October 31, 2011

I don’t like Halloween. I don’t. There, I’ve said it. I don’t like it.

When people ask me what I’m doing for Halloween, the simple answer is that I’ll be staying in, in the dark, with the curtains closed and not making a single noise. I’ve never really understood the love for it and, as I’ve got older, it just seems to be getting more and more commercialised.

When Halloween falls on a Monday, like it has this year, it basically gives people free rein to start Halloween whenever they want over the weekend because it’s a bit more convenient. You know, you don’t want to be painting your children as some sort of zombie or witch and dragging them out onto the streets on a school night, do you? Once, when I lived at my parent’s house, we had some Halloween visitors a week early. A week. Even if I was into the whole Halloween thing, I don’t think I’d have had a collection of cheap and nasty sweets on standby just on the off-chance that some cheeky rapscallions would be turning up a week early.

I started going out with Carole on Halloween. As a romantic first date gesture I bought her a novelty spooky biscuit from Greggs as I walked through Leeds to meet her. Honestly, a whole biscuit. Not flowers or anything like that. I just handed over a slightly crumpled Greggs bag (it had been in my pocket) and said “Here, this is for you.” I know. I am a total catch.

What this means though – having an anniversary at Halloween – is that if you plan anything at home you have to expect countless interuptions. The first year we lived together – a year in which I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into every tradition Carole could think of – I cooked a nice dinner and we spent most of that dinner getting up and going to the door and saying twee things to the kids about how excellent their costumes were and things of that nature. I say “we”, mainly it was Carole. I had to go once and, if I’m honest, I really couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm for any level of costume-based small talk. “What are you dressed as? Here take a sweet from this expensive claw hand that’s also a bag thing. Ok, don’t choke on it. Bye.”

The following year we hid in the darkness barely making a sound, talking via text or Facebook chat so that our presence wouldn’t be discovered. Or we might actually have gone out. I’m not too sure. Either way no children got sweets and no costume-based chit-chat was exchanged. Carole was upset with this but I think it was the right thing to do. I’d been introduced to her way of doing things in previous years, and now it was my turn to show her some of my traditions as well.

And yes, it’s still a tradition even if it involves lying below the level of the window and not moving.




October 30, 2011

The other day I made a joke on Twitter. Well, it wasn’t even a joke, it was more of a tongue in cheek comment. Someone had discovered jam in their bed, and I merely said that it was how Bob Marley liked his bed sheets.

Now then, it’s not a particularly clever joke. Nor is it original. It’s been around for ages. Ages and ages and ages. More commonly it’s found in its native form: How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts? Wi jammin’. You see. It’s funny because you can have jam in doughnuts and Bob Marley had a song in which he was jamming and he hoped you like jamming too. Peter Kay even used it in his first tour – just check the DVD that you’ve undoubtedly got (in the same way that everyone follows Stephen Fry on Twitter, but no-one’s sure why, everyone owns Peter Kay’s first DVD). It’s there isn’t it, right at the start of the gig when he’s doing jokes. There it is. The Bob Marley jammin’ joke.

I adapted it for the circumstances and it got a titter or two, which was grand – it was an homage to a greater joke, after all.

But then I looked at the replies I was getting. Some were enjoying a chuckle. And then there were ones like this:

Bob Marley is dead, I don’t think he “likes” anything.

Seriously? You’re pulling me up because I put “likes” instead of liked? Really?

The s and the d keys are next to each other on the keyboard. I don’t know if you’re aware of that, Mr Pedant man, and when you’re typing on an iPhone it can be, on occasion, a bit of a challenge to get all the right keys, let alone in the right order. The human form, you see, has evolved so that the hand can use tools, it has opposable thumbs and a gripping action and everything. It’s really rather special. But what it hasn’t done is evolve fingers that are long enough and spindly enough to accurately hit every key of the iPhone on-screen keyboard each and every time you use it. Probably some years into the future, this will happen and – thinking about it – maybe this is why a lot of drawings and accounts of aliens show them with long spindly fingers, they’re just fed up of the typos they make when tweeting on an iPhone.

That’s my defense. It’s weakened slightly by the fact that I typed “likes” and knew I was typing “likes” as I did it, as well. I know. I am a rebel. I dared to insinuate that a dead person enjoys having jam in his bed sheets.

I think the thing that struck me was that there are actual joyless pedants out there, lurking, waiting for someone to use the present tense when it should, of course, have been the past tense in a joke about something as daft as having a blob of preserve in your bed. And bearing in mind that these people follow the comedian that I replied to – who retweeted it because they thought it was funny – then there has to be a point when they need to sit down and ask themselves if they’re actually a little bit too anal to like comedy.

Unless they only like comedy if it’s completely and utterly factually correct.

Maybe they go to the live shows, and when the comedian says something like “I was in the bath the other day…” they stand up and heckle with things like “I happen to know that you only shower, and even then it’s only sporadically” and things of that nature.


Call Waiting

October 29, 2011

While I was waiting for the roof man to come the phone rang a couple of times. Normally, if the phone rings during the day, I’ll ignore it. We’re both normally at work during the day so no-one we know would ring for us during the day. But I had to answer it, because there was always the chance it was the roof man ringing to say he was either on his way or not bothering to come.

So, I answered it.

It was a woman from an Industrial Hearing Loss centre.

“Hello, is that Mr Shaw?” she asked me. This bugs me. Naturally everyone assumes that I am Mr Shaw because the house is Carole’s and, therefore, is in her name.
“No.” Well, it’s not is it?
“Ok, do you know when he’ll be home?” Do I know when he’ll be home? Seriously? Like I’m the son or something waiting for my father, a man presumably deafened by industrial noise, to come home and ruffle my hair with his rough hard-grafting hands.
“There is no Mr Shaw. Sorry, can I ask why you’re ringing?”
“Yes, I’m phoning from the Industrial Hearing Loss Centre. According to our records someone who lives in your house has working in industry.” Have they? Well it’s not me. My hands are smooth like I’ve never done a hard day’s work in my life.
“No, there’s no-one here that’s ever worked in industry. Sorry.”

As you can tell, it wasn’t the roof man to say he wasn’t coming, or would be coming later, or that he’d found a higher calling and no longer did roof repairs. But when I’d finished the call, and had gone back to the meerkat-like waiting, I realised that I could have handled it so much better. I should have found out who they were first. I should have established it was the Industrial Hearing Loss Centre first and foremost and then this could have happened.

“Hello. Is that Mr Shaw?”
“Who’s calling please?”
“I’m from the Industrial Hearing Loss Centre…”
“Hello? Is any one there?”
“Hello, yes, I’m calling from the Industrial Hearing Loss Centre….”
“Sorry, I can’t hear you very well. You’ll have to shout. I can’t hear since I lost my hearing due to prolonged exposure to industrial noises.”
“Really? Well, I’m calling from the Industrial Hearing Los…”
“Hello? Are you still there? I can’t hear anything you’re saying. Hello? Hello?”
“Yes, Mr Shaw, hello. I’m calling from the Industrial Hearing Loss Centre…”
“Sorry, what did you say? I can’t hear you very well. My long and varied career in industry has made me lose my hearing.”

And so on.

We also got a call from some dodgy car insurance number because they know that Carole has been looking on the internet for car insurance and they can get her a really good deal.

Probably just as well we never get phone calls about what I’m looking on the internet for…


Madness, Meerkats and Marmite

October 28, 2011

A man was going to come and fix the leaking roof on Wednesday.

“It’ll be about lunchtime,” he told me, last week.

Waiting for someone to turn up at a vaguely generic time is a bit awkward. It’s awkward because you don’t know for sure when they’re likely to turn up.

When is lunchtime? Is it noon? Is it noon-ish? One o’clock? Half eleven? What if you feel peckish at eleven-ish, eat something and then don’t fancy lunch? Does lunchtime even exist in these situations?

I find it hard enough to cope with an hour-long delivery window from Sainsbury’s. I don’t want to start anything just before, or during, that hour because I know that – at some point – I’ll have to break off to take receipt of an embarrassing number of boxes of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastille lollies. So, present me with a vague timeframe like “lunchtime” and I don’t know what to do with myself.

I didn’t feel I could start anything, really. So I did little things, pottering around, for most of the day. I figures I was safe for most of the morning so spent a couple of hours doing some writing, working out a few blogs and that kind of thing. I was mainly in the kitchen, which meant that, at every single noise, I was peering round the door, looking out of the front window  expecting to see the roof guys arriving. I looked like a human meerkat. If my day was being filmed, then Bill Nighy would be doing the commentary on my life (Bill Nighy commentates on Meerkat Manor on the telebox, you see).

When you’re inside and waiting for someone there’s not a lot you can do. I didn’t want to go upstairs for anything in case I missed them arriving, knocking silently at the door and scarpering without doing the job. I ended up in the bedroom, with the curtains open, sorting out my wardrobe. I found a pair of trousers with ripped pockets. Why did I still have them? I found a tie for my old job, why did I still have that? I found a mini etch-a-sketch that Carole bought me for Christmas once, and spent the next half-hour or so trying to draw things that didn’t look like they’d been made out of straight edges.

Then I went back downstairs. Still on the lookout. Still acting like a meerkat. Our fridge looks pathetic right now. That’s my doing. I got rid of every jar or bottle that contained only scrapings. My mum would be mortified if she knew. And now we have next to nothing in the fridge. During the course of all this, emptying the jars, washing them out and putting them in the glass recycling box, I accidentally stuck my finger into an empty Marmite jar. A dirty Marmite jar. I got Marmite on me.

I hate Marmite.

It was at this point that I wrote, and performed, an impromptu song entitled “That’s not poo on my finger, it is Marmite (although I’d rather it was poo)”. I can’t really remember any of the words, or the tune for that matter. It just sprung into being. I was on my own. In the house. Alone. Waiting for a man to come and fix the roof, and I was writing songs about marmite-covered fingers. I was, I think, going mad.

In the end, I gave up on the roof guy. I had to get ready to go and see Micky Flanagan. I couldn’t hang on much longer. So I went for a bath, having told myself the roof guy wouldn’t come. I sat in the bath. I heard noises – the sound of a pick-up type truck outside. I leapt from the bath, drying myself before I landed on the carpet tiles. I threw on some clothes. Raced downstairs. There was a truck parked outside. They’d come. They’d finally come.

They hadn’t.

It was two men from the council who’d come to look at next door’s garden.

The roof guys still haven’t been.

But I’m still keeping an eye out.




Micky Flanagan – Leeds Town Hall

October 27, 2011


It’s the one day of the week I don’t have to go into Leeds. The one shining beacon in an otherwise dark and gloomy five days. So, what’s the best thing to do on a Wednesday? Hey, I know! Go to Leeds in the evening to see Micky Flanagan.

So I, accompanied by Carole – who’d had a really crappy day at work and needed a good laugh – fought my way to the venue in the face of train delays and an uncanny ability to befriend hobos in McDonald’s.

I didn’t see Micky’s last tour, although the DVD will be firmly clutched to my bosom at some point quite soon after release, I suspect. But I’ve seen enough of Micky to know I like him. A lot. He pops up on Mock The Week quite often and I’ve seen, and heard, him on a variety of other things as well. And he’s always funny. And that ticks a lot of boxes with me.

He has no warm-up act but, to be honest, he doesn’t need one. Within seconds of walking on the stage the audience is as warm as can be. Micky Flanagan can bring warmth to anything. He could have climbed through a wardrobe, ended up in frozen Narnia and thawed out the Ice Queen with his tale of the number 37 bus. Bosh, job done, as the man himself would say.

The show lasted about two hours. Two of the fastest hours of my life. Imagine how quick a lunch hour goes, and double it. I didn’t realise he’d been on that long, the time just flew by and each and every minute was as awesome as the next.

Micky has an incredibly likeable style. He talks to you, despite you being one in an audience of hundreds, like you’re his drinking buddy down the local. He manages to say things that somewhere, deep down, a very tiny part of you goes “can you say that?” before it is beaten into submission by the rest of your being. Maybe everything sounds alright if it comes from a cockney? Either way, the tsunami-sized waves of laughter rolling off the audience are more than enough to show that what he’s doing is completely spot on.

He dropped the c-bomb towards the end of the first half, started the second half with an apology and a fantastic routine based around it. There was never a moment when you felt like penning a letter of complaint about the unnecessary use of profanity. And if the c-bomb story he tells doesn’t resonate with your life then, hey, I think you’re doing it wrong.

If you get a chance to see Micky then take it with both hands and hold it tight. He’s into the last ten or fifteen shows of this tour, so while you might not catch him this time round make sure you keep an eye out for him coming back next year.

He’s bloody brilliant.

Come On Ride The Train

October 26, 2011

I’m no stranger to standing up on trains. I once stood up all the way from Reading to Leeds – a journey lasting about four hours. I was offered a seat after Sheffield, but as Leeds was the next stop it hardly seemed worth it.

Every morning, travelling to work, I stand up. I’m never quick enough to get on the train in time to get a seat and, having seen people scrabble for them like they’re the gold tokens in the final round of the Crystal Maze, I can’t be arsed with all that. I’m happy just to get on, find somewhere to lean, read my book (if there is sufficient arm room) and get on with it.

So, the other day, I got on the train. I went in the last carriage – something I don’t normally do – and ended up with nothing to lean on. I was freestanding, which is always a precarious situation to be in, but it’s not an impossible one. I was reading my book – Michael McIntyre’s autobiography – and quite happy with it. My feet were moving, subtly, to compensate for the movements of the train.

And then all of a sudden I made friends with someone else on the train.

By “made friends” I mean that I flew across the train at him as my beautifully balanced pose was disrupted. I made a noise. Something along the lines of “woooah” and managed t0 stop myself from crushing the life out of this fellow commuter with a well-timed extended arm.

I apologised, as you would in these sort of situations and went back to my book.

A few minutes later, the same thing occurred. I was flying towards him again. Same noise, same look of fear on his face, same out-stretched arm (although this time it was, somehow inside someone else’s coat but no-one’s sure how that happened. I apologised again.

“There’s three little bits on this line like that, I think,” said my victim.
“Yeah, I’m normally ready for them,” I replied, trying to laugh off the fact that I was bouncing around the train carriage like a wrecking ball.

He’s right though, there are two or three sections of line between Huddersfield and Leeds where the train shakes like a shitting dog. The fact that I was in the end carriage probably made it whip around a bit more than, say, the middle or front coaches will have done but still, normally I can cope with the wobbles. I know they’re coming. I’m ready for them.

And then I realised what it was. Half term. It’s half term this week. The feral children are running loose, away from the confines of the classrooms and the educational systems. And that’s what the difference was. Lots of parents tend to have half-term off work. So there were less people on the train. Less people on the train means more room to move. More room to move increases the likelihood of falling over. What I’m saying is that the rest of the commuters act as inertial dampers for each other. We’re all fairly stable on the train because we really can’t go anywhere. Everywhere we want to go is filled with another person.

And they were missing. I had arm room. The fact that I was reading a real-life, physical book should have been a clue to that. Ordinarily I’m lucky if I can find enough room in a morning to orientate my phone enough to read a book via the Kindle app on there, but here I was able to read a proper book. In hardback. And still have room to bounce around like I was experiencing particularly bad turbulence.

I explained that to the man I’d nearly crushed the life out of (twice). He just smiled.

I, on the other hand, continued to read my book.

But I think we were both hoping we were past all the wobbly bits.


October 25, 2011

I was squinting at the screen, trying to make out the background of a photograph on Facebook. It was a photograph of a dog, a very lovely looking dog. But the background was fascinating me. I knew it. I knew where that picture was taken.

“Is that Keswick?” I eventually asked.

I’ve only been to Keswick once. I think. Consciously, at least, I’ve only been to Keswick once.

Carole loves the Lake District. Her dad has a boat up there (Hey look, Carole, your dad will like this – it’s got a boat in it). I was taken to see the boat when we went up, although it wasn’t in the water or anything as we went too early in the season. Still I saw it. “That’s the boat,” Carole said. “Oh,” I said, not knowing what the correct response to seeing a boat not really being a boat is. I’m not as sold on the Lakes, I consider it to be a poor man’s Scotland, but Carole swears by it. She loves it. That’s how we found ourselves, one slightly overcast day in March, driving up to the Lakes. This is the journey on which I nearly died at the price of two drinks and a bun (£9.70 or something, the benchmark by which the cost of everything. A ticket to see Sarah Millican, for example, is just over four drinks and two buns). But it wasn’t all bad, I consoled myself on the journey by asking Carole to buy me – a, at the time at least, thirty-two year old man – a copy of the Beano.

Eventually we arrived in Keswick. We parked, paid the exorbitant parking fees and set off. But this wasn’t just any random visit to Keswick. Oh no, we’d made it fun. How? By finding a website on the internet that offers, for a small fee, a kind of educational treasure hunt which saw you uncovering the hidden treasures of a place. There are hundreds available, all filled with strange and wonderful questions – when did people die, what’s unusual about a building, which monarch was on the throne when the post boxes were installed. All that jazz. I’m not sure who compiles them all. I would imagine it’s someone fascinated with the history of the place and tasked

So we got one for Keswick and set off. The questions led us all around the place. Up the main street, through a graveyard, down some more streets, past a park, near the pencil museum and long the banks of the river.  If it hadn’t been for that treasure hunt we’d have never seen the tree with the bag of dog poo hanging from one of its leafless branches. That alone is an experience to be treasured, although not enough that it made it into the list of questions – I think, in the area, we were asked about a dedication on a park bench or something like that. It certainly wasn’t “How much fecal matter do you think is in that bag hanging from a tree branch?”

But something must have stuck with me, because as I stared at that picture – becoming more and more certain it was Keswick – the answer came back.

And it was.