Wednesday 25th April

April 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m not really a strong swimmer. I learned quite late, and at school was always in the lower-skilled class, along with the kids who sank to the bottom like a rubber brick. Nowadays I’m adequate enough, but am confidently overtaken by all, save the sixty-five year-old ladies who swim side-by-side nattering. I’m an occasional water-swallower, one of those swimmers who hold their breath and then take in a sudden gasp every few strokes: that one breath sometimes coinciding with a wave. Swimming backstroke my legs sometimes drift downwards to a diagonal. It can resemble a backwards doggy paddle, which for a dog would actually be the best stroke going. As it is, with me a fully-qualified human being, I must appear more like someone in rehabilitation after a big accident.

I’m sure life guards have a sixth sense for scoping out possible disasters in the pool, even at first sight of the swimmer. As I approach the edge of the pool, with my definite sense of unease and beard that needs a trim, I must come across as a potential drowner.

I like seeing cats sat on windowsills, when they are indoors, but behind drawn curtains. At the best of times cats look incredibly relaxed: their bums seem to me the most comfortable bums to sit on in all God’s fine work. If The Eternal He has a portfolio, then cat’s bums would be on the sheet about bums, as a masterpiece of comfort. Like a Renault Espace.

Cats are incredibly private, as we all know, and though they look calm at most times, we can’t doubt that if they’ve been out, they’ve probably been up to some borderline ninja activities, or at least a bit of wanton torture. They can land on all fours from walls five times their height. They deserve their rests. When they are sat indoors, on a windowsill, between the curtain and the glass, next to ornaments (maybe a decorative vase with dry flowers or a picture frame with its back to us) they seem to be at their most pensive. Observing the world passing by, like a gap-year student in a European cafe.

I like it when they are sat next to Wireless internet routers. They share a similar form, and both blink with occasional rapidity, before returning to their original inanimate state. Routers are cats for the allergic. The router, however, gets very little from observing the street outside your house. It’s seen it all before on Google street view.

A couple of weeks ago I listened on the radio to a stand-up show by a young British comedian, whose name escapes me right now. He did a show all about the idea of “Outamation”, that is, information outside of what we need to know, like if an acquaintance told you about their diarrhoea when you ask them if they’re alright. He used the example of annual “round-robins”; letters sent by distant relatives to you at New Year’s, to update you on their life’s happenings. It was a great show, and I’m annoyed I can’t remember the comedian’s name.

But what the show did make me remember recently was an experience I had with “outamation”. Once I was expecting someone I didn’t know very well to take part in an event I organised, as one of the main guests. On the day he should have caught his plane, I got an email from him saying he had missed his flight. I called him to see what had happened, and what we were going to do. He went into a story about how his wife’s sister was pregnant, and how she was married to footballer Nicolas Anelka’s brother, and how this woman had started to go into labour, and that his wife had took a train to Paris to be with her, leaving him with their kids to look after, hence the missed flight.

What I loved about this excuse was his mention of Nicolas Anelka, which he must have seen as a kind of qualifying boon for the story. “He might think I’m making this up, but if I mention Nicolas Anelka’s brother, then he will have to believe me. Because who would have enough cunning to fabricate something so banal as a detail to a lie?” It kind of worked, I suppose. I have never doubted the truth of the story, as pathetic as it kind of is. But the nature of this “outamation” was brought into full focus the next time I saw this guy at another event, where he didn’t even remember my name, despite all the bother and financial loss he put me and my company through. I realised that for him, I must have been outamation.

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Friday 20th April

April 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I hate it when airlines put hidden taxes on tickets. It defies belief that in today’s age, where the consumer has ever more power in the substance and presentation of products, that this practice should be allowed to continue. A flight is listed as £89 return, then by the time you’ve ticked the box that specifies that yes, you would like the plane to have seatbelts, and yes, you do intend on bringing your legs with you, the cost is double what was advertised. I wouldn’t be surprised if before long EasyJet developed another string to its corporate bow with a sperm bank (EasyWank?), and offered passengers on their flights reduced ticket prices or perhaps adequate leg room if they *ahem* fulfilled some prior obligations.

To be fair on the airlines, who don’t need my faux-sympathy, it happens often with VAT on other products too. Speaking to someone or another on the phone, they’ll instruct you that whatever it is you want will cost x amount, “minus VAT”. They say it in such a way as to say “Look, I know how money is tight. If I could do anything about it, you wouldn’t have to pay this much. Tell you what. I’ll talk to the boss for you… The boss says no. Sorry. It’s out of my hands”. If they really cared, they should reduce what they are charging by the amount of the VAT plonked on top. That’s caring. Don’t give me faux-sympathy, Mr. hi-fi salesman. I’m buying a hi-fi. I like to get my faux-sympathy from HSBC “Maggie” in India, who is always a pleasure to talk to, and never has unwanted surprises for me.

Listening to a Leonard Cohen album the other day, I was taken aback to hear him mention organic soup. The song was written in the seventies, and for a moment that word jarred a little in my mind. But it wasn’t long before I remembered that “organic” existed as an idea long before it became a branding buzz word. It’s funny. I suddenly remembered having used that word in different contexts, before organic freetrade local hand-picked produce became all the rage. I’m all for organic food, but it was only listening carefully to a song that I had heard many times before, that I realised that the word underwent cultural rebranding around ten years ago, and now it is almost inseparable from the image of packaging, in my mind at least.

Going swimming the other day, I suddenly had the thought that lifeguards must have many, many pairs of swimming shorts/costumes. It made me wonder. Do they have formal trunks? Work trunks and fun trunks? When they go to the sea on holiday, does it feel like they’ve taken their work with them? If you lived in a country where being in the sea is second nature, would you own a pair of funeral trunks?

On a slightly different note, yesterday I cut up a pair of old underpants to make a set of three handkerchiefs. I was getting frustrated with pocketfuls of screwed up toilet tissue, and thought I’d do my bit to save the planet, whilst finding a new use for some holey-unusable underwear. I like to think of these odd-shaped hankies as being the realisation of my middle-class values, albeit with a hobo chic edge.

I watched a programme called The Story of Slapstick the other day on BBC iPlayer. Being a big fan of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, I had high hopes for an intellectual dissection of the psychological precedent for clowning around, its historical roots, or at least a slightly intelligent attempt at a survey of slapstick from the Commedia dell’Arte until today. But what I got was another one of those cheap-as-chips, piece of crap “best of” clip shows, and a poor one at that.

It was obvious that the lack of guests of any repute or relevance was down either to cost-cutting at the BBC, or a general weariness from celebrities to do any more of these crappy shows. Of about four guests, one was Mathew Horne off Gavin & Stacey, who to my mind has no relation to slapstick at all, apart from doing a rubbish sketch show with James Corden a couple of years ago, which was canned after one series. He looked as if he knew he shouldn’t be there, that it wasn’t his realm. I’m sure after the failure of their sketch show, both he and James Corden would have squirmed to have seen him described as an “Actor and Comedian” on the programme.

As is usually the case with these kind of shows, the programme used largely BBC archive footage, unwilling as they were to shell out money to pay for permission to take clips from elsewhere. All in all, it was massively underwhelming. There was no context drawn-up for the occurrence of slapstick (Commedia dell’Arte were mentioned for thirty seconds), and no discussion of how performers’ approaches to slapstick nowadays is different to fifty years ago. Clearly when Vic & Bob hit each other with oversized frying pans for five minutes, there is something to be said of post-modernity, the deconstruction of comic tradition, and slapstick as both anti-intellectual and intelligent. Sigh. High hopes. Dashed.

To cure my post-show annoyance, I started to rewatch my Ren & Stimpy boxset. I love Ren & Stimpy. It was only after watching that crap documentary, that I realised how influential Ren & Stimpy have been to my sense of humour. It’s so grotesque and childish and absurd. I love it. Checking the back of the box, the boxset claimed to contain an episode previously banned worldwide, “Man’s Best Friend”, which according to the internet was the reason Ren & Stimpy’s creator John Kricfalusi was kicked off his own show. From series three onwards the show was in the sole hands of Nickolodeon, and it became a pale version of its former self. Watching back over the shows of series one and two, I’m only surprised they even allowed the cartoon to be shown at all, especially at a time when children could watch it. But I’m not complaining. Mr. Kricfalusi’s warped imagination informed much of what I like and do today, for better or worse.

The boxset did not in fact have the banned episode. Though it was written on the box, the BBFC took the decision to prevent said episode from appearing on the DVD boxset in the UK. It is available on US versions, and also via Jimmy Internet, right here:

http://www.myvideo.de/watch/6092893/The_Ren_Stimpy_Show_Man_s_best_Friend

In most part it is an average episode of the show, but at around 8:19  it gets particularly graphic. If you are squeamish, you may not wish to watch it.

Monday 9th April

April 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am not an adequate cook. Even dishes I can make relatively well are done book-in-hand, without confidence, despite having been prepared many times before. The other day I tried to bake a Rye-Wholemeal mix loaf without the instructions that come on the back of the flour bag I call friend. It came out tasting like bread, but unrisen; when sliced, like thick, fragile crackers. My wife could see my mistakes building as I blundered through the preparation and cooking process, and kept offering me advice. Though I could feel all deteriorate before me, I kept blindly, stubbornly, keeping-on in my own way, claiming to have done things I hadn’t done (having actually missed important stages of the dough preparation process), and angrily declaring to be about to do things I wouldn’t actually have remembered without her intervention. Sometimes it’s easier to cook crap bread than to admit you’re wrong.

Though having been together for many years I still find myself doing things I don’t want to do, like making the bed or washing up, more out fear of my wife’s reaction, than for feeling these tasks are necessary and for the good of all. I will even rush to appear to be mid-task when I hear her keys in the door, so as to appear the embodiment of thoughtfulness when she steps in the house. After doing so, I will probably have a little grace with the washing up, or whatever else is awaiting my attention. It’s pathetic, I know, but really there are so many oppositions between the male and female brains that sometimes it is fair enough to (privately, silently) admit that you have done something just for the other’s sake, consciously, as much out of anxiety as kindness, and really as a defensive manoeuvre. I know my love is partly built on fear of no hot dinners. I am a simple man. I fry eggs. I make Hungarian Borscht soup. I make inferior breads. Among her many talents, my wife is a great cook, and that is a favour worth keeping. I’d like to say I have my own specific skills that she is equally in debt to, but really she does everything better than me.

On Saturday evening I went to see Headhunters, a Norwegian thriller. It was the most bloody film I’ve ever seen. At one point someone’s face is completely ripped off in a car crash, and you see the hole in their head full on.

It is a fantastic film. But I am happy to admit that I had to cover my eyes for prolonged periods of stabbing. I was sat next to a guy in his fifties who routinely laughed at all the brutal killing on screen, along with many others in the auditorium. Why the hell were they laughing? Yes, the film had a kind of self-conscious revelry to it, and an absurd humour to some of the set-pieces… but actual out-loud laughter? I thought it was young people who were meant to be desensitised to violence.

I’ll gladly watch any film from start to finish, no matter the content. I have even sat through pile of crap films like Irreversible, which uses an act of explicitly portrayed sexual-violence as a prolonged and central sequence, despite wishing at the end that I hadn’t wasted my time and money. I’m no prude, and yet, I do find myself squeamish to certain levels of simulated depravity, and can find myself disliking a piece of drama if it seems to enjoy its own rudeness or grossness too much. I must admit, probably to widespread disbelief, that I gave up on watching the celebrated TV show The Wire after episode one, because it had too much swearing in it. I wasn’t offended by it, exactly, but I just couldn’t focus on the meaning of the dialogue, with so many distractions. Frankly, I found all the swearing to just be annoying. I will try watching it again at some point, I promise.

I’m not much of a football fan, not anymore. As a teenager I got into playing and watching it, mostly as a tool for survival at secondary school, where pretty much every boy played the game. At one time I was pretty fanatical about it, but, as time has passed, my interest has wained. And now, as every season comes and goes, the players I originally looked up to age and retire, to be replaced by new faces, and somehow with that change, my interest too has moved on. It’s just so incessant, that constant flux of teams, players, coaches. Everything has become such a matter of finance nowadays, that somehow it’s not as pure a pleasure, following a team. I guess my experience of and current disaffection from football is partly due to the fact that I introduced myself to football, and don’t have a family of supporters above me to maintain my passion. But really, as I mature (in some ways) I see less to relate to or aspire to in the game, and its world. Football is slowly reaching a point in my life where it is as important to me as Curling: when world class performers are competing to the peak of their art, I may very well watch,  but the rest of the time I may very well forget it exists.

Something that has always annoyed me in football is the game of comparisons that pundits play to fill time when no one is actually kicking a ball about. Why compare a player living today with one who stopped playing forty years ago? Lionel Messi is the greatest player I have ever seen play, and for many people he is the greatest ever footballer. But Pele, the Brazilian football legend who has until now claimed the title as greatest ever player, has very clearly stated his own opinion on the matter, saying “When Messi has scored 1,283 goals like me, when he’s won three World Cups, we’ll talk about it.”

Pele was, luckily for him, born during the golden-age of Brasilian football, and consequently he played in some of the best teams South-America has ever produced. In club football, he only ever played in Brasil, for his hometown club Santos, and it is well documented that many of the goals in his record-breaking career were in fact scored in pointless exhibition matches with inferior teams. But even though he is clearly an idiot defending his fragile and precious records, still it is not fair to refute Pele’s claim to his ‘crown’. Messi and Pele are from entirely different eras, and the game of football has changed so much in the intervening years.

The best quote I have ever read about comparing footballers across eras came from former Manchester United Assistant-Manager Carlos Queiroz. Speaking about midfielder Ryan Giggs back in 2007, Queiroz said, very poetically:

“You cannot be a special person in the world if you are a copy of something. You really become a star when, with your football, your art, your style, you create your own identity. So the best tribute we can pay to Ryan Giggs is not that he compares to George Best or anyone. It is to say that he won the right to be Ryan Giggs.”

Tuesday 3rd April

April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the last couple of days there has been much debate in the UK about a proposed new law mooted by our coalition government, which would reportedly allow intelligence officers to access your emails, calls and texts as they happen, without a warrant, rather than retrospectively. Under 2009 EU legislation, internet service providers are currently obliged to keep details of our web access history, email and internet phone calls for 12 months. But these new measures would extend their powers to social networks such as Facebook, and offer unprecedented access to our private conversations.

I’m no conspiracy theorist*, nor a terrorist (honestly, kind World-Web-Watchmen), or even a paedophile (close brackets), so I have little to worry about… or do I? DO I? Someone please bring perspective to this issue, because I have none.

*(How many conspiracy theorists of any real self-worth actually use that term to describe themselves? Even if your theory is outlandish, surely you have your own kind of logic to your reasoning; enough to distance yourself from such a Hollywood cliche, which would see you as a quirky ginger outsider with a penchant for cutting one-liners, and an eventual role in saving the world from Aliens/natural disaster/Germans)

It is said that if we don’t have anything to worry about, then we shouldn’t worry, but pardon me if I feel a little uneasy at the prospect of having my inbox under scrutiny.

I have friends who refuse to join Facebook. I have other friends who join Facebook, then leave. I have some other friends, who have Facebook accounts, but claim Facebook is a waste of time anyway. I have always scoffed at those friends who refuse to join Facebook without any understanding of how it can be good. I scoff even louder (sore throat possible) at those who complain about it, even when they know they love it. But those who leave, knowing it’s not for them… there’s a righteousness in the act which I respect. And I must admit, I find myself tempted by that option increasingly.

I avoid using Facebook as a social medium, ie. for small talk, but rather use it as a kind of extended email system, to share video links, to publicise events. I certainly do not give into any applications, games or trinkets. It just doesn’t interest me to waste my time there. I do that well enough in the real world: I don’t need an extended territory of regret. In other words, I know what I get from it, and I limit my time there. But despite my early efforts, Facebook has increasingly become a place where my private, social and work personas meet, without definite boundaries between them. I’m tagged in photos taken by other people at parties, on holiday, at work… it is really is a bit of a mess, and all publically viewable. When it comes to pin numbers and passwords, we are always told to be vigilant. But what is vigilant when it comes to collective memory-sharing?

My anxiety is partly fuelled by the fact that I have never turned down a Facebook friend request. When I meet new people at parties, friends houses, through work, I’ll hear their name, but more often than not it will slip from my mind within ten seconds. It is not strange for me to know someone casually for several years without having any idea what their name is. It often gets to a point where I come across as rude, failing to introduce them to other friends of mine in order to avoid the embarrassment of my neglect. Once I had to introduce one person whose name I had forgotten to another person whose name I had forgotten. In this circumstance, rather than coming across as one kind of idiot, I decided to improvise for each of them ironic and insulting nicknames, thus coming across as a different kind of idiot, to forgo nonconsensual shame. But an ambient consequence of my bad memory has been that when on Facebook, I’d rather accept a “friendship” than outrightly reject them. I don’t know if this is generous, or commonplace, or even a little egoistic, but nonetheless, that is my policy. Subsequently I might have befriended any number of famous spies (do such people exist?) or maniacs.

I feel like the mess I’ve created has left me lacking control of my account. I don’t know what kind of threat can be wrought on my reputation if someone was to (very easily) get hold of a photo of me in my Speedos, but with recent news developments and the scaremongering that has accompanied it (like an ugly cousin taken to a party because she has feelings too), I am getting an itch in my finger, every time I hold it over the delete key. Nb. I have a MAC, so actually ‘Backspace’ would be more accurate, but if I wrote that you would have no idea what I meant.

Is it time to leave Facebook? The company’s programmers/developers/idiots keep changing the interface every few months, making it less usable, so maybe it is time to cut my losses, as someone other than me might say, and set up a work only account, void of personality and personal details. That said, if I didn’t use Facebook, then no one would ever visit this blog, and then where would I be? Sat in the same place no doubt, but rather than choosing not to go to any of the events I have been invited to by my virtual friends, I would be abjectly wishing I knew what events were taking place that I had been excluded from, by being little analogue me.

Where Am I?

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