Sunday, 29 September 2013

Far from the maddening crowd

In an attempt to ward off boredom, disillusionment and terminal snack-induced fatness, we've taken to spending a portion of our Saturdays getting out into the big wide world and actually doing something. Walking has always been something we both enjoy, so a concerted effort has been made to ensure that a regular long walk out somewhere is undertaken in the hope that amongst other things, being out in the middle of nowhere will be the perfect stress reliever - especially if there happens to be a pub somewhere along the route.
Any length of time spent in a crowded city is hell on earth for me, but stick me in the middle of the countryside with an Ordnance Survey map and I'm in my element, with all the worries and frustrations of everyday life being blown away on the breeze along with assorted seeds and the occasional whiff of cow shit.
Yesterday's little expedition saw us doing a pleasant five mile circuit from Over to Swavesey and back, following various public footpaths that took us by the river near Overcote, through fields, along tracks, past the door of The White Horse in Swavesey (well, not exactly past, there may have been a brief stop involving a pint of Guinness and a bag of crisps), and back to Over alongside the extensive fruit orchards.
Returning home we were able to flop down with a quick and easy dinner in front of 'The Cider House Rules' without feeling in the least bit guilty that we really ought to be doing something more worthwhile.

Practically everyone you talk to these days seems to have a tale to tell about how hectic their life is; how they were up at the crack of dawn and didn't sit down until it was almost time for bed, and although some of these stories may be true, I suspect that the majority are somewhat embellished to make an ordinary day sound exciting, full of challenges and "aren't I amazing that I manage to cope with it all?". After all, there's a part of modern society that firmly believes that if you're not stressing yourself out to the point of cardiac arrest, you're not 'achieving' and therefore a social failure who deserves to be paraded through the streets being jeered and pelted with rotten tomatoes.
But when you look at the number of people in high powered jobs with genuinely stressful lives that either jack it all in to stack shelves in a supermarket or simply succumb to heart failure several years before being due for the gold carriage clock, you can see that quite frankly it's all a load of bollocks.
We're not built for stress, and those who think they are usually end up crashing spectacularly by the time middle age rears its ugly head. Western life has become so wrapped up in 'progress', 'achievement' and 'blue sky thinking outside the box', that people have lost the ability to just simply be. To take time over things and enjoy the little things in life. I know I've banged on about this before, but I believe fervently that society needs to slow down, enjoy the world around us without feeling the need to constantly change it, and take some time out once in a while.
Yesterday's walk involved eating some delicious blackberries picked off the bushes we found near the river, the boy spotted a snake, we wondered at the amount of fruit that was being wasted in the orchards, found a giant puffball mushroom, had a nice beer and saw the biggest feckin' bull I've ever seen with enormous horns that looked so grumpy you'd think he'd just had a personal visit from Mc Donald's chief buyer.
I'll happily take all that in place of a day wandering around those temples of commercial propaganda that are our towns and cities, and I invite you to do the same.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sandra Bullock isn't on Twitter

About a year ago I investigated Twitter. Everyone was saying how it's more popular than Facebook and not so full of crap, so I felt obliged to find out what all this Tweeting stuff was about and why it made inexplicable use of all those symbols on the keyboard that usually get ignored.
The site said I needed an account before I could gain access, which seemed fair enough because, let's face it, there doesn't seem to be a club in the land that doesn't have reams of red tape for a person to wade through before they'll let them through the door, just so they've covered their arse against any possible litigation arising from said newbie tripping over the 'Welcome' mat and damaging their pride.
Account created, I embarked upon what I hoped would be a voyage of discovery - a journey through the thoughts and ramblings of the rich and famous, and maybe even a few people I might know.
These hopes were quickly dashed when I found myself in a world of hashtags and assorted squiggles interspersed with bizarre encrypted comments that bore more likeness to the unintelligible texts of a three-thumbed teenager than any genuine attempt at useful communication.
Maybe I was missing something, but no matter how much I searched I couldn't find anything that made me feel like I had a reason to stay, and despite repeated attempts to make something of it over the course of a couple of weeks, I eventually came to the conclusion that it had nothing to offer me and I deleted my account.

Fast forward to today, and I'm thinking about this matter again - no idea why really, but it's probably just a symptom of the boredom generated by waiting in the house for a courier to turn up.
I know some people who use Twitter in preference to Facebook, so I tied Google to a chair and inflicted the Spanish Inquisition upon it (it didn't expect that!), bombarding it with the word 'twitter' followed by various names of those I either know or have an interest in, and I found I was able to peruse posts without having to sign up again. Some were actually entertaining, like James May and Jeremy Clarkson, while others were somewhat less inspiring.
I also looked up a number of well known females in the hope that I might gain some insight into what makes them tick rather than just that they look hot, but many weren't on there including Sandra Bullock (who I suspect would actually be a really good laugh if one got to spend some time with her in the pub) and Winona Ryder. Keira Knightley clearly got bored of Twitter a long time ago, but Emma Watson seems a little more keen and Nigella appears to be a rampant user.
One clear fact that emerged is that no matter how much you've seen someone on the telly, their lives aren't really that much different from anyone else's apart from doing a job that lots of other people see. Even Olivia Wilde has to pop to the shop for some eggs.

So why do people share all these little titbits of their life?
Different people doubtless have different reasons for doing so, but I think I've finally come up with something that might make me rethink the usefulness of this trend.
Now I'm far from being some kind of social butterfly, but on the odd occasion that I meet up with someone that I haven't seen for a while I always think it'll be nice to have a good old chat and catch up with everything that's been going on since I last saw them.
But when we do meet up and I'm presented with the inevitable question "What have you been up to lately then?", my default answer is almost guaranteed to be "Not much". Now my life isn't really very interesting and little happens beyond the endless circle of 'work - eat - sleep', but there are always a few little nuggets worthy of a couple of minutes of conversation. However, at the point that I'm asked what I've been up to recently, all these things vanish into a grey mental fog and I'm left with little in the conversational arsenal beyond the same old "Seen any good movies lately" stuff that generally serves the purpose of a filler between the bits of proper conversation.
I don't really have a life totally devoid of anything of interest, I just have a very bad memory.
Twitter on the other hand enables a person to jot down life's little events and share them with others so that when you're faced with the "What have you been up to?" question you can just whip out your smartphone, hand it to the person asking the question and say "Here you are, read that lot while I get the drinks in".

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Childhood memories? Forget it.

When the boy was doing his geography homework about coastal erosion and deposition the other day, I pointed out that we'd visited Orford Ness which is a great example of this subject.  Previously used as a military test site for bombs and over-the-horizon radar, this spit of land on the east coast is now a nature conservation area with an interesting history and accessed by a small ferry. There's also a nice pub called 'The Jolly Sailor' in the village of Orford where we had a really good lunch.
This was only five years ago and yet he remembers nothing of that day, which made me realise that this is not the first time we've mentioned places we've been and things we've done that he has no memory of, which leaves me with one big question. Why the hell did we bother?
Obviously part of the reason was to alleviate the feelings of impending insanity that seem to go hand in hand with having a child, and one always feels that by having all these trips out and experiences, that you're shaping your child's knowledge and perception of the world with the aim of creating a well-rounded individual who is able to enjoy the many and varied aspects of life. Well, that's the theory anyway...

Looking back at my own childhood, I seem to have very few memories of outings and big experiences with my parents that have stayed with me.
The few I have retained include being mentally scarred by repeated visits to Linton Zoo so that now I  just can't bring myself to visit any sort of zoo. If I never see another bloody llama as long as I live I'll be happy. The times the boy has been taken to such places was with his mum - I stayed out of it.
As a child, money was tight which limited my parent's ability to do very much, but it's only when you're very young that you can cope with camping for a week at Landbeach Marina Park (now gone and replaced with a commercial business estate) that was actually only about ten miles away from home. This regular 'adventure' was occasionally supplemented by a number of visits to the same caravan site at Kessingland, which holds vivid memories of a video game arcade, a very cold pool and Blakes 7 on the telly. Scarily, I've just looked on Google Earth and the place is still there.

Holidays aside, I remember countless hours spent just riding my bike around the village, and seeing how fast I could go down the steep hills. I remember scavenging large empty cardboard boxes from the skips in the industrial estate to use as a sledge to slide down the banks of the empty reservoir during the summer.
I remember the time spent walking the dog, numerous aspects of school life, Trumpton, really embarrassing home haircuts that resembled an open-face crash helmet, proper snow in the winter, half penny coins, a can of Coke costing 15p, and watching the original Star Wars film at the cinema.
When my son is older, I wonder how much of the holidays and days out to various events and activities he will remember, and if all of his childhood memories will revolve around endless hours playing video games and listening to Eminem.
Perhaps my lack of memories of parent-centred activities is down to there being little to remember. As I recall, every evening consisted of mum clicking away with her knitting in front of the TV (for some reason it always seemed to be Last Of The Summer Wine or Antiques Roadshow), while dad fell asleep (though he always insisted he was just resting his eyes) in the corner with his newspaper, and the dog laying by his feet farting.
For a few years my parents were self-employed doing gardening, decorating etc, and at that time I'd usually accompany them and help out during the school holidays. It wasn't all that bad really, and I think that doing these activities helped give me my attitude for just getting on with things and getting the job done.
Simply being around them and taking part in everyday activities made me capable of washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, mowing, washing up, putting up shelves, wiring a plug, and all the other basics in life that modern kids seem to be so reluctant to get involved with when there's Facebook chat that so desperately needs to be dealt with.
These are the sort of memories that have stuck, and I don't believe that being taken to Disneyland would have done anything to improve my life.
So the message here is simple. Forget the exotic family holidays spent swimming with dolphins because when the kids are older they won't remember anything about it, let alone care that you saw fit to spend five grand on it. Just drag your spawn away from the TV and get them helping to make dinner and do the laundry, because at least they might get some useful life skills out of it. Just make sure they're not plugged in to their iPod while they're drying up because they won't be able hear just how loud they're crashing the plates together.

Helmet hair. Not a good look. Not even in the 1970's.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Part-time pleb

There comes a point every so often when you really can't be arsed. With anything.
You're tired, it's been a long week at work, you've had enough of dealing with other people's crap and all you want to do is sit down and switch off.
This is the time when I end up letting go completely and magically transform into a creature that I usually hold in contempt. A pleb.
Preparation is essential. Most of the time you can feel the wave of plebness approaching so you have enough time to get together all the essential ingredients for a session of uninterrupted plebeianism.
Unless you partake of this activity on a regular basis, and therefore may already be equipped for the event, you'll need to take a trip to the shops. The local One-Stop is usually sufficient to provide the necessary items, but you'll find that somewhere bigger like Tesco will allow your inner pleb to really run riot.
The necessary ingredients for a successful plebathon include (but are not restricted to) crisps, chocolate, pizza, sweets, biscuits and most importantly - alcohol.
Now, the choice of alcohol is entirely up to the individual, but however much you may feel that irresistable gravitational pull towards the Chablis, for a truly authentic pleb experience there really is no other choice than lager. The true pleb connoisseur will immediately reach for the cheapest piss-water available, but nobody will think less of you if you were to chose a lager that doesn't make you feel entirely violated, like San Miguel or Sapporo. Even the American beers like Bud or Miller are infinitely preferable to the revolting offerings from Carlsberg or Fosters.
Next on the list is dinner. This is the night to forget about baked trout with dauphinoise potatotoes and fresh asparagus, and focus on more low-brow fayre. The frozen section of the shop will be jam-packed with all sorts of offerings including pizza, chips and burgers, and if you're feeling really daring there's always the option of a takeaway like a doner kebab (fully loaded of course), KFC family bucket (per person), Chinese, or even traditional fish & chips - assuming you can find a chip shop where the fish doesn't taste like eating a piece of battered lard.
After dinner, you'll need snacks. It doesn't matter how full you may be after such a classy dinner (although if you did have Chinese, you'll be hungry again an hour later anyway), it is important to ensure that there are enough snacks to keep you masticating until bedtime.
Finally there's the question of how you can occupy yourself while eating and drinking yourself into a coma, and the clear winner in this department is without doubt watching the television.
It doesn't matter what you choose to curl up in front of as long as you turn it up loud enough to hear it above your internal chewing and crunching noises, and there's nothing wrong in picking out a favourite film or the new DVD you picked up out of the £2.99 section whilst on the snack-run.
If you're reaching for true pleb authenticity however, it's important to ensure that you watch TV programmes that require little or no neurological activity. The TV channels are rife with all sorts of offerings like X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, celebrity this, that, or the other, Britain's Got Fuck All Talent, or any manner of cheap old shite with Simon Cowell in. In fact when mixed in with endless mind-numbing adverts, this is exactly why I took down the aerial and cancelled my TV license, so you have my deepest sympathy if you're unable to fulfill this part of your pleb-fest and decide to watch The Matrix trilogy again instead.

So now you're set.
The beer is chilling in the fridge, the Yorkie bars and Pringles are on standby, you've got Netflix cued up to start 'I Am Legend', and the chicken vindaloo with pilau rice and peshwari nan is about to be delivered, leaving just one more important step. The elasticated waist trousers. Probably the most important item for any proper slob-out has to be a pair of baggy tracksuit bottoms that can comfortably accommodate your expanding belly as the session progresses.
At the end of the evening you struggle off to bed feeling bad, naughty, bloated, woozy and slighty nauseous, yet at the same time reassuringly satisfied even though you know the next day's repercussions will be distinctly unpleasant.

From time to time we all feel the urge to let go and descend into the murky depths of plebianism, but as long as it's only occasionally and doesn't become a way of life then no harm done.
I suspect it's a fundamental human urge to drop the niceties of modern life and revert to being what we want to be, and if embracing your inner pleb is your way of doing that then I understand completely.

A clip from BBC's 'Harry Enfield & Chums' featuring
Wayne & Waynetta Slob trying to make do without the TV.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Loud pipes and hairiness

Bank holiday Monday saw the 25th Fenman Classic bike show take place at Wimbotsham, just north of Downham Market, and what an event it was. The popularity of the Fenman, which was originally started by a few bikers in the local pub, has escalated considerably. From the first show which had about fifty bikes in the pub car park to recent years when it looks as though an entire container ship's worth of motorcycles has been dropped on this little Norfolk village, the Fenman has grown into an essential event for the motorcycle enthusiast's diary.
The show itself is held on the primary school grounds, with classic bikes of all kinds lined up on the playground, and the sports field filled with assorted trade stands.
But oddly enough it's not the show itself that seems to be the biggest draw. In fact there's just as much entertainment to be had wandering around looking at the bikes people have turned up on - literally thousands of them. The show is as much a biker's social event as it is a chance to look at machines of a bygone era while munching on a hotdog.
The thing that struck me most about it all though, was the incredible variety of people who were there. To this day there are still people out there who upon hearing the word 'biker' automatically get a picture in their head of something like this:
But motorcyclists come from all sorts of backgrounds and the assumption that the gentleman pictured above is someone you wouldn't want to meet is usually wrong. I've met bikers of this variety and they've been really good guys. Indeed you're just as likely to encounter an arsehole riding a brand new GSXR1000 in matching one-piece leathers as you are if he's on an old Harley sporting a denim vest and many tattoos. As Depeche Mode said - 'people are people'.
Even considering this, the assortment of people was astounding which just goes to show that motorcyclists cover practically every social group in the country. No rules or boundaries, just people who love to ride.
The Fenman is a great day out. This is the second time I've been - last year I took the boy, and this year was the wife's turn. I ended up with instructions to purchase a hornier exhaust for the Bandit (by which I think she means louder), and to grow a beard ready for next year's event.
I can deal with the exhaust easily enough, but I'm curious to see how long the beard gets before she decides it's not what she wants after all and I have to take it off. Of course it might be me that gets fed up first when bits of food keep getting lodged in it. Whatever.

The next bike event will be Motorcycle Live in Birmingham in November. Acres of shiny new machinery carefully draped with lycra-clad hotties, endless trade stands to pick up end-of-year bargains, loads of side shows and displays, and of course the mandatory four mile queue for a burger.
But whereas previous attendances of this show have resulted in bouts of depression fuelled by dreams shattered by an empty bank account, this year will be a genuine search for a moped for the boy, additional protective clothing for the other half, and possibly that loud exhaust for the Beast.

In the meantime, with my continual search for a hobby proving fruitless so far, I've given in to the boredom, extracted the XBox from the back of the cupboard, and yesterday managed to waste several hours playing the newly acquired 'Bioshock Infinite', realising that perhaps it wasn't video games I'd got bored of, but just the repetitive playing of the same old games for the past couple of years.
Oh well, we live and learn, eh?