You say “holo” and I say “goodbye”

January 31, 2011

People are, on the whole, stupid. When I say people, I don’t me you or I. No, I mean “people”. You know, those people in the world who exist outside of our sphere of influence. People who aren’t on your Facebook friends list. Those people. The people you see walking around as you’re trying to do you sane and normal things. The people who get under your feet. Those people. In a nutshell, people.

There’s a guy who earns money busking in Huddersfield. That’s no bad thing. More power to his elbow, and all that jazz. He sits outside WHSmiths or somewhere on the precinct (seen, but not heard) playing music and people give him money. He’s not stupid. He, if truth be told, is outstandingly clever. People are giving him money, actual spendable legal tender, for banging on an upturned bucket. It’s like a really low-budget version of Stomp. It’s one man, a couple of upturned buckets and some sticks. I’ve seen him four or five times now. He plays the same tune. Over and over and over again and yet his little bucket for the collection of money always has money in. Now, it may be that this is mainly the busker’s money – his float, if you will (it’s a well-known technique of the busking fraternity that you pre-line your money collection vessel with a smattering of coins so as to create the impression that they have already been donated to and thus make you more willing to part with your money. A similar technique is applied by those people that collect charity envelopes when you open the door and they know, they instinctively know, that you haven’t filled your envelope and look at next door with a kind of “you should have seen how full their envelope was, and it was ready when I knocked” face which guilts you into filling the envelope to bursting.

This busker, then, only knows one tune. Either that or I have caught him at exactly the same part of his act each and every time I have seen him. I suspect it’s the one tune thing. But people willing put money in his bucket. I think I’m missing a trick because, if I’m honest, I play a tune on my mug each time I make a cuppa – I’ve just never thought about passing a hat round afterwards.

So people are stupid. This was hammered home to me today by a news story which, for a small while this lunchtime, I thought I’d actually made up. I knew I read it on Sky News this morning, but by lunchtime I couldn’t find it and was beginning to doubt my sanity.

Manchester Airport is employing the use of holographic staff members to “help with security.” I’m not making this up. According to Sky News, the Airport is applying the same technology used by The Gorrilaz (apparently a popular beat combo of this generation) and which performed as Frank Sinatra at Simon Cowell’s birthday party last year. Apart from the fact that the hologram didn’t “perform as” Frank Sinatra and then went back to its regular day job as the cheque guarantee logo on your bankcard, this story is just amazing.

Two members of Manchester Airport’s staff have been immortalised as holograms and stand around giving people information about the rules for taking liquids on board before ushering people through the security check-ins. They are so incredibly life-like, says the story, that people have actually tried to hand over their passports for checking, presumably only for them to fall to the floor and then much hilarity will ensue.

I think, right there, that’s a case for not being allowed on a plane. If you can’t tell the difference between a real person and a hologram you shouldn’t be allowed to fly. You’re clearly a liability and we shouldn’t really be inflicting you on other people or countries. And thank goodness you didn’t go to Simon Cowell’s birthday party, you’d have soiled yourself when Frank Sinatra rose from the grave a performed a couple of hits.

And then, to cap it all off, there’s the suicide bomber who died at the back-end of last year. She didn’t kill anyone else, other than herself. Thought to be part of the same group responsible for the Moscow airport bombing, this woman was in the terrorist safe house (possibly my grandma’s house if my dream is to be believed) setting up her suicide belt. The trigger mechanism, as with many of these devices, was a mobile phone. The plan, it’s thought, was that she would meander into the centre of a group of people celebrating the New Year, a signal would be sent, she’d explode and kill countless people, injure others and send a very stern message to those who understand these things. Unfortunately this didn’t go to plan as, for some reason, the mobile phone was not left switched off (as it usually is) and received what is believed to have been a spam message from her mobile provider wishing her a New Year.

She’s not having a particularly good New Year.

But she certainly ended the last one with a bang.



January 30, 2011

When I was younger there were a couple of book series that I absolutely loved. One of them was the Green Knowe series which I started reading after watching the TV adaptation of The Children of Green Knowe. I pretty much ate them up – and still occasionally re-read them even now.

My other favourite was Mary Norton’s Borrowers series. I started, oddly enough, with The Borrowers which I got as a birthday present. I loved it and it wasn’t long before I was convincing my Grandma to hand over the other books in the series so I could get them read. And read them I did. As with the Green Knowe series they still sit proudly on a shelf and are occasionally re-read – I even picked up a copy of The Borrower’s omnibus in a charity shop so I could read all the books with the inconvenience of having to carry around more than one.

What’s fun about reading the Borrowers is that you become increasingly convinced that you have Borrowers. We think we have Borrowers, although if we do then they have a very strange taste in things. So far, to our knowledge, our Borrowers have taken a multitude of pairs of scissors and my copy of Tony Hawks’ Road Ireland With A Fridge.

I’m not so bothered about the scissors if I’m honest – we can pick up packs of three from Ikea for bargain prices, after all. Although they are tied together so tightly that you can only release them by using a pair of scissors, which you can’t use because it’s tied to the other two pairs. It’s a vicious circle. Although if you scour the shelves of Ikea for long enough you’ll probably come across a specially designed tool to release the scissors.

I’m much more bothered about Round Ireland With A Fridge. The story of one man who takes up the challenge of travelling, well, around Ireland with a fridge – it’s a heart-warming tale of the kindness of strangers and the perils of teaching a fridge to surf. I bought it years ago, my parents have read it, I’ve read it a couple of times and now it’s gone missing. I recently bought the film of the book on DVD and, having watched it, had a hankering to read it again and Carole quite fancies reading it as well.

But it’s missing. My family doesn’t have it. I’ve had no need to lend it to anyone else. It can only be in this house. Or maybe my parent’s house. But more likely this house. It should be on the shelf next to Playing The Moldovans At Tennis. But it’s not there. It’s gone. We’ve looked through all the bookshelves. We have a lot of books, so it took some time. It’s not anywhere. So the only obvious answer is that the Borrowers have got it.

I don’t know why they’ve taken it. It’s a good book, though, so I’d like to think they’re reading it and imagining the adventures that the Irish Borrowers could have got up to. Maybe they know an Irish Borrower who hitched a lift on the fridge – maybe that Borrower went surfing inside the fridge. If they’re not reading it, I’m not sure where they’d want it. The fact that they have also taken all our scissors makes it a little bit more worrying.

I fear that, should I ever find the book again, it’ll have been cut up. Individual words chopped out of the text for some sinister reason, by tiny hands wielding massive scissors. Possibly for tiny ransom demands, or maybe to make a story of their own. Either way, it makes me sad because it’s one of my favourite books and it’s gone. I’ll have to pick up another copy or, maybe, push little hand written letters through the slots between the floorboards.

Offering some kind of Borrower amnesty.

The Weekend Papers

January 29, 2011

Last Sunday we began wallpapering our hallway. Having put it off and put it off and found other excuses to put it off, we finally faced up to the fact that we were going to have to just knuckle down and do it. And we did, we cracked off a fairly decent portion of the wall in about four hours of papering. Then we made a massive tactical error.

Because it was, by this point, sometime after one in the the afternoon, we stopped for lunch.

Once we did that, however, our momentum was lost. We sat down to eat, and found a half-hour programme in the Sky Planner to watch munched. When that half-hour show was over, we watched another to “give our food time to settle”.  While two back-to-back episodes of Ace of Cakes are prefectly acceptble viewing, they seemed to sap all the enthusiasm for starting the job again – partly because we’d had a longer break than we’d orginally planned and partly because I was thinking about what cake I’d ask them to make for me. I say them, I mainly mean Elena.

So, after our extended break we got back to work, put on five pieces of wallpaper and then discovered that they’d all become progressively more wonky. So we ended up taking all five pieces off again. And that pretty much finished us off for the day. There’s nothing more demoralising that pulling down things you’ve spent a while doing. Especially when the morning session had gone so well.

Today, we went back to face our demons and finish the papering. After sleeping in for longer than we anticipated we got started and rocketed up the stairs. The paper was going on brilliantly, everything was fine and dandy. And then we stopped for lunch again. With more Ace of Cakes. But somehow today was different. Maybe it was the fact that it was an hour long, Christmas episode of Ace of Cakes or maybe it was the fact that during this hour we were refuelling with Greggs pasties and Rocky biscuits. I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer but as the end credits of Ace of Cakes rolled we were up and, as they say, at ’em once more.

Our nemesis corner from last week, the corner that made everything wonky, was still to come but we were in high spirits. Buoyed by a caramel Rocky induced sugar rush, we laughed our way up and down stairs and ladders. And then came the corner. Our first attempt was to wrap a full sheet round this corner (before your start, it’s not an inside corner it’s an outside corner) but that didn’t work. Whoever built our house didn’t bother with things as trivial as making walls straight. As long as they went from floor to ceiling that, it would appear, would do. So, with some swearing, we pulled that sheet off. Carole had a brilliant idea to cut the sheet of wallpaper in half lengthways, that way we had more control over the way it came around the corner. It was an idea that might just work. And it did, as it happens – something which lifted our spirits immensely – although cutting up the middle of a 3m long piece of wallpaper isn’t as much fun as it sounds, I had my tongue out in concentration the whole time and it took so long that the end of it had actually dried up.

So, spirits lifted, we worked on until half-past seven. Half-past bloody seven. It’s not finished. Annoyingly we need to about 5 more bits – a couple of long-ish drops and some short bits above the door. Oh and some fiddly stuff as well. All things which, as your paste bucket runs out at something past seven on a Saturday night, you just think “sod it” to. We’ll do it one night after work. And then it’ll be done.

Until we have to paint it all.

Smells Like Teen Spirit, If By “Teen Spirit” I Mean Nothing

January 28, 2011

There’s a lot of adverts that annoy me. I’ve already vented some spleen on the Co-operative’s campaign to make me go to the supermarket every night, but there’s a few others that annoy me.

The Febreeze adverts, for example, are just ridiculous. Your mother’s coming, and this chair smells. I don’t know about you, but when my mum comes round to visit the last thing I’m worried about is what the chair smells of – I’m more concerned with making sure I’ve taken all my pants off the light fittings and that kind of thing. The advert implies that your mother would be mortified by your chair smelling of something and would prefer it to be fragrance free but slightly damp from a liberal squirting of Febreeze because, as everyone knows, it’s not at all uncomfortable to sit on a damp seat.

Then there’s those Glade averts. Get a glade pebble, an air freshener that looks like a pebble so that it would stand out amongst your other decorative rocks. And, of course, if anyone comments on your air freshener you say “It’s from Glade, you know” and appear suitable smug that you have an air freshener in the first place, let alone one that looks like a scent-emitting rock.

There’s a lot of scents available across a wide variety of scented things – there’s vanilla, and pine, and citrus smells. You’ve got cherry and berry and Christmas themed mulled wine. These are all smells of things that actually have smells. But it doesn’t end there. Smells start to get a bit more creative after that.

We went to B&Q tonight for a few bits and bobs for wallpapering, and while there we encountered a whole rack of candles. There were lavender ones (a real smell), sweet pea (a real smell), cherry (a real smell), beach towel (a real sme.. woah what?). Yes, there’s a candle that, when lit, emits the smell of a beach towel. I have no idea what that smell actually is. Damp seaweed, seagulls, suntan lotion and dog poo hidden in the sand is my best guess. There wasn’t one I could open and smell, so I don’t know. And I wasn’t willing to part with actually money to buy a candle so I could have a sniff. I managed to have a noseful of “crisp linen” however which, if I’m honest, smelt like old people’s talc and, if nothing else, was a decent reason to make my linen slightly limp.

But then along comes Ambi Pur with its special three smell system. The theory behind this three pong problem is that you become acclimatised to a smell and therefore stop noticing it and what good is an air freshener if you stop noticing it, eh? How will you know it’s run out if you can’t smell it in the first place because you’re so used to smelling it you don’t realise you’re smelling it. And then if you don’t replace it, what’s the point of the air freshener refill makers to make refills? And if the refill makers don’t make refills then do we really need the refill makers in the first place? So then the refill makers lose their jobs and have no money to support their families and they start living in filth and despondency and could really do with an air freshener to make their world a better place and their unkempt home smell nice but because, at the beginning of this, you have the gall to stop noticing the smell emitted by an air freshener the whole air freshener industry has fallen to its knees. I don’t think I’ve over-stated one part of that. It’s the butterfly effect, but one with a faint hint of cut grass.

Yes, cut grass. That’s one of the smells in the Ambi Pur system. The other smells, on the advert at least, are open windows and morning breeze. Now then, what exactly does a morning breeze smell like? The way I figure it, a morning breeze could vary depending on where you live, what direction the wind is blowing in and what things are near to you. For example, if you live near to a sewage plant and the wind that morning is blowing directly towards you from the direction of the plant, your morning breeze would be somewhat less than pleasant. If, the next day, the wind had reversed direction you’re onto a winner and your morning breeze would be a hell of a lot better. You’ve pretty much hit the jackpot if you live near a chocolate factory and the wind is blowing its way past that of a morning, I’d say.

Then you get to the smell of open windows. Again, what does an open window smell like? Is it distinctly different, aromatically speaking to a closed window and, more importantly, if you’re going to spend anything up to eight pounds (I’ve done research. Well, I had a vague Google anyway) on something that will make your house smell of open windows for thirty minutes why don’t you save your money and, you know…

… just open a window?

Taking The Biscuit

January 27, 2011

I like crime dramas. I have a number of favourites – some featuring high-tech crime solving techniques, some featuring detectives with OCD, more than one featuring an alleged psychic. Our Sky Planner is chock full of crime related things – Castle, Psych, Monk, NCIS, The Mentalist – while our DVD collection contains all of those, plus Columbo, Magnum P.I (ok, that one’s stretching it a bit), Life and probably some other stuff as well.

Part of the fun of crime shows is being able to engage in a bit of armchair detecting. It’s perfectly natural to sit there, watching the show unfold on the screen, and pick your suspect somewhere before the mid-point of the proceedings. You then get to spend the final portion of the show eagerly awaiting the unmasking of the criminal mastermind so that you can go “ha, I knew it!” or “Oh, I didn’t see that coming!”.

I once managed to suss out the identity of the killer in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent before the title sequence. I was so sure that I’d got it right I didn’t even watch the episode, I had to check with my parents, who had watched it, to make sure I’d pegged it right. Conversely, Carole was watching an Agatha Christie last night, The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side and Splintered A Bit In The Middle And Some Of It Fell Out Of The Frame Onto The Carpet, or something like that. I watched a bit of it – mainly the opening titles, which were a veritable who’s who of British Talent (and someone out of Eastenders). From the credits alone I singled out Victoria Smurfit as the killer because I figured she was the biggest name in the list because she’s been Hellboy. A little later on I came downstairs to find that Victoria Smurfit’s character was lying dead in a bathroom from cyanide poisoning. So I was a little bit wrong there, but it’s because I fell into the common crime drama trap.

You always look for people who have been in other things, or the biggest name on the list. A lot of the same people pop up in crime dramas and, in the case of Columbo, Patrick McGoohan pops up as a different killer about a bazillion times. So, you’re naturally looking out for people you recognise. There’s that guy who always plays Russians, paedophiles or Russian Paedophiles. It’s usually him. There’s that guy that’s the Presidential Adviser in 24, it’s often him. There’s plenty of people who pop up across different shows – it’s usually them.

I think that’s why I prefer the quirkier shows of late, like The Mentalist, Psych and Monk, because the crime plays second fiddle to the quirks of the main characters. Patrick Jane’s uncanny ability to always have a good snoop around while he’s making a cup of tea, Shaun Spencer’s wise-cracking and incredibly rubbish psychic act and Adrian Monk’s need to arrange things into size order make the shows for me. It really humanises the show, making it not all about the crime and a little bit about the lives of the detectives involved. And nothing will ever beat the episode of Monk where he’d deduced that the crime had been perpetrated by Alice Cooper because he had an insane love of wingback chairs…

The only reason I mention my love of crime dramas is because there’s one taking place in our house right now. There’s no celebrity guest stars, there’s no pre-credits sequence or cliff-hanger advert breaks. It’s real, high-stakes crime.

I bought a packet of biscuits from Marks and Spencers. They’re not just biscuits, they’re Marks and Spencers Milk Chocolate Swirl biscuits. They’re slightly badly named, if I’m honest, because the swirl is essential biscuit. The milk chocolate which is allegedly swirled is just what the swirled biscuit is dunked in. Anyway, they’re quite nice. There’s nine of them in a packet. There’s two of us here, so in the spirit of equality and sharing, the packet is split two ways. So that’s four and a half biscuits each. With me so far?

I went to eat my share of the remaining biscuits and you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that instead of the allotted half a biscuit, I appeared to have been left a quarter. Now, I was led to believe that the foundations of this house were built on trust, but I’m now worried that there’s some subsidence in our relationship.

So, I’m going to round-up the suspects and gather them all in the front room. I don’t think it’ll take long, to be honest, to gather up a girlfriend and a cat, although I’ll probably have to push the doors shut to stop Pumpkin escaping before I go through the big reveal of whodunnit. I think it’s a fairly safe bet that we know who did it and even you, dear reader, has some inkling as to the female member of this household that isn’t a cat who is responsible for nomming an extra bit of biscuit.

I don’t know how she sleeps at night.

(If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog, or are a victim of senseless biscuit theft then there’s probably a helpline for you somewhere and maybe a place you can get an informative and supporting pamphlet. I don’t know where though.)

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. and breathe

January 26, 2011

Today has been a fairly crappy day. It’s still crappy now as I sit on the bed typing this listening to the banging bass of whatever chavish song is being drowned out by the wall between our house and the next door neighbour’s. Yesterday was a bad day, today was just marginally worse and, now I come to think of it, all the clues were there this morning.

Firstly, I woke up before the alarm. Not an hour or so before, just a few minutes. Long enough for me to lie in bed, realise it’s still quite dark and begin to contemplate going back to sleep for a while. The exact amount of time before the alarm, in fact, that allows you to readjust your lying position to something awesomely comfortable and just begin to nod back off to sleep. And then the alarm goes off. I won’t complain too much because Dixie and Gayle were very entertaining this morning, but those few minutes of snooze-tease were uncalled for.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I was a little banjaxed by Greggs this morning. Each morning, after Carole’s dropped me off in town and I’m walking up from the University I go past a branch of Greggs. It’s about 8 in the morning and the happy and cheerful staff inside are looking happy and cheerful at this time. Every day, in the window, is a tray of maple and pecan pastries – a very tasty looking Danish pastry. Every morning I walk past and mentally devour one of these pastries with my eyes. Every morning, as my eyes are dining out, I think to myself that I will, tomorrow, get myself one of these delicacies and actually eat it for real.

I walked past one day last week and the tray was empty. There were no maple and pecan pastries to be had. My heart sank, my eyes grumbled with hunger and I pledged that this week, this very week, would be the week I dug deep in my pocket for the 60p required to own and scoff one of these things.

So, this morning, I walked past Greggs, being careful to clock the opening times of the store. If you’re interested in stuff like that it’s 8am until 5.15. It’s closed on Sundays. Today, I’d been reliably informed by both the radio and my iPhone, was Wednesday. So, on face value at least, the boxes were being ticked.

I walked past Greggs, and stopped a little further down the row of shops, hooked out my iPhone, and checked the time. It was 8.07. That’s definitely after 8, the stated opening time for this particular purveyor of pastry products. I strolled back along to Greggs, reasoning that I wasn’t meeting anyone from work until 8.15 and I had time to pass over some coins to finally get one of the pastries that had made me drool every morning.

So, I approached the door of Greggs. I’d already ticked the boxes for both the day and the time. I pushed on the door and it opened, allowing me access to the brightly lit beige interior and closer to the happy and cheerful staff that all Greggs stores are famous for. The door being open, I’ll be honest, ticked another box for me. Time, day, open door. It was all there. All the evidence was pointing towards this being a fully operational shop and that I would be able to leave in mere seconds with my allotted pastry-based treat.

“Sorry, we’re closed,” said a woman from behind the sneeze guard protecting the sausage rolls from passing germs.

I’ll be honest. This caught me on the back foot a little and I let the side down massively.

“Oh, you’re closed?” I asked. “Ok”

And I left the shop.

I didn’t question this woman. I didn’t point out that the shop had ticked three of my “is a shop open” boxes. And that’s without me going down the more basic checklist which includes things like “are the lights on” and “are there staff visible in the shop”. No, rather than doing any of that, I just turned and left. What annoys me more is that I took the trouble to pull the door shut behind me, so that other passers-by wouldn’t be lured in by the promises of baked goods, only to leave with a heavy heart and empty hands.

So, that’s how I’m going to judge my day from now on. Greggs will be the barometer on which the mood of the day is measured. If they’re open and I get my hands on one of these pastries, I know I’m set for a good day. But if not, I’ll take it as read that it’s going to be a really naff day. At least that way I’ll be prepared.

And they can keep their bloody pastry.

In it to win it

January 25, 2011

I don’t, as a rule, win a lot of things.

As I child I used to enter competitions on Saturday Superstore and Going Live. Old school competitions that you had to send  by putting all your details on a postcard, an actual hand-written postcard, and send them in during the week between the shows. During the following week’s broadcast a celebrity would be drafted in to wangle them about with their showbiz arms and pick a winner. That person would win a board game or ten signed CDs. It was all very exciting.

I remember entering one competition on Saturday Superstore to win Screwball Scramble, the wacky metal marble obstacle course that, in hindsight, is a bit shit. That particular week we didn’t have any blank postcards (apparently, my competitive zeal and the fact that I never once paid for a stamp – merely placing anything that needed posting on the mantlepiece clock where postal fairies would talk it away – had meant I’d exhausted the supply) so I made a postcard out of lurid pinky-purple card. When it came time for the A-List Saturday morning celebrity to pick a winner I could see my card, it stood out amongst all the white and off-white postcards nestling in the basket. I willed a celebrity hand towards my entry, to pick me as the winner so that I could negotiate a tricky marble maze. But alas, it was not to be, and I was left dejected and despondent. Until the next competition was announced and I snatched up pen and paper to enter once more.

I didn’t win anything for quite some time. Eventually, my time came in the form of a colouring competition in the Kids Club section of the Halifax Evening Courier. When I was growing up, every child in the environs of Halifax knew that Tuesday night was the night to get their hands on the paper and enjoy a selection of child friendly jokes, puzzles and games. I was there in the heyday. It went downhill shortly afterwards as, indeed, did the rest of the Courier. But there I was, on that fateful day, colouring in a picture of some Weetabix in a bid to win a prize. Yup, back in the 80s Weetabix was advertised by Weetabix characters – basically Weetabix with faces – who, presumably, were really crap in the rain. And there I was, lying on the front room carpet with my coloured pencils, adding shading and texture to each individual wheat-based cereal person. I cut it out, folded it into an envelope which I addressed in my best handwriting and left it atop the clock for the post fairies.

About a week later my mum received a phone call saying that I’d won and that I could go to the Courier office to collect my prize. I don’t really remember what my prize was, if I’m honest. Something Weetabix related, I would imagine and probably some more colouring pencils or a pack of crayola (almost all prizes in the 80s featured a pack of crayola – from party goody-bags all the way up to big Saturday Morning TV prizes). Part of me thinks that I won a tape featuring four songs – two of which were Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean and Wouldn’t It Be Good by Nick Kershaw – but I now fear that I actually collected tokens and selected that tape from a list of potential free tapes. If that’s the case then maybe I should be convincing myself I won it.

When I was at secondary school I won a Dungeons and Dragons set through a competition in Sinclair User. I had my name in a national magazine and a load of multi-sided dice that pretty much cemented me as a geek. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Dungeons and Dragons I would never have been part of the group of people who watched a man come onto school grounds and make off with someone’s bike without us doing a thing about it. Although, actually, one or two people might have shouted “thief” out of the window. Not me, though. I was probably casting a spell of protection. We all felt a bit sheepish when the bike theft was mentioned in an assembly some days later. It’s a shame that probably still lives with all of us.

Last week, I managed to win something else. Well, not so much win as be the best at suggesting a name for a new regular comedy night run by Mitch Benn. This night is to mix musical and stand-up comedy. I suggested that they call it Sing When You’re Grinning. That was, by far, the best name suggested and I have now been granted the power of free entry to the night for putting in all the hard work in naming the thing.

I’m not letting the fact that I have no idea where or when this night is dissuade me…