Monday, February 28, 2011

How Dare You!!!

My dogs have a habit of getting me into trouble. Today was no exception.

I was out over Bradlaugh Fields with the four of them and we were half way round our walk when Marley - the idiot dog with an unpredictable nature - starts acting a bit fidgety; like something has spooked her. Running along side this specific part of Bradlaugh is a footpath that runs all the way up to Moulton Park and from this footpath emerges a woman pulling a suitcase on some wheels.

Marley does no more than start barking and runs up to the woman. I shouts at her to come away, but she's got a bee in her bonnet now. "Come here you stupid cow, it's a black suitcase!" I shout.

A few seconds later, Marley is running off in another direction barking at some school kids. I start to follow her when suddenly I hear, "Excuse me." I didn't think it was aimed at me, so carried on walking. "I said, excuse me!" I turned around and the woman with the suitcase is heading in my direction.
"Yes, love."
"How dare you!! Do you think you can insult me just because you have dogs?" I really have no idea what she's talking about.
"I'm sorry, but what are you talking about?"
"Do you think it's funny to call me a stupid cow with a black suitcase?" Realising what has happened and unable to stop myself, I start laughing, which appears to anger the woman even more. "So you think it's funny do you?"
"No. I'm sorry but you've got the wrong end of the stick." She's standing there giving me daggers. "I was talking to the dog. I called her a stupid cow because she was barking at your suitcase." And I gave her the most charming smile I could muster.
"Oh." She says as little Ness wanders up to her and starts sniffing her wheelie bag. "Oh..."
"I'm sorry if the dog alarmed you, but I was just telling her she was being stupid; not you."
"You must think I'm mental," she said, but to be truthful I could see how she could get it confused.
"Not at all. Easily done." And I started to laugh again. "My wife is going to find this hilarious."
"So's my husband," she said and suddenly a potentially nasty situation was reduced to a good humoured misunderstanding. She wandered off towards her destination and I walked back to the car, still chuckling.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thom York ate my Snotty Naan

I remember when Radiohead's Kid A came out. Neil, my brother-in-law, was working at a record shop at the time and when a customer walked up to him and asked what the album was like, he replied, "Give me some pots and pans and a kazoo and I'll knock you one up in half an hour." It wasn't the only funny thing he's ever said, but sometimes the humour isn't quite as accurate or well placed.

King of Limbs feels like it comes from the same pots, pans and kazoo stable that Kid A does. Have this band, the one that did such indie classics as Fake Plastic Trees, Street Spirit (Fade Out), Karma Police and The Gloaming, forgotten how to write a tune? It almost feels like they felt obligated to do an album, so they locked themselves in a studio for 45 minutes and came up with a 38 minute long album - the other 7 minutes was having a fag, drinking a mug of coffee and watching Thom go through some moves for the video of Lotus Flower.

I thought In Rainbows was evidence of the law of diminishing returns; King of Limbs does nothing to change that opinion, it actually reinforces it. I'm betting 99% of the band's fans would welcome an album that they can interact with again.

***

Last night, feeling slightly healthier than I have for a fortnight, the wife and I ventured over to Leicester to see Jay and Selina and go to a restaurant we've attempted to go to for about 5 years. Sharmilees on the Belgrave Road has become something of an Indian food Mount Everest for us; we see it, but we've not managed to sit down in it and have a meal. We had a takeaway from there about 3 years ago; just after J&S got Loki, their little man, and didn't want to leave him alone for the night; but that was the closest.

Selina booked up and amazingly the place was half empty - it's always been packed to the rafters. The food, in a nutshell, is good. Maybe not as good as I'd been expecting, but good enough to make the journey worthwhile - although the company would have more than made up for it even if the food tasted like pig shit. But, and you knew there was a but coming, it wasn't the kind of food that I expected from a place that once had a 'book well in advance to avoid disappointment' policy. My criticisms were few - it could have done with being a bit hotter in temperature; I was disappointed to see the use of frozen vegetables and there seemed to be an over eagerness from the staff, which sometimes isn't needed and can be a way of detracting from the rest of the service.

Perhaps I'm just used to the wonderful food from Pooja in Wellingborough; but I've yet to have a complete meal in Leicester that compares with my favourite restaurant. That makes it sound like I don't rate Leicester; I do and in a big way. I just can't help wondering if it has become slightly Anglicised and has forgotten its roots?

***

(To be read in a blues stylee)

Woke up this morning and wondered if this ongoing bout of metamorphosing cold was ever going to end. I have a horrible feeling that whatever this cold is doing, it's seriously considering having a go at my chest again. The wife reckons its revenge for having avoided everything that's been floating around over the last 6 months - because it will be 6 months since I packed up smoking at some point in March. But I've now had 3 consecutive long weekends where I've felt much less than 100% and this is not fair...

***

It very much looks like I shall be serialising my autobiographical comics book on http://alifeincomics.blogspot.com/ as the bits I've looked at and edited so far have been okay...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Comic Book Diaries (Prologue)

http://alifeincomics.blogspot.com/

This is the name of a new blog that I am going to be producing*.

It will be many things; a lot of which I'm undecided about. It will, hopefully, be worth following, especially if you're a comics fan; so I urge you to bookmark it for your future delectation.

Think of it as an idea in progress. Skirt round its edge, because I'm not sure if it will bite or not. If you follow my blogs and have no interest in comic books, you might choose to avoid it; but equally, you might learn something about an industry - yes, it is an industry - that is at times so complex and nasty, it makes Dallas and JR Ewing seem positively squidgy and fluffy.

It's an experiment. One that delves into the past and drags it into the present, exposes it and asks whether it's relevant and regardless of the answer, whether it's worth pursuing.

On June 6th, I will have been involved, in a hands on way, with comics, for 35 years. It was on a hot summer's day in 1976, that memorable hot 1976, that I first ventured into the world of comic marts, fanzines and sweat fuelled fraternities. I had been reading comics for longer, but it was that day that changed things. Not all of the following 35 years are relevant, but a lot of them are...

It's active now!

*Never say never

While My Catarrh Gently Weeps

I can tell you the last time I had a really bad cold. It was April 2009. The last time I had a chest infection was October 2008. I have been reasonably blessed with phlegm related good health for a few years (just a shame about my bones, eh?), therefore the current bout of snot related nastiness was always destined to be green, sticky and unmovable.

I sort of blame myself really. I'd had a mild chest infection the week before and had gone to the pub quiz much against my better judgement; had sat in a damp car listening to the second half of Spurs versus AC Milan; gone back to work - sat in an office with people dropping like flies from coughs and colds and then, the day before my big interview at Northampton Academy, my new mate Billy, who works at the Queen Adelaide egged me into going for a couple pints last Thursday night. Roger, my usual Thursday night squeeze was off seeing the Penguin Cafe Orchestra or something like that and with my interview on the Friday putting paid to my usual Friday lunchtime drink with One El, I saw this as an opportunity rather than an excuse to take it easy.

On the drive up to Kingsthorpe, I noticed that the tickly cough, for which I had consumed 18 antibiotic tablets, seemed to have returned, but not put off by this sometimes tell tale sign, I went and had a couple of pints and as the hour wore on I found I was feeling a bit hot, a bit sweaty and a bit pooh. Friday arrived and I knew I was coming down with a cold rather than anything else; so I dosed myself up with Lemsips, went to (and failed to get) the job interview, came home and my health fell apart about 3.45pm on the 18th.

By the time I took the dogs out, I was sneezing, coughing and feeling generally shit. By the time the wife got home I felt like a sack of the aforementioned shit and went to bed before midnight on a Friday night, for the second week on the trot and not for a shag, but for sleep. The wife was up at 4:00am giving me paracetamol and I was trying desperately to warm up. My biggest fear at that point in the morning was if the chest infection came back it was a weekend and I'd just finished a course of antibiotics - emergency doctors are, by and large, massive fuckwits (although I'm sure it's not entirely their fault).
I emerged from bed at midday on Saturday, looking and feeling like something from a HP Lovecraft story and sat on the sofa with a blanket over me all day. The wife knew I felt crappy because I wasn't actually making a lot of complaining noises. Her theory being - the worse you are the less noise you make about feeling ill. There is a degree of absolute truth in that assessment. However, by Saturday night, I'd started to feel like the back had been broken. I was feeling human again and figured that with a bit of luck I could be well enough on Sunday to a) go shopping and b) entertain Neil and Jenny.

And that is exactly what I did on Sunday. I went shopping; prepared the dinner, felt human enough to go for a walk with the wife, Neil (her brother), his girlfriend Jenny and the four dogs of the apocalypse. And for 40 minutes everything was fine. I threw a ball for Marley; knackered my trainers and figured that by Tuesday, when I was due back at work, everything would have cleared out. Oh, how wrong could I be...

As I said, I can only blame myself. By the time the walk was drawing to a close, I'd stopped talking and was getting some anxious looks from the wife. She'd noticed a sheen of sweat on my brow and the fact I was now hanging back. I was sweating profusely and feeling really quite horrid. By the time we got home, the only thing I wanted to do was change my clothes. my winter raincoat's arms had already started to feel damp, that was because my sweatshirt had darkened in colour, as had my green t-shirt. In fact, you know them action films with Bruce Willis, where his t-shirt is soaked with sweat, radiating out from armpits, middle of the back and between his abs? Well, that was me! I was soaking wet.

I managed to get through dinner; our guests went home and I sat, quietly, watching TV until the wife went to bed. I then sat in this office for an hour and had a little blog while my Lemsip kicked in. Monday morning arrived and I felt as bad as I had on Saturday. I figured going for the walk was a mixed blessing - yes, I needed the fresh air, but ultimately it had been detrimental. I watched 2 dreadful films and a documentary (both of which I blogged about) and cooked a veggie stew that was apparently very nice. I couldn't taste much.

Yesterday, I was supposed to go back to work; my second extra long weekend on the trot spoiled by ill health. However, I felt awful, was bunged up beyond belief and figured that going to work would only aggravate a bad situation. I sat and watched some films - The Blood on Satan's Claw which was pooh and Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home which wasn't. By 3.30, I was thinking I felt a little better, so I took the dogs out for a walk - bad move. By the time I'd got home I felt pretty crappy again and to prove just how ill I felt, I opted not to go to the pub quiz - the first one I'd missed since late September 2009 - heck, I didn't miss it when I prolapsed my disc and was quick to ridicule Roger for missing one recently because he was being a wuss...

I sat in and watched Spurs get humiliated by Blackpool and then watched a 1963 Hammer film called The Damned, with MacDonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field and Oliver Reed - what a bizarrely grim movie that was! If people behaved like that in 1963, I'm glad I was only one.

That brings us nicely to today. I got up early to go to work, felt like shit again and phoned in sick. I still have this god-awful sinus headache that has been there now for 4 days and has meant that I've had a headache for 7 of the last 10 days; which hasn't been nice. I'm pretty sure my body has just invented a new shade of green and Catarrh isn't just another Middle East country facing revolution...

Monday, February 21, 2011

And Then They Were Fascists

As I'm still recovering from man flu, I decided that today would be a vegging out in front of the telly kind of day, watching the things the wife would have no interest in at all.

I began the day with the Scandinavian horror/slasher movie called Insane. It was pretty rubbish and had me wondering if Insane was a Scandinavian word for Crap. It was set in a 1960s styled hotel, a kind of reworking of Psycho with little going for it, some very poor acting and editing that was, I believe, done by a blind idiot. Or perhaps the film makers were trying to convey that feeling of insanity? The premise was essentially girl gets murdered by a gas mask wearing stalker; this is followed by another girl being murdered by a gas mask wearing stalker, but not before she manages to send her sister a picture of her standing in front of the hotel. Sister turns up, goes through the same dance again before sort of revealing the situation, with the aid of her boyfriend and then eventually getting killed. It was a truly awful film and at times seemed like an attempt to do a pg-13 version of Saw, except some of the violence was OTT.

Figuring that things couldn't get much worse, I opted to watch the monumentally titled Nude Nuns with Big Guns and wished I hadn't. I'm going to be downright sexist now, just for a few lines, but this film was wrong; totally and utterly wrong. There was not a single nude nun in it that you would have wanted to look at; all of them were a load of munters (I believe that's one of the terms young people use nowadays). Essentially it is the tale of a priest who uses the nuns in his convent to producer top quality heroin; he then trades it with a local wanker, um, drug dealer and every so often the drug dealer gets to take one of the nuns back with him to sell in his brothel as a genuine nun; who commands a much higher price than his other prostitutes. The wanker and his buddies are essentially a bunch of amoral pieces of shit, who wander round their corner of the world defiling every single thing and laugh about it. The clergy, who condone all of this activity are portrayed as money grabbing idiots and all of the nude nuns look like the ugly girl from your school. You get the impression they had about $50 to spend on the actors.

One of the prostitute nuns gets the chance to become the wrath of God and after some weapons training goes in search of all the bad men and blows them away. It is Death Wish with nude nuns and bad acting. There are a number of gratuitous lesbian scenes featuring, one presumes, drug addicts the producers dragged off the streets and just as you think the film cannot sink any lower, it manages to scrape shit off the bottom of the barrel that had been fossilised. it ends with a ludicrous scene involving a dismembered member and a couple of nude lesbian nuns.

Now, to some people, some of the bizarre imagery I've alluded to might make you think that this is some kind of B movie classic waiting for you to discover. it isn't. It left me feeling slightly dirty and a wee bit ashamed that I even downloaded it. it's a nasty, vicious waste of time and you will hate yourself if you watch it.

After all of this I decided I needed to change tack slightly. I had recorded a programme off of Sky Arts; it was called Genesis: A History and as I was once a huge fan of this band, I figured it would be interesting to watch this documentary. The first thing I noticed was that it had been made in 1990, so it was actually 21 years old; the second thing was it was a documentary designed to be shown around the time of the band's second Knebworth concert; the penultimate time I saw the band live and what should really have been the last time I saw them considering how fucking awful it was.

The first thing that struck me was that I was in it. they used the footage from the Nationwide documentary and there was me and my brother Steve standing in front of the stage at Knebworth in 1978 with three other people and no one else. So it was weird watching me on TV, albeit for just a few short seconds. The second thing that struck me was just what a complete trio of wankers Collins, Banks and Rutherford were. Jesus Brian Christ; never have I seen such a group of pious, self-loving, back-biting shits. I mean, I knew Collins was a wanker years ago, but was not really aware that the other two were just as fucking horrid. Both Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett came off really well and you got the impression that between the lines of the actual words they said about leaving the band was the real reason - the other members were a bunch of smug pricks.

Tony Banks comes out of it the worse as he actually criticises everyone in the band; suggesting that Collins wasn't up to fill Gabriel's shoes, that Rutherford wasn't that good a musician and this wasn't before they split up. Collins just blames everyone else in the world for them thinking he was a twat and Rutherford just seems like he's living in another reality. The first 45 minutes of the documentary was interesting, the second half was cringe inducing, with all three laughingly suggesting that Invisible Touch was the best thing they had ever done.

I remember the second Knebworth concert. I got pissed and stoned throughout the concert. Got tearful during the 20 minute old stuff medley and insulted a lot of people around me by suggesting that pop song Genesis were just a load of shit and any one who liked them had no real idea what quality music sounded like. I really can't believe that I went to see them at Wembley Stadium two years later. I can believe it was the last time I saw them, because they were dreadful and Paul Young supported them and he was shit too.

Apparently Phil Collins has some kind of arthritis that prevents him from playing drums any more and subsequently figures that any chance of Genesis reforming isn't going to happen. Thank fuck for that; it's a shame he doesn't get some kind of throat disease putting a stop to any chance he has of ever appearing on stage again in any capacity. Or perhaps a big fucking meteor could crash into the mansion him, Banks and Rutherford will meet in to discuss reforming and wipe these fucking posh twats off the face of the planet once and for all.

Everything after Steve Hackett's departure should be consigned to a chemical toilet!

And breathe...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cow and Bungle

I suppose it would be very non-pc of me to suggest that some kind of extinction event were to happen that just targets chavs; but frankly that's what I'd like to see. Some kind of The Stand like flu event that just affects the section of society that need a sign on the toilet to tell them they're facing the wrong way; the section of society that stands around open mouthed looking at some riddled with sugar BOGOF in a supermarket, while people who want to just get on with things have to do slalom impersonations just to be able to keep on track. To be totally honest with you, I could write a list and it would be a long list and the list would include people like one of my brothers; but they should all die and leave the planet to people that actually give a shit. To people who are courteous and conscientious; people who have manners and are aware of the world and its occupants and what they are doing.

Now, breathe.

***

Someone, probably God, must have a really twisted sense of humour, having fucked me over for two weekends on the trot. Last weekend, I had a chest infection, this weekend, the mother of all cold viruses. The wife reckons that after 5 months of not smoking and not having so much as a sniffle, this is my body's revenge, which, if my 'everything bad comes in 3s' theory is correct, then I'm going to be diagnosed with diabetes next week or something is going to happen to prevent us from going to Leicester next weekend!

***

I've been watching this US medical drama called Off the Map for the last 6 weeks. It's basically a bunch of American doctors stuck in the Amazon rainforest (except it's filmed in Hawaii using the old Lost sets) The wife gave up on it because she just didn't find it compelling enough and thought it terribly formulaic; I, on the other hand, decided it had enough about it to warrant further examination. However, after 5 weeks, I came to the conclusion that it was a bit like watching Casualty back in the early 1990s, guessing who was going to be sick and who was going to die. Every week, it was one unexpected death or one martyr like moment mixed with a quirky ailment cured by some rainforest plant or medicine man. You could almost set your watch knowing someone was going to die.

But this week, faced with no pharmacy (emptied in a robbery) and with viral meningitis and an appendicitis, both of which need drugs they didn't have, it was refreshing that both patients survived. The quirky subplot involved a young girl bitten by a parasitic insect who needs a simple course of antibiotics (which they don't have, because of the robbery) to prevent her from developing deadly heart disease which will kill her by the time she's 25, but whose mother is reluctant to let her go to the city hospital because she earns money for the poor family working in the market. In the end, the appendectomy, the meningitis and the young girl are all either sorted or are on the way to being sorted and all are put on a helicopter to take them back to the city. The first thing that went through my head was how refreshing it was that no one died this week; the second thing was wouldn't it be funny if the helicopter crashed killing all on board.

The helicopter crashed.

In many ways it just followed the same old formula, but remarkably, in other ways, it changed it completely by killing all of the patients off rather than just one of them. The problem is that during episode 5, I was about to turn it off and give the series up, but thought I should persevere; after all, it isn't some SF or horror series that I appear to be hooked on, it's just a medical drama - normal TV. I'm not sure what constitutes 'normal' in this show, but I don't think I'm going to bother watching it any longer. It needs something else other than death to keep me watching and with this it seems that death is the only denouement the writers can think of.

Coincidentally, about 18 months ago, we were just about to give up on another TV series when something happened at the end of the third episode that made us stick with it for a bit longer and now it's a must see piece of TV. I'm talking about The Vampire Diaries, which I'm happy to say was also highlighted by The Guardian recently as one of the current must-see US dramas. It, as I have said many times in the past, is bonkers television; it's everything Twilight wants to be, but falls at every hurdle. I even concluded that it's the 2011 version of Buffy, with it's smart dialogue, likeable supporting cast and unexpected twists and turns.

The main problem with Buffy was that towards the of the show, well, actually during large chunks of the show, the most annoying thing about it was Buffy Summers herself. Yes, she was lovely eye candy and without her there wasn't a series, but her supporting cast became far more interesting and you cared far more about them than you ever did her. I don't know if that was purposeful or just a strange quirk, but for me it was the absolute truth.

Now, Vampire Diaries has the same problem. The main character is arguably the most annoying and dislikeable in the show. Plus to make matters worse, the actress is in a dual role. Nina Dobrev plays both Elena Gilbert and a vampire called Katherine whose lives are connected, entwined and inextricably linked. Dobrev's characters have to be in it otherwise there wouldn't be a series, and for the last six weeks or so of season 2, she has been nothing more than a peripheral character and subsequently these weeks have been the best episodes of the entire series.

It is a show with sparkling dialogue, interestingly diverse characters, unexpected twists and turns, a sense of humour and more than a knowing wink and a nod to the aforementioned Twilight. The problem is that Dobrev's characters are now very much back on centre stage and I fear that this will mean a drop in quality. I know there are people out there who have given this show a chance, but ultimately given up thinking it's vacuous and facile. Well, it's worth watching purely for Ian Somerhalder's Damon, undoubtedly the best vampire since Spike and over the course of the series the character that you tune in every week to watch - he's the real star of the show. But also, its worth watching out for Caroline Forbes (played by Candice Accola) - really nothing more than a bimbo supplying blond sexiness during the first series, who during the second season has developed into an unbelievably brilliant cast member - I won't tell you why in case you decide to watch it, but she's like this show's Nina (from Being Human).

It's a show that has vampires, werewolves, witches and warlocks, immortality rings, ancient vampires who are in many ways completely different from the main vampires and a real arsehole human. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a few more weird and wonderful new creatures introduced over the next few years, but it wouldn't spoil it if there weren't. It's the kind of thing I'd recommend for a box set treat.

If I had to choose between this and Fringe as my favourite TV import at the moment, I'd struggle to pick one over the other. However, if you don't want horror or weird and wonderful SF, you need to watch the US version of Shameless. It is arguably better than the UK version and that's a big and bold statement. It's like Paul Abbott has had the chance to do it all again, but this time he's cut all the shit out and just left the excellent elements of the first 4 series. Plus, I believe it is considerably more risqué than any of the UK episodes and that surprises me, but could be why it feels so much better.

***

I met with the spinal surgeon on Wednesday. He offered me an operation but I turned him down. There has been an improvement in my back and leg since December and I want to see if it improves any more.

We talked about medication and I'm coming off the tramadol and going back to co-codamol; I'm going back on amitripyline and we're going to review the situation in May. He was pretty straight talking and made me feel better about my 'temporary' disability. He sympathised with me about crap GPs, ridiculous disability laws and weird nerves. He feels that I should see an 80% recovery from the prolapsed disc, but I'll probably struggle to avoid pain especially when I walk any distance or exert myself too much.

He also told me to be honest with myself about my spondylosis. The MRI indicates that it's been there for a few years now, but my big pain and bone problems started about 5 months ago; shortly after I stopped smoking cannabis. The thing is, most of my friends have known that I've smoked drugs for the last 32 years, with barely a break; but for the benefit of possible work colleagues and other people, I've been disguising the fact in this blog; suggesting that I stopped 9 or 10 years ago. I've got into enough trouble because of blogs without admitting to something that could lose me my job. This was because I didn't want 'outsiders' to know of my drug habit and I didn't want it to be used as an excuse for any mistakes I might have made. The thing is I don't smoke it now and there's a direct correlation between me stopping and the amount of pain I've been in; something that both my GP and my surgeon have agreed about. My lungs might be better, but my bones ain't.

Many people have suggested I return to the drug; maybe eating it or smoking it neat; but the problem is I'm an addict - not of cannabis but of nicotine and I know that if I started ingesting pot in some form, I will eventually go back to smoking it and that invariably means I'll end up mixing it with tobacco and that's something I'm not going to do. Being addicted to nicotine is as bad as being addicted to alcohol or heroin. I always used to suggest that I had a dependence on cannabis; but that was the nicotine talking; the only difference in my life now that there's no cannabis in it is the pain. I smoked the stuff for 32 years, by the time I stopped, I'd forgotten what it was like to be stoned; it was a medicine and nothing more. I didn't realise it until I stopped taking it, but I actually don't want to start again even if it does mean less pain and more mobility. Funny that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Glass Onion (Part F)

I was asked today how do you make potato crisps and it got me thinking. Making crisps is actually a pretty complicated procedure, in that you literally have to fart about a lot to get them to the stage where you can fry them.

For starters, you need a good frying potato and amazingly golden wonder - of which the crisp company was named after - is probably the best. But the bottom line is, if you want to make crisps this is the way to do it.

First off, you really need a mandoline and that's not a musical instrument, but a tool to allow you to slice things very thinly. You could use a knife, but boy have you got to have a sure hand and a good eye and you'll still never get it as thin. Once you've sliced your spuds into crisps size, you need to put them into some cold water and wash them. You need to flush out all the starch and once you've done that you need to do it again a few minutes later. Washing starch off works, but it doesn't get rid of it all, so you drain the water, leave the washed rounds to drain and then wash them again. Once that's been done, you need to dry the raw crisps and that is a massively time consuming exercise; but the rounds have to be dry otherwise you won't get crispy crisps.

Once you've dried the spuds, you then really need to give them some air and chill them. Put them in the fridge and about twenty minutes later you need to pat them dry again with some more kitchen towels. see what I mean about it being time consuming and fiddly?

Then you need some clean, fresh hot oil. It needs to be hot and you need to drop your crisps in individually, but quite quickly, so that you don't have overcooked crisps and undercooked ones at the same time. You do them in batches and set them out to drain on kitchen towels sitting over cooling racks. You then do something even weirder; you get some salt and crush it even finer - you can do this with a spice grinder or just by putting it into a mortar and pestle and crushing it into a powder; but the thing is it sticks better to the crisps than just bog standard table salt!

***

Perfect rice is something many people find impossible to do and in reality it's considerably easier than making potato crisps! However, there are similarities and the main one is you need to wash your rice!

Let's say you're using basmati; this is a starchy rice at the best of times, so it's best to put it in a sieve and then rinse it thoroughly through with hot water until the water stops looking milky - at times, you might even think that there is so much starch being washed off it makes up an entire grain. Then you need to rinse it through with cold water and then you need to leave it to drain.

The next thing is to boil your water. Now, when I make rice for two people, I fill a cup up with rice and then another half a cup; so when you cook it you need to put your salt (and turmeric, if you want yellow rice) into a saucepan and then add two cups of boiling water to a pan that is already sitting on a lighted flame. Add your rice, bring to the boil, stir and then get your lid, wrap it up in an old tea towel and put it over the pan, then wait it down with something heavy. Turn the heat down to simmer and time for 4 minutes. Once the 4 minutes is up, turn off the heat and leave it for another 8 to 10 minutes.

You should have a pan for of perfectly cooked, fluffy rice, that you can fluff up with a fork. if you haven't, you've done something wrong.

***

Old fashioned mash potatoes

I'm fed up with chefs who seem to think that mash is actually 50% potato and a varying mixture of 50% fresh cream and butter, that eventually means you have a thick soupy splodge that has a vague taste of potato. Mashed potato should be what it says, potato that has been mashed, that has some additives - salt, black pepper, butter and milk or cream to smooth it out, not over power it and turn into a white coronary aid.

So with that all in mind, if you need me to tell you how to mash potato then you shouldn't be allowed near a cooker. but essentially you bring to the boil and then turn down to a very slow simmer until the potatoes have cooked in their own generated heat. Get a masher and do the biz, adding the salt, pepper, and butter as you do the mashing, ensuring that you don't have any lumps in it. You can do all of this with a masher; you don't need to use a food processor or one of those hand held things.

***

Next time I hope to have a really funky paneer dish and a couple of new potato and aubergine curry recipes, that I intend to try out over the next week or so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pringle's Wandering Bison

Much of this has been dealt with in previous blogs; but maybe not with such a sardonic tone...

I've been looking for a new job. I might have mentioned this. So far I've been lucky. There have been 3 jobs that I have deemed worthy of me doing; or to put it a different way, after 6 weeks of searching the papers and on-line, I've managed to find 3 jobs that I've felt confident about applying for.

The first one seemed like a shoo-in. Not only was it similar to what I'd been doing for the last year, it was actually being advertised as a position where male applicants would be considered more desirable. I knocked together a stonking application; spoke to the right people, included the right phrases and was pretty sure they couldn't not give me an interview.

Then I heard... nothing. About 10 days after hearing nothing, one of the 'right people' I spoke to for guidance informed me that the position and the organisation behind the position had effectively been hit by the cuts and they weren't looking for a new member of staff, the five existing members of staff were now looking for new jobs!

Job #2 was one of those jobs that I could do with my eyes shut and one hand tied behind my back. Having worked with the organisation advertising on a number of occasions and having been told by one of their senior managers that I should consider applying for one of their team leader positions when it arose, I figured I was a shoo-in for an interview, at least.

Then I discovered that I couldn't actually get their application form to load, so I wrote a detailed covering letter and sent it with my updated CV to the HR department. I believe I've told you that the said HR department were as useful as a chocolate teapot and subsequently my application, written into a template for an operating system that very few people have and I was not aware that openoffice.org would have let me do the necessary there, was like the remains of a psychopath's fun with an axe, a blender and an idiotic victim. I basically realised the only way I would have got an interview for this job was if people had died.

Then I learned from someone I know that the job effectively never existed. It had already been filled and my gut feeling that I was just going through an equal ops exercise was confirmed. The application pack, being in Microsoft Excel and not compatible with either my spreadsheet software or work's Office 2007 software, was a mixture of bizarre and off-putting. I was beginning to think that getting another job was going to be impossible and, to be fair, it might just prove to be that.

However, the fates seemed to be against me with job #3. Where I'd done everything possible to fall in line with jobs #1 and #2, produced excellent copy for my applications, even if one of them looked like a dog's dinner, #3 was no where near as smooth.

I saw the job in the paper the Thursday before last. Thought that I could do it, but also figured that it was probably way beyond my capabilities. I told the wife that I was going to apply for it and promptly forgot. Last Tuesday she asked me if I'd done anything about it and I said that I hadn't, but figured that perhaps I should, to which she said she had better see if she could retrieve it from the rabbit's hutch as she's used it on Sunday and hopefully it wouldn't be piss stained and unreadable. Fortunately for me, she did and it was readable.

I was at a prison last Wednesday, sitting in the car park waiting for my time slot when I figured what the hell, I might as well phone up and speak to the HR woman about this job and subsequently I ended up taking a tour of the establishment where the job is situated; as explained in a blog entry from last week.

What I didn't say was that the tour of Northampton Academy I took was an informal view of the place for potential candidates for the job I was inquiring about and that while it was 'informal' I was the only person on this tour that looked like a tramp. I had jeans and a sweatshirt on, a pair of grubby trainers and a Berghaus jacket that essentially needs a good boil wash. It wasn't until after the visit that I realised that I really looked like someone who wasn't that bothered by the job. I also had to get the application form in to them by Friday lunchtime and I hadn't even downloaded the thing from their website. It was all looking a bit bleak and I'd virtually decided that I didn't even stand a chance of getting an interview so I might as well not bother.

However, the wife wanted me to apply, so I spent much of last Thursday night, coughing and sneezing and struggling to get the application forms to format in my crappy Word alternative called Microsoft Works - or in this case Microsoft Doesn't Works. I filled the application out, saw that there was about a dozen formatting errors, couldn't put half the information I wanted to without it falling apart and ended up writing a covering letter apologising for the bad layouts and the fact that I had to include one of the sections as an addendum on a extra sheet of paper.

I woke up Friday morning feeling like several variations of pooh, banging headache, chesty cough, painful, sweaty and obviously running a temperature. managed to does myself up with Lemsips and ibuprofen and dropped the dreadful application form into the hands of the school's receptionist at 12.55, with about 5 minutes to spare and figured that would be the last I would see or hear of the job.

You can guess what's coming, can't you?

The interview is Friday at 2pm. They have already asked if they can approach my referees, who have both sent excellent references on my behalf, and while I really don't think I'm there for more than just to make up the numbers; I must have said some things in my application that has given me a fighting chance of being considered; after all, why else ask for references, if I really am just there to make up the numbers?

Do I want the job? I don't know. I do know that I can bring a fresh perspective to the position, which I will talk about a little more next week, and I have expertise in some areas that other applicants maybe don't have, which in turn promotes the first point. I just have to be able to do well at the interview; articulate myself; do my homework - which I have started to do already - and maybe make myself a bit more luck; after all, lots of things conspired to prevent me from applying, yet I managed to and now I have an interview, so I'm hoping that's not all my good fortune used up to get this far.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Boat Floating - A Music review

Collections
Blow Up Hollywood

I feel honoured to call Steve Messina a friend, for that is what he is. I am therefore even more honoured to be thought of as someone who warrants advance copies of his band's future releases. I was privy to Collections as early as November 2009 and have had the 'album' for a full 16 months. Steve sent it to me for an article I was going to write for a website I used to write for, in a series of musical interludes and because he wanted a transatlantic prespective.

When Steve sent me the disc, which until last week was filed under BUH 2009, he asked me if I had any suggestions as to the order it should run and explained that some tracks were versions of existing songs, while others were experimental. He offered me a vague reason for why the forthcoming album would be called Collections, but for me the reason it is called that is because it collects the wide array of styles you find in Blow Up Hollywood's music. There's everything from prog to rock to soul to jazz to ambient noodling stuff. The band, of which Messina is the principal songwriter, don't do labels; of the 6 'albums' of theirs I own, no two are alike, although the eponymous titled Blow Up Hollywood and its follow up Fake are probably the most similar, but even then it is just Messina's vocals that connect the two.

For my benefit more than anyone else, I'm going to review the album as I hear it, rather than revised order that appears on the release.
Collections is good. It, as they say, floats my boat. It kicks off with two really powerful prog like instrumentals - NCK and JCK, both of which show some of the influences that have helped define this vastly underrated band. It is followed by the atmospheric DDK - possibly my favourite instrumental track on the album; it reminds me of early William Orbit, but with a depth and gravitas that Orbit's early stuff seemed to lack and it has a layered guitar in it that makes you want to pick up an air guitar and noodle along with - well, it does me...
Sweet Memory is a lovely love song about loss; it combines piano, Steve's voice and a subtle use of strings to convey an almost 1930s feel. I didn't like this much on first few listens and now I find it's been put right at the end of the release I think it's a great way to end the album. This is followed by When It's Over, another love song that seems to examine the break ups in relationships and who ends up taking the blame; it's also got a sing along quality, something you could argue BUH are not renowned for.
Then we're treated to the cover version of Kite; Kitty Kite is in many respects the best track on the album; but this might be due to the fact that Kite is one of BUH's best loved songs. The female vocalist, Kim Wayman (I believe) has a fabulous voice, all croaky and soulful and she really gets to use her ability on Slow Down - a song that Messina tends to sing at live shows, but Wayman really makes this a soulfully beautiful track. Her final input is Crash, another painful sounding song that seems to describe the affects of a full on affair has on people.
In many respects, the version of Collections I own is split into sections; the modern rock instrumentals; the middle section of vocalising the impact of relationships, of love and loss, and then there's the final section; the jazzy experimental stuff; where BUH's love of cello, John Cage and the avant garde really shines through.
For Jessica is a deep, rich and almost sad piece of music that has a feel of Take Flight, the last BUH album. It also reminds me of the early instrumentals from the eponymous album and the original reason why I fell in love with Blow Up Hollywood's unique style. This also acts as a sort of bridging point (on my copy) for the full on weirdness of Caged, More Caged and Cello/Piano/Radio/Woodwinds which explore the dark side of the band's love of the unusual and the uncommercial. While Blow Up Hollywood have never been commercial, they do have songs that you could play at parties; these 'weird' pieces of music are the kind of thing you put the headphones on when you're in need of a self-analysis moment or are feeling a wee bit introspective. You can understand why a sideline of the band is to produce soundtrack music and you can see why they also have a love of the freeform - whether it's jazz or modern classical. This is wall of sound as far removed from Phil Spector as is earthly possible.
In many respects, the three avant garde pieces don't sit naturally with the rest of the album, even when they are at the end of a CD like mine are; however, mingled with the rest of the album they almost throw down a gauntlet, suggesting to the listener that what they're listening to isn't your standard fayre.
The album is only available as an MP3 download at the moment and would cost you a measly £6.99; which by today's standards is a great price for an album that defies description in places. Do yourself a favour and buy the album and remember something, with the release of the band's last album Take Flight, they gave the proceeds to a building program in Nicaragua, to help the homeless there have some place to live. this from a band that are barely known outside of their native New York. You don't find the U2s, Arcade Fires and Radioheads of this world doing such a charitable and altruistic gesture and that alone make this a band worth speculating on.

I score Collections a monumental 9 out of 10

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Phlegm Night

Not happy. The first of my 6 long weekends and I'm sitting here cold, sweaty, wheezy and having missed a mixture of new and enjoyable experiences. I haven't actually been 'ill' for ages, so Thursday evening when I started to feel really dodgy, I took the precautionary decision not to go for a beer; figuring that if I could head it off at the pass, my Friday and Saturday wouldn't be ruined. Unfortunately, my Friday dawned even worse - headache, sweaty shivers and a chest that felt as though someone had been dancing on a rake in it. The tell-tale signs were there and I called the doctor straight away and got a 6.30 emergency appointment.

The day time of Friday was spent curled up on the sofa watching episodes of the live action Tick from the early part of this century. After the initial episode, which I found very entertaining, I struggled to laugh at any of the subsequent episodes and only Nestor Carbonell (the immortal one from Lost) as the very funny Bat Manuel raised it above dull and repetitive. I understand now why it was cancelled after a half dozen episodes. I traded pints of Kingston Topaz for that...

The doctor confirmed my suspicions - I had a chest infection and he prescribed 500mg doses of ampicillin or some such antibiotic and I figured I'd start to feel human again by the evening.

Saturday started very early. I went to bed on Friday night, which is a rare thing as it's normally Saturday morning when I go to bed (between 1 and 2 as a rule), but by the time I normally hit the sack, I was awake. The lying down was tickling my throat, which in turn was aggravating my chest and triggering coughs, sneezes and snotty interludes. Not only did I have a chest infection, I seemed to have had a cold sneak up and infiltrate my defences without my knowledge. After keeping the wife awake for ages, I opted to go back downstairs, wrap myself up in spare quilts and watch some wee hours TV until my eyelids became heavy and sleep would again overtake me. That was about 4.20am.

I was supposed to go to my first ever live Rugby Union match on Saturday. A good friend and colleague had purloined two tickets for the Saints versus Saracens match - a very important game in the Aviva Premiership as the latter had sneaked into 2nd place and pushed the Saints into 3rd - probably the lowest place they've been all season. I'd been hassling my mate for about two years to go to a rugby match and now was my big chance and the god of mischief (and bad health) decided to fuck me over. It sounded like a great match by all accounts, unfortunately the Saints got stuffed - but they did have at least four of their stars missing...

The wife did the shopping as I sat and watched old Ren and Stimpy cartoons, and flipped between Sky Sports News and the BBC keeping up to date with everything going on. Which brings us to now, the evening and I've just woken up after a little nap and while the wife sorts out some food for herself (and a bowl of soup for me) I'm sitting up here catching up on an entire day missed. Did I mention I still had a headache too? It's been a really lovely day; I could see that by looking out of the window and noticing that people were not wearing Arctic gear. The wife said she had her coat undone while walking the dogs - a lot less eventful dog walk than it had been for her the day before, when one of them got lost and she didn't have me to help in the search. All ended well thanks to a rather butch girl, by all accounts, who found the miscreant dog and held her until the wife could get back with a lead and some stern words.

With the football all going right and my need to go and sit down, I shall return to the lounge to try some of the suggested cures for my ails left by friends on my Facebook page...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cheese Creatures versus Adrenaline Pygmies

I went for a tour of Northampton Academy yesterday. For those of who who have no idea what that means, it is the school that replaced the one I went to in the 1970s. I haven't actually had a tour of a new school ever; the last time I was at a school was one for excluded young people a couple of years ago which was housed in essentially a reinforced nissen hut, so this was something of a real eye opener. Or in other words - Bloody Hell, haven't schools changed?

For starters, it looks like it was designed rather than just thrown together with bricks and windows and when I say designed, I mean that an architect has obviously spent more than an hour drawing up plans. Other than this ergonomic setting, the next thing that really struck me was the amount of hardware in it; there were more computers in the place than PC World and the music department had all kinds of keyboards, PCs and other equipment it made Abbey Road studios look like a playgroup.

The weird thing about this school was something you can't see from the ground; essentially it is designed to look like a fish from the sky, but if you look at it on google it actually looks (depending on what angle you approach it) like a headless three-legged dog or a wonky stegosaurus. Of course, the fish refers to the fact that there is a religious presence, albeit in the background. It isn't a faith school, but there is a religious element, but fortunately it isn't obvious.

***

Speaking of new architecture and stuff; I drove through Daventry yesterday, a place where I lived for 7 years in the 1970s. Jesus Dave Christ, the place has changed almost beyond belief, in fact it changes every time I go there. The last time was December 2009 and in the last 14 months there has been a load of new buildings and roads. What was once a sleepy west Northants town was expanded by a load of Birmingham overspill in 1968 and has again expanded to the point where it is probably the 3rd largest town in the county.

Just down the road is Braunston, a place that I have distant memories of from my childhood; either my memories have been distorted or this place has trebled in size and just down the road from that is the triumvirate of reprimand - Rainsbrook STC, Onley YOI and Rye Hill prison, a little criminal oasis in the middle of the east Warwickshire countryside; when I were a lad, it was a small youth detention centre that was well hidden and you could drive past it without even knowing it was there; now it's a sprawling den of rehabilitation.

All of this new stuff and most of it doesn't look out of place, yet because the country is in such a state, we'll probably not see any more new stuff for a few generations, by which time these places will look as antiquated as places built in the 1930s.

***

Today I have mostly felt like a bag of shit. That's as in not well, not as in I really wanted a bag of shit. There has been a battle going on inside my chest since Tuesday night and I think the phlegm monster has just about won. What cheeses me off more than anything is that I have 4 days off and dates at the pub (Kingston Topaz), Franklin Gardens (Saints v Saracens) and an afternoon of hot sweaty sex with Atomic Kitten lined up (one of those is a lie) and it just isn't fair. But as my old dad used to say, neither is a black man's bum...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Hair Today

Donovan was on Breakfast this morning. Someone should tell him that having long hair is something that young people do. He's got to be at least 65 and yet instead of having a sensible (and tidy) haircut, he looked like someone who really should know better.

Having said that, while shopping on Saturday, there was this bloke with a basket; he must have been in his 50s and had his thinning grey hair in a pony tail. I wanted to go up to him and say, "Mate, you look like a twat; honest." There's also a guy who works in the same building as me who looks like a gypsy James Robertson Justice and has a rat's tail plait down his back. I'm thinking he thinks the young people he works with will think he's a cool dude; I'm also thinking the young people he works with probably think he's a twat.

Don't get me wrong; some people seem to take to long hair, most of them tend to be women. Robert Plant doesn't look bad with long hair, but Jimmy Page should cut his off. Russell Crow looks like a pillock and whoever told Tom Hanks that long hair suited him was obviously having a bet with someone. I'm suddenly getting hard pressed to think of anyone who suits long hair and has a penis.

I used to have long hair and I think it suited me, but I had it in a time when long hair was fashionable. That said, there are some pictures of me with long hair that make me look like a complete and utter merchant banker. The 21st century isn't a time to have it and especially if you're over the age of 25.

I was always told that people who grow their hair really long go bald. That's a lie. I have a full head of hair. The truth is that if you have an obscenely hairy chest (or back) then you'll probably go bald. Richard Keys wears a toupee...

***

I got some diesel at Tesco Express this morning and was queuing to pay when a chap barges into the queue. Doing something totally unBritish, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, mate, but this is the queue." He looked at me and then at the two people standing behind me but didn't move. When the till was free, he went to go to it and I stopped him again, "The queue is there," I said, pointing behind the last person in the queue. Again he didn't say anything, but courteously offered for me to go before him; almost as if he was doing me a favour. A second till became available and the guy running it had witnessed what happened, so when the queue jumper wandered down to him he told him that he needed to get in the queue at the back, not barge in. I noticed that the two people behind me made no attempt to say anything.

The queue jumper didn't move and the checkout guy told him again, but still he didn't move and carried on putting the contents of his basket out, then the punchline hit, the man could not speak English, or claimed he couldn't. The checkout guy then asks him, in a very loud voice, "Don't they have queues in Africa then mate?" I left with the two still trying to understand each other.

***

I did something I said I wouldn't do. I downloaded episodes #2 and #3 of the North American version of Being Human. I think I did it because I couldn't believe how poor it was. Then it dawned on me; apart from being an Americanised version of the great British show, it lacks the one thing that makes Being Human UK so good - humour. The impostor is humorless, badly acted and far far too earnest for its own good.

***

Apparently, I'm not as badly off as I seem to think. My appointment with the doctor (not the specialist) resulted in her telling me that I'm a long way from being able to class myself as disabled; that my spondylosis isn't as bad as I think it is and that the prolapse disc problem will eventually heal. The fact that walking long distances is very painful is immaterial, I can walk further than 100 metres, so that isn't a problem - whatever is wrong with me either isn't as bad as others or will eventually get better. I felt like asking her how she could be so confidant, especially as I have to wear my body, not her, but decided that I suppose I should class myself as lucky. She offered no suggestions regarding the nerve damage, saying the specialist will deal with that; she took me off the amitripyline because she thinks it's the thing giving me masses of blind boils and when I said that the spinal injuries doctor said the nerve damage might never heal, she said we'll just have to wait and see...

Don't get me wrong; I might sound like I'm not happy, I'm probably a mixture of deflated and slightly optimistic. I now know that the pain isn't as bad as others; the tingling sensation might eventually get better and there are others considerably worse off than me. I was told that there are no benefits I could claim because I'm not in a bad enough way; I can't have a blue badge because I'm not in a bad enough way and made to feel as though because I'm not in a bad enough way that I've wasted her time. What I'd like to know is when will I be in a bad enough way?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Few More Words About Association Football

I had a rant about Liverpool the other day and typically for the Red Shite it came back and bit me on the arse. The fourth win on the bounce for arrogant Kenny and his 2nd rate boys, this time against champions Chelsea (also completing the double over them), has put the team into 6th place and only 6 points behind Chelsea and my own Spurs. Yes, we both have games in hand over them, but we have to win them to make that advantage unassailable. You could argue that if Liverpool hadn't allowed Blackpool to get the double over them they would be up there with Spurs and Chelsea on 44 points and doing the unthinkable, challenging for a Champions League spot.

This weekend saw a record number of goals scored in the Premier League and a weekend that saw Man Citeh close the gap on the two teams that stand in their way to a first league title for over 40 years. I'm going to say it right here and right now, Citeh aren't going to win the league; they might be up there next season, but this year anything could happen to them by the middle of May. They might not even make a Champions League berth, that's how contrary this season has been.

Forget that Arsenal threw away a four goal lead yesterday or that Man U lost to the bottom club, the race for the title is between these two. Man Citeh have too many games against opponents that can turn them over, starting next Saturday when they go to Old Trafford, they also have to go to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs have a date at Eastlands, a venue we actually like regardless of the quality Citeh have. The reality is that if Citeh lose next week and both Spurs and Chelsea win losable away ties (Sunderland and Fulham respectively), there will be two points separating the three clubs and suddenly the race for the Champions League becomes a little more squeaky bum-like.

I've looked at the remaining matches and put an even handed forecast for most of the games. I have not shirked where Spurs are concerned, they have to play Chelsea (away), Arsenal (home), Man Citeh (away) and Liverpool (away) and could play a huge part in deciding who finishes where. I've worked it out that if Spurs can take 3 points from those four matches, they can still finish in 4th spot, because of the combinations of matches left featuring the other contenders. This is my February forecast for how I think the premier league will end at the end of May.

Man Utd 87pts
Arsenal 80
Chelsea 75
Spurs 72
Man Citeh 71
Liverpoop 56
Everton 55
Bolton 51
Sunderland 50
Aston Villa 50
Newcastle 46
Birmingham 46
Stoke 45
Fulham 42
Blackburn 42
Blackpool 41
West Ham 35
-----------------
Wigan 30
WBA 29
Wolves 29

Obviously, one forecast result goes wrong and this bit of fun becomes a load of bollocks; I also believe that West Ham, despite losing today, will do enough with their remaining fixtures to just clear the mire, with Wigan and West Brom - both of whom have awful run ins - getting dragged down. Man Utd will finally beat Liverpool's record of 18 titles and quite comfortably and Everton will push on now and might sneak in with a Europa league spot.

I think next season will be even more difficult to forecast. Man Citeh will probably have a new manager, possibly Jose Mourinho. Liverpool will spend enough money to ensure they are not also rans again, Spurs, especially if they get Champions League football again, will add a top class striker and possibly a new defence and Chelsea will want to bring in some new faces to play alongside Torres. And, as I said at the beginning of the season, there will be a new player next year; a team that will be promoted this year who will immediately become the 2nd richest club in the Premiership and will want to make their mark. QPR with or without Neil Warnock might not be challengers for the title, but will be capable of upsetting a lot of apple carts.

I still think manager of the year will go to Ian Holloway, even if my forecast is wrong and they get relegated; doing the double over Liverpool is a memory I shall cherish for a long time!

Right, nuff said about football until May!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

7 Bags of Apollonian Pooh

"Is it breakfast again already?"

QI recently had a little section about the perception of time; a slightly humorous little section that confirmed my suspicions that time goes 'faster' the longer you are on the planet. Of course, it doesn't, it just seems like it does. I work with a lovely lady called Sue, who I thought was in her early 50s and it turns out she's a couple of months shy of 65 (a fact that literally saw my jaw hit the floor - Joan Collins eat your heart out!). Sue said the other day, 'I can't believe it's February already, it just seems like yesterday that I had to put up with all my family at Christmas'. It prompted me to suggest that if I thought the world moved fast at 48, then God knows what it must be like for her. Her reply was that I'd find out soon enough and how right she is. No wonder adults used to tell us to stop wishing our lives away! The problem is that you cannot convince a young person that time will fly past them at a ever increasing velocity the more of it they experience.

When I used to drive to Finchley every day for work in the 1990s, the journey was a pain in the arse when I first started, but by the time I'd done it 500 times it seemed just like a blink of the eye. I know it doesn't make sense, but familiarity breeds speed. It's been over 10 years since I last did the journey regularly, but it still has that familiarity about it and doesn't appear to take as long as it once did. When I was a kid, a journey to London to see relatives would take like half my life! Of course, the reality is that for a kid of 10, a year is just one tenth of their life, while a person of 50 the same period is a 50th of his/her life, and so on and so forth, so no wonder time is perceived to go faster. So presumably people over 100 years old just see the world whiz past in a blur until they die...

***

I wonder what John Squire is doing with himself nowadays?

***

The temperature in the car today? 14.5 degrees. My God it's almost spring!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Stink of the Dump

I bought an Akira T-shirt in 1989. Nothing spectacular about that I hear you say. Well, maybe not, but I still own it and it hasn't faded. The image (of the main character with a big FO gun) is still as vibrant and clear as it was the day I first put it on. However, the cotton now has the feel of the heel of an old sock. It is very much a case of the print lasting longer than the material. But the fact that it is 22 years old and still look utterly brilliant is a testament to a time when you could guarantee a bit of longevity from your purchases.

***

I'm being filmed on Thursday afternoon. The project I created and ran last year - the Intergenerational Project called No Generation Gap was so successful in terms of participation that it is being included in a documentary about getting young people to work with old fogies. However, I don't think it's going to be appearing on a TV screen near any of you any time soon as the film is being made for the umbrella project School of Life.

To briefly explain the above statement. Back in 2008, the Labour government instigated a Generations Together initiative, which was essentially a thing to get organisations to bring together the young and old and break down any perceived barriers. In 2009, the idea was rolled out to councils and the one I work for launched their School of Life project. Autonomously from this the Northants Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership decided that the concept of Intergeneration work was a good one to get antisocial behaviour reduced and they gave the organisation I work for £2000 to create a project.

That was in the summer of 2009, the time I was off recuperating from my shoulder operation. When I returned to work, nothing had been done about it at all, but management thought that I was possibly the right person to have a go at developing something and I was asked, on my return to work, if I fancied doing something with it. I did and blowing my own trumpet (because work has been doing it for me for the last 16 months), I created a blindingly excellent project called No Generation Gap, which took young offenders into the community and gave them the opportunity to teach the older generations how to use all this new fangled electronic gadgetry. It was a huge success and we had many positive outcomes.

The project only lasted a year, but as a result of the development and organisation I put into it, it became the unofficial flagship of the county's School of Life project; my idea was used as a template for other Intergenerational projects; I got invited to sit on committees, steering groups and even was given the responsibility of being one of four people who decided where the School of Life's money was distributed. It was probably the most enjoyable and productive year of work I have ever done.

Now, fast forward to February 2011. The School of Life project is due to finish at the end of March when the funding runs out, but the current government wants proof that the entire strategy was a success; so I've been asked if I'd like to do a filmed interview to outline my project, talk about its achievements and help the School of Life justify its existence. Which is nice.

***

It's the first day this year that has felt like spring is on its way. The temperature according to my car was 10.5 degrees; there's barely a cloud in the sky, the sun is shining and this time next week it'll probably be snowing again, you just know it...

***

That was all written much earlier. I did my interview on camera and it went very well and I enjoyed the sunny weather. I think I'll put on my Akira T-shirt and go for a beer!

***

Excuse me for a moment, but I have the need for a rant. I'll keep it quick and I do apologise to my good friend Mark.

Fucking Liverpool FC.

Jesus Barry Christ, this is a team that over the last 18 months have become nothing more than Europa Cup contenders; they have little or no chance of winning the league and yet the BBC seems to have this ongoing love affair with the team and employs half of its football 'experts' who all either played for the Red Shite or support them. from Alan Green on 5Live to Colin Murray to Alan 'Captain fucking Scarlet' Hanson and Mark 'I'm a complete and utter cunt' Lawrenson.

This is a team that last won the league when I was still in my 20s and yet they are treated as though they are some kind of magical bean about to grow the BBC some wonderful beanstalk that will pave the way to glory and a tub full of gorgeous naked women. This is a team that spent £35million, that's £35,000,000 on a player who isn't as good as Wayne Rooney and might turn out to be the 21st century equivalent of Mark Hateley - and God I pray that's the case. The Rede Shite have won 3 games on the trot now spouts twatboy Hanson - yes, Al, they have p- they beat Wolves, bottom of the table, Fulham, who were 17th and Stoke who are 14th. it's not like they've just done over Man U, Arsenal and Barcelona is it? Yes, their new striker scored a goal last night on his debut, but so did Daniel Sturridge for Bolton, who are one place lower than Liverpool, and so did Robbie Keane for West Ham, whose relegation battle is probably far more interesting than Liverpool's rise into nearly a Europa Cup place.

Suddenly Red Shite fans are talking about them making a serious bid for the top 4 and a league title bid next season and if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

The facts are this. Chelsea are in 4th, they are 9 points ahead of Liverpool and play them on Sunday. They also have a game in hand. if Chelsea win they will be 12 points in front and will still have a game in hand and we're well past the half way point in the season. My team are 6 points clear and have a game in hand - they are also in the Champions League and Man City have more money and players than Liverpool has unemployed wankers. So why does the entire football world revolve around this red shower of shit? Even the Guardian gave them the front page of the sports section today. Sunderland fans, whose team are 2 points ahead of the Shite and have arguably been a far more consistent side this season must wonder what they have to do to get some coverage.

It doesn't excuse the fact that while Liverpool have spent £60million on two strikers, apart from Steven 'wanna fight' Gerard, they don't actually have that many good footballers in the side and will not be challenging for anything until they spend another £200million on the rest of the team. And they and the majority of their supporters are a bunch of useless self-obsessed cunts! Nuff said!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

J. Arthur Rant

Last week it was pedestrians, but for months it's really been other drivers, the kind we in Chez Hall have Christened "Go On, Hit Me" drivers. The people behind the steering wheel of the car that just treat other road users like unwilling participants in games of chicken. If you drive, you know the sort, the drivers who just pull out, because they know you'll stop, because the alternative is you crash into them and these arseholes know that you're going to stop. Probably the main reason why this happens is because most sensible drivers look at the no good pieces of shite driving the 'Go On, Hit Me' car and see NO INSURANCE writ large in invisible letters above their grinning (often Eastern European or black) heads.

Now, I know that last statement is tantamount to being incredibly racist, but it's a fact for me, because the majority of these fucktards are. I don't know if its the culture of whatever country they hail from or if they just have the common decency of a porn actress, but twice today on my way home from work I fell victim to this kind of devil-may-care driving; but fortunately for me, the second one didn't go the way he planned it.

Now, people not from my town will not understand the geography of this, but I pulled out of the T junction at St Edmunds Road lights and turned right into the main road; about 50 yards further on from this turn is a little cul-de-sac which houses a car park, next to the spread Eagle pub. This ethnic gentleman saw me driving towards him and just pulled out to turn right, or into the oncoming traffic to me. There was no gap for him, there wasn't a willing driver to let him in and I was just about on his Fiesta's arse, but he went anyhow; blocking my road to the point where I had to stop very sharpish and then forcing his way into the traffic flow in the direction he wanted, prompting a few horns and disgruntled looking drivers. By this time I had my window down and was calling him a 'wanker' and he just looked at me and stuck his tongue out. Now, to be fair, it was an amusing reaction; far better than swearing or giving me the finger, but the point is he was rude, dangerous and obviously a massive cunt.

45 minutes later, taking the dogs out, I took a right hand turn by a black of flat with a junior school situated behind it. The road is pretty much clear, and the road to the school has almost perfect vision from it to the road I'm on. You literally need to be blind to not see a mouse scuttling up the main road. I'm driving up and suddenly there's this Ford Galaxy pulling out in front of me. Now, I had to hit the brakes so hard it activated the ABS, which only really comes on in icy conditions, but if I hadn't, I would have ploughed into the front of the people carrier doing about 30mph. The driver looks at me like I'm in the wrong and reverses back into the feeder road he was attempting to come off. I had my window rolled down again and I stopped directly in front of him, so he wasn't going anywhere. He had, it should be noted, four kids in the car.
"What the fuck do you think you were doing?" I shout at him.
"Don't swear, I've got kids in the car." He says indignantly.
"I don't fucking care; you almost drove straight into me!"
"I didn't see you."
"You didn't see this!!!" I said, waving my arms in a general fashion at my own people carrier called a Vauxhall Zafira. "You weren't watching where you were going, were you?" No answer, just a sour expression on his face. "Just watch where you're going mate if you don't want your kids to be orphans," I bellowed at him as I drove off.
In my rear view window I saw him giving me the wanker sign - some fucking good impression he's giving the kids in his car. He also is a massive cunt.

***

That's not it though... Yesterday, I heard about a job I could do and then found out that I needed to get my application in by midday today. I went to the website, downloaded the application form and the relevant documents. It was a job I could do with my eyes closed. Tried to open the application form and found that it was in Microsoft Excel - an application I don't have on my machine. The file did open in Works but the 7 pages were all broken into separate pages and the formatting was completely buggered. I couldn't read the thing, let alone fill it in. I spent nearly an hour trying to essentially rebuild the document, but gave up when I'd not even managed to get the first page to work.

I agonised for a while and then decided to update my CV and send them that with a covering letter, explaining that I don't have Excel on my computer and that the only way I could apply for the position was by sending them my CV. I pointed out that I would happily fill in an application form, but had no way of doing that and getting it to them by the close, so as long as they were aware of my interest, could I fill one in at a later date and they use my CV as a reference point. It was very nice, clearly worded plea for help and I was hoping that the organisation would be understanding.

I received a reply at 9.58am this morning; 2 hours and 2 minutes before deadline. The email essentially said they do not accept CVs, which I expected; I even mentioned this in my covering letter and would I read the attached Guideline for Applications and fill in the attached application if I was still interested... The Guideline for Applications had nothing in it at all about being unable to read or format the application, just stated that I couldn't apply with a CV and the application that was attached was the same one as I downloaded. I was in work and we have Excel, so I thought I'd fill it in there. I opened it up and the first thing that greeted me was that the file was generated on a later edition of Excel so there would be a loss of formatting. Oh fucking marvellous. I then discovered that the application was created using Microsoft Office 2010, while the version we use at work is 2003. I emailed the woman who had proved to be no fucking good at all and explained this to her. her response was that if I was unable to complete the application, I would not be able to apply for the job...

My reply asked her if she had any suggestions as to how I could solve the problem, or if she could save the application as an older version and send it to me. She suggested I print it out! I replied and said a printed version looked like a dog's dinner and had no formatting and that as it was now close to 11am, I would never fill it out in time and get it to Kettering before the deadline. Her reply was that she had no alternatives and was sorry but I probably wouldn't be able to apply. I got a wee bit annoyed. I replied stating that if I'd known about the job earlier than yesterday I would have attempted to do something about it and that I found her very unhelpful and disinterested and I asked her for a contact number of her boss.

She replied at 11.18, with the details I asked for and informed me that her boss was on annual leave. I figured I'd fill the application form in as best I could, but at 11.45, I discovered that the section for previous employment would not allow me to add more than one job. I emailed useless woman again and received no response, so at 11.56am, I cut and pasted my employment history from my CV into the document. it filled 7 pages of a column less than 9 characters wide; but it was there. I whizzed through the rest of the application, noticed that all manner of spurious information from other pages had appeared in all manner of places, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I attached the document to an email, wrote a quick note explaining what I'd done and that I was by no means happy with my application and would this unhelpful woman see to it that whoever processes my application is made aware that I could not fill it in properly because of all the reasons I'd stated earlier. I have received no reply, not have I received the confirmation I asked for. I said to the wife when I was recounting this story that I was going to ring the head of HR when she is back from her holiday and explain everything that has happened and how utterly unhelpful the process was; how ridiculous using an Microsoft package that most other people do not possess or an alternative way of applying if people could not fill this one in appropriately. I also intend to point out just how unhelpful her assistant was.

I figure that the position is probably already filled and the job is only open for equal ops purposes; mainly because its not been advertised anywhere that I look. But that isn't the point; this is a well known organisation with a very regal figurehead and the unprofessional and unhelpful manner in which my application was dealt with was abysmal.

***

Is it me or has this business in Egypt become a tad boring? Jesus Reginald Christ, how much of 24 hour rolling news can be dominated by it? Has nothing happened here? Have the BBC been promised something if they just blanket cover this thing to take peoples minds off of the fact that our own country is fucked? Or are they doing it to put the idea in the heads of British people and one day soon we'll have an uprising in major cities demanding the end of this Mickey Mouse coalition? Or is this time of the year just dull and boring?