Thursday, 31 December 2015

Where did 2015 go?

It's new year's eve. Time to wave goodbye to the outgoing year, put up a new calendar and do it all over again.
The trouble is that apart from having our 20th wedding anniversary, I'm struggling to remember anything significant that has happened over the past twelve months. Yet again it seems to have been an endless cycle of work, eat, sleep, interspersed with random attempts to alleviate the boredom.
Maybe I should think a bit harder to see if anything can be dredged up from the cesspool of my mind.
I completed a management course at work, which was at times tough but ultimately satisfying, I met up with friends in London that I hadn't seen in quite a while, I've successfully expanded my belly to the point where a gym membership is in order, and on a rare trip to the cinema recently I discovered that the new 'Star Wars' movie is absolutely friggin' awesome.

It would also appear that I've been extremely successful at ignoring the news.
Last night we sat and watched a programme on Channel 4 about 'What we bought in 2015', because it looked as if it would be an interesting insight into the world of those easily led by trends and advertising. Predictably it was a parade of overpriced pointless crap that people convinced themselves would improve their lives, coupled with a raft of items that proved some people will buy any old shite if it's endorsed by a 'celebrity'.
While the programme was mostly devoted to the shortcomings of the terminally suggestible, there were also passing mentions of events that occurred throughout the year.
This is where I became confused and asked the wife questions such as "Do we no longer have a coalition government?", and "When did William and Kate have a second kid then?".
Clearly I've detached myself so efficiently from news I don't care about that even things that perhaps I really should have some knowledge of are slipping through the net, leaving me in a state of blissful ignorance.

On the other hand, things I'm interested in are constantly under scrutiny - sometimes obsessively.
Although I may not have realised why Nick Clegg has been so quiet lately, at least I know that the United Nations conference on climate change failed miserably to tackle the issue of methane from animal agriculture, which contributes 55% of greenhouse gases - more than all fossil-fuelled transportation including cars, planes, ships etc put together.
In other words, Daisy's farts are killing the planet an order of magnitude faster than an Overfinch Range Rover, so it seems odd that the Rangey driver is public enemy number one while the local burger joint is bereft of placard-waving environmentalists. Surely a distraction technique worthy of Houdini himself.

So as we prepare to screw up the 2015 calendar featuring amusing vegetables, and replace it with one that has soft-focus photos of fluffy animals, I can't help but wonder if the coming year will be an improvement on the one I've just had and apparently forgotten.
If nothing else I think I shall spend the coming year finding a decent calendar for 2017 that has pictures of something more interesting on it like gunship helicopters or drifting.

Drifting. More exciting than the usual calendar subjects....

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Hidden meanings

How often do we really say what we mean?
Personally I have most time for people who just come out and say what's on their mind, warts and all.
While some may consider such behaviour to be rude or a bit weird, I find it to be a comfortably reassuring level of honesty.
You know where you are with someone like that, without having to worry about such minefields as psychological manipulation or back-biting.

Most of us are guilty in our own little ways of not saying what we really mean. Sometimes we might do this to avoid hurting someone's feelings or because we find the subject uncomfortable.
My objective with this post is to uncover the real meaning behind the things we might say in everyday life that don't tell the whole story - not deliberately deceptive, but which don't convey the entire truth of the matter.
So here's a few of my own examples for deliberation. No doubt the reader will have others of their own, so maybe this is an opportunity for comments. Maybe...

1. "Let's have a quick wander round Currys[1] while we're here."
Translation - "We said about getting a new kettle, so let's go and look at all the cool shiny things for the next hour, come within a gnat's whisker of making a very expensive purchase before talking ourselves out of it, and leaving the store empty-handed because we've forgotten why we were there in the first place."

2. "Why don't we pop into town for something to do."
Translation - "Let's head towards town, see the enormous traffic jam, take a diversion, see another traffic jam, decide it's not worth the arse-ache, and go to the garden centre and have a cup of tea instead."

3. "Is there anything you fancy watching tonight?"
Translation - "I hope there's nothing you want to watch tonight because I fancy a couple of hours shooting bad guys on the Playstation."

4. "Looks like there's sod all on at the cinema again."
Translation - "There's a chick-flick you might enjoy, but I'll be buggered if I'm gonna waste two hours of my life watching that crap."

5. "I don't do Christmas."
Translation - "I detest this annual commercial festival of greed and gluttony that kicks off around October and doesn't go away until the new year when everyone else has cut up their credit cards and is wondering why they do it."

6. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to come."
Translation - "I really don't want to come and now I need time to think up a good excuse that won't cause offence."

7. "What do you fancy listening to?"
Translation - "There's no point me putting on what I want to listen to because you don't like my music, so make suggestions until you come up with something I can just about tolerate."

8. "There's a really nice BMW 318 with low mileage for sale up the road."
Translation - "Please tell me I should just go and buy that nice BMW so I can finally have a car I feel good about owning and driving."

9. "We ought to do a bit of spring cleaning."
Translation - "You ought to do a bit of spring cleaning while I hide in the shed and pretend to be tidying up."

10. "I've deleted my entire porn collection"
Translation - "I've deleted my entire porn collection, but in a couple of months I'll give in to temptation and start a new one."

Please let me - I've been really good....

[1] For those not in the UK, Currys is a huge electrical retailer.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

See you next Tuesday

Things are constantly changing, and one of those changes has been happening in the wonderful world of swearing.
Regardless of your opinion of it and to what degree you do it yourself, there's no denying that we've become increasingly desensitised to language that earlier generations would rarely, if ever, use and would consider outrageously offensive.
Use of 'shit' or 'fuck' was something that just didn't happen in decent everyday society, and someone would ask their language to be excused if they slipped up and used the word 'damn'.
Oddly enough, the same people saw little wrong with using racist terms including c**n, n****r, w*g, etc that society now quite rightly deems unacceptable.

These days we barely notice swear words because they've become so common. Wherever you go there's someone having a conversation so littered with expletives that they could say what they need to in half the time if they left them out.
Back in my school days I very rarely swore, but that all changed when I went out into the big wide world and found myself surrounded by hairy-arsed engineers who all held black belts in swearing.
And like any bad habit, it's far easier to get in to than it is to stop.
While I'm certainly no angel when it comes to such things, even I get wound up by much of today's rap music. Back in the 80's when rap, hip-hop etc was still in its infancy, it was reasonably inoffensive.
Today's 'gangsta rap' stuff on the other hand is absolutely vile - full to overflowing with bile and hatred, and with practically every other word being 'fuck' or some derivative of it.
We hear it so much that when we hear someone say 'motherfucker', we barely notice. Who would have thought that we'd reach a stage when a Samuel Jackson rant would not seem over-the-top or even remotely shocking?

This does beg the question of what do you do when you really need that special emphasis that only a top rate swear word will provide, but all the good ones have lost their sting?
It seems to me that there's only one weapon left in the arsenal that still has that sledgehammer power to hit people where it hurts, and that word is 'cunt'.
Commonly referred to by those with more delicate sensibilities as 'see you next Tuesday' or simply 'the 'C' word' (which can be confusing as I find 'Christmas' to be equally offensive), cunt is the one word that most people reserve a special dislike for.
While shit and fuck may be on the top shelf in a blacked out cover, cunt is still a specialist 'under-the-counter' item.
I can't think of another word that provokes such alarm and outrage, which is a good thing. With all the others being so passé, you need something that still has the desired effect.
Tell someone they're a fuckwit and they won't notice. Call them a cunt and suddenly you've made a point, especially if you make the 't' on the end clearly defined - it really does add that extra bit of venom.
Even in films and TV it's rare for you to hear it. I know it appears in 'Snatch', and Jenji Kohan has made prolific use of it in her series 'Weeds' and 'Orange is the new black', but it still comes as a surprise when it crops up.
I remember Jeremy Clarkson writing that his wife liked to drop it into conversation at parties when meeting new people - if they were shocked, they clearly weren't worth talking to and it was time to move on.
Happily there aren't many occasions when it's necessary to resort to this level, but from time to time it's the only one that meets the requirements.
Usually when you've been cut up by yet another cunt in an Audi.....

"Do you know what "nemesis" means?
A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent.
Personified in this case by an 'orrible cunt... me."

Sunday, 13 December 2015

You gotta fight for your right to partake

Over the past couple of years a gradual transformation has taken place.
Events beyond my control and their aftermath coupled with a tendency to enjoy the finer things in life have conspired to change my body from one that I think was in pretty reasonable shape for my age, to one that I'm rapidly becoming a wee bit ashamed of.
Let's start from the top. The hairline is beating a hasty retreat in a desperate bid to join forces with the empty space on top, so it won't be long before all I have left is that sort of horseshoe shape wrapped around my head.
This is why I cut my hair so short and periodically consider simply shaving my head and being done with it for good. If Patrick Stewart can get away with it then so can I.

Moving on down we're met with moobs that are one small step from requiring a training bra. Shave my body and put a wig on me and you could almost get away with throwing me up the catwalk because they're already bigger than those on the average emaciated supermodel.
I say almost, because given that supermodels typically regard their digestive system as a kind of two-way operation, bringing back most of that which finds its way in, my belly would spoil the image in its current state. A couple of years ago it was more or less in check, but now, although I suspect I still have a six-pack, it seems to be cunningly camouflaged beneath a food and beer induced pad that gets in the way when I tie my shoelaces. I make light of it by calling it my one-pack, but I despise it.
You know something needs attention when it causes your underpants waistband to fold over.

In contrast to the beer belly and tits, my legs have degenerated since I've been having trouble getting any proper exercise that would keep them strong. The right has noticeably more muscle on it than the left due to compensating for the ruined left knee, and they're both suffering from a lack of cycling.
Come to that, my overall muscle mass has declined since I stopped riding motorcycles (I haven't ridden since the crash that took my knee out) and it's surprising how much riding big bikes is like going to the gym - like a full body workout when you're hustling a quarter ton of machine around twisty country roads at warp factor four.
Not only that, my fitness has not just gone downhill, but also failed to make the hairpin bend halfway down and hurtled through the crash barrier into the yawning chasm below.
For example, yesterday I put up a new blind in the kitchen. This required drilling four small holes in the lintel to accept Rawlplugs for the end fittings. Having performed this task I was shocked to find myself huffing and puffing as though I'd just run the 200 metres sprint.
Something needs to be done.

I know exactly what I need to do to combat this decline in my physical state, but actually doing it will take phenomenal willpower, and I worry that I may not be able to summon up the necessary reserves to keep me going.
First I need to reduce my consumption of certain things, and although I revisit this issue time after time, I never really get to grips with it long term.
Biscuits, crisps, and alcohol are my greatest enemies here, and not necessarily in that order.
My alcohol consumption has seen a gentle rise of late, when by rights I should have been cutting back. If I can force myself to have just one bottle of wine at the weekend and nothing during the week that would be a huge improvement.
Biscuits are tricky, partly due to 'Biscuit Club' at work and partly because they're habitually the first thing I reach for if I fancy a snack, and of course one or two is never enough. If they're really nice ones I'll happily sit hugging the packet until they're all gone and I start beating myself up over consuming around a thousand calories for sod all nutritional value.
It's not all bad news though, because I've recently given up eating meat which can only be a good thing. Ecologically, morally, and nutritionally it felt like the right thing to do and surprisingly I don't miss it at all - not even bacon. I do still eat fish a couple of times a week but that's it, and I must say that I do feel better for it.

I also need to get more exercise, but this is where it gets tricky. I'm physically incapable of running now, so it's important for it to be a low / non impact activity.
Cycling is great as long as I refrain from pushing too hard, but at this time of year it's difficult to get the enthusiasm to do it while battling against the wind and rain - kinda takes the fun out of it...
Swimming would be a good idea because you get wet regardless, but although I can swim (crawl only - never could master the weird frog-like leg movement of breaststroke) I wouldn't say it's something I've ever enjoyed.
What I ought to do is break the habit of a lifetime and actually go to the gym where I can get advice for a proper workout that will burn calories, increase my fitness and muscle mass, as well as kicking those feel-good hormones into action. God knows I could do with them.
So the next logical step is to investigate the local gym, stop buying crappy snack foods, and limit the alcohol to weekends only.

It's sad that the things we really like are usually bad for us.
A few years ago I went teetotal and caffeine-free for about a year, and to this day I can't remember why I went back on it because I've never felt better than I did during that time.
But if we gave up absolutely everything we enjoy, we'd be so damn miserable that life would not seem worth living.
The mad thing is that I do generally eat healthy meals. For example, Friday's dinner was a big swordfish steak with boiled new potatoes and samphire. Yesterday was vegetable chilli with brown rice.
Then I'll spoil it with half a bottle of wine and a large packet of Tesco Finest cheddar and caramelised red onion crisps.
To imagine a life devoid of Galaxy chocolate, Jaffa Cakes, Hob Nobs, Pringles, Jack Daniels, and Taylor's 'After Dark' coffee, and replaced with one involving little but carrot sticks, cottage cheese, and peppermint tea is pretty bloody depressing, but if the alternative is to carry on down the path I'm currently walking then I suppose these are sacrifices I may very well have to make.
And salt & vinegar rice cakes aren't a bad alternative snack....

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Guilty little secrets

If someone asks you what music you like, what are the first bands you would mention from your collection?
Chances are you'd pick a couple of safe bets that you're confident few people would deride you for liking, before throwing in a few lesser known but widely accepted artists to prove you're not completely musically blinkered.
You might even be brave enough to push through to some bands that few have heard of, but you're determined to act as their ambassador - spreading the word so perhaps others might find the same enjoyment from them that you do.
It's easy to respond to the music preference question by kicking off with Led Zeppelin or The Beatles, before moving on through the likes of Massive Attack or Diana Krall, then dangling the carrot of someone rarely heard of like Mesh or Xandria.
But what of the other music buried within your collection - the things that you normally omit from such a conversation?

Personally I'm quite happy to trot out a list of artists I like such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, Coldplay, Marillion (the Fish years),  Depeche Mode, Roxy Music etc, and once I've judged the reactions I might move into more diverse territory like Within Temptation, Oh Land, or Lunascape.
However there are always those bands that never get wheeled out during such conversations, and I wonder why that is.
For example, I also enjoy listening to Pet Shop Boys, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Madonna, Lady Gaga, and even ABBA, but for some reason I assume that to admit to this during one of those taste-probing conversations would be social death.
It's probably a fear of being judged, but why would I be worried whether another person would laugh at me for my taste in music?
It doesn't stop there though, because moving from the CD racks and turning attention to all the music stashed away neatly on the computer reveals a whole new world of musical sins.
A quick browse of the 'Misc' folder shows such delights as 'U Got 2 Know' by Cappella, 'Rush Hour' by Jane Wiedlin, 'Only You' by the Flying Pickets, 'Push It' by Salt n Pepper, and Zager & Evans' 'In The Year 2525'.
These and many more similar examples lurk in the depths of that folder like dirty little secrets - a Pandoras Box of musical shame.
Yet I love spending time investigating this treasure trove of inane nonsense, picking out and enjoying snippets of stuff that you'd never admit to liking during some hairy-chested debate over a few pints down the pub.
Metallica? Fine. Betty Boo? Better grab your coat and run 'cos there's a lynch mob coming!

Like most things there's an element of snobbery surrounding music. There's always some toff whose idea of music doesn't stretch beyond Mahler, and anything that doesn't get played on Radio 3 is symbolic of all that's been wrong with the world since the end of the nineteenth century.
Others might bang on about the emotion conveyed in a singer's voice or the poetic excellence of the lyrics, and that's all very well but it doesn't guarantee that it's a piece of music you actually enjoy.
Personally I like nothing more than sitting back with my eyes closed, immersing myself in Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon' or Enigma's 'MCMXC-AD' from start to finish with no interruptions.
But while there's a big place in my heart for a good prog rock album full of many experimental sounds and a hefty dose of pretentious posing, I also believe there are times when a session of light-hearted pop nonsense is exactly what you need.

As far as music goes there's pretty well a time and place for everything (except for Skrillex which is anti-music) and if you like it then listen to it and enjoy it.
Unfortunately there are some things - even in music - you just don't admit to in public.
Like I just did.

Careful what you admit to!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The centre of the universe is all around us

A few years ago one word took on a whole new meaning, going from being used as one small part of a sentence to being a sentence in its own right. That word is 'whatever'.
Wherever you went there would be a bored and disillusioned teenager going "Whatever."
This roughly translated as "I'm so full of angst that I can't be bothered to dedicate my last bit of head space to anything you have to say."
Since then, 'whatever' has filtered through the consciousness of the greater collective to become the go-to word for summing up the apathy that dominates modern society.
Nobody cares.

Actually this is a generalisation - there are those who care, but unfortunately they're few and far between and are often regarded as being 'a bit odd'.
For the most part however, it feels as if people have become disconnected from the world and its other inhabitants. They go about their business without even appearing to be aware of the presence of others, and any encroachment upon their space or progress is seen as a gross invasion of their privacy and/or rights.
When you're walking along the street with your head held high, taking in your surroundings and engaging with the world at large, you can get the overwhelming feeling of being some sort of weirdo.
You look around you and notice that most people are either glaring angrily at the floor as if it has personally insulted them, or they're staring intently at their phone - paying no attention to potential hazards such as other pedestrians or traffic, because they're too absorbed in the world inside their own head to pay attention to the one around them.

On the road few have any patience, with aggression being the default setting for anyone sitting behind a steering wheel. If you dare to drive with politeness, consideration, and within the realms of the Highway Code, you find yourself on the receiving end of the wrath of all and sundry.
This is noticeably worse the further south you go in the UK. When you're used to Cambridgeshire it's a wonderful relief to drive around North Yorkshire, but a nightmare in Devon.

Then we have the apparent lack of value placed upon human life. The number of news reports telling us about stabbings, shootings, and all other manner of extreme unpleasantness could easily make you want to barricade yourself behind your front door and refuse to come out.
The conspiracy theorist in me might suggest that this could be government-controlled media manipulation to keep everyone in line through fear. Make people want to stay indoors eating pre-packaged food containing god-knows what while being brainwashed by the constant stream of propaganda emanating from the TV, and you can make them think and behave exactly how you want. The only difference between this situation and that descibed in George Orwell's 1984 is that instead of Big Brother telling people how to be, we have a raft of so-called celebrities.
Turn on the news and it's an endless parade of atrocities that generate bad feeling, anger, frustration, and all other kinds of negative emotions.
With this outlook on the world, it's hardly surprising that so many people are deliberately distancing themselves from life and instead focusing on their own selfish desires, each and every one of them under the illusion that they are the centre of the universe and everything else revolves around them.

So yes, this has been a bit of a soapbox moment, but it's a subject that frustrates me.
The one consolation is that not everybody has succumbed to that mentality, and those that continue to tread the path of goodwill are a diminishing resource that needs to be treasured.