Sunday, 30 June 2013

Whatever happened to.....

I spotted an article yesterday about the old invalid carriages that we used to see on the roads, the most memorable of which was the AC Invacar. It made for an interesting read. I've often wondered why I hadn't seen these things for a long time, and it turned out that they were banned from the road in 2003 due to 'safety concerns'. Apparently the occasional case of spontaneous combustion was enough to cause the demise of not only the occupant, but also a long tradition of pointing and laughing. These vehicles had an assortment of derogatory names applied to them, both by kids who thought they were hilarious and other road users who thought them to be infuriating. The people who were unfortunate enough to need these invalid carriages now either run around in ordinary cars that have been specially adapted for their needs or alternatively shift the old safety concerns from themselves to innocent pedestrians by bombing along the pavement on an electric mobility scooter, striking fear into the hearts and pain into the ankles of anyone not quick enough to get out of their way.

I started to wonder how many other things were common sights in the past but have disappeared from our lives. The obvious answer to that is that there must be no end of things, but not many of them really bother me in any way. For example, that awful shiny toilet paper that used to be provided in the schools and public toilets is something I and the rest of the country was glad to see the back of.
The 'modified' cars when I was a kid usually involved a knackered Ford Cortina with jacked-up rear suspension, a Cherry Bomb exhaust, furry leopard skin seat covers, fluffy dice, and a sun strip at the top of the windscreen displaying the occupant's names - usually 'Barry' and 'Tracey'. These things were awful and tacky and usually done on a shoestring budget, but if I saw such a thing today I'd probably go a little bit misty-eyed thinking of all the crappy old modified Fords that have passed on to the big scrapyard in the sky. Today's Barrys have replaced those things with enormous subwoofers, lots of blue LEDs, and suspension lowered so much that they can't drive over speed humps without ripping off the silly Halfords body kit. Hardly progress now is it? The only difference is the general lack of rust holes.

And when did you last see white dog poo? I dread to think what used to be put into dog food all those years ago to make that happen. In these days of dog food that can often cost more that our own it's hard to imagine the crap that used to be fed to our canine friends. It must have been awful for them, and maybe getting rid of the taste is why dogs always seem to dedicate so much time to licking their own genitals. Apart from the fact that they can, of course.
But the white dog poo is now a distant memory from childhood, and dog poo of any sort is thankfully a less common sight than it used to be.

Not everything that does endure the passing decades really deserves to though; such as black pudding, opera, and 'Songs Of Praise'.
Village fetes still seem to carry on (no doubt something to do with preserving tradition) despite being stuck in the days when the pinnacle of people's expectations of entertainment was morris dancing. These days the average village fete reminds me of the Father Ted episode where 'Funland' comes to Craggy Island.
Fetes are often put on to raise money for some charity or other, which is absolutely fine but given the amount of profits raised, I can't help wondering if they wouldn't be better off going door to door with a collecting tin getting a quid off each household, giving that to charity and forgetting the whole fete thing altogether.

We all have things we miss from our past. Some weren't as good as we remember them, some we mourn, some we'd forgotten about until we read some article that stirs a memory, and some we never want to see again as long as we live. Knight Rider isn't as good as I remember, I mourn the passing of 'Spangles', I'd pretty much forgotten about the Invacar, and if I never hear anything from the St Winifred's School Choir again, I'll die a happy man.

A rare glimpse of an AC Invacar without a half mile queue behind it.....

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Personal hell

It's said that the soul of a person committing suicide will go to hell, which I suppose is a good enough reason not to do it if you believe in such things. But if hell really does exist, and you screwed up in such a way to end up in the realm of fire, torture, and no-win-no-fee lawyers, you'll most likely have your own private suite where you can spend the rest of eternity suffering your worst nightmare. Your own personal hell.

Once again, a lack of anything better to do left me pondering this question and I've come up with a list of possibilities for what my own personal hell could be, ranging from daily trivia to utter horror.
The are plenty of aspects of daily life that I could happily live without, and which in their own right could very well qualify as hell if they were to occur non-stop for all eternity.
Like traffic jams. It's not unknown for me to do a u-turn and take a thirty mile detour to avoid sitting in a jam on the way home from work. I can think of few more pointless ways of wasting my life, with the possible exceptions of daytime TV and trying to understand cricket, and that's the main reason I choose to commute mainly by motorcycle. Traffic jams no longer exist when you're on a bike.
Then we have the torture that is crying babies. We've all been trapped somewhere like a waiting room or restaurant with some rugrat screaming itself purple and the parent doing fuck all to make the little bastard stop. Thirty seconds of that is enough to drive me to the edge of insanity, so an eternity of it is probably pretty close to being my ultimate personal hell.
Or imagine the horror of being tied to a chair in front of an endless stream of reality TV shows. 'Strictly Big Brother On Ice', or 'Help I'm A Washed Up D-list Celebrity, Give Me A Job' for day after day, year after year, would be intolerable for anyone with two brain cells to rub together until the mind simply caved in and you found yourself sitting there in a cheap tracksuit drinking Dutch-piss-lager, stuffing yourself with crisps and Iceland ready-meals, and shouting at the telly.
I could also suggest that the frustration of trying to make a teenage boy get out of bed in the morning and take a shower in slightly less time than it takes the polar ice caps to melt, would be a pretty appalling hell to be stuck in, as would being surrounded by beautiful naked women but not being able to touch or do anything about it. I guess that's why I've never been to a strip club.
But as much as any of these things would cause me untold torment, they pale in comparison to the big one.
This is a personal hell, so the obvious discomforts of fire, whipping, sharp items inserted into the head, and a hundred and one interesting uses for a pair of pliers, are not really relevant here.
My personal hell would have to be being stuck in the middle of a big crowd of people with no sign of a way out. A big outdoor music festival, a department store the week before Christmas, the London Underground, airports, overcrowded city centres; all of these and many other similar situations really would be my own personal hell. I go to great lengths to avoid these situations in my life (although occasionally I have little choice but to try and face them, usually with limited success) which is why I never go abroad on holiday, only go to concerts at small venues, and shop online.
Crowds freak me out. I feel a total pussy for being so weak over something that the majority seem to regard as so perfectly normal that they don't give it a second thought, but there's nothing I can do to make myself deal with it successfully.
So there we have it. A big crowd of people is my own personal hell. Throw in the added misery of those people having bad personal hygiene and you have a scenario that would definitely ensure that I could never off myself, no matter how bad things get. Assuming I believed in hell of course.....

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Just tell it like it is

A little while ago I saw the film 'The Invention Of Lying'. I found it to be a pretty enjoyable film despite starring Ricky Gervais who I'm far from being a fan of - I must be one of the few people who thought 'The Office' was utter bollocks.
The thing I really liked about it was the way people just said exactly how they felt, which was such a breath of fresh air although in reality, even if lying didn't exist, we wouldn't actually say everything that went through our minds out loud because usually we wouldn't want to hurt other people's feelings or embarrass ourselves.
What this film could show for a great many people though is just how important it is to be straight with people. Not being deliberately offensive or anything like that, it's just that it seems to have become normal to simply say whatever is believed to be what the other person wants to hear, and it shouldn't be like that.
Let's take the simple task of keeping an appointment as an ideal example of this. If I agree to meet someone at 5:00, I'll be there at 5:00. Not 5:15, not 7:20, and definitely no not turning up at all. If something happens to make me late, like a traffic jam, I'll let the person know what's going on. Call me old-fashioned, but I consider lateness to be rude. If someone tells me they'll meet me at a specific time, I get seriously pissed off if they're late. The last thing I want to be doing is hanging around waiting for someone who is either going to be late or not even bother to turn up, because all the time you're waiting you can't get on with anything else and if you do then that will be the point when the tardy time-waster will finally appear.

This little tirade is not entirely unprovoked, although it's something that is a common source of frustration.
Having found that Project Donkey (a Derbi GPR50R motorcycle for those who haven't been paying attention) once completed, was unsuitable for either the boy (due to him and manual gears not being the best of friends) or myself (due to a body that screams in pain if made to ride a sportsbike for more than 20 miles), I decided to sell it.
Tried to sell anything recently, especially a vehicle? Nightmare.
Having placed adverts in the local bike shop and on a couple of appropriate websites, I quickly had a queue of prospective buyers. Being a fair-minded soul I figured I'd give them preference based on the order in which they called. Arrangements were made with number one, who simply didn't turn up. No call or text to say "Sorry mate, I've changed my mind", not a sausage. I'd muddled around achieving nothing for nearly two hours waiting for some twat who didn't even have the decency to make an excuse.
So throwing fairness to the wind I called back the guy who lived closest, because surely that should improve the chances? He came to look, and after wasting a further day during which I had to keep other prospective buyers hanging around, failed to turn up to a second viewing and hung up on me when I called to find out where he'd got to. Wanker.
Called the next bloke who had been keen and intended coming all the way from Sheffield for it, but he then claimed he'd now got one from elsewhere, which was most likely a fib because by then he was fed up with me keeping him waiting because I was being messed around myself.
With a heavy heart I called back the next bloke on the list, wondering if everyone in the world was a useless tosser and whether it might be easier to just throw the bike in a skip and walk away from the money I'd spent on it.
This time however, I got lucky. Arrangements were made. the guy turned up with his son (who the bike was for), had a good look round as I explained about the work that I'd done, watched me ride it up the road and back to prove all was working as it should, and made an offer there and then. Not as much as I'd hoped, but at least I did manage to just about break even on the project.
All that aggro because of people who wouldn't just be straight with me.

So next time you say you're going to be somewhere or do something, make every effort to meet your promises. If there's a problem, tell the other party. Don't make promises you can't keep. Don't leave others just hanging in the breeze, waiting for you to drag your sorry arse away from Bookface or whatever; it's just bloody rude.
So many people today live their lives like they're the most important individual around, but if these people realised that if we all work together as a team and just be honest with each other, we could achieve so much more and make life infinitely less stressful for those around us.

The buyer was surprised by his cool reception when he turned up two hours late
to buy Sheila's comedy wig collection.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Linguistic evolution

In Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Miller's Tale' the word queynte may be found, and yet few people reading that word today would have any idea what it meant. Since the fourteenth century that word has evolved into something more easily recognisable as probably the most offensive noun for a woman's pinkest part; a word which still has the power to upset people where the f-word has now become so commonplace that the majority barely raise an eyebrow at its use.
Obviously queynte's modern counterpart still has its uses - few other options exist to describe parking enforcement operatives or Audi drivers, but it still remains one of the few words to cause offense to a large proportion of the population.
It's not just swear words and their application that have changed over time though.
The English language has constantly evolved and for the most part these changes have happened so slowly that they're only noticeable when you read literature from many years past. Shakespeare still has a cult following and his works are still studied in schools to this day, but the language used in the 16th and 17th century was vastly different from what we're familiar with today which begs the question of how relevant they are today as a means of studying English. Perhaps history lessons would be more appropriate?
The biggest changes to the written word have come about since the introduction of SMS or texting on mobile devices. When this system started, the limitations on available space within each message rapidly brought about a kind of shorthand (textese?) to enable people to convey as much information as possible with the minimum of characters. In its place this system was useful, albeit indecipherable to anyone over the age of about 20, but unfortunately it escaped from its electronic cage and went on an English-killing rampage. Suddenly kids were handing in homework written in this text-speak language and wherever you turned you found yourself having to spend ten times longer trying to read something that had been abbreviated where there was no requirement for abbreviation in the first place. Maybe the kids wanted a language that was just for themselves, that the older generations wouldn't understand. They succeeded. But so many seem to have forgotten the English from which their 'Newspeak' was derived, or they simply switched off in English lessons at school.
For example, let's look at 'ur'. This is not a word, but is commonly used as one by the hard of thinking as a replacement for 'your' or 'you're' because apart from not being able to spell, they're unable to comprehend which of the latter forms is correct and don't really care anyway.
In fact this confusion doesn't appear to be limited to teenagers, but is rife amongst a huge proportion of adults. The possessive 'your' as in 'I'm sorry you lost your dictionary' versus 'you're' which is an abbreviation of 'you are' remains a mystery to more people than you'd expect.
The same confusion exists between 'there', 'their' and 'they're', and I cringe every time I read one of these used incorrectly. But it has become so common now that many either don't notice it or just skim over it, realising what the imbecile writing it meant and carrying on regardless.
And there's the problem. We become desensitized to this bastardisation of our language, and before you know it all the rules of language become lost or distorted. Chances are that in a hundred year's time kids will be studying something like George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty Four' at school and be as mystified by it as I am by Chaucer.
Now I'm by no means exempt from writing in a manner that would make purist linguists tear their hair out in frustration, but I'm still determined to hang on to the English language as used before the invention of the mobile telephone and its short message service.
After all, I'd find it far more difficult and time consuming to write this blog if I had to translate everything into the language so prevalent amongst the younger generations, and as English is probably the most international language in the world I believe it's important to maintain consistency. Otherwise the language barriers will go up, which would be a move in completely the wrong direction in a world where communication has never been easier.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Cheesy tacky naff crap

It's funny how every so often you get a moment of clarity - a moment when you suddenly see something for what it is rather than what it's perceived to be.
I had one of these moments the other day whilst traipsing around a certain garden centre in Cambridge. I remember a time when garden centres sold plants, compost and garden tools. The more adventurous ones might even have done a line in fencing or maybe even the odd shed, but that was about it.
Now though it's not a proper garden centre unless a huge number of standard products and facilities are included, and all these places are in competition with each other to attract the biggest crowds - especially on a bank holiday when the entire country descends on either a garden centre or a DIY store. Maybe it's a very British thing, I don't know, but what makes someone suddenly need to redecorate the house just because it's a three day weekend? I never have and never will understand this.
To compete, a garden centre now needs to contain a cafe area selling stale sandwiches, overcooked jacket potatoes and awful weak tea. The queues for this cafe must be at least fifty yards long and contain a minimum of 80 percent pensioners, all of whom will need to fumble in their purse for the exact change or forget their PIN number.
The next essential is the barbecue section. In a country where it's only suitable weather for a barbecue twice a year I fail to see why anyone would want to spend a grand on some gas fired barbie when we all have a perfectly adequate cooker in the house. This is even more relevant if you go for an ordinary cheap barbecue because your cooker is at least controllable and won't encase your sausages in a thick layer of carbon if you look away for twenty seconds.
Of course a barbecue on its own is never enough so the garden centre is kind enough to provide the opportunity for you to buy all sorts of overpriced shiny fold-up versions of the things you already have in the house, plus gazebos, giant parasols and everything else necessary for keeping up with the Joneses.
Next up is the pet section where you can spend more on stuff your dog doesn't need than you would believe. Face it, all a dog enjoys is eating, having its ears scratched, and licking its own genitals, and it doesn't need a fifty quid collar and a giant day-glo chew toy to do that.
At some point you will find yourself in the bit where you can empty your wallet in return for all manner of shite with no purpose. It's the zone that taste forgot - a shrine to all that is tacky, naff and pointless. I wandered through this twilight zone bemused by the articles on offer, and I heard a woman say "Ooh, look at this mum, a toast rack with a robin on it". At this point the urge to get the hell out of there kicked in. The realisation that I was walking in a world of insanity where someone would feel the need to purchase anything from this emporium of the ridiculous became unbearable. My wife and her sister came up with the term 'crappy crap-crap' to describe this tat, which while not the sort of thing Stephen Fry would come up with nevertheless sums it up quite nicely, so I've adopted it myself too.
The thing is that it's not just garden centres that sell this rubbish, it's pretty much everywhere you look. Every shop has a range of baubles and trinkets that serve no purpose but some numpty will buy anyway before they realise what they're doing.
I accept that a home only feels really homely with a few personal oddments scattered about the place and these may often be of sentimental value even if they don't have a practical use. But I've never felt the need to buy a novelty bog roll cover or a glass bowl full of coloured beads to fulfil any sort of desire. Some people's house are packed with this stuff though, and I wonder why they do it. I know I'm a grouchy bugger and far more cynical than most, but I question why in this supposedly enlightened age that anyone would want this kind of rubbish around them. If everyone took the money they were going to spend on some tasteless knick-knack to hang from the window frame and gave it to a charity of their choice instead, I'm sure the satisfaction would be greater, longer lasting and wouldn't end up in next year's jumble sale.
The trip out wasn't a complete failure though. Having dismissed the half hour queue for a luke-warm sausage roll and a crap coffee we went up the road to The Rose in Stapleford where we had a delicious meal and a pint which soothed the feathers that had become so ruffled in the garden centre's crappy crap-crap section.
Next time you're in one of these places and you get tempted by this stuff, just ask yourself "Do I really need it?". I guarantee the truthful answer will be "NO!".

Standard garden centre crap zone. You have been warned.