Blowing your top

I don’t know if you know about this, as it’s not been very widely reported. Hardly any news station anywhere has picked up on this. A volcano has erupted. I know, it came as a shock to me too. You would have thought something like that would get some sort of coverage. Apparently though, so my sources say, this volcano has sent forth a massive column of ash which is just kind of lolling about in the sky, something like 20,000 feet above our heads and, not to put too fine a point on it, buggering everything up for everyone.

It turns out that ash is massively harmful to planes. It gets in the engines and basically buggers up intricate bits, it takes the edges off aerodynamic surfaces and can fizzle electrics to within an inch of their life so, to be safe, all air traffic across the UK and parts of Europe is grounded. This has caused massive, massive issues with people trying to go on holiday. There have been interviews with people sitting in airports being all put-out and grumpy, there have been images of disgruntled children no longer allowed to go on holiday because they can’t get anywhere. Not that they should be going anywhere anyway. It’s term time. They should be in school, learning, and then maybe they will invent something that enables planes to fly through ash.

What’s funny though is the way the news has, quite recently, realised something. When the ash cloud descended (or more correctly, ascended and then wouldn’t bugger off) last week all the attention was focused on these poor souls unable to leave the country. It’s only recently that people have gone “hang on, I used to work with someone. There definately used to be someone else in my office. I remember the went to… oh”. Yeah, it took us something like four or five days to realise that not only could people not get out of the country but there are quite a few people already out of the country who can’t get back. And, while we may think it’s all fun and nice being stuck in foreign climes for much longer than you anticipated admit it, 10 days is enough for anyone isn’t it. Give it two weeks and you can’t bloody wait to get home. All you want is some stereotypical british food that you can only get the proper version of in the UK, none of this les cadburys fingres malarky for you. You want Cadburys fingers. But right now they’re sticking two up at you and saying you can’t get in.

Obviously, in this busy election time, soundbites from the politicians are good. David Cameron said, on Thursday, that he was “deeply worried” about the ash. Leading many (well, ok, just me) to wonder if, should the Tories come to power, they’ll create a new system – a bit like the terror alerts – for troubling times. This will range from “everything’s fine”, through to “a bit annoying, you know like when there’s a fly in the room trying to get out” to “deeply worrying” to “well, that’s knackered then” and culminating in “I warned you…”. Nick Griffin on the other hand – he’s the goggly eyed BNP one, not to be confused with Nick Clegg who’s the guy who could, at this precise moment, market his shit as toothpaste and people would buy it  – has worked out that this volcano malarky has, effectively, shut our borders and was last seen going out to buy a massive set of bellows and try and gain passage aboard the next ship to Iceland.

The news is, of course, gripping this as firmly as it did the “snow event” back in January. ITN news have sent a reported to look at the volcano from a helicopter. Not because it’s a magnificent natural sight (it is, no matter the chaos it’s causing, a wonderous thing to watch) but because someone, somewhere in middle Englad, won’t believe the volcano is actually a) real b) really doing what they say it’s doing or c) in Iceland until they see it on the news. They’ll also need telling that Iceland is a country and not just a chavvy freezer shop advertised by jobless Nolans and Jason Donovan.

Our local news has, this very evening, had a snippet where the weather man has been shown pictures taken by viewers and gone “yeah, that’s a cloud”, “nope, still just a cloud”, “oo, that’s a good one. It’s still a cloud” at each and every one of the pictures – no-one has captured this ash cloud on camera from the ground, therefore it doesn’t exist. You can’t see it, even if you look out of an upstairs window. It’s funny though that no-one could see swine flu either but every bugger had it, didn’t they?

The volcano is not all bad. It has produced the usual raft of jokes. My favourite being the one which asks the difference between an Icelandic volcano and Cheryl Cole. It’s produced super soar-away Sun headlines such as “Dis-ERUPT-ion”. How the Sun likes a badly written pun that doesn’t quite work – I had my money of “dis-ASH-ter” but they don’t seem to have done that.  Along with the jokes we’ve seen every sort of expert trooped out on the news – aviation experts, ash experts, people who read the Daily Mail (ash can cause cancer – stay indoors!), people who once read about a volcano. I have a feeling that if Frankie Howerd were still with us he’d be on the news because he once starred in Up Pompei and we all know there was a volcano there.

The British spirit, though, is alive and well as the Royal Navy are looking into the possibility of bringing stranged people home. Just the Royal Navy mind, which is a bit rubbish. I’m sure in World War II every bloody boat that was anywhere near the coast of Britain was dispatched to bring people home, and now we get three ships? Rubbish. Let’s do this properly. Get a fleet of boats out there now – fishing boats, ferries, pleasure boats, even Christine Bleakley on her waterskies and bring our stranded countrymen home. It’s times like this that we could, as a country, pull together and do this. But we won’t. We’ll just piss and moan and whinge that we can’t go on holiday… when all the rest of them want to do is get home.

Oh, and for the record (and the punchline), the volcano is still blowing Ash.

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Keep on rolling

My life flashed before my eyes today. It wasn’t a particularly exciting flash, or a revealing insite into things left unfinished. I haven’t stood that close to Death for a while. At lunchtime, as I made a move to exit the building and purchase a sandwich, I was nearly mown down by a mobility scooter.

This four-wheeled death machine was being driven, at a great rate of knots, along the pavement close to the buildings and had I not stopped, for some unknown reason, on the threshold of the doorstep I would be gone. I would have been knocked over by this batty old woman on her death chariot and crushed under her battery powered wheels of doom. But, luckily, I stopped and was far enough back from the edge of the doorstep that I wasn’t sucked off… by the rush of air, and not because the mobile old lady was some kind of crazy nympho on wheels.

By escaping death I got to experience an enjoyable phone call this afternoon. The sort that can only be generated by a wrong number.

“I was phoning my mum’s number,” says the voice at the end of the phone.
“No, you’re through to a customer service team”
“But I was phoning my mum’s number,” she insists.

There are a number of answers you want to give in this instance. You want to ask what her mum’s called, and maybe you can ask around – she may have snuck in when you weren’t looking. You want to suggest that her mum has moved and given her a duff number to avoid contact. You want to say “you weren’t calling your mum’s number you were calling me.”

“No, I was calling my mum,” she says (again). As if saying it three times will make it true, like summoning the Candyman or Beetlejuice. It didn’t make it true. No mother appeared to answer her call. The voice at the end of the phone then said “maybe I had the numbers wrong.” I don’t mean to be rude but if you had the numbers wrong then the chances of you phoning your mum were pretty slim. That’s like me saying I’ve checked my balance in my bank account and have a million pounds but I’ve just got the numbers wrong. I may try that tomorrow.

While coming home today I saw a child in a pushchair. Covered, like he’d had a bad case of pastry dandruff, in the remnants of a Greggs sausage roll. What is it about a Greggs sausage roll that cries out to be used as baby food? Why do Greggs, bakers of pastry products (using the patented “shrapnel” pastry that means you will be picking crumbs from every crevice for at least a day after you’ve eaten a pastie), have such a corner on the mobile baby food market. I bet the workers at the likes of Cow and Gate and, erm, you know, other baby food makers (I’m sure there are some) walk past Greggs and shake an angry fist, muttering something about them stealing a valuable part of the market share.

I mean, I can kind of see the pull of the sausage roll. It’s soft, so suitable for young mouths, and there’s almost a 90% chance of the sausage roll not being anything close to warm which, again, protects a young mouth from danger. But surely, from a nutritional point of view, there’s little to be gained from the roll. Other than fat, fat and more fat. But apparently, this doesn’t matter when it comes to children. You give them the sausage roll, you push the child round and round in their pushchair and they eat away, leaving a trail of crumbs wherever you have been.

I’m almost tempted to go on Dragon’s Den, in fact, with an idea for a pushchair dust-buster to clean up your crumb ridden child as you go. I’d be willing to offer 20% of my company.

That’s handy, Ghandi

Today has been the longest Wednesday since records began which, for the purposes of this blog, presumes that records began sometime after last Wednesday. Most people complain about Mondays. Mondays are the worst, no-one wants to go back to work after a weekend – I, to be fair, cut out most of this day favouritism by hating pretty much every working day – but it seems that humpday Wednesday is fast becoming the new Monday.

There are a few things that have brightened today up a little. Okay there’s been one thing. I saw Ghandi. He didn’t come in a vision or anything like that. He was on my bus, on the way home. He was in disguise, but I’m fairly sure it was him. I couldn’t snap a picture as just when I noticed him he got up to get off the bus and, for someone who’s been dead a while he’s quite nippy on his old pins I can tell you. So, in the absence of an actual photo I shall paint you a picture with words.

Imagine Ghandi. The iconic image is of him in robes, with a stick. You need to, first of all, remove the stick. In it’s place, substitute a carrier bag full of batteries. New ones. Duracell. Must have cost him a pretty penny, all those batteries. In place of the robes, substitute some tan trousers and a khaki-ish coloured fleece. Now adorn the top of his head with a woolly hat. Got that in place. That’s what I saw on my bus. I think this trumps the time I was almost convinced I was sitting on the seat behind Morgan Freeman, until I realised that it was highly unlikely Morgan Freeman would be living on my bus route. I haven’t applied the same logic to Ghandi as he is obviously in some kind of protection program.

But Ghandi and his batteries got me thinking of a time, a good few years ago, when I was coming back from Leeds having met an old University friend for drinks. As I had been out I had the dubious pleasure of getting to catch the last bus home. The fabled last bus. The gathering point for anyone weird in the world. And of course, because the Universe works like that, one of them was at my bus stop.

“They’re heavy, aren’t they?” enquired my soon-to-be travelling companion. I’m sure at this point I gave a kind of quizzical look, and the woman took to explaining. “They’re heavy aren’t they, tins?”. She was actually talking to me about tins. Bloody tins. Out of nowhere. Tins. I wasn’t wearing a T-shirt that said “tell me a fact about tins”. I wasn’t dressed as a tin. I didn’t have any tins. I had nothing, nothing at all, that could indicate in any way that I gave a hoot about tins. So, I did what anyone would have done. I agreed with her. I agreed they were heavy. Then she blew me away with science. My understanding of the universe became so much clearer with her next statement.

“Yeah, unless they’re empty. Heavy unless they’re empty, tins.”

I mean, on a basic level I can’t fault her in any way, shape or form. She’s right. Tins are lighter when the stuff that’s inside the tin is no longer inside the tin. I just didn’t (and still don’t) understand why she felt the need to even bring up tin and their relative weights, with me at a bus stop. Late at night. When neither of us had tins.

It’s moments like these, though, that make you wonder if it’s you that’s the weird one. Maybe it’s you that has the kooky view of the world and talking about tins is a normal thing to do at something past eleven at night, outside a dodgy pub in Leeds city centre. It happened to me today, when I was talking to a customer at work. I started to wonder if it was me that was missing something. Some trick to the world that made it ok to be slightly out of touch.

I spoke with a gentleman who kept repeating the fact that, this year, Easter not only had Good Friday but it also had a Bank Holiday Monday. He must have said it six or seven times during the course of our conversation. “But there was a Good Friday and a Bank Holiday Monday”. He kept emphasising the fact that there had been not one, but two interuptions to his flow of work. And as I sat there, and listened to him explain to me about the two occurances of a bank holiday I genuinely thought that it was me that was at fault. Maybe I was wrong in thinking that Easter had been around for a while, and that it had always been accompanied by two bank holidays, for Jesus rose again on Easter Sunday but found that everything was shut on the Monday – although he could get an awesome saving on a new couch – and muttered that, had he known that, he’d have stayed in until Tuesday.

I think that it’s incidents like these though, that make our days better. Life is like a tin (screw all that box of chocolates crap), it’s heavy. But, unlike the tins, things need to be added to make it lighter.

Things like these.

Wayne will I see you again

The National Lottery. It could be you. It probably won’t be, but it could be. There’s always that chance, that dream, that you will possess the winning ticket. It’s better if you’re the only one with that number combination, obviously, as you’ll be many times richer than if you had to share it with other lucky souls. It’s human nature to always want something that you probably won’t ever get. Live the dream, take a chance and end up pounds out of pocket in the process.

There’s another kind of lottery you can play, though. You’re more likely to see results as well. Statistically, you’ll probably have your first hit within a couple of weeks of starting to play. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the world of the online supermarket shop.

I hate shopping. I particularly hate shopping in supermarkets. I hate the fact that people seem to abandon all pretence that they have manners and awareness of others as soon as the sliding doors have opened to let them into the store. Trolley rage, the need to block the aisles while fannying around looking for an item written on a secret list, written on the smallest paper possible, tucked away in a pocket and feral children are all common occurances in the supermarket. 

There are the odd glimmers of entertainment to be had. People watching is always a good one. Messing with the heads of checkout people (and those in the queue behind you) by trying to assemble the most unconnected shopping basket possible is also an excellent game to play. For added excitement, why not try doing your shopping as normal, but only buy the items that aren’t in their natural habitats. You know the ones, the things that have been abandoned by a previous shopper in an alien aisle. There’s no correlation between the item and it’s new place of rest, and there’s not obvious reason for the item’s new home either. Sometimes it’s fun to attach a story to the item. What brought it to this place? What great internal conflict made someone choose between cat food and a 24 pack of Stella? And, perhaps most importantly, how pissed is that cat, right now?

Supermarkets are also a fantastic place to get games cheaper than normal and books at ridiculously awesome prices. They’re places to go when you’ve, hypothetically, just missed a bus and it’s cold outside. They’re the places to go to stand in the checkout queue and overhear an old man behind you have a conversation with himself about whether he actually picked up the pork loins he appears to be holding in his hand and, if he did indeed pick them up, what the hell he wanted them for in the first place. To be fair, that once happened to me in Calderdale Library. I was skimming through a book and, when I came to leave, I found I had tucked another book under my arm. I don’t remember tucking that book under my arm, or ever seeing that book before but I can only assume that I did it, otherwise the library’s haunted and the whole concept gives me the willies.

Online shopping, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. You can shop in your dressing gown, lazy ladies of wherever it was. You can sit and happily assemble your shopping list without the stress of feral children or wonky trolley wheels. You can click through the special offers without having to visit every shelf in the store to make sure you’ve seen them all. It’s all there. It’s a world of wonder. It will, certainly in the case of Tesco, even shout at you if you have neglected to complete all the requirements of a special offer.

 “Are you sure you only want to buy one 5000 litre bottle of cooking oil, you can have two for a smidge over the price of one? Are you really sure? Ah go on, you know you want it. I’m adding it to your list anyway, you’ll thank me later.”

The fun comes once you’ve checked out. When all is done and dusted, and you’ve put your chosen groceries firmly into a designated delivery slot. The slot arrives, and eventually, the van arrives. The green baskets are unloaded from the van and delivered to your door and, as you greet the deliverer he utters the immortal words “You’ve just got a couple of substitutions…”

A couple of substitutions is the equivalent of the self-checkout’s spazz-out at an unauthorised item in the bagging area. They’re the shop’s best guess at filling the slot in the shopping list left by the lack of one of your own items. Sometimes you’ll get a different bread roll choice, sometimes a different bag of crisps, sometimes the same product but at a hugely discounted rate. On very, very rare occasions you’ll ask for some cake decorations and get a bag of frozen sausages. It’s happened once. I explained to the driver that while I appreciated that the store didn’t have cake decorations I wasn’t sure a sausage was the same as chocolate frosting. In that instance I won a small victory -I got the sausages, I got the sausages for free and I found the substituted frosting in another bag. That’s almost as good as the time we rang up to complain that we didn’t have any carrot and swede mash and then opened the fridge to find a packet of carrot and swede mash. Apparently the ghost from the library had unpacked our shopping that day.

Our Tesco’s delivery runs another gamble each and every time the van pulls up. Will it be Wayne? Because we stick to a pretty similar time slot on a weekly basis we always run the risk of a Wayne encounter. Most of the drivers are fine. There’s a nice old bloke who always worries that the van will get stuck on our road (due to the haphazard parking skills exhibited by the majority of drivers), there’s beardy man who is a man with a beard and there’s a guy who looks at lot like the fellow who founded the Wendy’s burger chain and then there’s Wayne. Wayne is nothing if not enthusiastic. He’s eager to please. He’s like a cute little puppy who just wants to be loved but you know will piss on your carpets when your back’s turned. You open the door to find him standing there, clutching the crates waiting, like a vampire, to be invited into your humble abode. He always wants to carry the stuff through the house even though we always unload the crates more-or-less at the door. He’s always a bit put out if I don’t want his Tesco’s school vouchers (“oh, I’ll just put those back in the old pocket there then.”) and he always repeats what he’s just said if you don’t give him the right response (“back in the old pocket they go”).

He has, in the process of delivering shopping, explained to me that he’s had to cover the Barnsley area due a shop refurbishment, explained the whole scheme behind the Tesco diet club (“You saying I’m fat, Wayne?”), explained the hilarity that ensued when he offered the last couple he delivered to a Tesco Directory and they’d only gone and got one that very morning because they didn’t know one would be coming with their shopping. That very morning, would you believe it. He’s told me about the weather, he’s told me (on numerous occasions) that we’re more than welcome to give him the carrier bags we don’t need (I assume for recycling, rather than for a mad suffocation rampage), he’s always got something to say.

He hasn’t been for a few weeks. The founder of Wendy’s keeps coming. I think his name’s Dave. I don’t learn as much from Dave.

I miss Wayne.

Tales from the Peasant Wagon

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, will know that I have quite an interesting time on journeys to and from work. Or anywhere I tend to go really. The reason for this is, though I may be reading a book, magazine or playing with my iPhone at the time, I am a massive people watcher. People watching is the best thing to do.

There was a time, coming home from work, that I saw a woman who was completely grey, passing through the self-checkouts at Sainsburys. She was grey. When I recounted the story at work the following day it came with an quantification of the greyness by me pointing to a filing cabinet or my antique metal bin. She was that grey. Find something grey as you read this. That’s how grey the woman was. When I saw her I remember my first thought being that I couldn’t possibly be the only person who could see her and, for a few moments, I was genuinely worried that I was hallucinating or needed to call Yvette Fielding to carry out a vigil. This feeling passed when I heard someone behind me say, quite quietly, to his girlfriend “That must be make-up, surely. No-one looks like that”. Exactly, my overheard friend. No-one looks like that. She was that grey. But, alas, she wasn’t on the bus so she doesn’t count for this blog – she was merely seen on the way to the bus, and therefore exempt.

One of the regular faces I often encounter on the bus is a drunk man, sporting white hair and a moustache (looking a little bit like a snowy Dickie Davies off of World of Sport) who sits towards the back of the bus, tries to befriend people and, more bizarrely, channels the spirit of Elvis (possibly) or a parrot. You’ll be happily enjoying your journey, only for the enjoyment to be shattered by a loud cry of “I tell ya boy, I tell ya” or some kind of strange squawk. This is what makes public transport such fun.

On a train recently, while travelling to London for the first annual Ready Up brainstorming and whatever else it was called meeting I’m fairly sure the onboard announcement, played as we entered the station, told those leaving the train to “make sure they had all their belongings and mind the stick up their arse.” It’s these things that make public transport such fun.

Public transport isn’t always fun though. You have to put up with music played through tinny phone speakers. Shit music coming out of shit speakers just sounds, well, shit. You also have to put up with loud music coming out of people’s earphones as they, one can only assume, try to liquify their brain through soundwaves alone. Passive music, like tinny music through tinny speakers, is shit. Buses are also the places that babies go to cry. If you want your otherwise well-behaved, sweet and lovely child to wail like a banshee, non-stop for twenty-odd minutes put them on a bus. Guaranteed.

But buses are fun as well, as I learnt this evening. People getting hurt, or finding themselves in uncomfortable situations is funny. There’s no two ways about it. For proof of that just look at You’ve Been Framed. It’s been going for ages (admittedly with a lot of the same clips – so much so that they now blur out the date so you don’t know it was shot on an old cine-camera in 1913) and is as funny now as it’s always been. Funnier probably because, even when the clips are rubbish, Harry Hill is on hand to pass a sarcastic comment about the decor in the room and you can have a damn good chuckle about that. I also know that people getting hurt is funny from my own experiences. Not the time I swang out into the middle of a lake, looking petrified, hanging from a tatty rope swing – not then, that wasn’t funny and, to be fair, I didn’t get hurt just merely soiled myself. No, the time I really learnt it was funny was the time of the Bagpuss incident.

The Bagpuss incident occurred some time ago now, but is still mentioned periodically. Usually if I make any mention about never doing anything bad – it’s usually met with “what about that time with Bagpuss?” and, while I feel bad inside, I can’t help but laugh at the memory. I’m a bad man, and going straight to hell, but at least I’ll have something to chuckle about. The Bagpuss incident occurred when I called my girlfriend to the bottom of the stairs, seeming to tell her something or to ask her a question. I did neither of these things. I unleashed a Bagpuss. A soft, furry, catpuss if you will. A small, soft toy replica of the popular junk shop cat who did very little while the mice made biscuit mills and rowing boats out of ballet shoes.

Picture the scene. The victim, having just emerged from the front room into the stairs area turns to look up the stairs to see what she is needed for. The perpetrator of this crime has, literally seconds ago, thrown a Bagpuss down the stairs. What happened next, for me at least, happened in glorious slow motion (I’m sure my girlfriend has other ideas about this one). Bagpuss left my hand and travelled the short distance between me and my victim before colliding with her. Now, before this point, I’ve heard people used the phrase “knocked them off their feet” but had never realised that it’s actually possible. I swear to this day that Bagpuss colliding squarely with the right side of her face knocked my girlfriend clean over. I felt bad afterwards, of course, and once I’d finished laughing I ran to her aid but I do, to this day, wish I had either filmed it or even for one minute thought I could pull off such a marvelous shot again.

Anyway, back to the topic in hand. The peasant wagon, this evening. A small boy and his father (I assume) were on the bus. They were already a comedy goldmine even before the bus set off. The father commented on the British Heart Foundation shop, opposite the bus stop, saying that £40 for a bed was an amazing price. The boy, however, was more interested in the tables.

Boy:”£15 for a table. I’m going to save up and buy a table”
Father: “What? Why?”
Boy: “To put my PS3 on…”
Father: “No you’re not, you’ve already got shelves. You don’t need a table.”

This immense level of conversation continued for the whole journey. The boy had spent all his money but thought he had enough for a refresher bar, £1.70 was very cheap for a carwash, what it carwashes only charged 40p and so on. It was like living in an episode of Outnumbered. It was brilliant. And then they went to get off the bus. The boy sauntered down the bus, swinging round on the hand rails as he neared the front. At the door, he swung round the final, vertical, hand rail leaving him against the luggage compartment just as the driver triggered the doors to open. The doors did what they needed to do. The father made to get off the bus, pulling his son (again, I assume) to get off the bus. It was about then he discovered that his son was wedged firmly as, between the actions of the door and the proximity of the pole, his head was completely trapped.

“Sorry, his head’s trapped. Sorry, can you close the doors again?”

A woman at the front of the bus laughed while I found something really interesting about the construction of the zip on my bag. Once the pair had successfully disembarked and we drove off leaving the father gesturing widely and shouting for an explanation, I raised a massive smile.

People may drive to work, people may enjoy the feeling of driving around, of having a car, of getting to places quicker that us poor peasants riding on the peasant wagon but I bet they don’t have half as much fun.