The Early Bird Catches You Unawares

July 31, 2011

Has anyone ever turned away a shopping delivery because it was early? I ordered my shopping online, as I do, and asked it to arrive between the hours of 6pm and 7pm on Saturday. I chose these times because Saturday was my day of being busy, of putting right what had gone wrong and of erecting a new gate in the back garden. Well, I say my day – my dad’s day. It was my day of holding things and passing stuff and making brews. Anyway, I figured everything would be done by 6pm and that the house would be calm and I’d be at rest.

We finished work on the gates and general garden tidying at about 3ish. We sat around in the garden chatting, drinking coffee and eating ice lollies until about 4. All was going. Everything would easily be done by 6. As I waved my parental units off at just after four I figured the first thing I’d do is go for a bath because, not to put too finer point on it, sweat was pouring down my back and through my arse-crack like Niagra Falls, and I was worried that someone would turn up and try to go down it in a barrel.

So I went for a bath. A nice, relaxing, not-too-hot bath.

I was in the bath, all-told, for about half an hour. The phone rang at about ten to five. At this time I was – again, no finer point – stark bollock naked. My parents wouldn’t be ringing, I’d just seen them. All of Carole’s friends and family know she’s in Paris (and if they didn’t I don’t know how they dodged that particular verbal bullet). The only person it could have been, apart from some bizarre cold-caller, was the man from Sainsbury’s ringing ahead to see if I was in a position to receive my shopping.

I didn’t get to the phone before he hung up. The answer phone had kicked in and the posh woman that lives in the phone had said that we were unavailable. I figured that the Sainsbury’s man would think we were out and come in the scheduled 6-7 slot.

I was wrong.

I dried myself at my leisure. As Kevin McAlister says in Home Alone, I paid attention to all my major crevices. I was dry, clean and fresh as a daisy. I threw on some clothes and came downstairs. Just in time, as it turns out, because out of the window I could see a Sainsbury’s van. And then there was a knock at the door.

I answered to find Alan, the delivery driver. He said, “I know I’m really early. I tried to ring but there was no answer.” Rather than say I was upstairs washing my undercarriage I said that I’d been out in the garden doing things and had heard the phone, but by the time I got to it I’d missed whoever had called. He seemed to buy this lie, and didn’t comment on the fact that I looked freshly washed and smelt slightly of lime soap. “Are you ok to take your delivery now?” he asked. But in a really timid way. As though people have said to him, “No, Alan. I am not ok to take my delivery now. You are clearly an hour early. This is not the standard of service I expect from a company like yours and I insist that you drive round and round the block until your clock tells you it is now the start of my alloted delivery hour. Only then my you return to my abode with my groceries.”

I said none of that. I was more than happy that he was an hour early.

He didn’t seem very amused when I asked if I got any of it free because he was early, though.


When You Say Nothing At All

July 30, 2011

When I was about 11 there were a couple of programmes I used to watch on Children’s ITV. In a lot of ways I always thought of this as cheating because I was definitely brought up as a BBC child. It was rare that we’d watch anything on CITV but when we did it was always good. There was Woof, of course, and… well, there was Woof. But there was also Children’s Ward. Set, as the name suggests, in the Children’s Ward of a hospital, the show brought the drama and excitement of shows like Casualty to a younger audience. Most of my generation who ended up really enjoying ER (usually up until the bit where Dr Green died, then we kind of lost interest) did so because of Children’s Ward.

Ok, we probably didn’t. It wasn’t that good, although it was responsible for starting the career of television’s Tim Vincent. Tim did six series of Children’s Ward. He must have been quite a sickly child or something, I don’t really remember. Anyway, I used to love the show. So much so that I wrote a letter to Granada asking them if I could visit the set.

Rather than no reply, or a flat-out “NO!”, I got a reply back which said that they weren’t currently filming but that when shooting resumed in a few months I should write again and they were sure something could be worked out. So I counted off the months. I kept the letter, re-reading it every now and again, getting giddy with excitement that I was going to be able to visit the set and see a TV show being made. The time came for me to write again. Which I did, dutifully referring back to the letter I had initially received.

This time the answer was “NO!”

While I’d been expecting that after the first letter, the fact that I’d received a positive response the first time buoyed my enthusiasm somewhat. The second “NO!” crushed me a little. I wanted to write back and say that the first answer they’d given wasn’t fair – they shouldn’t have fobbed me off and asked me to write again if they knew, which they will have, that the answer would be no when I wrote back. I was 11. Everything was done by post. I couldn’t be buying stamps willy-nilly on the off-chance I’d be allowed to watch Tim Vincent lying in a hospital bed, or something like that.

On the night of the 1st of February 2003 I sent an email to the head of Children’s BBC with an idea for a show based around some characters I had created while still at school. I can’t really be sure when the email said. I know I sent it and I know I spent the next day fretting about it. I know this because, on an old blog site I used to use, I wrote about it. I wrote it with timestamps as well, so I know what I was doing throughout the day. Apparently I woke up at 5am in a panic about having sent the email the night before. Also on that day someone threatened to jump of the roof of the Tesco’s in Halifax Town Centre. I assume by that I mean the very top of the building that Tesco’s is in and not just the sticky-out bit above the door. Even I could jump off that. The day is also notable because it’s the day that Jennifer, a girl I used to talk to online (and who occasionally reads this blog) decided to find out if she liked aubergines. By buying three of them. As it turns out, she didn’t. Having said that, I checked with her recently and now she does. Anyway, I spent the day waiting for some kind of response, or even a read receipt from this email that I’d sent. I got nothing. Not a sausage. Never heard a thing. So I did what any normal person would do, forgot all about the stories and moved on.

Recently I’ve resurrected the stories and I’m starting to nurture them back into life, re-writing them, tweaking them and sending them hither and thither in an attempt to attract someone’s attention. I entered a competition through the BBC Writer’s Room website to write a script for a brand new CBeebies show of your own invention. Naturally I turned to my ageing source material for inspiration. After all, I had a story all written. I only had to convert it into script form. I have never written a script before. I’ve always been interested – after all, I wanted to go and visit the set of Children’s Ward so I could see how things worked. I’ve read scripts – I’ve got books and books of scripts and sketches. I’ve read scripts online, for episodes of Miranda, Mongrels and the Sarah Jane Chronicles. I’ve befriended a screenwriter. But I’ve never written a script. I ploughed on, though. I worked through it. I even worked through the tricky realisation that my source material wasn’t long enough for a twenty-minute show and managed to write a new middle to the story which not only extended it but made it a lot more enjoyable than the original (in my opinion anyway).

My script was done. I entered the competition and began the wait. I got a confirmation email to say that my entry had been received. The word on the street was that Friday would be the day when people would find out if they’d made it through to the second round. If they’d been one of the lucky 20 or 25 scripts (out of 400 plus entries) then Friday would be the day an email would arrive and balloons would drop from the ceiling. If you didn’t get through you’d receive nothing. Or at least that’s what the website rules said. The email confirming receipt of the application said everyone would be notified – successful or not – by email. So I spent all day yesterday waiting. Every email notification on my phone releasing a bit of adrenalin into my body. Not one from the BBC.

It was like that day back in 2003 all over again.

But without the aubergines.

 

 


Risk It For A Biscuit

July 29, 2011

Last week at work we had a packet of biscuits. This is nothing new in our office. In fact, since the move to Leeds was announced ages ago we’ve slipped, quite comfortable, into a mentality of comfort eating our way to the new office. Which would be all well and good if we’d been moved by now, as we originally believed would happen, but now it appears we’ll be going in the darker, more depressing winter months instead. Between now and then there’s a lot of potential for biscuits.

Anyway, we had a packet of Fox’s Favourites. It’s an assortment of not quite enough of each nice type of biscuit Fox’s make. You get a couple of bourbon biscuits, a few custard creams, some jammy dodgers – that kind of thing. In the packet are some party rings. Everyone loves party rings. You know you’re having a good time with a party ring. Not only do they have the word “party” in the title but the funky vibrant colours show you that they know how to have a good time. Eat these bad boys and you mood is instantly upbeat. Partly from the pleasing appearance of the biscuit but mainly from all the various types of sugars and additives in the colouring.

Imagine our disgust, then, when we found that out party rings – although topped with the flavoured topping – had none of the glamour and sparkly you’d normally associated with this biscuit-based snack. Not being one to stand idly by and having watched Watchdog once, I set to writing an email to the customer services department t0 let them know that there biscuits had failed to satisfy us aesthetically.

The subject of the email was, simply, “Someone has stolen the party from our Party Rings”.

Dear Fox’s

I have, for many a year, been a fan of your biscuit-based snacks. Be it a custard cream or a ginger snap, I know that the Fox name ensures quality and flavour.

Imagine my distress when I opened a pack of Fox’s Favourites to find that the Party Rings did not have their traditional shiny top and white decoration. I’ll admit that needs must and we still ate these undecorated biscuits – or bisquits as your loveable Panda seems to say – but it was disappointing. Imagine you’ve planned a great shindig and only your gran shows up. It was like that, but in biscuit form.

I wish I didn’t have to write this email, but I feel you should be made aware of this glazing shortfall.

Yours

etc

I sent that off. I didn’t really expect a response – I was being a tad sarcastic, after all – but if they happened to write back and offer us some form of compensation for the emotional discomfort of not having a shiny topping on a biscuit then so be it. Another packet of biscuits would be welcomed with open arms in the office, after all. And, if nothing else, the mood of the office was lifted purely by the act of writing that email.

They did write back. I had to provide all the details from the packet so they could track this glazing mistake. I’ve given them all that and now I’m just waiting. It’ll take two weeks for a full investigation, my email says, and then I can expect some vouchers. It doesn’t say they may send some vouchers. It says they will send some vouchers. I hope I get a full explanation of the cause of the fault as well. If it’s a nozzle blockage or something like that they want to have a word with the company who made the nozzles.

I know someone who can write them a letter.

 


Home Alone 2

July 28, 2011

So Carole’s away. It’s time to break out the list of things that she’s been mentioning that need sorting and sort them out. All those things she’s complained about and I’ve dismissed as though I’m not listening. All the little jobs that we need to tackle, and some of the big ones at all. I’m steering clear of the entire bathroom debacle and the leaking roof because she has, after all, only gone away for 5 days – despite the size of her suitcase implying she was leaving for several months.

So I’m all over it.

I started by having a declutter last night. To begin with I decluttered the movie “Spy Next Door” on Sky Movies Comedy. Not a great start and not something Carole had ever mentioned but, if it ever does come up, I’ll tell her it’s crap and has no right to be on a channel with the word “comedy” in the title. But then, Jilly Cooper’s Riders is quite often on True Movies. And don’t even get me started on Babe Station. I think the channel names on Sky are just assembled with no thought as to what will actually be shown on them.

So once I’d got the Spy Next Door out of the way I got down to some general tidying up. I started by throwing that book I’ve been reading on the car boot pile. I’ve given up. I can’t take it any more. I was reading one chapter and couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I just didn’t care and, to be honest, hoped the brother he was trying to rescue was killed. It just seemed kinder. I was moving on apace, the front room was looking spick and span and then I got a text.

It was from James, one of my work colleagues. It said this:-

Chinch. Epic Harry Hill potential on channel 5!!

I immediately turned the TV back on. Programmes with Harry Hill potential are great to seek out. When TV Burp is actually on it’s always rewarding seeing something you’ve watched and mocked be equally mocked by the big-collared funnyman. In times between series, however, it’s left up to us to seek out the programmes and provide all the mocking ourselves.

So, there I was watching a programme about Pickford’s, a fly-on-the-wall look at the removal industry. Within seconds you could tell it was rubbish and that Channel 5 were trying to recapture the success of the Eddie Stobart series by basically having another show with a truck in it. As I said, it was rubbish. Absolute pap.

I watched the whole thing.

I was going to stop watching but then… well… they only went and LOST a box. A whole box. A very important box. Possibly the most important box of all boxes ever. And, to top it all off, the “Coming Up After The Break” section teased me with a promise of a dropped item. What would that item be? What were the long-reaching ramifications of someone with butter-fingers emptying the back of a van out? I wouldn’t know if I turned off now. And I didn’t think I could sleep if I stopped watching.  As it turns out, they broke a mirror and the box turned up. Oh how everyone laughed. It’d only got put in the wrong room due to a labelling misunderstanding. We’ve all be there.

I’m sorry to anyone who’s Sky Plus’d that. I’ve thoughtlessly spoiled it for you. While I’m at it, never watch “The Man Who Had Minutes To Live”. It’s on for an hour. That’s at least 60 minutes he lives, which detracts slightly from the drama implied by the title. And to top it all off he’s still alive now. It should actually be called “The Man Who Is Quite Ill And Would Have Died In The Olden Days But Advances In Modern Medicine Have Meant We Can Save Him”. But no-one would watch that.

So, I watched the Pickford’s thing. I tried not to pay too much attention to the bit that told me what was coming up next week, lest I reach for the remote and series link it. And then I got back on with the tidying. I did a bit. But it was warm, and clammy and if I wanted my clothes to stick to me I’d talc myself up in a morning and start wearing PVC trousers. So I went for a bath.

I lay in the bath for an hour reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. I covered off periods, masturbation and the complexities of naming various body parts. I laughed a lot.

And I’d be lying if I wasn’t considering doing a similar thing tonight.

There’s always the weekend to tidy up and sort things out, after all.

 


Home Alone

July 27, 2011

Carole’s off to Paris. She leaves today, to travel down to London and spend the night loitering around King’s Cross station until some ungodly hour in the morning when she’ll get on the Eurostar and zoom under the sea. If it’s anything like when she went to Barcelona last year, I’ll be spending next Tuesday evening fewing several hundred photographs of things – often the same things but from slightly different angles.

I am staying at home. I’m not going to Paris. I’m going to be like Kevin McAllister in Home Alone (the first two, not the third and definitely not the fourth). I’m going to bounce on the bed. I’m going to watch black and white films that contain dialogue that may come in handy later on and I’m going to be scared of my freaky neighbour, only to find out that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that the freaky neighbour isn’t that bad after all.

Actually, I’m not going to do any of that. I’m just going to come to work as normal, do some bits and pieces at the weekend, arrange a shopping delivery for Monday and just generally relax. Carole, meanwhile, has a jam-packed itinerary of where she’s going, what she’s doing and how long she’s doing it for. And she’s started to adopt the phrase “What happens in Paris stays in Paris.” Which is a trifle worrying.

There are several things I’m looking forward to while she’s gone. I’ll be able to have all the duvet to myself. I’ll be able to watch what I want on TV, listen to what I want on the radio without it getting to a good bit and Carole talking over it. I’ll be able to enjoy the peace and quiet and get some writing done. These are all good things.

But on the flip side there are several things I’m not looking forward to. I’ll have to get up and snooze the alarm clock myself, instead of subtley nudging Carole to do it. I’ll have to come to work on the peasant wagon instead of having a lift in to town. I’ll be making tea just for myself instead of the both of us. I’ll miss having to fight for the duvet at night. I’ll miss that thing she does where she talks over something I’m watching or listening to and I’ll miss her bursting in on me while I’m trying to do some writing.

I know it’s only five days, but it’ll be rubbish without her.


Virtually Shelfish

July 26, 2011

I’m too far into the book that Richard Hammond loved. I can’t stop now. I can’t bring myself to stop wherever it is in the story I’ve got to and throw it in the car boot bag. I need to finish it. Not because I’m enjoying it but because I don’t want to carry around the half-finished tale in my head.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad book (ok, I am saying it’s a bad book) but I was reading it in the bath the other day. I was reading it and my eyelids were getting heavier and heavier. Eventually, I fell asleep. My own body got so bored of the book that it risked drowning rather than continuing the story. It wasn’t even like it was particularly late. It was just the fact that the story was the opposite of gripping that drove me into a sleeping in the bath coma. My only regret is that, shortly before I dozed off, I flung the book outside of the bath thus saving it from an impromptu dunking (and subsequent throwing away).

My dislike for this particular book has driven me to seek out other books. I have several shelves packed with books still to read. But I have not given these a second thought. I’ve gone to somewhere I never really thought I’d go. The Kindle store. Yup, despite the fact that I like the touch, taste, smell and sound of a real book, I have started to have an affair with the electronic ones.

I don’t own a Kindle. I’ve downloaded the app on my phone and onto my laptop. Now my laptop knows where I’m up to on my phone, and my phone knows where I’m up to on my laptop. They talk to each other through the power of something I don’t really pretend to understand fully. I’ve downloaded a few free books. I’ve got Sherlock Holmes and Three Men In A Boat. I’ve got Treasure Island and Aesop’s Fables. I’ve read precisely none of these.

I realised last night, as I went through the top 100 crime thrillers, and then the top 100 sci-fi and fantasy stories that, even now, my digital Kindle bookcase is starting to resemble my real life, erm, analogue bookcase. In that it’s slowly filling up with books I haven’t read yet, but seem incapable of not buying or acquiring more. I even found myself looking to see if the Lovejoy books by Jonathan Gash were available for the Kindle. I read one once when I was younger, having found it tucked away on a shelf in Halifax Library.

They don’t.

I’m sure I’ll find something else though.

 


Fringe Whinge

July 25, 2011

Every year, at about this time, I have a discussion with Carole which goes something like this.

“I want to go to the Edinburgh Festival,” I say.
“No, dear, we want to go to the Edinburgh Festival,” says Carole, correcting the glaring oversight I have made by not including her in my schemes.
“Sorry my petal, my lamb, the love of my life. How terribly remiss of me. I, of course, mean that we want to go to the Edinburgh festival. Anyway, we can’t go this year, I don’t think. But I really want to go.”
“Ahem? We. We really want to go.”
“Ok, I want to go and take you with me. To the Edinburgh Festival.”
“Well next year, why don’t we book off some time in August and we can go to the Edinburgh Festival.”
“That is an awesome idea. We shall do that as soon as it is time to submit the holiday forms at some ridiculously early juncture like the middle of October this year.”
“Oh? I don’t have to do mine until next year.”
“Well, I have to, ok? So when it’s time to fill in the forms, we’ll book some time off in August. For the Edinburgh Festival, like we say we will every year.”
“Yep. Definitely. Do it.”

Round about October when it comes time for me to start filling in next year’s holiday choices I have this conversation. Mainly with myself. In my head.

“Oh shit, I haven’t filled in my choices for the first three weeks of my holidays. Shit. I know. It’s bloody ridiculous having to do this for next year in bloody October. I haven’t even finished all this year’s holidays and now I have to pick them for next bloody year. Well, I don’t know what to pick. I need to get this in today, really. Shit. I need to check when Carole can have time off, what with her working at the University and them having very strict periods in which no-one is allowed time off. Yeah, I’d best text her and ask her when’s best.”

I’ll send a text.

“Well, that’s really helpful isn’t it, Petal? Yes. ‘Whenever’. Bloody whenever. Well, I’ll just pick some weeks somewhere shall I? I’ll need some time in September to go to London for the Eurogamer Expo, and I’ll need to book a week off around Carole’s birthday so that we can do things – we’ll probably go to London, I guess. Now then, where to have the two weeks? I tend to enjoy having time off around my birthday. But last year Carole said May was a bit early for a two-week break. Oh, I’ll have to check when she can have time off and book those weeks. Maybe we could go camping again, or to Edinburgh or something. Yes, Edinburgh. We like Edinburgh. Ha! The zoo… with the penguin parade. That was exceptional. We should go back to Edinburgh sometime. Ah, ok, so she’s able to have these two weeks in June off. Well, might as well book them.”

So that’s what happens. I send the form in. I get the holidays agreed and then it gets to July the following year and – bollocks – we haven’t booked off any time in August to go up to the Edinburgh Festival. And while it always appealed beforehand, the appeal has grown considerably now that I know a fair few people performing up there. I (WE!) could have gone to see Showstopper, or Sarah Millican. We could have seen Juliet Meyers or Cariad Lloyd. We could have gone to a recording of Just A Minute. We could have done LOADS. But, no. June. We had time off in June. No-one was performing anything in June. Well, they were. But not where we were, and not all in the same handy location. And now we’re heading to August and there’s no-one left at work. No-one. Just me, more or less, manning the fort. On my own. Because I didn’t book bloody August off. So I couldn’t have any time of in August even if I wanted time off in August. Which I bloody well do.

If any of them are going to Edinburgh, there’ll be trouble.