Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Teetering on the precipice

Aerosmith said we're "livin' on the edge", and sometimes I wonder if they had a point.
With life laying out so many temptations before us, most of which are not really beneficial to our wellbeing, the willpower to resist the urge to take that final step of fully embracing those temptations is phenomenal. The majority of people have a clear sense of right and wrong and know instinctively when something is against their best interests, but sometimes you wonder just how close you are to taking things that step too far.
Everyone has a weakness tucked away somewhere, whether it's overindulging in a particular food or drink, driving way too fast, taking drugs, sleeping around, or throwing yourself off ever taller things with nothing more than a bit of nylon to prevent unintentionally rapid deceleration and ultimate conversion to a somewhat more liquid state. This begs the question - are we all living on the edge?

My own tightrope walk takes place with alcohol, and it shames me to admit that if my willpower was to fail just a little, I'd be on the fast track to being a fully fledged alcoholic, complete with a big puffy red nose that would put Rudolph to shame. If alcohol is in the house it needs to be drunk. My saving grace is that while I thoroughly enjoy that 'comfortably numb' feeling (now I feel a Pink Floyd session coming on) I really don't like being totally pissed. I dislike that feeling of the world swimming around me and wondering if dinner is going to come back for an encore. I prefer not having to lie in bed with one foot on the floor to stop the world spinning, and I especially prefer to avoid the living hell of a hangover wagging its finger at me in disapproval while simultaneously hitting me on the head with a baseball bat to remind me not to be so bloody stupid in future.
So all the time I can limit myself to a couple of doubles or half a bottle of wine, or a pint of ale then I'm coping - assuming I'm giving my liver a couple of days rest each week.
It's hard though. Coming home this evening after a day of third year undergraduates followed by a drive home in the awful rush hour traffic, my very first instinct was to reach for the rapidly diminishing bottle of Jim Beam to pour myself an extra large measure, plus another to accompany the very welcome large bowl of chilli.
I do appreciate a drop of good quality stuff in my glass, such as a nice 18 year old Talisker, a nicely aged Rioja or an interesting local ale, but sometimes the standards slip and any old shite will do as long as it induces that fluffy 'detached from reality' feeling. Not good I admit, and every so often I have to rein myself in to avoid plunging headlong into the depths of an uncontrollable and permanent stupor.

Another failing of mine that needs ongoing monitoring is biscuits. I'm weak and I have cravings that must be fulfilled, but stepping on the scales regularly reminds me that I'm not only human, but middle-aged and can no longer consume whole packets of double-choc cookies without some kind of fight taking place with gravity, usually involving tight trousers and a couple of weeks of dieting to undo the damage. It's not fair. Why can't your 'Five a day' be five portions of crisps and chocolate? And more importantly, why is all the stuff that's bad for you so much cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables?

Maybe we're all balanced on the verge of losing our shit in some form or another. All it might take is one trivial little thing to transform from a mild-mannered pillar of society to someone running amok in a shopping precinct completely naked apart from a hand-knitted balaclava and waving a large baguette while quoting lines from 'Braveheart'.
How hard would it be to go from enjoying an occasional spliff to shutting yourself indoors with a big pile of home-grown and refusing to go to work?
How often have you wished you were driving an armoured Humvee instead of a Vauxhall Astra so you could simply shove the traffic queue aside on the way home? Or would it really be such a great loss to the world if some poor sod decided they'd had enough of committee meetings and went on a rampage of bloodlust through the 'Big Brother' house in a desperate bid to rid us of lobotomy TV once and for all?

I very much doubt that I'm the only one to wander through life full of self doubt; wondering if I'm going mad or if perhaps I'm the only sane one and everyone else has lost the plot. One thing's for sure - unless the men in white coats lock me away, I'm unlikely to find the answer.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Chore blimey, it's a revelation!

After much deliberation, the other week we bit the bullet and bought a dishwasher. Up to this point our only experience of them was during a couple of holidays where the cottage we'd rented happened to have one included in the kitchen, and that was a nice thing to have when the last thing you want to do when you're supposed to be having a week away from it all is to do the washing up. Or indeed any household chores.
So a week before it was delivered I took a trip to a DIY store to stock up on the required plumbing bits to modify the water supply and drainage ready for the new appliance to just plug straight in. I then spent a couple of hours the following day practising my vocabulary of old anglo-saxon words until everything was in place and ready for action. It would have been more stress-free if the wife hadn't decided to chuck a bowlful of dirty water down the kitchen sink while I had all the waste pipes removed for pressure-washing, but these things happen....

Now happily installed next to the washing machine, this device has been a revelation; yet another method of freeing up even more time for us to wonder what to do with ourselves. Thank goodness for Playstations.
Even so, the issue of finding something else to do with all this free time is still preferable to housework. I don't know anyone who actually likes doing household chores, and for many decades man has striven to take the arse-ache out of these mundane tasks. Automatic washing machines have probably been one of the biggest labour-saving devices to find their way into our homes. I remember when I was a mere ankle-biter watching my mother sweating over a sink of soapy water, washing all the clothes by hand, running them through an ancient mangle before pegging them out on the washing line. Even the upgrade to a twin-tub machine was a big step up from that, and she never looked back once she got an automatic washing machine, or "one of those newfangled contraptions" as my father would have said. All very well apart from the fact I don't remember ever seeing him do the laundry or even cooking - at least until mum died. Back when mum first bought a microwave, he refused to eat anything heated in it because he thought it would be radioactive or something. My dad takes technofear to a whole new level. Anyway, I digress...
Many of these appliances make us wonder once we have them, how we ever managed without. Whether it be a washing machine, a dishwasher, a microwave oven, a pressure washer or even a humble toaster, we free ourselves from some form of unwanted activity in order to spend the time doing things we'd rather be doing such as reading, arts & crafts, or drinking far too much bourbon.

So where to go from here? What other chores can be delegated to some autonomous device that won't judge you for being a lazy bastard who'd rather sit on the sofa playing Call Of Duty and eating cookies than scrubbing away the soap residue and pubic hairs from the bath with a scourer and a bottle of Flash?
There's the vacuuming of course and the dusting, both of which don't really take long. Once Henry has been dragged out of the cupboard and pushed around the place, and the dusting has been done wherever anyone is likely to notice, it's only a matter of about an hour's work in a small place like ours. Cleaning the bathroom and kitchen are jobs that take a monumental effort to force oneself to get up and make a start on, but admittedly are quite satisfying once completed. The thought occurs that we are in a position where we could pay a cleaner to come in once or twice a week to deal with those things. Alternatively we could get one of those autonomous robot vacuum cleaners so we can spend the day at work wondering if it has tripped over the rug or simply lost the will to live its dull repetitive life any longer and tried to head-butt itself to death on the skirting boards.

Mankind's innovations have over the years taken away so much of the daily drudgery that previous generations had to cope with in their lives, but it does make it very easy to lose sight of just how good we have it. Those who live in less developed or less affluent countries than our own are still struggling through life in ways we cannot easily comprehend. Should our normal privileged lives be suddenly brought crashing down around our ears, leaving us with no electricity, no water at the end of the tap, poor sanitation etc, I wonder how many of us would be able to cope?
In the meantime I'm still waiting for a Star Trek / Blake's 7 style teleporter to be invented so I can dispense with that most despised activity - commuting.

With a feeling of impending doom generated by eight pints
and a slightly dodgy kebab, Spock was taking no chances
of not making it to the lavatory on time....


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Locke stock and two smoking series

It's amazing how misleading the synopsis on the back cover of a DVD can be.
Last night we sat down to watch 'Locke' starring Tom Hardy which is covered with comments such as "One of the most nail-biting thrillers of the year", and "Gripping". The basic premise of the movie sounded good so we figured we'd give it a go. Utter bollocks. So bad in fact that after half an hour of a bloke driving his car while making phone call after phone call (hands-free thankfully) we gave up on it completely.
The makers of this film had totally missed the point that above all a film should provide something in the way of entertainment and at the very least have something about it that makes you want to find out how it ends. Locke failed on both counts, leaving us frustrated and vaguely pissed off that we'd wasted our time with a film that was so far removed from what the cover promised that we had to double-check that it was the correct disc in the case.
I've criticised modern movies many times, and this has done nothing to sway my opinion that film makers are all out of ideas. More and more I find myself turning to old movies for inspiration; the days when a good film was all about the story and the acting, without the need for special effects and trying to shock the audience.
I've just bought a couple more Audrey Hepburns which I'm looking forward to watching having so enjoyed 'Breakfast at Tiffanys'. Working my way through a range of classic old movies has been a voyage of adventure with my eyes being opened to a previously untapped genre of entertainment in a similar way as when I discovered the joys of French cinema.
There have been a few real gems along the way such as 'White Heat', 'Rear Window', 'Some Like It Hot', 'Ice Cold In Alex', and 'To Kill A Mockingbird' to name just a few, and with such an enormous back catalogue I don't see me getting bored any time soon.

Audrey Hepburn - silver screen goddess.

As for the times when you really don't want to watch a movie but still want minimal-effort entertainment, our latest addiction has come in the form of 'Breaking Bad' which has found its way onto Netflix. Our previous binge-watching feast of choice was 'Game Of Thrones' which I wrote a piece about a while ago entitled 'Butchery and Brazilians' and we wondered when we'd find something to take its place.
'Breaking Bad' has been a relentless rollercoaster ride with a top rate story, excellent acting and plenty of "Holy shit, did I really just see that" moments that make it so good that one episode at a time just isn't enough.
We're now on the home stretch, a few episodes into the final season, waiting for what is clearly working up to a serious finale, no doubt followed by a gaping hole which will need to be filled with something very special to make up for coming to the end of this incredible programme.

 If you haven't seen Breaking Bad, do so immediately!