Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A Perfect Unicorn

As the TV companies show no sign of reversing their policy of showing nothing but crap in the evenings (a step up from the utter mindless shite they put out in the daytime), we are continuing along the path of online entertainment plus a light scattering of DVD box sets to while away the empty hours between dinner and bed.
The most recent of these has been the DVD set of 'Men Behaving Badly', which kept me highly amused back in the 90's.
For those who don't remember, this was a comedy that revolved around two blokes who refused to grow up, and the rather reluctant women who were the object of their affections.
It was a common occurrence for the lads to be sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV with several lagers on the go, discussing what their perfect woman would be like. They'd normally start with Kylie Minogue's bottom and work from there; picking favourite physical attributes from various celebrities.

In times of complete boredom this game can be fun but only as an exercise in imagination because, as we all know, perfection doesn't exist.
Oh, I know there are some people in this world that think they are perfect, but the rest of us know that those people are self-deluding fuckwits that you wouldn't piss on if they were on fire.
I expect most of us have fantasized about what our perfect mate would look like, and with TV, movies, magazines and the internet giving us unlimited access to sources of inspiration, countless winning combinations of body parts can join in our minds to create our own personal fantasy.

What would our real reason be for dedicating brain space to this obviously pointless activity?
As a species we rarely seem to be completely satisfied with our reality, and are always looking for ways to improve it - even if it's something as mind numbing as kitchen taps for instance. You have taps on your kitchen sink and they work fine, but take a walk around Homebase and suddenly you desperately want something cooler than the existing bog-standard items.
In the same way, you might love how your wife's bum looks in tight jeans, but even a walk around the supermarket will turn up one that looks more exciting.
So we might think "She's great, but she'd be better with Winona Ryder's nose", but what we're doing here is starting to create a sexual fantasy, which is what Gary and Tony were doing during their lager-fuelled slob-outs.
It would be easy to mentally assemble a collection of bits and come up with something that would prevent you from ever wanting to leave the bedroom. I could say I'd have Keira Knightley's face, Kate Beckinsale's bum, Anne Hathaway's boobs etc, etc, but it wouldn't do any good.

I expect we all have a list of turn-ons and turn-offs; attributes we'd prefer our partner to have or not have.
My personal turn-ons would include long dark hair, big brown eyes, nice perky boobs, slim body, a warm smile, a kind heart, confidence, and a ravenous sexual appetite.
Turn-offs include tattoos, smoking, narcissism, excessive talking about 'he said, she said' nonsense, and fat bellies.
This is all very well but when it comes down to it, all that can be blown away by the right person.
When you find someone who you can have a decent conversation with, is kind and caring, lifts you up when you're feeling down, and with whom you can share all of life's ups and downs without wanting to kill each other, you find that all your dreams and desires aren't what you thought they were.
The wife doesn't look like Audrey Hepburn and I don't look like Vin Diesel, but it doesn't matter when there are so many other aspects of a person that are far more important.
So while Gary and Tony may have enjoyed their sofa-bound sessions of rampant objectification, and provided plenty of laughs in the process, it just serves to illustrate a very important point.
The perfect woman (or man) is just a unicorn.
They don't really exist.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

A living product

I love meat. Actually, I'm a big fan of food altogether and find cooking and eating to be two of life's greatest pleasures, but for me a good piece of meat is food nirvana.
Lately this has started to bother me though, and it's the realisation of what the meat industry has become that is causing me to reconsider my options.
Now I'm not stupid, and I'm under no illusions as to where meat comes from. I don't even have a problem with that in itself, but what is bothering me is the sheer scale of the operation that exists in order to put Ermintrude in a nicely presented package on the shelf in Sainsbury's and Shaun The Sheep on a big rotating skewer in the window of 'Pisshead's Last-Stop Kebab Emporium'.

The wife was vegetarian when we met and then I gradually turned her to the dark side, but there was something she always said that very much rings true - Why grow crops to feed animals for us to eat, when we can just eat the crops ourselves?
It wasn't that many decades ago that meat was a rare treat, so how is it that there is now such a glut of it that huge amounts of the stuff ends up in land-fill because it hasn't been sold before its best before date?
It's us. It's our fault. We are the ones making the demands for such phenomenal quantities of meat, and with any area of consumer demand there will always be a business rubbing its hands together with glee, seeing nothing beyond the prospect of an enormous pile of money.

You don't need to watch too many films of slaughterhouse operations to be convinced that this is not something you really want to be party to. I'm talking here about real films, rather than the sanitised and polished things put out by the media to keep us appeased, but even on TV there's occasionally a slip-up that could easily be missed. One of these occurred the other day when a farmer referred to his flocks of sheep as 'our product'.
I'm sorry? Since when did an animal lose so much dignity that it became a 'product'.
I've shot and butchered animals to eat, and every time I've encountered some level of guilt. You might feel daft if you catch yourself apologising to a pigeon as you cut the oh-so-tasty breast meat from its still-warm carcass, but it's still an important reminder that you've taken a life - even if it is a seemingly insignificant one that's been annoying the hell out of you all morning.
So how detached can someone be to call an animal a product?

The question is, how to change? It shouldn't really be that difficult - we often eat meals without meat anyway, so although going cold turkey (hah!) might be a bit of a shock to the system, gradually reducing the amounts over a period of weeks ought to be do-able. It's just a habit after all.
The hardest thing to stop eating will be bacon because, as we all know, bacon is the ultimate cure for vegetarianism. Lamb may be very tasty but the texture can be a bit hit and miss and it's very expensive for what you get so that's the easiest to quit.
Beef will be more tricky because it's hard to make a really good lasagne with anything else, but I'll give it a try. Pork may come from the same animal as bacon but it doesn't have quite so much appeal, although such associated things as ham, sausages, and Spam would be sorely missed.
Then we come to poultry and fish which is often where the boundaries become a little blurred.
Perhaps the confusion exists because chickens are essentially mobile vegetables, and if I had a big enough garden I'd be quite happy to have them running around laying eggs and making more chickens so that I could pick one out for Sunday dinner and wring its neck.
It seems rather more acceptable than buying one from the supermarket that has been crammed into a big warehouse with no natural light and a diet of hormone-enhanced grain to ensure its pitiful life is as short as possible before it's despatched on a production line to end up being sold for £2.50.
Fish is difficult one. I really like fish, but I'm also well aware that our oceans are being so overfished that it won't be long before there's nothing left and the whole marine ecosystem goes tits-up.
On the other hand, surely farmed freshwater trout can stay on the menu because if I can't stick one of those in the oven wrapped in foil with lemon and dill, then what's the point of it all?

It could be said that giving up meat is a choice, not a necessity, and that's certainly true. There are things we might give up because they don't do us any good, like alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, or those amazing butterscotch and pecan yum yums from Waitrose, but unless we eat excessive quantities of it, surely meat doesn't do us any harm?
Personally I think rather than eliminating meat completely, I'd prefer to eat less but only buy what has been ethically produced. Meat from an animal that has had a decent life running around a field (apart from the fish of course) and eating natural food before being dealt with humanely.
As we all know, meat reared in this manner is way more expensive than supermarket stuff, but I'm quite happy to revert to the days when meat was an occasional treat and pay for the privilege.
There's plenty of really tasty vegetarian food to be had, but if I'm quite honest with myself I don't think I could ever become completely vegetarian. What I can do is make more ethical choices and not support the Frankenstein's monster that the wholesale meat industry has become.

I'm off to do the weekly grocery shopping shortly, and although meat will be a bit thin on the ground, I am getting unusually excited about today's trip down the vegetable aisles because it's pumpkin season, and if there's one thing I do know, it's that a good old homemade pumpkin pie is a thing of beauty.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Anatomy of a shed

While the rest of the world seems to spend its weekends running around frantically, waving its arms and making lots of noise, I'm quite happy to sit back for a well-earned rest.
The grocery shopping has been done, an uncharacteristic lie-in has been enjoyed, and all that remains is to decide how to fill the hours until it's Monday morning and time to begin the cycle all over again.

If I was sufficiently motivated, I could find lots of jobs around the house that need attention.
The grout in the bathroom could do with a bit of bleaching, the CD rack needs some sort of reinforcing because the shelves are sagging under the weight, and the subject of redecorating the bedroom keeps rearing its ugly head.
I do need to clean and sterilise one of the beer barrels in readiness for the next batch which is bubbling away happily in the corner of the living room, and I still have two written assignments to complete for the ILM Leadership & Management course I've been doing for the past five weeks.

Last weekend I replaced the front shock absorbers on the Civic, but was unable to change the rear ones because the bottom bolts are seized solid and I don't have enough room to swing on a long bar to get them undone without the car being up on a ramp.
After two good sessions and much swearing I finally gave up, and for the first time in twenty six years I've had to resort to employing the services of a garage for something other than an MOT or the fitting of new tyres.
With all the tools in the shed you'd think I'd be able to shift a couple of bolts, but a combination of fourteen years of corrsion from rain, mud and hefty quantities of the salt they throw on the road in winter, coupled with major access issues, have conspired to make my efforts fail.

While undertaking this task I did realise what a complete mess the shed has become, and maybe this could be something for me to tackle.
Usually I'm pretty good at keeping things in order, but lately I've let things slide a little.
Shelves are piled up with cans of paint, polish, and lubricants, plus assorted jars filled with bolts, washers, screws etc.
What used to be a small work bench is now topped with the early stages of an N-gauge model railway, which came along in a flurry of enthusiasm which has petered out over the past few weeks, and a fair chunk of space is taken up with my two bicycles (a Diamondback hardtail mountain bike and a Trek road bike), the wife's Claud Butler hybrid, and the boy's BMX which is in kit form due to extensive abuse and a complete lack of interest.
The tumble dryer lives in the shed because there's no room for it anywhere else, with an old PC on top which gets used as a handy juke box when I'm pottering around in there. Next to that are a pair of 40 pint beer barrels to take the rough edges off the world in general, a table littered with assorted model railway-related bits and bobs, and the fairly extensive tool collection.
These have been gathered since I was about sixteen - especially when I first started my apprenticeship - and luckily those have been just as useful for cars and motorbikes as they were for aircraft. Many others have been added since then, with plenty of power tools and a fair few vehicle-related special items like a brake pipe flaring tool, a ball joint splitter, a valve spring compressor, and even a four-tube mercury manometer that I made myself for balancing the carburettors on four-cylinder bikes.
Added to all this is the standard collection of detritus that most of us end up with such as nearly-empty cans of emulsion, off-cuts of water pipe, assorted electrical fittings, and numerous items kept for the sole reason that they "might come in handy one day".

All this stuff is normally stashed away neatly, but recently I've taken less notice of it all and consequently I now have a big mess to wade through. On the plus side though, once I've got it straightened out I might even regain some interest in the model railway which will give me something else to do at the weekend instead of just shooting people on the Playstation.

Not so bad as sheds go, but messy by my standards...