Monday, November 30, 2015

George Michael's Tiny Arms

* Dr Who - people can witter all they want about how Capaldi deserves a BAFTA for his one-man show, the latest episode descended into Groundhog Day repetition without the humour or the menace the first 25 minutes had, and, really, does anyone other than middle aged Who fans give a shit about any of this?

* I did a comic mart, in Northampton, and smiled a lot and took some money on a miserable Sunday. It was fun.

* New addition to the street coming soon.

*I've been working quietly in the background trying to turn the story wot I wrote into a story that can be read by others. it is hard work. When you write a story, you write it for yourself, then you write it for others. The first/second draft was 54,800 ish words; it crept over 55,000 when I added a couple of bits I remembered I wanted to and then I left it alone for months. Now, I've spent best part of the last six weeks dipping in and out of it; sometimes for days, other times for hours. It is now close to 61,000 and I expect a few more words to be added.

What is hard work is turning ideas and parts I did nothing but sow seeds for before moving on; I realise that now I'm writing and rewriting passages and most of those tend to be the easier parts; it's when I stumble over swathes of words that seem to have been written while drunk that confuse me - what was I trying to say? - is a common thought and at times I wonder if I've said too much in a reassessed attempt at amping up the intrigue and suspense; to make it more unputdownable.

Equally though some cyphers have become more rounded and by rounding out characters I've been able to weave some doubt about the actual narrative into the narrative, which is what is needed, IMHO, to make it go from a thing to a story. If that is confusing it's because I am loathe to give anything away - at all - because it opens cans of worms that far reach the obvious ones and veer into confusion without revealing something else and before you know it - dominoes. My stories, however simple, are always layered - probably with too much at times - because life isn't metaphysically linear and sometimes everything is to do with everything.

I have disclosed that the story is about a lot of missing children and that's pretty much as far as I'm willing to go, except to say that while the missing children are central to the story, they're not.

I have also recruited a possible helper. One of the main characters is a 15 year old girl and at the moment I think she sounds like a 53 year old man trying to sound like a 15 year old girl. The other main dialogue character has a distinct voice and sound despite his age, but as I discovered today, while chatting to different 13 to 16 year old girl comic and zombie fans, put a teenager in front of an unknown adult and every bit of teenage patwa disappears and is replaced by normal sounding, intelligent young women - so in some ways - because of the nature of an element of the story, as long as she is different from her counterpart, she could technically sound like anyone.

Can you tell I'm rambling? That's because I have an itch that can't be scratched at the moment and I'm in the mood for dancing...

Today hasn't been a bad day and tonight I was ready to tackle the story, but then I remembered I'd reached something of a problem. I have a chapter - the longest in the story - which doesn't fit; it can and will do but the solution is still just embryonic and I didn't want to attempt it tonight, get totally bogged down and find it's 2.30am and I'm wired and unable to get to sleep. But, I sometimes just need to write, like how sometimes I'll have a spliff if offered - it's like just for a second the rational says 'fuck it'. I thought about ranting about Dr Who, but, you know, I really don't actually care for it enough to waste everyone's time wibbling about it's faults.

Then I looked at my blog notes and saw that it hadn't been updated since August and I've talked about everything in the text file anyhow. Then I just thought I'd write and see where it took me.

* While indulging in our weekly 'think up the most surreal pub quiz name we can' competition, both Roger and I typed almost the exact thing at the same time and as he typed Great minds think alike, I typed GMTA - the/my/an acronym for the same. His reply which I took for a quiz team suggestion was 'George Michael's Tiny Arms?' Completely misinterpreting why he'd put that I laughed so much that was the name of the winning quiz team last week. To be fair, nothing has floored Andy the quizmaster quite like 'African Queef', but we try.

Says something when a prog-rock loving accountant can out weird a completely insane man in the surreal stakes. I'm either losing my touch or Roger is on some wicked drugs and he's not sharing.

* I have a strawberry about 7 days from ripening in the garden, less than 20 feet from where I had raspberries on January 1st, 2012. That's how fucked up our weather has been.

* Seen a lot more shit films than good ones in recent months - even so-called blockbusters. I think I'm just getting too old for this shit.

* Jessica Jones has been grubby and fun to watch, probably because it all came after my time in comics. Can't stop thinking of Michael Jackson when she walks, or stands around for a few minutes.

* I had a Tupperware beaker. It was 51 years old and one of the few things I had that stretched back to Canada that was usable and nostalgic. Doug the dog destroyed it - comprehensively. What can you do? He chewed up one of the wife's oldest photos of herself recently. Memories squirting out of his arse 6 hours later.

Friday, November 13, 2015

If I Told You I'd Have to Kill You

I heard through the grapevine that Tesco over the other side of town had a supply of one of my favourite cooking products - Mayan Gold potatoes. Enamoured by this window of opportunity to purchase potatoes that enrich and enhance meals rather than burden it with blandness as the current anodyne state of potatoes do.

So, I did something slightly sad. I phoned the shop and asked them if they did indeed have them in stock. I was asked by the lady who answered the phone if I could direct my enquiry through the Tesco Help Line or the website because she had no way of finding this information out for me... Now, this could be for a number of reasons, the most likely being there isn't someone at this specific store answering the phone and dealing with enquiries; this is some faceless, nameless autocrat answering the call in Cheshunt or Telford or Skelmersdale (going by the lady's accent).

So I went through the required rigamorale and sent the website a query. 24 hours later I was told that a) yes they were in stock and they were located in aisle 3 of the fruit and veg section and b) no they could not tell me if they were currently in store. I replied to this answer and asked them if they could possibly reserve me five bags - as they offer this service - and confirm in an email so that my trip to the store is not wasted. They could not do that with grocery products and they have no way of knowing if an item is in store/stock unless it is reordered or closed down. So my only option is to drive the five miles and hope they have what I want because in this fantastic age of modernity we can't employ people to tell us what is in stock, we employ general algorithms...

Now, the reason I mention this is because when this happened I was minded to recall two events involving supermarkets, which you have to say should make you realise that sometimes the humans in a store are actually human beings.

The first time was in 1985 and with about three weeks to go until Christmas the news was talking about a potential turkey shortage (ironically because of the number of poultry farmers who suffered from Thatcher's leaving them out of a EU subsidies request for agriculture) and even in those days a turkey dinner was still regarded as one of the best roast dinners of the year and the subsequent soups, sandwiches and cold cuts left usually kept us going for a few more days.

Faced with the threat of no turkey, I descended on Tesco (up at Weston Favell) and found the freezers bare - no turkeys, not even a selection of big chickens. The balding man in glasses attempting to calm the fears of the people around him was reiterating the point that they get deliveries every day and if people left their names he would ensure that every one of them had a turkey for Christmas. Having heard enough and not wishing to queue behind dozens of ageing domestic goddesses, I went home slightly annoyed at the idea of having to trudge there every bleedin' day until I snared a decent bird - fnarrr fnarrr.

On the walk home, I remembered something I'd read a few years earlier and wondered if it would work this time around. When I got home, I rang Tesco at Weston Favell and spoke to the receptionist - the one you used to see when you walked in there, answering the phone! Hello, I said, my name is #### #### and I work for the Blackthorn OAP's Club (there weren't drop-ins or projects or whatever they're called now) and we were hoping to be able to reserve a turkey to pick up later in the week, because we heard about the shortage and we didn't want the old folk to go without when we do them their Christmas dinner. Now there wasn't and there never has been a Blackthorn OAP's Club and what I did was a wee bit sneaky and naughty, but it wasn't at all until I arrived to collect the turkey...

I turned up as instructed to pick up a 15lb turkey. I had the money - it was about £7 (I bet it's about that a pound now!) and I walked up to the customer service counter, told them I'd come to get the turkey and I stood around, with my mate Colin, waiting for whatever we were waiting for. Suddenly a man who presumably was the manager or someone high up appeared with another member of staff carrying a box. Are you Mr ####, he asked and suddenly I got a little paranoid. Ye-e-es, I replied wondering if I could be done for fraud. Tesco's would like you to have this 20lb turkey, this extra large Christmas pudding and these mince pies for the OAP club. Panic crossed my eyes... I've only got ten pounds on me, I said. Oh no, this is compliments of Tesco Stores Mr ####, we hope the old folk have a great Christmas.

Realising what was happening and this being 1985, I thanked them and beat a hasty retreat. The only real downside was no one really likes Christmas pudding.

I've told this story before, but it is always worth telling again. My dear old, long-lost, pal Paul Smith was a seriously devoted born again Christian, except, you know, he wasn't really, his wife was and is and he was part of a local cult organisation - quite a high part of it despite being a real person and not an evangelist.

In 2004, he went to Morrisons in town and got their family Christmas shopping; his wife, a woman like my own mother, who liked to check receipts to ensure she hadn't been overcharged saw that there was only one of the two bottles of sherry she'd listed that had been paid for. She told Paul that after work the next day he had to go to Morrisons (just a three minute walk) and settle the bill or return the un-paid-for bottle, whatever was easiest. Doing as instructed, he walked up to the counter, explained to the slightly bemused woman what he was there for and she took the sherry off of him, asked him to wait and disappeared. Ten minutes later, the manager walked up to Paul and asked him if he was really just there to pay for a bottle of sherry that had slipped through the checkout? Paul confirmed this and was given a giant hamper of Christmas goodies by the store as a thank you for being such a good and honest customer. Paul was worldly enough to see the weirdness, good nature and slight irony in all of it, but he never used it as an example of God moves in mysterious ways, just as an example of how honesty often is the best policy.

The point is, whether it was me conning Tesco out of Christmas, inadvertently or Paul Smith just being a ridiculously honest Christian, the stores went out of their way to do something for a customer, a community and for the sake of Christmas. Now, in a world that has seemingly forgotten how to smile and be helpful, it is going to cost me more than just a wee bit of time to find out if something I want is in stock because there's no one available at that store to answer my question.

How is that progress?

Friday, November 06, 2015

Floor Sweepings

Time Travel Exists!

Something happened in 2013 that no longer exists... No, that's not right. Something that happened in 2013 no longer exists... Nope, that's the same sentence. There is nothing mysterious about saying that something that was no longer is - farts are a perfect example of this - but the point I'm trying to make simply isn't that simple. In the 21st century it's difficult to lose things. If something existed there would be, somewhere, evidence that it existed and the same applies to information, knowledge, language and, naturally, history. We live in a world where something is logging everything everywhere, whether in a Big Brother way or because of webcams, anally-retentive web sites or simply through a medium such as this - a blog. You want to know something, you can pretty much find it on the Internet now and considering 20 years ago you'd still think of a library as your first port of call for information and that was limited to the amount of reference book the library had and whether it was easy to access, you realise how far we've come in a small space of time.

Two years ago, the wife had this great idea. Grow beetroot in the borders, between flowers, bushes and perennials. That is what we did and we grew so many we gave some away. Six weeks or so after planting them I noticed the leaves on some of them were all green and not flushed with red and it soon became clear these plants were not your normal beetroot. Come the first harvest and two of them were completely white. We treated them exactly the same, figuring as they'd grown with the usual Boltardy variety, they must be another, albino, variety.

They were quite awful, but they were definitely beetroot, not some rogue turnip or sugar beet, because they looked just like their red counterpart in every way apart from colour. But they had an earthy yet oddly bland flavour. It suddenly dawned on me to look on the Internet and see what it had to say for mutant white beetroot.

Now, I imagine some of you are thinking - WTF has this beetroot story got to do with the first paragraph and if you are I can understand. The thing is what I'm about to tell you even sounds stupid just thinking about it, if it wasn't for the fact that I obviously reported everything back to the wife, who clearly remembered standing in the office while I explained about white beetroot.

It also wasn't like some isolated website that might have been erased in the last two years - I found several references to what I'm about to tell you, so it wasn't like I'd gone to the first website I found and believed everything it said, not that I'd imagine educational and information web pages would specifically create something just to remove it and fuck with my head.

I typed "white beetroot" into the Google search engine and saw several references to "chobli", which on further investigation weren't mutant white beetroot but an entire species of white beetroot. I kind of even have a vague memory of finding something on Wikipedia. From that point on if, for whatever reason, the subject of white beetroot cropped up, I'd tell people about chobli.

Then back in August, I was sorting through some papers that had accumulated on top of the microwave and among them was a note pad and at the bottom of one of the pages was the word CHOBLI and I'd underlined it. I remembered writing this because it was such a weird word and I got this idea in my head it was African of origin and chobli was grown in South Africa and this was bugging me all day, so I finally went up to the office, opened Bing (I boycotted Google ages ago) and just typed in chobli and ... you know how rare it is when you rarely get any results on a search? You know, when you type something like 'Wanglespank' or 'Flangedangler' into Google and there were no matching results; well chobli got results, but only one that matched the word 100% and that belongs to a chap on LinkedIn; everything else is either CHOBI or CHOLI. I scratched my head, asked the wife what chobli was and she looked at me slightly bemused, but I rolled my hands at her, as if it was important for her to go through this little charade for me and she said, "white beetroot, why?"
"Did you see the website I got the information from?"
"I was in the room when you were telling me what it was. Why?"
"It doesn't exist any more."
"If I type chobli into Bing or google it doesn't exist. If I type white beetroot into a search engine it gives me lots of white beetroot varieties and doesn't, once, ever, mention the name chobli. A white beetroot isn't called chobli, a white beetroot is called a white beetroot." I was getting quite irate.

Later that evening she said she'd done a search on the laptop for all kinds of different spellings and had found nothing at all. Thinking I'd gone mad - which, in all fairness I probably have, but this was something that happened 2 years ago when I wasn't - I scoured beetroot websites (I know it sounds funny, it is funny) for the pictures and words I could remember reading and I found nothing at all; not even remotely familiar. In the end I concluded that someone had gone back in time and accidentally done something that wiped the chobli from the existence of man, but for some reason they'd overlooked me and the wife...


The Cold Call

Why is it that whenever the Tories get into power the amount of cold calls increases exponentially (as does the number of loans companies offering great 5000% APR deals)? Why is it that only when the Tories are in we ever hear about people wanting to regulate things that have suddenly exploded into becoming a nuisance?

If it isn't PPI calls, it's the accident their records suggest you might have had, or the delayed flight you had, or the mobile phone contract that is now in the public domain rather than being with a provider... Yesterday, I had six calls inside three hours and four of them were those fucking awful recorded message calls - these cunts can't even phone you themselves, they have to employ a machine!

I've always been of the inclination that I buy things when I need them or I see a better deal. Or I claim for something when it goes wrong; or I NEVER sign for Payment Protection Insurance or anything else. I also don't have a valid passport and haven't had for nearly 10 years. I haven't had a - non-fatal - accident in the last 20 odd years, but I'm presuming the call is to plant a seed in your mind so that when you eventually worry too much about the accident you probably didn't have but might have but forgot you end up having an accident and have this company now in your phone's memory...

The thing that really pisses me off is the fact these thunderous wankspanners have my number and my name, but don't know that if ANYONE calls me and asks for Phillip - I know you're either trying to sell me something or you're my mother and my mother is dead so you can just FUCK OFF!


I wrote about 500 words about Street View, read it back, wondered why the hell I'd written it and replaced it with this.


I had this piece of paper that I was jotting down ideas on so I wouldn't forget them, but my handwriting is so bad the last thing on the list was unintelligible. "Velghisoply" it appeared to say. I looked at it from various angles; with glasses, without; in direct sunlight and by lamp. I couldn't work out what I'd written and I'm betting if I typed 'Velghisoply' into Bing or Google it would be as common as Chobli, but I decided not to.

After several attempts at deciphering it, I was sitting here, at my desk, when I remembered what I'd written. Now all I have to do is remember why I scribbled the word 'Neighbourhood' down so badly in the first place...

Actually, if I was so inclined, I could probably write a book about sitting here watching my bit of the world go by. I have been privy to snatches of bizarre conversations, felt like a voyeur at times and have seen everything from the nefarious to the downright weird and fucked up. The weird thing is since Fishwife has gone I've kind of lost touch with what is going on in the street. I didn't know that just down the street, too far away for nicknames, there's a boundary fence argument going on that makes you wonder why some people just insist on being complete and utter arseholes.

I'd stick my neck out and say that one of my neighbours opposite could be a) on the verge of a break up b) suffering from financial problems or c) both - but it might just be my over-active imagination. Two of our neighbours have their houses up for sale but neither have signs outside. Another neighbour has been ill for a while and her neighbour has lost so much weight in the last few months you can't help but wonder the worst. Fuckwit's mother died recently and that alone is a scary idea because I reckon he's well into his 60s which means he could be knocking around for longer than me.

I see a lot of neighbourly behaviour through my window, a surprising amount of unintentional nudity (male as well as female) and less happiness. People are smiling less; I'm seeing cold callers despatched with short shrift. No one seems reluctant to complain any more - now let me quantify that; everyone moans and around here when you chat with the neighbours there are some who will use that conversation to air all their grievances about the street - from the amount of immigrants to the state of the paths; others are less inclined and just want to know how you are and what's been happening. Some people never seem bothered by anything, but now... now they will share their unhappiness with you and it's like 'if everything is getting better why do I feel so bloody unhappy?'

Just recently I've seen this guy who looks like a younger but well worn cross between Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman walking down to the shops. He doesn't look cool though and almost always looks as miserable as fuck; like his family were wiped out in a tragedy and someone rings him up every day to remind him. He just walked past the house with a massive spliff on the go and I wouldn't have ever thought he was that kind of bloke.

That said, one of my neighbour's - someone I've made a fair bit of reference to in the past - is doing something I think looks as dodgy as Del Boy. At least six times a day, a car will pull up outside the house, usually a man or two men will go to the front door - which now has a CCTV camera trained on the front door - the men will disappear inside the house and re-emerge a few minutes later, sometimes with a carrier bag, other times with nothing visible. I have seen people walking to the front door counting tenners; I have seen the owner of the house berating someone for trying to pay him money in the open, which as someone who has given people tenners in the street before is only dodgy looking if you think it looks dodgy. Most people aren't even taking any notice of you and they only will if you act out of the ordinary - handing money over in the street in 95% of cases isn't nefarious. The irony is the owner is in a profession where people hand him cash, in the open, all the time.

Young Sam (Fishwife's replacement) reckons he's selling meat; I toyed with the idea he is selling drugs but that tends to be my sole experience of anything nefarious so it's my only point of reference, but if he's selling meat, he's not selling it in any quantity. I mentioned this to someone I know a few weeks ago and they asked me why I hadn't called the police and told them about my suspicions and I realised what we'd become as a country and it slightly sickened me...


It's well into November and like 1997 I'm still walking around without having to wear a coat. The reason I remember '97 so well is that it was possibly the last year I can remember when very little went wrong - when everything was on the up.

I remember playing football (I was only 35) over near Wilbye Grange in Wellingborough in November, in T-shirts and shorts and being ever so slightly freaked out by it. The winter of 97/98 was one of the mildest of all time with less frost and snow than previously recorded. There were eight days in November that exceeded 17 degrees and despite a chilly December, January arrived so mild my dad decided to fix the fence in the back garden of the house and had the heart attack that would eventually kill my mother.

When my mum was in hospital the weather was cold and sunny, when she died it stayed sunny but the area of high pressure that was sitting over the country moved towards Scandinavia and the Azores high build in from the west. For at least half of the February that followed her dying the UK was just fed a southerly air stream from the Sahara. I remember walking through Irchester Country Park with my dad and both of us being ever-so freaked out by the fact it was mid-February and neither had jackets on.

You'd be surprised at the number of people who have forgotten that October 31st 2014 was 24.4 degrees and broke the previous record for that day by nearly 5 degrees. You'd be less surprised at the people who don't give a shit.


As we hurtle towards that time of year again, my life is full of job applications (I passed 200 applications since September 2014 a couple of weeks ago - and 7 interviews), Doug-sitting, because he is a vandal and stupid. Attempting to prevent myself from procrastinating, especially when it comes to editing my book. And then there's having my constant battle with our old friend depression. The future is utterly terrifying.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Doctor Who and the Dropped Bollock

Date line: April 2023: London
In October, Doctor Who will be celebrating its 60th anniversary and Fox, which owns the franchise, has hinted at some of the things lined up to commemorate this momentous occasion.
Current showrunner, Andi Peters - former CBBC presenter, who replaced Neil Gaiman when the BBC sold the rights when viewing figures dropped below 2 million, has announced Fern Cotton as the 15th Doctor with Tiny Tempah as her sidekick.

Okay... This is as likely as Jeremy Clarkson voting Labour and Britain winning Eurovision, again. But...

Doctor Who is struggling. Five years ago the franchise rivalled Clarkson’s Top Gear in terms of lucrative saleability and while it still does, in its country of origin it is facing an uncertain future.

The current season is pulling in about 4.5million viewers, compared with 11 million at its peak and an average of 7.5 in recent years. Critics try to be magnanimous while simultaneously ripping thin stories and anally-retentive nods to die-hard fans, much of which goes over the heads of average viewers, but not enough – causing confusion, bemusement and bewilderment in equal measure; if the viewer is actually paying that much attention to it.

There is an argument that has simmered for decades in the USA about the real reason networks and cable stations preferred dramas to be no less than 5 and no more than 7 seasons to make money through syndication. The actual reason seems disappointingly banal and almost unrealistic in 2015 – it was easier to sell as a finite package with a specific number of episodes, allowing cable and syndicate channels to easily schedule re-runs within a 12 month window. In 1989, when I read this ‘reason’ the world was much different than it is now and the model, at the time, was Star Trek: The Next Generation, which the last time I bothered to look was the most successful syndicated television series of all time and for a while in the 2000s was playing somewhere in the world every second of the day.

Over the years people have argued that quality usually dipped after 7 seasons; the ‘soap opera’ factor kicked in and it stopped being a finite-ongoing story, but many series were in their death throes by the time season 7 came along. 

There is also the belief that very few TV series sustain an audience for more than 7 series and only extraordinarily well-patronised series can keep their audiences – Supernatural, now in its 11th season and apparently still going strong, is a good example. Most great TV is extremely finite, knowing that brilliant drama is like a firework. Therefore it never outstays its welcome.

Doctor Who is one of those weird exceptions to just about every rule in syndication and TV’s rulebook, because it has this unique ability to reinvent itself as the same TV series every time we get a new doctor. It is genius; a completely brilliant TV concept that by its very nature is unique because nothing can copy the concept without being accused of copying the TV show. There might have been 13 different versions of the Doctor since 1963, but he’s been the same character for all 52 years, he just wore a different face and everyone was open and almost blasé about it. We call it regeneration.

When Christopher Ecclestone became the Doctor there was something so visceral about it, so different, post-modern, almost deconstructualist about his portrayal, you excused some pretty poor production because of the standard of the acting, the lack of wobbly sets and its very ‘urban’ feel. It had winner written all over it.

Russell T Davies was a Doctor Who fan and therefore, in many ways, it – the show - just picked up where it left off and the first and probably most major ball was dropped. If you’re reinventing something for a new audience, you should only keep all the nods to the past as plot devices for future stories. The Doctor has met the Autons before – but instead of taking it for granted that 75% of your audience hasn’t ever seen DW before so hasn’t a clue about them or their origins and, more importantly how the Doctor knows them, they presumed that DW legend was simply passed down in the DNA and 9 year olds wouldn’t be just a little bit puzzled, even if they are aware that this was a TV series when their dad was the same age – they could have told a story in flashback, later in the run, with maybe another actor playing a different version of the Doctor – familiar enough to the die-hard fans, but new to those who don’t want to sit through years of drek just to know what a Sontaran is. You establish he was someone else as well.

Yes. What I’m suggesting is they should have started like it was the beginning and treated the majority of the audience age group the show was aimed at like it was a new show and not an updated version. Where else in the world would you expect an entirely new audience to come into a show 40 years after it started and know the history or even understand references to it?

The 40th Anniversary bollocks – not the three Doctors special, but the lead up to the regeneration. Dropped ball #2. Here was a chance to start all over again, win a new audience and keep the older new audience happy, and maybe caring about the Whovians. Whatever Jenna Coleman’s Clara is, there was a moment in the series, during the last days of Matt Smith’s reign, where she became one with the Doctor’s time-line and was responsible for him taking the specific Tardis he took back when the Doctor was William Hartnell. All of this was necessary to prevent Richard E Grant from erasing the Doctor from history or something like that, but... they could have had a younger version of William Hartnell – a Peter Capaldi – and Clara takes him from Galifrey and becomes, for the benefit of continuity, his daughter, or granddaughter. They start again in an old yard in the early 1960s when a suitor of Clara’s follows her home from school – where she teaches rather than is a pupil – and Doctor Who begins again. They could even have used the old episodes as templates while updating and using their newer 21st century creations. Introduce the villains to a new audience; be retro or completely redesign – the slate should have been cleaned.

It’s a time travel show, what would be more perfect than creating a situation where you got to relive your life over again without knowing you’d done it, but having a companion who knows everything?