a honed and toned naked male torso on (seems so very wrong when it's being carried by a pre-pubescent girl).
Despite the regular downpours these people were clearly living the dream. Spend spend spend, regardless of whether the purchases were necessary or not, because there was 50 percent off so it would be crazy to not have it, wouldn't it?
Now I'm not one to pay particular attention to children - in fact those who know me will be aware that I'll go to great lengths to avoid the bloody things - but there was one that did catch my attention, and not for any good reason. This girl couldn't have been more than twelve, but she was dressed like a thirty-year-old and a thirty-year-old with plenty of money too. When I looked further and spotted mummy I realised where the kid's influence lay and it made me think.
I know that kids seem to grow up faster these days, but what's with this obsession amongst many of them to be grown ups before they've even given themselves chance to be kids? I know most kids look forward to being adults with all the exciting prospects that brings, like your own money, not living with your parents, going to bed when you like etc, but to forcefully bring about changes in appearance and attitude that are too old for you when you lack the physical and emotional maturity to get away with it is puzzling.
I mean, what kind of image are these kids trying to portray? Take a walk around a city centre and if you pay attention you'll spot no end of examples of this phenomena, and the really odd thing is that they're almost exclusively girls. I've yet to spot an eleven-year-old boy dressed like Richard Hammond.
It's like those weird beauty pageants they have in America where they have girls of about eight done up like a cross between Barbara Cartland and a prostitute and paraded in front of a crowd of people of questionable tendencies. Now we live in a world where we're constantly being told in the news about the latest paedo perv to be arrested, and yet events like that are still allowed to take place which I personally think is just sick.
We're adults for a hell of a long time so kids should be making the most of having no commitments, riding their bikes and climbing trees for as long as they can get away with it.
Young girls dressed like grown-ups isn't the only thing you see when walking through a city centre either and some days you wonder if it's halloween or something. Granted I'm not someone who can pass much judgement on fashion, but it beggars belief some of the sights you see and you wonder how these individuals were able to look at themselves in the mirror before leaving the house and thought "yeah, that looks fine".
Guys with their trousers hanging down with their underpants on show is a look that I always thought weird, but I recently discovered that the origins of this habit is traced back to American prisons where an inmate would wear their trousers low round their arse to indicate the (ahem) availability of their rear for the entertainment of other inmates of a certain persuasion. Since I found this out I can't help but laugh to myself whenever I spot someone wearing their trousers like that.
Teenage girls dressed like trainee sluts, men of fifty-plus dressing like a twenty-year-old, and all sorts of shapes and sizes wearing clothes designed for a completely different shape and size.
Which brings me to the ultimate faux-pas.... fat women in leggings. No. Alright? Just no. It's not big or clever and nobody's impressed so please just stop it OK?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The curse of the rose tinted spectacles

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, as they say, and it's true.
So often we say things like "they don't write them like they used to", or "it wasn't like this back in my day", or "hey, I remember this film, it was great, let's watch it again".
Case in point was last night when I spotted 'The Philadelphia Experiment' on Lovefilm Instant and, harbouring fond and distant memories of when I watched it back in the days when I didn't know better, decided we should sit down and watch it. Oh dear. With its crappy 1984 special effects and decidedly dodgy acting it really had not stood the test of time. The other week I heard that they'd done a remake of Total Recall which initially brought up the predictable feelings of annoyance - "Why do they have to mess with things, what was wrong with the Schwarzenegger one?". The sad truth is that the answer to that is probably "lots".
There are many times when we look back through rose tinted specs. If I think back to my early days of video games I'll get all misty eyed over memories of Jet Set Willly on the Sinclair Spectrum or Elite on the BBC Micro. But try those games on a PC now running an emulator and you're reminded what makes Call Of Duty so damn good. Pole Position might have got us excited as kids, but I'm afraid it just can't compete with Forza 4.
And it's not just computer generated cars that suffer from the nostalgia bug - I have many terrific memories of  looning around in my Alfa Romeo Alfasud back in 1989. With its glorious flat four engine with its wonderful induction noise from its enormous Dellorto carbs, and its on-rails handling with its tendency to lift the inside rear wheel off the deck during hard cornering, it's a car I often search for in the classifieds in the hope of reliving those happy days. But I'm also painfully aware that the reality would involve spending every weekend under the bonnet fixing the bloody thing, and welding up whatever new rust hole has appeared over the last week. Seriously - Alfa put the rust in at the factory.
Criticising new music for its appalling lack of meaningful lyrics is a popular passtime for me, but if I think about it carefully there's always been dubious lyrics in music - 'Ob La Di Ob La Da' anyone? To be fair, popular music isn't worse it's just different, but as a paid-up moaning old git it's my job to get all pissy about anything that doesn't sound like Depeche Mode or Genesis.
The reality is that every generation believes that the golden age was many years before - during the industrial revolution there were probably plenty of old farts claiming the world was a much better place back when all people had to worry about was bubonic plague, and why do we need all these newfangled machines and steam engines anyway? Did dinosaurs dream of the good old days in the primordial soup?
It's a never-ending state - in thirty years time our kids will be moaning to their kids about the awful chart music, saying "Why can't you listen to decent classical music like Skrillex?".
The bottom line is that for the most part things DO get better, but we become so stuck in our ways that we're unable to see virtue in new things and so we become more and more detached from the world around us as we get older. I do try to keep up with new things, especially in technology because I need to because of what I do and because it's something I enjoy, but already I feel I'm getting left behind a bit. I know that there will come a time soon when I will regard some new innovation in the same way my father seems to consider the internet to be the terrifying bastard spawn of satan and the cause of everything that's wrong with the world.
So for now I'll sit back and carry on daydreaming of better times when a can of Coke cost 15p, sticking a piece of cardboard in the spokes of your bicycle wheel to make it sound like a motorbike was a fun thing to do, and every sweet shop sold Spangles.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Oh sir, it's only wafer thin!

A couple of weeks ago I touched on the pleasures of food and drink, which when combined with my little rant about the excesses of the festive season brings me nicely to the subject of overindulgence.
This is the time of year when the whole country comes together in one massive effort to boost sales of Alka Seltzer into the stratosphere.
But although Christmas may be the season of mass liver destruction, it's not the only time people find it necessary to sleep on the pavement. For some, every weekend is one relentless cycle of drink-drink-vomit-drink-vomit-ambulance. Fortunately most very quickly make the link between excessive alcohol and feeling like crap and manage to get these tendencies under control.
There are a couple of people I know who may smile to themselves reading this as they're aware that my inspiration for todays ruminations will be partly a result of my Jack Daniels consumption last night. Indeed this morning my head feels a bit uncertain which way is up, but experience told me when I'd had enough and it was time to move on to the coffee. That experience has been a hard-earned thing and like most people I suffered a great deal in gaining it. Memories of being 17 and crawling up the stairs to the bathroom while trying unsuccessfully to stem the flow of mums homemade wine on its return journey will haunt me forever. The same goes for the time I woke up naked in the bath throwing up something red down the plughole. God knows how I made it home that night but I don't think I've drunk snakebite & black since. There was also the time I got wrecked on Pernod at a friend's 30th birthday. Again, not a drop of the offending liquid has passed my lips since that night.
Eventually you reach a point where you instinctively know that if you have just one more drink there will be serious repercussions and that's when you're able to enjoy a session with a clear conscience (if not a clear head).
Overindulgence in food is another area that some never get to grips with. I'm a firm believer in the old saying 'everything in moderation'. Why shouldn't you be able to eat the things you enjoy? As long as it's part of a balanced diet where's the problem? There are those who despite the amount of dietary information out there still believe that a balanced diet is a pork pie in each hand, and taking a walk round any town you get the feeling that the message is being lost on more and more people.
When I was a kid I lost count of the times I'd be told "Don't eat all those sweets at once, you'll make yourself sick". The natural thought of any kid of course is "Don't be silly, how could something so tasty make me........uh oh.......... that's not right....... can't be the sweets it must be those sprouts.......".
I obviously got a grip of that because despite the call of middle age spread I still sit in the middle of the healthy band of the BMI scale which I must admit feels good, and as long as I can maintain that healthy balance between vegetables and custard creams I hope I can keep it that way.
When ingesting something makes you feel good you're obviously going to want to do it again, and fighting that urge is the key to the whole problem. If Mr Creosote in Monty Python's "The Meaning Of Life" had figured that one out he wouldn't have fallen prey to the wafer thin mint and Little Britain wouldn't have had the inspiration for that obnoxious projectile-vomiting woman.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sheeple - people who blindly follow the crowd

Why do you celebrate Christmas? Well, it's what you do, isn't it? After all it's hard to be different, and at no other time of the year is it more apparent than now.
Everyone says things like "Are you ready for Christmas?", "Have you done your Christmas shopping?" or "Doing anything special for Christmas?", and frankly I'm sick of it. All of it. I don't do Christmas and I don't want it forced down my throat 24 hours a day, thank you very much.
I don't have a problem with the concept of Christmas - it's a religious festival and if it's part of your faith then there's no reason to not celebrate it in the manner that your religion suggests.
Unfortunately, what Christmas has become for 99 percent of the UK population is nothing more than an annual commercial festival of greed and gluttony, and for me that's just wrong. But everyone's so caught up in this period of rampant consumerism, they don't stop to think "What am I doing this for?"
Ask any kid what Christmas is about and the first word out of their mouth will be "Presents!".
Presents that will all too often be received by someone who says "Ooh thank you, it's lovely" while thinking "or at least it will be when I've returned it to the store and exchanged it for something I actually like".
As for all the bloody fairy lights and decorations..... The worst house I know of in the area is on a corner in Cottenham. Every year it gets worse. I know they have a collecting box for charity donations, but why not just add up the money spent on lights and electricity and just give that to charity and save the rest of us the eyesore. And there's one on the main road in my village that's in desperate need of a midnight visit with a pair of wire cutters.
Then there's the food situation. More food than everyone could possibly consume in a month is stockpiled for a two day binge before being thrown out because either it's gone manky or you've decided that you can never look at another box of candy orange and lemon slices without wanting to hurl.
And after the binge comes the inevitable and predictable new year resolutions, so it's off to Argos to exchange those unwanted gifts for an exercise bike that will be used intensively for three weeks, then gather dust for six months before being dispatched to the next car boot sale.
Then of course there's the new year sales. As if the retailers haven't drained enough of the life blood of the country with their incessant festive bullshit that started in September, they still feel the need to drag the gullible public back to the stores to slap down their already overheated credit cards on yet more crap they don't need on the basis that it's cheap.
After the event, when the last of the giant turkey has found its way into yet another curry that should have had a more deserving meat in it, and you've been to see the bank manager to discuss how the hell you're going to pay back the debts incurred by your irrational spending spree, you'll most likely be saying "Right that's it, I'm not doing it again next year!". But you will. You know you will, because you don't dare to be different from the crowd.

The image above says it all really. The point is that showing your family you love them is something you should do by your words and actions every day of the year.
There are alternatives to Christmas though. Simply not getting involved is actually very liberating and gives grumpy bastards like me the opportunity to tell people to shove their "Merry Christmas" up their arse.
You can always go all pagan of course, and if you want to celebrate something then the winter solstice is surely more sensible. After all, the start of the return to longer days is something we all yearn for at this time of year.
So on 21st of December we'll be having a good roast dinner, a slice of yule log cake, a small gift each and we'll give thanks to mother nature for the imminent return of days when you can drive home from work in the daylight and spend long evenings drinking wine in the garden and swatting wasps.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Life's little pleasures (sponsored by TVL)

If you're asked by someone what you consider to be life's greatest pleasures it's very easy to lose yourself in a fantasy world of hedonistic partying, piles of cash, or maybe throwing yourself out of a plane wearing a bat suit. I'm sure these things must be wonderful, but not necessarily an option for Joe Average.
The fact is that however mundane we feel life may be, it's full of little pleasures that, when you start to notice them, can be longer lasting and more satisfying than a dusk-to-dawn rave up.
The obvious thing that springs to mind is food and drink. We all eat and we all have foods that send us into mild raptures. These foods are often things that we know we really shouldn't indulge in too often lest we find ourselves on the wrong end of various "who ate all the pies?" jokes. Mmmm....... steak and kidney.......
Chocolate is a common downfall and I'm as guilty as the next chocoholic for destroying an entire 'family size' bar in one sitting. 'Bigger bar for sharing', proclaims the label. Yeah, right. The biggest misnomer in confectionery has to be 'funsize'. A funsize Mars bar is about a third of the size of a regular one. Where's the fun in that? A funsize Mars bar should be two foot long!
I also have a major weakness for cheesecake. Anytime, anywhere, if cheesecake gets wheeled out I'm there for a session. Same goes for lemon meringue pie. Have I had enough? If there's any left then the answer is no, I haven't. There's also the Custard Cream issue. Don't get me started....
It's not just sweet stuff that triggers that feel-good factor either. Roast duck with roast potatoes and a big pile of veg smothered in thick gravy - bliss. The wife's homemade lasagne - heaven. I recently made some red onion chutney. Oh my god.
And then we come to drink. Whether it's a double Americano at Costa, a big mug of Assam, or a nice bottle of Chablis, we can all find pleasure in these things. It's just a question of being in the moment and allowing yourself to become immersed in the experience. There have to be exceptions of course - I can't believe anyone would genuinely want to immerse themselves in the experience of a Big Mac because the only reason you'd eat one at all was because you were desperate and a take-away burger was slightly preferable to eating your own shoe, and even that justification doesn't stop you from feeling shameful and violated afterwards.
Look around and you can always find little things that you probably take for granted, but can appreciate for the pleasure they give if you give them a bit more thought.
I could bang on for ages about the freedom of riding a motorcycle, taking long walks in the countryside, sitting by the open door listening to a raging thunderstorm, and the constant hankering for a bacon sandwich, but everybody's ideas are different.
A couple of days ago I discovered a new little pleasure from a most unlikely source. A knock on the door heralded the arrival of an inspector from the television licensing authority. The conversation went something like this:

TVL: Mr Martin?
DM: Yes
TVL: Our records show that your television license has expired
DM: That's right, I cancelled it a while ago.
TVL: Do you have a television set?
DM: Yes
TVL: Then I'm going to have to sign you up for a new license..
DM: No you don't. We don't watch TV.
TVL: What?
DM: All the TVs are detuned, and there are no aerials.
TVL: Do you mind if I come in and have a look?
DM: Not at all. Of course I know I don't have to let you in....
TVL: That's true
DM: ....but I've got nothing to hide so help yourself. There. No aerial connected, we use it to watch DVDs and Blurays, and we stream content from Lovefilm which we pay a monthly fee for.
TVL: Oh.... Oh, alright then, I'll make a note on your records then to say you don't need a license. Sorry to trouble you.
DM: No problem, goodbye.

Seeing his smug face fall and him sloping off with his tail between his legs was absolutely priceless, and gave me yet another thing to add to my list of life's little pleasures.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Motorcycling - the cardigan years beckon

I've been riding motorcycles since I was eighteen and I see bikes as a part of who I am. They're the one part of my single life that has remained consistent through everything else that has happened, Yet my motorcycling life seems to have acquired a middle age of its own.
From the early days of riding everything as hard and fast as possible with little sense of my own mortality, through serious machinery that demanded serious respect if you wanted to be alive at the end of the ride, to now when I'm about to start sliding down the other side of the power curve towards the inevitability of a 250 or 125, It's proving to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
The single lad's era was a blur of mental two-stroke hooligan tools that were ridden not as transport but as an excuse to push the limits of physics, and to chase the next adrenaline fix.
With experience and time came the chance to graduate to big superbikes - horizon-seeking missiles that because of the accessibility of their outrageous performance tempt you into ridiculous situations. The ability to out accelerate any car on the road, powersliding out of corners, and all sorts of bad behaviour became the norm. I hit 170mph on the A11 between Newmarket and Barton Mills before chickening out despite the bike still pulling like a train, I was going everywhere between 100 and 140mph, even lane-splitting at 120mph. These things became so frequent that eventually I'd arrive at my destination thinking "How the hell am I still alive? That was crazy!"
So the superbike era had to end before I did.
A brief period of downsizing was followed by a three year break with no bike before the bug struck again. You can't help it, it becomes hard-wired into your DNA.
An unfaired 1200cc muscle bike was chosen with the theory being that top speed would be limited by comfort, which ended up being sort of true, but has also resulted in surprisingly strong neck and shoulder muscles.
Now comes the hard part. The body is writing letters of complaint to the brain telling it to stop being such a damn fool. Things along the lines of "you can't expect this little-bloke body to deal with the physical stress of riding something like this several times a week, get a grip!".
The brain listens to these comments and before I know what's going on the bike manufacturers websites are being scoured for bikes that weigh half as much and don't have the power to rip ones arms from ones torso.
There may be something to this. After all, who genuinely needs a tyre-shredding powerhouse when it only goes between home and work? There's certainly an appeal to the idea of something that weighs about the same as a tin of beans, does 100 miles per gallon and only needs new tyres when they're got hard and perished.
So there we have it. Current thinking says a brand new little bike in the spring is the sensible option. Perhaps then I'll be able to exercise the same restraint and sensible driving mode that I apply to driving the car, because when the performance potential isn't there it's far easier to relax and go with the flow.

Apologies for the lack of  funny bits this week, but I'm running short of inspiration at the moment. I ought to to make notes during the week when ideas occur to me and then I might have enough material without resorting to inane blathering.........

Monday, 19 November 2012

Happy music - absent presumed missing

Altered Images said "I could be happy", and it did seem that they were. Captain Sensible provided us with 'happy talk' whether we liked it or not, and wherever you looked in the popular music scene at that time you were never very far from something happy and uplifting.
Once pop music put away its cardigan and slippers with the advent of rock & roll, we began a journey of wildly varying trends. Some stayed put, some came and went in a flash, but good humoured entertainment was always a common factor. Music-wise the 60's must have been a terrific era to be around in. It's hard to imagine any of today's pop still being listened to in over 50 years time.
The 70's gave us disco and glam rock which were about having a good time.
The 80's brought with it some of my favourite music, which is probably because that's what I was listening to in my teenage years. From the insanity of Madness, the uproar caused by 'Relax', and the 'is it a man or a woman?' questions surrounding Culture Club, to the frenzy of The Beastie Boys and the inane bounciness of countless artists from the Stock Aitken & Waterman stable. Whenever you turned the radio on in the 80's there was something that made the world seem a better place to be.
At the start of the 90's we were caught in a flood of euro-style techno and dance tunes that got lodged in your brain for better or worse. And of course there was the rave scene with its bizarre noises that you had to be tripping to understand, but people on E generally just want to be your friend, which is just another example of music bringing people together.
So at what point did it all go wrong?
There's debate over whether the charts are relevant any more, and if what I'm hearing these days on the radio is any indication of current tastes and trends then I really hope not.
It seems that to feature on a 'Now that's what I call music' album now, the first consideration needs to be "Has anyone over 18 actually heard of the artist?" If the answer is "no" then it can go on the album.
The second qualification is that the band's name should not conform to any known language. Just empty a bag of Scrabble letters on the floor and use what comes out while making sure that a random pattern of upper and lower case characters is observed.
I therefore predict that the first track on the next 'Now' album will be something like 'Meth Fuelled Gangbang' by 'G6rw7qa9 (ft. Smallnob)'.
Which brings us to the content of current pop music. If it's not about shagging, it's some angry ho-pimpin' gangsta trying to fit more expletives within his allotted 3 and a half minutes than in an entire Quentin Tarantino movie.
Where's the fun? Where has happy gone?
I know I'm not alone in feeling this way, and I also know that it's why I so rarely find anything new worth listening to.
It's why all my favourite music can usually be found in the special offer bins in the record shops.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Filling the void

I've reached that point in my life when I need a hobby. There - I've admitted it.
I've gone through life so far with a number of things that I've spent vast amounts of time on including video games, reading, motorcycles, photography, drinking beer, and fantasies of long-haired brunettes with big brown eyes and an insatiable sexual appetite. Not all of these could really be called a hobby, just things I can do for a while before moving on to something else, then coming back a few weeks later to do a bit more. I have this idea that a true hobby is something that becomes all-consuming. Something that dominates your entire life - or at least the bits not spent sleeping or being abusive to telesales people.
A dedicated hobbyist is often incredibly obsessive and it appears to be more noticeable with certain hobbies.
Take fishing for example. Guys who are prepared to sit for hours on end staring at a day-glo fishing float in the hope that they catch the legendary carp that everyone in the club insists exists in the lake.
Not for me. If I were to catch a decent size fish I'd cook it and eat it, which seems to be an unpopular approach to the average fishist who'd rather keep catching fish and throwing them back until the poor buggers are swimming around with a mouth like a well-used teabag.
The obvious hobby for blokes would appear to be football, which when combined with large quantities of lager gives loud overweight f***wits the legendary talent to do a better job than the superfit overpaid hair product adverts slugging it out in the cup final. Well I'm sorry, but I've seen what football does to blokes as a hobby and it always involves pissing your wages up the wall in the pub every night, driving a Seat Ibiza with your team's name plastered on the back window, and being unable to hold a conversation without the words "that ref is a wanker" making an entrance. Besides, the idea of watching 22 men kicking a bag of air around for 90 minutes while two teams of professional hecklers shout at each other doesn't do a thing for me.
So what about golf then? Winston Churchill famously said that golf was the best way to spoil a good walk. Personally, I love a good walk and I don't like it spoiled by dog logs, let alone anything that involves wearing Rupert Bear trousers and chunky knitwear.
I've thought about building a model railway like I had when I was a kid, only far more detailed like the ones you can see at exhibitions. The trouble is, I can't shake the feeling that I would end up being that bloke who sidles up to you at the bar looking like Wallace out of 'Wallace & Gromit' and tries to start a conversation with the dreaded "Did you know....". Whilst middle age is upon me and I've ordered my pipe and slippers off Amazon, I'm still not sure if I'm quite ready to be that man.
I love photography and chasing after that perfect shot is a never-ending quest. But joining a club would be a bad move for me, because since the 'digital revolution' they're filled with people who don't think it counts as photography unless you've spent a fortnight Photoshopping your image so that it looks nothing like the thing you took the picture of in the first place.
Beer making is a traditional bloke hobby and I'm sure I'd enjoy it. Unfortunately if there's alcohol in the house I feel obliged to drink it, and if it was available on demand in barrel-sized quantities it wouldn't be long before terminal liver failure set in.
No. As someone who's been taking things apart and putting them back together again (in working order) since I was old enough to know one end of a screwdriver from the other it has to be a hobby involving playing with mechanical stuff.
I recently bought a new shed, which is an essential item for any bloke. It was rather expensive and large enough for me to get a motorcycle in and have plenty of room to work around it plus space for a workbench and all my tools. Electrics all hooked up, lighting and radio installed, but six months down the line no project bike has appeared yet. Ideally I want to get hold of a 50cc bike to do up for my son who'll be 16 in less than eighteen months and is desperate for a motorbike. This would be a terrific hobby for me, and when it's finished I could do up a 125cc bike for him for when he turns 17. By the time I've done that I can move on to a classic british bike and finally I will actually be Mr Did-you-know, complete with a model railway hobby, twigs in my beard, and everyone avoiding me at the bar.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The agony of choice

It's probably fair to say that we have more choice today than ever before. We can choose what school to send our kids to, and we can choose to send them there on the bus or drive them there in a vehicle that we chose from a huge array of possibilities.
Go into any supermarket and it's questionable whether choice is your friend or your enemy. If you want to buy a tin of beans - not something you'd expect to break into a sweat over - you're faced with a dazzling collage of potential purchases. Since when did the humble baked bean require this level of consideration? Do you buy one of the premium brands, the store's own brand, the cheap ones, the ones in the tin with the coolest design on, the ones on special offer, or the ones that you had last time and they were fine so why not get them again? Decision made on the beans, but there's still sausages on the list which brings us yet another dilemma. By the time you're halfway round the shop you're exhausted, but there's still laundry detergent to get. As you turn into the laundry aisle you suddenly lose the will to live. Confronted with an unending wall of powders, liquids and tablets, all in packaging that promises to revolutionize your life at a temperature that's so eco-friendly you'll be farting butterflies after washing your pants, you finally abandon your overflowing trolley and run screaming for the exit.
Actually it's not like that for me. Most of the time the shopping magically appears in the fridge and cupboards. The grocery fairies are very efficient here.
On the rare occasions I do have to do the grocery shopping myself, it's a military operation. Speed and precision is where it's at. Armed with a comprehensive list of every item needed and a detailed mental map of the store layout I can get everything required in record time and out of satans playground before being sucked into the pit of despair and 3 for 2 offers.
Obviously your gameplan has to be a little flexible. You may have to employ special tactics to avoid the low-rent track-suited mother with the screaming kid, and the bunch of old duffers who're holding the colostomy enthusiast's AGM in the bread aisle, but unless there's a buy-one-get-one-free on 'Old Speckled Hen' I'm 100 percent focused.
When it comes to choice turning from benefit to total mindf*** though, nobody can beat Currys. If you go there to buy a new TV you may have already decided that you want (for sake of argument) a 42 inch full-HD LED set with a glossy screen and a Sony badge on the front, but as soon as you walk into the store all your firm ideas disappear as your eyes glaze over and you start drooling on your shoes. This technological Aladdins Cave will extract your common sense, your sanity and your wallet quicker than anything else unless you're phenomenally strong-willed.
Or it would if you could get assistance. All the sharply pressed assistants with shiny name badges appear from nowhere like the shopkeeper in 'Mr Benn', with their standard "Can I help you sir?".
Naturally your first reply is "No - now f*** off and stop hassling me before I rip off your head and p*** down you neck" which gets somehow watered down (probably by some sort of committee) as it travels from your brain to your mouth where it comes out as "I'm fine for now, thanks".
Three hours later when you've narrowed your choice down to just a couple of likely candidates, you decide you could do with some help. But Mr. Shinybadge and all his friends have completely vanished for an extended tea break so you give up, defeated, and go home empty handed.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

BS free TV

It's now been about six months since we cancelled our TV license. We notified TVL that we no longer required a license, removed the aerials and detuned the TV sets. The only things I thought I might miss were Top Gear and MotoGP, but Top Gear has so lost the plot over the last few years that it hasn't been a loss at all, and the MotoGP is better on iPlayer anyway because you can skip straight to the start of the race and you can also watch the 125 race which is often more exciting.

Now in case anyone reading this thinks I'm doing something illegal, I should point out that in the UK the law requires you to purchase a TV license to watch television programmes as they're broadcast. You do NOT need a TV license if you use your TV to watch DVDs or play video games. You also do not need one to watch streamed online content provided it is not being broadcast on TV at the same time, so services like BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Lovefilm etc do not need a license.

And why should I want one anyway? TV is bollocks. Plain and simple. I don't want a world of shouting manic depressive Londoners, Big Brother series 342, Help I used to be a celebrity give me a job, and 1001 shows about doing up houses, shoved down my throat 24/7. And don't even get me started on all the adverts. The BBC shows ads too, but they just advertise themselves. At great length.
Another thing that gets to me is all the padding. Many shows (Fifth Gear is a prime example) spend so much time telling you what's going to happen later and what they showed before the break that you just stop caring and turn it off. If they left out the ads and the padding, the one hour programme would be condensed to about 15-20 minutes.And I'm told that the ratio of content to commercials is far worse in the US. Poor buggers.

The crazy thing is, that thanks to a subscription to Lovefilm, I now watch more TV shows than ever before. And the beauty is that we can watch what we want when we want and there's no adverts.
So along with DVDs and Blurays, we can sit back in the evening with Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Only Fools & Horses, and a seemingly endless supply of other shows and films.
So why not take control of your viewing? Cut out the bullshit and stop being held to ransom by TVL for a service charge that belongs in the history books. Yes, Lovefilm has a monthly cost but at least it doesn't go towards the sickening salaries paid to people like Jonathan Ross.

Chair testing experience

Next week I have to attend a meeting to discuss the future of work experience placements in our workplace. I hope there's plenty of fresh coffee and plate of custard creams to keep me awake.
It needs sorting out though, because the overall standard of kids we get for work experience is enough to make a grown man weep. If these kids are the future of our country then we're f***ed.

This year we had three. The first was totally misplaced - no practical capability whatsoever and clearly didn't really want to be there. He lasted about three days before being shoved out the door.
The second was a complete moron who thought he knew it all but repeatedly made it obvious he knew nothing - but only when  he could be bothered to turn up at all. He also had an extreme case of 'It's not my fault' syndrome. Naturally he didn't see out the week.
The third didn't turn up at all, and I then had an email half way through the week saying he'd written down the date wrong and could he please come in another week? Tough shit matey. Try Burger King instead.

It must be said though, that we've had the odd one who's been like a diamond in a pile of broken glass. Last year we actually had two of them who were fantastic. They were polite, interested, enthusiastic, and they learned quickly. And a few years ago there was the granddaughter of one of our academics who upon realising her capabilities working with her hands, completely changed her ideas about what she wanted to do with her life.

Unfortunately the only career most of them seem to have in mind for the future is chair testing. I firmly believe that most teens have a chair-seeking radar built into their arses. When a work experience kid walks in the door on their first day and plonks himself on the nearest chair we know we've got our work cut out. It means a week of attitude adjustment, communication therapy, and surgical iPod removal. But we're engineers, not their parents, social workers, or psychiatrists, so why the hell do we bother?
The meeting is likely to conclude that all applicants for work experience will have to be interviewed in advance to see if they are the right material, because letters of application are full of lies. This starts to sound like a lot of aggro, and given that some of the schools appear to be phasing out work experience altogether some may say just call it quits and stop taking them altogether.
The point is that although we go through so much crap with the majority, the occasional one that does well restores a little faith. Faith that perhaps we're not doomed after all. Faith that somewhere out there is the next generation of people who can actually DO something.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Error 404 - plot not found

"You're only as old as you feel", they say. If that's true I guess I must be about seventy. OK, chronologically I'm 41, but I feel old.
When I sit down in a comfy chair an involuntary "ahh" escapes. Standing up again is accompanied by an "ooh!". Getting out of bed in the morning is a symphony of grunts, groans and assorted clicking and cracking noises from various joints. If they were to sample me in the morning and overlay a drum 'n' bass loop they'd have an instant number one hit.
The seemingly endless supply of energy I enjoyed in my youth is a distant memory.
Ten years ago, running up three flights of stairs at work would hardly be noticed. Now I have to sit down to recover.
My mind feels like a clock spring that's unwinding, losing tension, slowing down. If you could take a Pentium4 processor out of a computer and replace it with a Pentium2, that's pretty much where I feel I'm at. Grumpiness and the amount of mistakes I make are increasing and some days I really believe I'm losing the plot. Sometimes in stressful situations my thought/speech interface completely crashes.
I look at my son now and realise how far I've fallen. Alright, so his bedroom smells like a badger's armpit in the morning but that's a standard teenage boy thing, like the requirement for military grade deodorant and excessive tissue consumption. When he falls down he seems to bounce right back up (albeit with a carefully measured amount of drama), and his mind appears to be pin-sharp provided that the subject material is of interest to him. He also has such a relaxed way with the girls that he's never going to have a problem in that department, whereas at that age I was a total goofball who thought girls were some kind of alien species.
In many ways I see my son as my 'Ghost of Christmas past', and I see my father as my "Ghost of Christmas future".
Now that really is a worrying thought......

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Make muddy footprints, not stress.

A few years ago, during one of our many holidays in North Yorkshire, we stayed in a log cabin that was perched on the top of a hill looking down into a valley with the North York Moors Railway running along the bottom. It was surrounded by trees, and situated a couple of hundred yards from the farmhouse that belonged to the cabin owners. When there you really got a sense of relaxation; like the rest of the world had disappeared. After a day exploring the moors we'd sit out on the veranda until late with a nice bottle of Rioja, watching the bats flitting around. Just sitting, chatting about nothing important and being at peace with the surroundings. Our own personal heaven.
I look around now and wonder how many people take time to appreciate the world around them. The natural world that is, not the shiny man-made Gucci and Ferrari one. Whether you're religious or not, whether you believe in creation, evolution, or something else, the planet we populate truly is a wonderful place that gets spoiled by only one thing. Man.
There are those who always strive towards the next 'thing' or constantly seek improvement, whether that be personal or material and it remains a mystery to me what drives these people.

Take a man that has a huge five bedroom detached house in a 'desirable' postcode with his-and-hers Mercedes on the drive, a pool, 2.4 children and a designer labradoodle called Fifi. To provide all this though, this man has to leave the house at 6AM, sit (if he's lucky) on a packed train to London to do some high-powered-yet-ultimately-meaningless job, and returning home so late that all he has time for is to eat his dinner, say goodnight to the 2.4 children, and flop on the sofa completely shattered with a large glass of scotch. He's too tired for sex, but that's OK because the wife spent the morning shagging the gardener. He's heading for an early grave in order to provide a life that he never sees.Why?

Someone will say "I have to do this job because I need to make the payments on my new car."
I'll ask "What made you get the new car?", to which the reply is "I need it to get to work."
Excuse me? You're working to pay for a car that you need to get to work so you can pay for a car that you need......... oh for heaven's sake.... WAKE UP!

I honestly feel that there are so many people out there who really need to take a moment to step back and truly examine their lives. Taking a long walk in the countryside will always be infinitely more relaxing and uplifting than traipsing round some glitzy shopping precinct in search of the latest iWant, even if you do get wet and occasionally have to scrape dog shit off your shoe. Spending time with your kids and knowing them as people is more important than meeting with the MD to discuss future product placement in the 20-40 year-olds-with-too-much-money-and-not-enough-brain sector.
The world is (mostly) a wonderful place with so much to enjoy. But people need to make time to enjoy it, otherwise why exist at all?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Surprise, surprise, the movies get it wrong again...

How many times have you watched a film and thought 'Yeah right, like THAT would really happen'?
Quite often frankly. Personally I can't watch any film with a plane in it without at some point saying something like 'That's in the wrong place', 'That's a flap, not an aileron' or 'There's no access to the undercarriage from the cargo bay'. And let's face it, if sex was like it is in the movies none of us would bother to leave the house. Ever.
I'm wondering if they get it wrong with something else too. Any post-apocalyptic film I can think of is a vision of the world in the aftermath of some great disaster - nuclear war, virus outbreak, global flooding etc.
What if our apocalypse was to be somewhat different?
We know what happens to people when there's even the suggestion of a strike at a petrol refinery, so how will society react when the oil finally runs out? Or when the electricity infrastructure collapses?
The majority of people (in the developed world at least) simply couldn't cope without electricity. I know we can have generators or solar panels to deal with this but how many people are capable of rigging up such a system?
But this pales into insignificance compared with the fallout from oil shortages. As individuals most people are rational creatures but as a collective they're panicky idiots. Not necessarily without cause though. No oil, no fuel, no transport, no food in the shops, no work being done because most people don't live within walking distance of work, everything collapses. Fights and killings will ensue over whatever supplies are around and before you know it it's Mad Max time. Only without the V8s.
A pretty grim picture really, and a wholly depressing subject to think about.
But of course every cloud has a silver lining, because in post-apocalyptic England at least I won't have to get up at 6:15 every weekday morning and go to work.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A strategy to survive life

The wife has come to the conclusion that there are three possible ways to deal with life outside the Zen temple of tranquility that is home:
1. Become an asshole like the rest of them,
2. Develop an immunity to it all and do your own thing whilst carefully avoiding conflict, or
3. Become a total recluse avoiding all possible contact with the outside world.

OK, last one first. Lets face it, as tempting as it may sometimes seem, being a hermit doesn't pay the bills. I have to go to work to earn the money to live and support my family, therefore dealing with the world is unfortunately a necessary evil.

Being an asshole like so many out there just goes against my very nature. I couldn't do it. If I treated people badly I'd torture myself with guilt. Besides if karma really exists, then I hope that eventually the world's assholes will get their comeuppance.

Which leaves developing an immunity to it all. So how can I do that? It sounds a bit far-fetched to me, but if I'm honest I'd have to say it's the most likely route.

First let's clarify the problem.
There is a growing number of people who are clearly out for themselves. They care only about what they want, and they're determined to achieve it no matter how many people they dump on or inconvenience or abuse along the way. On the road they're the Audi driving tailgating wankers who'll force you off the road if it means gaining 20 feet or half a second of roadspace. In a shop they'll push to the front in the mistaken belief they're more important than anyone else. On the street they're so wrapped up with their iphone that everyone has to get out of THEIR way or risk being trampled.These people are so vain and plastic, so desperate to conform to some bullshit ideal that any concept of having consideration of anyone but themselves is completely alien to them.

So how to deal with it? Well, clearly the gene pool is in need of a bit of a clean but that's hardly a realistic or morally ethical proposition. This leaves a personal change in mindset that enables you to allow other peoples negative behaviour to wash over you like water off a ducks back. I suppose this would require slipping into some sort of meditative state whenever you open the front door and step out into the world - one which still allows you full mental function and clarity to carry out tasks such as driving yet gives you a feeling of disconnection; mental armour if you like. A determination that no matter how objectionable or irrational another persons behaviour is, it bounces off you like bullets bounce off Superman.
Presumably practice is the only way to be able to do this effectively, so my task in the coming weeks, months, years, is to work on my mental armour until I can block out negative outside distractions, focus on an inner calm, and maybe I'll be better able to cope with the world around me instead of wanting to run away screaming.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Are you game?

I sometimes feel it would be nice to go back to the days when gaming involved the family sitting round the table enjoying some harmless entertainment with a few plastic pieces, a pair of dice and a printed board.
Unfortunately the reality was that said plastic pieces usually ended up on the floor courtesy of a bad loser, followed by a little light door slamming and two days of sulking.
And is it really any more mean spirited to take a Russian invader's head apart from long range with a .50 calibre rifle than to enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction gained by bankrupting your friend when they've landed on your hotel on Mayfair for the third time in a row?
Cheats are sometimes available to make a modern game easier to win, but such behaviour would never have been tolerated thirty years ago - the equivalent of putting two counters in at once on Connect 4. That said, however, did anyone ever really play Mousetrap properly? As I recall, Mousetrap involved opening the box, setting up the marble run to play with for five minutes and packing it away again without bothering about such trivial details as rules.
Video games have given us a wonderful opportunity to enjoy all the activities our concience and moral upbringing or just our physical ineptness and fear deny us the ability to carry out in real life. Whether it be driving the Nurburgring in a 1000bhp Skyline, pulling off a superman seatgrab on a motocross bike, laying waste to a bunch of Germans with heavy artillery, or being a ho-pimpin' gangsta politely requesting respect with a baseball bat.
The downside is that sometimes, by comparison, reality can really suck. So you end up with the comedown - a feeling not dissimilar to that experienced after a major sugar bender and characterised by unnecessary grumpiness - which is when you wonder if maybe Milton Bradley may have got it right after all.