Saturday, June 26, 2010

the blind house

Flogging a dead horse #47:
Facebook - I've occasionally wibbled on about this bane of existence; so much so that it's like listening to Agadoo by Black Lace. But there are a few things about Facebook that I'm still trying to get my head around, even if I'm as guilty as the next man.
Why, for instance, is there a Top News and a Most Recent tab on the news feed? Surely most people would want to know what is happening rather than what did happen? In fact, why does it always default to the Top News, despite it being as useful as a chocolate teapot? Most people I know have anything 'important' go straight to their email inboxes; yet Facebook has a 'Notifications' tab, which only ever tells you stuff that you've already been informed of by email. The Notifications tab stopped notifying you of anything unrelated to Facebook about 3 months ago; thus rendering it more than moot. There are a couple of other functions that I fail to see the significance of, but it's when we start to look at it from an existential point of view that it starts to get really confusing.
Despite the conviction that I wouldn't get drawn into one of those games on Facebook that requires you to have friends also playing the game to ensure you get further into it, I did. I also did this with the knowledge that most of my friends on Facebook would not be the slightest bit interested in joining this game; which lead me to the situation where I had to go fishing for friends.
The game I have been playing is called Social City (I've mentioned it before) and it takes up about 20 minutes of about 3 evenings a week. To be able to expand you Sim City like grid, you need either to have more 'friends' or you have to pay actual money. The idea of paying money to these people for the ability to play their game doesn't sit well with me - after all, this was hardly the world's greatest game and is never likely to become it either. So this left me with the distinctly unsettling prospect of asking people on the Social City Facebook page if they wanted to be my 'friend'.
Now, despite doing this, I had a really uneasy feeling. Facebook is a social networking facility and its main aim, on an altruistic level, is to bring people together and make the whole world friendly with everyone else. Unfortunately, as well as uniting people all over the world, it becomes a very useful place for predators to lurk and its also a place where information is exchanged whether you want it or not. Forget the bollocks about Facebook's privacy policy shenanigans; the fact is once you accept someone you don't know as a friend, you're allowing them to information about you (unless you hide all your information, then you could ask why you needed to put it there in the first place!). If, like me and many others, you're happy for 'friends of friends' to see your information, you are unwittingly allowing someone you don't know to have access to your life and they'll share it, without knowing, to any of their friends, some of which they probably don't know. More like 6 degrees of potential terror rather than of separation.
Also, and I'm really not trying to be a scaremonger, but... Why do people insist of putting pictures of their young children on Facebook? Why do people announce they are going on holiday or popping out for the day? You might as well have status updates that say things like - Free Children for Paedos or Burgle My House, I'm in Spain! We were always told never to put on an answer machine that we weren't in, always say, 'I can't come to the phone right now'. Yes, it probably meant you were out, but a burglar couldn't take the chance - too much risk.
About 2 years ago I invented Bill Wall's Facebook. Initially I intended for Bill to do all the things I wanted to do - the games and applications that looked interesting and meant that no one I didn't know would come into contact with me. But, like the best laid plans, Bill became obsessed with donkeys and I ended up accessing applications via my Phil Hall account. So I invented another persona to make sure that I didn't get embroiled in things and people I didn't know or want to know. That persona has formed a lesbian relationship with a friend's own alternate persona and they've moved to the south of France. You see, Facebook has become this spawning monster that is populating the world with non-people. If you consider the number of people using alternate identities on Facebook, you'll realise that there's only 6000 people using it and 90% of them are sitting behind their computers at this moment, rubbing their expansive bellies and dreaming about Karen Gillan and what Peter Parker eats for breakfast...
Anyhow, I digress, Facebook is, IMHO, a bit dangerous and people should be a little less trusting about who and what they allow into their lives. If you think I'm just being paranoid, look at your friends list and add up the number of people on their you don't actually know and have never actually met; then consider how many friends they have, and the friends that their friends have and so on and so forth. How long before one of them is as dodgy as fuck?


My Spam folder has been inundated in recent months with stream after stream of advertisements for Viagra. I've never really bothered about spam - I'm not an idiot - but sometimes I wish there was this great big Spam God in the sky who I could write to an say, "Do me a favour chap; stop sending me adverts for Viagra, I don't have any problem whatsoever in getting it up. If you need to send me any spam, focus it on something your spyware has identified as something I give a shit about", unfortunately no such beast exists...


About 8 years ago, when I was working at the YMCA, and fully three years after leaving Wellingborough, I was informed about this new Indian restaurant that had opened not far from where I used to live. At the time, we were searching for a really interesting Indian restaurant, as we had become a wee bit bored with the increasingly bland offerings served up by Indian restaurants run by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. [Did you know that in 2002, 91% of Indian restaurants in this country were run by non-Indians?]. The thing that peaked my interest about this new eatery was that it was apparently run by Indians. So without further ado, me and the wife ventured over there with Roger, his missus and another friend of ours.
The restaurant is actually a box room with no windows, tacked on to the side of a catering firm and an Indian sweet shop. It was called Pooja (which brings all kinds of bizarre thoughts into this addled brain) and the menu totally confused the life out of us. There were only about 10 things on the menu that seemed recognisable and just because we knew the name didn't mean we'd know what eventually arrived.
The first visit was a bit of a disaster. I had something I recognised and didn't enjoy it; Roger had something he'd never heard of and ended up with a dry looking pancake made from rice flour; the wife was very impressed with her Special Vegetable medley and Roger's other half and our friend seemed to wait for ever for their food and when it arrived, at least two of us had finished our main course.
Pooja suffered from a number of things: none of the staff could barely speak a word of English; they had just gone into the restaurant business with no real idea of what they were doing and there was a lack of professionalism about everything the staff did. In fact, over the last 8 years I could pick holes in many things about the place. Sometimes its too hot, sometimes too cold; the food still has a tendency of being erratic, especially if more than 4 of you go at once; the staff still sound as though English is a disease rather than a language. The waiter staff are willing and eager but not very good and to top it all off in recent months they have had an illegal immigrant scandal and were ranked as one of the worst restaurants in the county by a survey held by a local newspaper. The thing is, Pooja always scores incredibly highly on one thing - the food.
Despite an inauspicious start to our relationship with Pooja, we stuck with it. The main reason being that it was 100% vegetarian; there was no meat anywhere in sight or even on site and that meant that everything on the menu was up for grabs - that's something I could never say even when I ate meat. We decided that first impressions aren't always correct and we ventured back again and again, mainly because the food was out of this world. Plus, you could eat there for less than a tenner and leave totally stuffed. The service took nearly four years to improve; but by the middle of the last decade they had Lallis running the front of house and he was a star. He was probably responsible for the restaurant regaining a reputation for better service and the restaurant room always looked spotless. By this time we had become permanent fixtures at the place and were even on first name terms with most of the senior (regular) staff. In fact I think of Mayood, Lallis, Kishan, et al as more like friends than a third of the people on my Facebook page. We've been invited over at Diwali, invited to meet newest additions to the growing family; they've even done special catering for us for barbecues (making stuff they don't have on the menu, because we are valued customers and good friends).
The thing about Pooja is that next year they'll have been open 10 years and they still look like they opened yesterday. There is a frenetic, almost crazy atmosphere outside of the dining room and if you were a discerning diner you'd be appalled by some of the things they have failed to pick up on that even the dodgiest chip bar does. But once you've tried the Chilli Paneer, the Kadai Aloo Bengun, the Malai Koftas, the mogo chips, the dosas, the utterly mind-blowing samosas, the Chinese Bel, the baturas, the pettice, even their chana masalla makes the equivalent in a Bengali restaurant seem like beans - Heinz beans. The list is endless and exceedingly tasty. 8 years down the line and there are still about a dozen things I've yet to try and when I do I'm always blown away by them. Over 100 things on the menu and I've found 3 things that I wouldn't have again, in a hurry.
It's situated behind a car wash and next to a furniture warehouse on Alma Street in Wellingborough. It looks like a compound with a shop in it and you'll wonder until you're seated if you've come to the right place. You have to book now, because for all the amateurishness about them, the food is the best I've ever had - vegetarian or not - and I reckon others think the same thing. If you like 'Indian' food, you might not like Pooja food - the simple reason is its spicy, hot, tasty and electrifies your taste buds. It isn't the same old sauce with a different amount of chilli powder in it, with tinned or frozen vegetables. It bares no comparison whatsoever to the food you get in a high street Indian, so let that be a warning for all of you Korma, Rogan Josh and Vindaloo fans.


Just why does it cost more to cut a woman's hair than it does a man's?


For years people have been lambasting the homogenised surroundings of supermarket fruit and veg areas; saying stuff like 'they're destroying the good old fashioned market stall holder' etc. But in reality it's just as well.
Yesterday, the wife bought 5lbs of new potatoes from Northampton market. Of these spuds, 6 were damaged and unusable, three were 10x the size of the rest and looked to be a completely different variety, and of the rest, half were not fresh, in some cases they were soft. Less than half the spuds in the bag were decent, whereas if I was in a supermarket, I could pick 5lbs of perfect potatoes to my heart's content.

The same applies to fruit; buy a bag of anything from a market stall and you can bet your life they slip a dodgy one in; mainly because unlike the supermarkets they can't afford to lose a penny - but that doesn't mean the punter has to suffer.


Dr Who finishes its current run tonight. I've thoroughly enjoyed it; Matt Smith is a star; I think Karen Gillan is a goddess, but I couldn't help think there was something not quite right, or something missing about it. Plus, I'm getting a little weary of mass guest stars from previous episodes popping up - it makes it almost forced rather than a smooth transition. Maybe it was just first season nerves? Or maybe I'm missing RTD? Nah.

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