Friday, 31 January 2014

Gong Hey Fat Choy...

It’s January 31st, Happy Chinese New Year!

It seems that the Chinese New Year is like a rickshaw, literally a moveable feast. The Chinese New Year can take place on a different date each year and lasts for 15 days rather than just for a few bongs of Ben Ben. The exact date of Chinese New Year is determined by the lunisolar cycle. That means the calendar is based on exact astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and moon phases. Well, would you expect anything else from the inventors of the crossbow, spaghetti, gunpowder, paper, the compass, nail varnish, kite flying, Pekinese dogs and chop suey sauce?

This year’s New Year is later than usual. But let’s not split bamboo, let’s break out the Tsing Tsao and have a jorry good knees-up. So solly to be frippant, but I guess I’m one those people for who the Chinese New Year is a bit a novelty; all firecrackers, a number 64 with fried rice, dancing Chinese dragons and not a single Scotsman or lump of coal in sight. Of course it might be different if I were a Chinaman.

Yes, if I were Fu Manchu I’d know that the beast Nian, a monster which appears at the end of every year and attacks people, a bit like a psychotic Santa, is on the prowl. That’s why some time in the mists of a venerable Chinese past, villagers worked out that loud noise, bright lights, and the colour red would keep Nian at bay. Yes, these Chinese are dashed inscrutable Biggles.

I’m no Charlie Chan, but even I can work out that Nian is probably a legend. But so what? Animals are integral to the Chinese New Year and every year is linked to the Chinese Zodiac. Twelve animals - Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, and Horse - each represent different years. 2014 is the year of the horse and the Chinese believe that someone born in a particular year will share similar attributes to the animal with which that year is associated. Woah Neddy!

I was born in 1957 which was the year of the Rooster. Okay, let’s leave the cock jokes out shall we? Why it couldn’t be the Horse or the Tiger, animals that I feel more represent my personality and physique, is beyond me. But I guess it could have been worse; Rat, Pig, Dog, all spring to mind. My wife would probably have said Snake; mind you she was born in the year of the Dragon which is probably about right seeing as she has been known to breathe fire when she’s annoyed.

Anyway, Gong Xo Fa Cai, Xin Nian Kuai Le, Gong Hey Fat Choy, or as Confucius McTavish say: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, we’ll take a right guide-willie waught for the sake of auld lang syne.”

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Holiday clothes…

How does the song go? “I’m going where my weather suits my clothes"? Well, if that’s the case then it looks like I’m going to Smethwick or Leeds or one of those dreary Welsh villages where it always seems to be raining or completely concealed by fog.

Yes, the UK isn’t the best place on earth to show off your summer wardrobe, which in my case consists of a pair of shorts, some flip-flops, and a couple of T-shirts. Mind you, the UK summer is usually so brief that that it’s more than enough. Perhaps that’s why we are all so keen to go abroad.

Which brings me to holiday clothes… you know the things I’m talking about; the clothes that we normally wouldn’t be seen dead in, but simply have to have for the holiday. Why is it that we decide that the blues, blacks, browns, and greys that we usually wear simply won’t do, and rush to purchase clown clothes? Even worse, it seems that the sunnier the clime we are jetting off to, the brighter and more garish our holiday clothes become.

Who doesn’t have a horrendous Hawaiian shirt at the back of his wardrobe or a ridiculously light coloured pair of pastel linen trousers - the ones with the drawstring waist? I once bought a straw panama for my holiday which I teamed with an off-white cotton jacket and a pair of almost matching baggy pants. Did the man from Del Monte say yes? Well, he did say something, but I didn’t quite catch what it was.

It’s even worse when it comes to women. Having worn sensible skirts and blouses for months, they suddenly decide to dress like gypsies and prostitutes and lace up their espadrilles. In a clothes buying frenzy, they throw fashion caution to the wind and with a blaze of hot pink, burnt orange and every shade of pastel imaginable, play ‘stuff as many outfits into a suitcase as possible’. Of course, most of the ‘must have’ outfits are never worn, or in some cases never removed from the case; returning home to the UK at the end of the holiday to languish in a wardrobe.

We must all have a wardrobe or two of holiday togs that’ll never be worn again - well not in this country at least. I remember a time when men simply took off their suit jackets, rolled up their trousers, loosened their braces, and removed their ties when on the beach. There wasn’t a need for holiday clothes; you simply adapted what you already had.

Oh well, summer will soon be here and the holiday clothes saga can start all over again… and don’t forget to pack a sweater just in case it gets chilly at night.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Kitten roulette…

I’m still removing dead friends (both real and figurative) from my list, but I’m running out of options using my existing criteria. Perhaps the criteria aren’t wide enough or maybe I need new criteria. What should they be though?

There are always those people who have overly sentimental profile pictures - cherubs and kittens, fat puppies and roses. The ‘aw cutes’ as I call them. Maybe I should lose them, although I have to admit to being partial to the odd cute kitten picture or two. Maybe I should apply the opposite and cull those who have strange profiles pictures, in which case I suppose I should cull myself. But what do I do with the people who have strange cute profile pictures - the suicidal kitten people?

And what about the ones who are way too smiley? My happy-clapper friends, the ones who constantly post positive-thought statements or ask me to share if I have a mother/father/sister who I love/respect/miss/are thankful for. Personally I could easily reply to these with something less than positive, but I try not to - so help me God – and as for reposting my feelings on family… well, I wouldn’t lie.

I did consider my friends who make no sense at all. But I actually like people making no sense on Facebook. Besides, I fall into that category myself. I enjoy the enigmatic ‘That was that then.’ or ‘How did that happen?’ with no explanation as to what the event was or what the outcome was after the event. I even like the occasional bit of Zen: ‘When rain comes, seek the rainbow.’ So truly, deeply, meaningfully Om.

Maybe I should ditch the gamers. After all, do I really care that John has just beaten Janet on SongPop or that Mary Contrary has ploughed her turnip field yet again? Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Farmville, Bubble Island, Pet Rescue Saga – am I really interested in your latest score? Just a sec, let me think about it. Errrrrrrrr… no. How many points do I get for that?

How about the people who simply have too many friends on their friend list? Some of my friends have over 1,000 other friends. Just how can you have 1,000 friends and give any of them any attention at all – particularly me, me, me? I’m struggling with under a quarter of that number; hence my clean-up operation. Besides, if I did use total friend numbers as a maker or breaker, what should that cut-off number be? 500? 800? And what if a friend had 501 friends? Could I really justify taking them out just because they were one friend too many on the culling scale?

This culling thing is turning out to be much harder that I expected and I’m not quite the serial culler that I thought I’d be. To date, I haven’t taken down a single friend that will even know about it, and I’m down around twenty including the ship jumper. At least I would be if I hadn’t accepted three new friends over the last couple of weeks. The target I had in mind was around 200 total, but I’m not going to get anywhere near that. I’m not ruthless enough and I’m certainly not going to close my account. That would be too much like Facebook suicide for me to take.

Yep, Facebook might not be real life, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be careful out there. Not everyone uses and treats it in the same way. One mans quip is another’s insult, another woman’s murder someone else’s mercy killing. It’s all too easy to hurt without intending to. Best save the hurt for those that deserve it. Share if you have a mother/father/sister…

I guess I’ll be culling a while longer yet. Be seeing you.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Apple Macintosh and the radio man…

Thirty years ago, Steve Jobs unleashed the Apple Macintosh on the world. ‘Apple Macintosh? What’s that?’ I hear the young people ask. Well before iPads, iPhones and iBooks there were these box like things that the world called the Apple Macintosh. It was a quirky little thing prone to crashing, an understated light grey in colour, a floppy drive, and almost no memory at all. I can’t forget them though.

The Apple Macintosh machine revolutionised the way we used home computers. Prior to the Mac computers were really only for geeks who wanted to do geeky things. The Apple Mac fundamentally changed all that and computers weren’t geeky any more. Instead of being simple text-input machines the Macintosh used a graphical interface that allowed us to all to be computer wizards.

The first time I used a Mac over 25 years ago, I knew immediately that it was something special. For one thing I didn’t need an instruction manual; I simply knew how to use it. I could drag and drop and place my cursor on a word to find out what to do next from a drop-down list. It was so easy. At first I thought it was me, I thought that I was a natural. But I soon realised that the interface was so brilliantly intuitive that anybody could use one – as long as they knew how to turn it on and could find the switch at the back.

I’d been doing a bit of freelance design work at the time and realised that if I bought a Mac I might make some money. The nearest Apple Centre was in Sheffield. It wasn’t a shop; it was an office on an industrial estate. I made an appointment and off we went one Saturday morning to pick up our Mac SE. It wasn’t much by today’s standards; a small heavy, solid, chunk of plastic with an eight inch black and white screen, a keyboard, a clunky mouse, and a floppy drive. I can remember the soothing note (bong) as it started up and my machine’s happy computer icon. It was magic.

We spent our Sunday producing a programme for a ‘Lions Club’ fete in Freehand 2.1, learning as we went and by midnight my wife and I were experts – well, almost.

That first Apple Mackintosh cost just over a £1200 and it paid for itself in a month. It looked like something out of William Hartnell’s Tardis, but to me it was a thing of beauty. Over the next 15 years we bought bigger and better Macs and an array of printers, scanners, storage, and copying devices. We had so much equipment that we had to have our cellars converted into an office to contain it - and then we networked it all together with a hub.

My wife gave up her job and worked full time out of our cellar. We didn’t get mega-rich, but we had plenty of spare cash, paid off our debts (not that they were great), had holidays and bought a cottage in Wales. Then one day the work dried up. Our Macs sat gathering dust in our cellar until we took them all to the tip apart from the iMac because I liked the colour of the casing.

Exciting and profitable times, hard work too and all thanks to the Apple Mackintosh. I remember saying to my wife when Steve Jobs died that we owed him a great debt, even though we’d never met him. He and the machine he invented really changed our lives.

These days I’m not a Mac man, I use an old beaten up PC laptop. I have no iPad, no iPhone, no MacBook and I haven’t fired up my iMac for years. I did buy an iPod years ago, but in truth I hardly ever used it. I’m more of a radio man these days.

A radio man. What happened to me?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Biebering about...

I can think of plenty of reasons to dislike Justin Bieber. Firstly he’s Canadian which, whilst not making him a bad person, does colour him a little grey and insipid.

Canadians aren’t American enough to make them Americans, not English enough to make them English, but they are just French enough to make them damned annoying - and Justin is plenty annoying.

Secondly he’s mega-rich, successful, and, according to Forbes Magazine, the ninth most powerful celebrity in the world behind Oprah at one, Lady Gaga at two, and Steven Spielberg at three.

Thirdly he’s young, just nineteen, and that’s mainly why I’m writing this.

Yes, the Biebs is a very easy young man to dislike. But at nineteen there are an awful lot of young men to which that particular trait applies. I know that at nineteen it applied to me, and maybe it still does.

So he got arrested for drag racing a Lamborghini allegedly. Okay I’ve never owned a Lamborghini, but at nineteen I was driving around in my mate’s Triumph Herald without tax, insurance, or having passed my test. At times I got that Herald up to almost sixty miles an hour – mind you I’d usually drunk five or six pints of cider first.

Okay, so he wrote in the visitor’s book at Anne Frank’s house: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” Gosh! Call the police. Actually most of that message is fine, maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned the ‘belieber’ bit, but it’s not exactly offensive. Besides I once wrote in the comments book at Valley Forge Park (where Washington fought the blooming British) “Lucky you Yanks had that German guy to help you”- well, it was.

Right, so he peed in a mop bucket and more recently in the snow by the side of the road. Well excuse me, but hands up any man out there who hasn’t taken a leak in a place that isn’t a designated place for peeing - especially when drunk. Not one hand I bet. I once locked myself out of the house and had to pee in a pot full of geraniums. Another time, stuck in traffic on the M6 for 3 hours, I had to leave my car and pee by the side of the road while three lanes of watchers applauded.

Off course, he didn’t have exactly the right paperwork for his monkey so the German authorities confiscated it. Well, we all know how the Germans like you to have the right paperwork. But at nineteen I probably wouldn’t have though about it. At nineteen you think everything is cool, even those German authority dudes. Anyway, since when did making a mistake with some forms get you into hot water? Anyone would think that he was a day late with his tax return or had refused to fill in his census.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a prat and his music sucks. He gets drunk, smokes pot, does a Banksy with walls, swears about politicians, takes risks, has sex with lots of pretty girls, rebels, and likes to look mean for the camera. Anyone recognise this? I know I do. It was me a long time ago – well apart from the ‘lots’ and ‘pretty girls’ thing. My girlfriends were usually passable (just) and didn’t rotate that much. Some would say that he’s a role model and should behave like one. But he’s nineteen and at nineteen do any of us make or want to be good role models? He’s a teenager, so why should we not expect him to act like one?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Properly Scotch…

It was Burns Night last night and so, despite not having a single dram of Scottish blood in my body, I decided to do the right thing and eat haggis.

Now I know what goes into haggis: a mix of sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs), onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, salt, and stock all minced together and encased in the animal’s stomach; so I though it worth a go. After all - didn’t I love haggis?

We prepared the feast; boiling the haggis for hours and laughing about all of the fictitious haggis hunts that we’ve never been on.

Then, after stabbing our haggis with a knife, I addressed the ‘wee beastie’ in my best Scottish ‘We’re all doomed Captain Mainwaring!’ accent:

Fair and full’s your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain o’ the sausage race!
Above ‘em all ye takes ye place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are ye worthy of a grace
As lang as my arm.

We carefully and beautifully arranged our towers of haggis, neaps and tatties on a plate, sprinkled with chopped parsley, and then - toasting the haggis with whisky - tucked in. It was then it struck us… Burn’s Night or no Burns Night, why do we always seem to forget that we don’t like haggis?

Oh well, the whisky went down well and by the end of the night I was properly Scotch

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Dolly birds...

It looks like I’m stuck in one of my nostalgia loops, so if you were expecting deep and meaningful today then I apologise to you now. After my Tupperware post and a comment about dolly birds I couldn’t stop myself wondering about where the term came from. Just who first called some young lady a ‘dolly bird’ and what did he mean by it? It was obviously a man, and a bit of a lad too – you know the sort: wink, wink, nudge, nudge, ‘bit of a goer is she sir?’

I was hoping that maybe my old friend Billy Shakespeare had dreamt the term up to give it a bit of gravitas; something like:

“Forsooth fair shrew thou lay in faith, both bonny and dull; perchance liken to the dolly bird on wing. Away thee maid, I’m for some fair and well flung land.”

If not Will, then maybe those old dolly trucks that were used by the jolly dolly barrow boys of Smithfield Market as they brought in the live geese for Christmas slaughter – ‘Gert yer lovely Gooses ‘ere!’

No? Then perhaps it was an Edwardian wind-up tin toy from the Kaiser’s Germany – a parrot with a baby’s head which sang and cried alternately – waaaaa – tweet – waaaa- tweet  (No stop! I’ll have nightmares).

What about a sixties BBC TV camera woman (not that there were any, the unions saw to that) – a camera dolly bird?

As it turned out it was none of these things. All I could find by way of a definition was: ‘a woman who is considered attractive and fashionable but not very clever’. What, ‘not very clever’? Well I didn’t know about the ‘not very clever’ bit Ms Vorderman, I just thought that dolly birds were a bit ‘cor’ and even a bit more Leslie Phillips ‘I say’. Apparently, the phrase was first used back in 1964.

Quote: ‘back in the swinging '60s she was one of London's most celebrated dolly birds’.

But I couldn’t find out where, who first used it and who they were talking about. How do these things spring into existence? Where do they come from? How do they get into our consciousnessessess’s?

All questions that I couldn’t answer (and one that I couldn’t even pronounce), but it did get me thinking about dolly birds – as if I needed any encouragement.

They were definitely around in the sixties; every girl David Bailey photographed became one – even Twiggy. But for me it had to be ‘The Liver Birds’. Well, Nerys Hughes actually. Yes, Nerys Hughes was quite a lot of dolly bird for a boy just into his sweaty teens. For a while I had a serious thing for her, it wasn’t reciprocated though; that’s the thing with the Television; it isn’t the best vehicle for a meaningful two-way relationship.

Ah, the Liver Birds. If you don’t remember the classic Carla Laine series it charted the ups and downs of two 'Dolly Birds' sharing a tiny flat in Liverpool in the seventies. Beryl and Sandra dressed in the latest fashions; two young women making their way in a wonderful world of seventies sexism, bum pinching, kipper ties, and temporary secretarial work in cigarette smoke filled offices.

Yes, Nerys was my dolly bird for quite a while until Sally Thomsett and Paula Wilcox came along… and then Joanna Lumley... and then Carol Vorderman… and then Caroline Quentin… and then Holly Willoughby…

Dolly Birds – every man should have one or two (if you know what I mean - wink, wink).

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Tupperware times...

Tupperware, what was all the excitement about? After all, would you go to a party to buy empty plastic containers? Rooms full of over excited women sipping sweet and warm Spanish white gazing longingly at pastel coloured plastic bowls and paying ridiculous prices for pretty much the same thing that Indian takeaways are delivered in these days.

Back in the seventies I had a girlfriend whose mum had the biggest collection of Tupperware you can imagine. She had everything: small containers, large containers, plates, bowls, tumblers, jugs, lemon squeezers, jelly moulds, sandwich boxes, a salt and pepper set, even a tall, slim, cereal container with a flip-open lid and a pourer. She had them in every washed-out insipid colour you can imagine from pink to blue, mint green to yellow, and an unhealthy looking not-quite-white.

My girlfriend’s mum would proudly display her Tupperware on every available shelf and surface in her dark-brown Hessian fronted kitchen cupboards. Containers for flour, coffee, tea, sugar, rice, biscuits, and salt sat in neat lines at the back of her cream tiled work-surfaces next to her Tupperware breadbin. Her freezer was full with Tupperware containers, from tiny to tub-size, all neatly labelled with contents and date and filled with the frozen watery vegetables that her husband grew on his all too-regimented allotment.

She was the Queen of Tupperware, all horn-rimmed glasses, tweed skirt, high-permed not-quite-a-beehive rinsed brown hair and a mouth so thin you’d have struggled to slip a sheet of greaseproof paper between her lips. She spent her mornings cooking tasteless meals to a strict budget and cleaning, her afternoons reading second-rate romance novels, and her evenings (if she was very lucky) at Tupperware parties at one of her identical neighbour’s houses.

Barbara and Brian Grace, or ‘Mr and Mrs respectable average’ as I used to call them. Tupperware people leading Tupperware lives in a Tupperware world. I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me. In retrospect it was all a little bit too ‘Stepford Wives’. Long, long ago now, of course.

I had thought Tupperware a thing of the past, long gone like smoking in the office, hot pants, the Rubik’s cube, and Ira Levin. Not so, it’s still out there, doing well, and on sale in over 100 countries.

Party anyone?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Jumping ship...

It seems that someone jumped ship last night.
"No, he or she went of her own accord."
I’m not sure which Facebook friend it was, but that’s one more down without the need to cull.

Of course, it’s fair enough and I can see the attraction in getting out. Jumping ship must be such a liberating experience. One minute you have duties, tasks, and responsibilities. The next you are either in the water swimming like hell or in an open boat madly searching for that desert island you’ve always dreamed of - unless of course you can’t row or swim.

But enough of Davy Jones, his locker, and watery graves.

Anyway, I was carefully examining my friend list looking for the absconder when I found that a number of friends have jumped the Facebook ship altogether and closed their accounts. I hadn’t noticed this before, but apparently they appear in my friends list but they aren’t really there. I wonder where they’ve gone? Are they sunning themselves under a palm tree on some island paradise where the only form of technology is two half-coconuts and a piece of string, or did they go for a swim and then decide to never get out of the water?

As I said: I understand. Sometimes I feel like jumping Good Ship Facebook too.

Of course my track record at jumping ship isn’t very good. I usually stay aboard even when the ship is sinking. Jobs, relationships, lost hopes, failed enterprises – I find it so hard to jump and save myself that usually I have to be pushed; and pushed pretty hard at that. I guess I’m a clinger. Clinging to things I no longer want or, even worse, that no longer want me. Yes, I’d be there on the upturned cello long after the ship had gone down looking for the rest of the orchestra so that we could get the band back together.

Letting go is so hard. That’s why I find unfriending so difficult. I don’t like completely giving up on anyone, even the people who have closed their accounts, the ones who haven’t posted for years, even the friends that have died.

It poses the question: ‘Why don’t I leave them alone?’ After all they aren’t doing any harm are they?

Pipe me aboard chaps.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A tale of two soaps...

Oh dear Poor Haley, although I have to admit to a degree of relief that this particular saga is over. Well, if not over then drawing to a conclusion maybe. I have a concern you see, actually a few concerns. Why was Roy seeming to behave so suspiciously on the night of Haley’s death? What story will Norris concoct concerning his visit to The Cabin? What did Roy say to Dennis and that woman from Brookside about the chicken? And why wouldn’t he let anybody into the flat… not even Tyrone? He may not have touched the glass (may not, I hasten to add) but did Haley leave a letter absolving him of any responsibility and making it clear it was she who did the deed and not he? I think Roy can expect the long arm of the law to be reaching out for him pretty soon.

Meanwhile in Ambridge Tony has been abducted by aliens and replaced with someone doing an increasingly bad impression of him. Tony has always been a little tetchy and impatient, but his tetchiness has turned into downright rudeness and he’s as snappy as a rotweiller on acid. Yes, Tony’s moods and outburst have reached new heights since his transformation. The BBC says that the actor who used to play Tony (Colin Skipp) has retired after 40 years and his replacement (David Troughton, son of Doctor Who Patrick Troughton) is basically the same person. Mmmmmm… I think not Moriarty. It might work for Doctor Who, but the regeneration of Tony Archer is quite another matter. Meanwhile the real Tony lies inside an alien pod somewhere up on Lakey Hill whilst Pat (never one to let an opportunity pass her by) makes organic hay with a man at least ten years younger than the previous model.

Weatherfield and Ambridge, such strange places.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Blue Monday, yellow Friday…

Today is Blue Monday, that day of the year when all things come together to hit rock bottom. It’s a combination of it being a Monday, the weather, post-Christmas debt, elapsed time since that holiday, the usual failure of New Year's resolutions, low motivational levels and that nagging feeling that there really is a need to take some action. There’s even an equation that explains it all - not that I understand equations. In Holland it’s called ‘deprimaandag’, or ‘depression Monday’ – well, the Dutch were never a people to understate misery.

Blue Monday or not, I didn’t see scores of scowling, hunched-up people as I meandered my way along Oxford Road this morning. Nobody was visibly crying and I didn’t see a single grey cartoon cloud hanging above anybody’s head. I even heard someone whistling and two men on the corner by the cafĂ© were laughing about something or other - United probably. On the flip side, singing was coming from the Welsh Presbyterian Church as I passed. It’s probably only the third time I’ve heard singing from inside that building in over thirty years. I doubt it was a wedding or christening as I’ve never seen anybody under sixty entering or leaving and the singing didn't sound joyous. I guess it was the other thing.

Of course Blue Monday is all nonsense, a combination of media hype and bad science. Like any Monday some people will have a happy positive day and others won’t. Somebody will check their lottery tickets and find they’re a big winner, hundreds of people will pass their driving test, scores of couples will marry, babies will be born, cancer patients will be given the all-clear… and vice versa of course.

Even so, I have to admit that January isn’t generally a high point in the year and all of the equation’s elements probably do apply to some extent. My car tax and insurance is due (rats), but then on the upside I’m always glad when the Christmas fizzle is finally over. I don’t do resolutions and, as I can be a bit of a procrastinator, there’s always a need to take action (maybe tomorrow or the day after). It’s the weather that is the big mood-swinger I think. That’s why people, myself included, never shut-up about it. Wet and dismal is not a good mood-maker, sunshine - even on a cold January day - makes such a difference.

Anyway, if Blue Monday really is the low point of the year surely there must be a high point to balance it. It’ll probably be a Friday or some time over the weekend. A day when everybody feels great, the world’s just perfect, beer is free, the sun shines bright and hot, and bad news and bills are not allowed.

Yellow Friday or ‘gelukvrigdag’ as the Dutch might call it. I wonder when it is?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sandwich secrets…

Life is too full of decision. How will I ever cope?

You know when you make a sandwich from two slices of white bread? Should you put the two rounded crust pieces together or be a rebel and turn one upside down, top to tail? Should you cut it in half, cut into quarters, or not cut at all? Should you cut on the diagonal or horizontal and should it be top to bottom or side to side?

So many decisions from two slices of bread and I haven’t even considered the filling yet.

I can’t remember the first time I made a sandwich. I don’t remember being taught how to do it, it’s just one of those things that I seem to have always known how to do. Perhaps just watching sandwiches being made was how I learnt the sandwich art. I remember well those school trip sandwiches – egg and cress or luncheon meat, always made from white sliced bread and wrapped in greaseproof paper.

Picnic sandwiches, birthday party sandwiches, packed lunch sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, feeling peckish sandwiches… I wonder just how many sandwiches I’ve eaten. If I started eating sandwiches aged four and ate just five each week it’s around 13,500 – that’s over 1,300 loaves of bread.

Are bread rolls sandwiches? What about French sticks? Do toasted sandwiches count? Are two slices of bread and butter with no filling a sandwich? Can an open sandwich really be a sandwich? Wraps aren’t sandwiches, are they? Pitas can’t be sandwiches surely?

I’m not one for fancy sandwiches. You can keep your Brie and grape, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and stuff your avocado and sun-dried tomato. I’m more of a traditional sandwich man.

My top ten sandwiches (not ranked):
1. Tuna (or tinned salmon) and cucumber
2. Extra mature Cheddar cheese and chutney
3. Sausage (preferably pork and leek) and mustard
4. Roast chicken and stuffing
5. Sliced egg salad
6. Peanut butter
7. Mashed egg and cress
8. Bacon
9. Roast beef and horseradish
10. Pork and mustard

Ham is sometimes in there and sometimes not, and turkey and cranberry would be in at Christmas. As a boy I loved Daddies Sauce sandwiches and I’m still partial to a luncheon meat sandwich and the occasional corned beef and beetroot sandwich. I like my cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off and plenty of salt on my home grown tomato sandwiches. I don’t like the sandwiches in America – they are far too full. I hate fruit, chocolate spread, and jam sandwiches. I think I like potted paste sandwiches but am always left feeling disappointed and dissatisfied. Prawn sandwiches look great but are usually tasteless and watery. I have never really enjoyed a BLT. I don’t think that chip or fish-finger sandwiches are really sandwiches at all. White bread is better than brown, but sometimes I really like multigrain.

Here are a couple of secret guilty pleasures - I have been known to enjoy a cold baked bean or cold leftover chilli sandwich and (despite not wanting to – honestly) I have made and eaten crisp sandwiches.

There. I’m all sandwiched out.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Wassail night’s dream…

Last night was Wassail, the ‘old’ Twelfth Night under the Julian calendar - time to bless the apple trees and ask for a healthy crop come autumn.  I put on my old apple hat, my cloak of green, and danced the merry bell dance all jingly jangley in the light of the moon even though there wasn’t an apple tree in sight. WASSAIL! It must have been the mulled cider - 8.8% even without the Calvedos shots and far too much of it.

Wassail! Or in the Old English ‘waes hael’, meaning ‘good health’. All I needed was a folk band, a troupe of Morris dancers, a lone fiddler, an orchard, a bonfire, some shotguns, and a Wassail Queen. I had the mulled cider and the buttered toast, plenty of booze and toast, booze and the hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full … and into sweet dream I slipped…

‘Here’s to thee, oh Apple Tree Man, fine spirit of the oldest apple tree in this fair orchard.’

We make a circle around the tree, each taking a sip from the clayen cup and sing the Wassail song. The green garbed girls are lithe and laughing as young Tom Tit chases them around the trees. I steal a kiss from each as they pass – a swift fleeting blush as of the pinkest bloom of apple.

‘Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Bushel—bushel—sacks full,
And my pockets full too! Huzza!’

‘Tom Tit - a toast to the trees!’

And as King I pour a ring of golden cider around the Apple Tree Man and lift my fair Queen up to his branches for she to place a piece of cider soaked toast in his ancient gnarled crook.

‘Fertility and fair harvest.’ Says she.

“Here's to thee, old apple tree, that blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, an' all under one tree. Huzza! Huzza!” I reply.

Bang! The hunter’s shotguns fire into the air, the evil spirits scatter far and wide, the Morris men dance, the young girls flutter, more from the cup, and more from the cup, and he’s here. The Apple Tree Man, in all his greenery, showing all his buried treasure.

‘Let the bonfire dance begin!’


And then I wake up. Huzza! That punch really had a kick!

Wassail Punch Recipe:
2 small apples, washed, cores removed
1 litre strong cider
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed using a mortar and pestle
2 pinches ground cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1/2 lemon, sliced.
1 tablespoon honey.
2 shots Calvedos.

Bung it all in a saucepan. Heat but don't boil.

Sweet dreams. Huzza!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu…

So long, farewell, au Wiedersehen, good night. I hate to go and leave this pretty sight. So long, farewell, au wiedersehen, adieu. Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu.

Have you seen this particular yieu? Well I haven’t for a while; not a pretty sight is he? I’ve masked his identity to protect the innocent, but even so some of you might recognise him. Funny isn’t it, you spend twenty years seeing someone almost daily and then, all of a sudden, they’re gone. Not gone as in gone ‘dead’ in this case, but gone ‘gone’ to all intents and purposes.

They say that the test of friendship is that, even after a break of years, when you bump into each other again you pick up just where you left off. In my experience that isn’t quite true. The water that passes under that bridge can change in lots of ways. Sometimes it becomes murky and discoloured, runs faster or slower, or it can even become a tumult beset by rapids. Things and people change. We all do.

Sometimes it’s simply about priorities. Life changes, things move on and suddenly you are far too busy to have time for the past. Or it can be part of the letting go process; the past can be a dangerous place to live and ‘clean breaks’ are sometimes cathartic. Laziness can also play a part, it’s so much easier not to bother - and then there are those who simply don’t need keep in touch.

What an empty ring that has to it: ‘Keep in touch.’ So may people don’t even when they’ve promised that they will. I’ve lost count of the number of people who were going to keep in touch and then simply didn’t. For my part I don’t promise to keep in touch, but I do Facebook.

So Facebook. I know that it gets bad press for making friendship a solitary, remote experience, a damned fine way of never seeing people, an all-too-easy lazy man’s way to keep in touch. But when distance or circumstance or just plain embarrassment stops you from doing the face-to-face it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing. At least it is to me.

Anyway, the chap in the picture - well, he was today’s cull. Don’t worry the sacrifice is all mine. He won’t notice and he won’t care or even feel hurt about it. He’s one of those people that have an account but simply don’t use it. He never, ever, has and he never, ever, will. He tells me so each time we meet up for a pint. It’s a pity, I’d like to have more contact but he doesn’t do e-mail or even answer his phone.

Keeping in touch is a one way street sometimes.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The wood and the trees…

A relative of mine is in hospital. A dog scratch stared it all. She’s old and at her age it doesn’t take much to disturb the creatures in the forest - just a dog scratch to set the beasts sniffing at the air.

I think that most of us live on the edge of the forest, I know I do. It’s an okay place to be; far enough away from the trees to be safe but close enough to make it interesting. You can see a lot from the edge – birds and squirrels, a darting fox, even the occasional badger or deer. You hear a lot too - the deeper more dangerous things as they thrash around in the depths bellowing and battling. I think I know what they are, so I don’t often think about them - or at least I try not to.

On bright moonlit nights, when my imagination kicks in, I’m sometimes tempted to walk into the forest and keep walking. Maybe I’d come out the other side. But what if I got lost? What if I became worse than lost and don’t come out at all? What if the dangerous things smell me?

Of course sometimes you are forced by circumstance or bad chance into the forest - illness, accident, relationships, job, even a dog scratch might take you there. If you’re lucky you’ll stay close to the edge so that you can always see your way out. But sometimes you can find yourself wandering deeper and deeper until the outside isn’t there any more - just trees. All you can see is trees.

Best keep my imagination this side of the forest, keep my fingers crossed and try to avoid the pull of the moonlight.

I’m not going in there just yet.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The angst and the agony…

Talk about self-inflicted pain. So far I’ve ‘lost’ eight of my Facebook friends – pretty careless really. One has sadly passed away, another probably has. So I don’t feel too guilty for pressing the button on either of them. Three were easy; friends who’ve probably not used their Facebook account since they signed up for it and have probably forgotten that they ever even had one. I unfriended a group that I no longer have any interest or involvement with (and I’m not sure that I ever did) and another who posts a couple of times a month but has never commented on anything I’ve posted. That one has probably blocked my posts and won’t miss my twaddle anyway. The last of the eight wasn’t quite as easy as the others and occasionally replies to my posts so long as they are transport related. Mind you he was driving me mad with his continual pictures of steam trains, motorway service stations, and passenger aircraft.

Surprisingly nobody has culled themselves and unfriended me while they’ve had the excuse. Of course there’s probably quite a few who blocked my posts from their timeline ages ago and to be honest I don’t blame them, but why don’t they don’t just unfriend me if I annoy them so much?

And then there are those others who watch but never comment – the Lurkers.

I don’t get Lurkers. I find them a little unsettling, one step down from Trolls really. They’re like people at parties who stand to one side in a corner avoiding the kitchen and eye contact and walking away if anybody approaches them. Why do they do that? If you’re not going to mingle and hold a conversation why come to the party at all? If you aren’t going to play then don’t join the team. I think that Lurkers are a little like peeping Toms; observing other people’s lives from a distance hoping to get a glimpse of something naughty or nasty or both. What do they get from it I wonder? Does it make them feel better about themselves knowing everybody else’s failings, sad little life events, and whatever dirt they share?

Perhaps they’re just shy. Of course with no comments or likes I have no idea who’s a Lurker and who isn’t, so they tread a dangerous line when it comes to this cull thing.

Anyway, I’m down to 250. Not done yet.

Be seeing you.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

F**k, b******s, t**t...

“‘Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! You tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck!”

As Shakespeare knew, there’s nothing like a good swear to get an audience’s attention and, up until those po-faced Victorians decided to ‘not be amused’, swearing didn’t carry quite the ridiculous stigma it does today. In fact it was fun. Swearing is seen by many as indicative of low intellect; others see the use of ‘foul language’ as unnecessary. Well as Dylan Thomas would have said from his fictional village of Llareggub (Bugger all backwards) “Fuck them all!”

The Saxons are often credited for the invention of most of our swear words. In reality very few swear words in use today are of Saxon invention and those that are tend to be mainly scatological. Shit is a true Anglo Saxon word; it appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, along with fart and arse. Back then they were all just everyday words used in everyday conversation as in: ‘I farteth and a grate shite felle oute mine arse.’

Many swear words are of religious derivation, simple oaths used by priest and monks that later became vilified as blasphemy. ‘God’s Truth’ later became ‘Strewth’, ‘God damn thine eyes’ became shortened to ‘Goddam’ then diluted to an innocuous ‘Darned’, ‘Gosh!’ is a watered down ‘God!’, ‘Heck’ a sanitised ‘Hecate’ or ‘Hell’ - even ‘Bloody’ started out as ‘By Our Lady’.

Which brings me to swearing that is of a sexual nature. Many of our taboo words came into the English language from other sources. The origin of ‘Fuck’, for example, probably derives from the old German ‘Ficken’ - meaning to strike or penetrate, in turn the German was related to the Latin for to prick (hence ‘Prick’). ‘Fuck’ was in common usage in England by the 16th century, again without vulgarity. Back in the Middle Ages, the word ‘Sard’ meant the same as fuck. These days you never hear anyone muttering ‘Sarding Hell’ when something goes wrong, but you might hear them say ‘Sodding Hell’ – a phrase derived from sodomy as is ‘Bugger’ and ‘Buggery’.

So far none of our swear words started life as a bad oath. They were all just words that, over time, got a bad reputation and were made verbosa non-gratis by the prudish Victorians. Even the cunt word (yes, I dare commit it to print), the last real taboo in the English language, is just a word derived from various Norse, Old German and Latin words. The word entered the English language in the 13th century when both Oxford and London had red light districts called ‘Gropecunte Lane’. The Oxford lane was later renamed Magpie Lane and in London it became Threadneedle Street which is full of bankers.

Talking of bankers, the term ‘Wank’ is of unknown origin although it is a fairly new word. It seems likely that the terms ‘Wank’ and ‘Wanker’ were invented in the late 1800’s by public schoolboys in boarding houses. Listening to the noise the bedsprings made when fellow pupils were masturbating at night, one of them probably thought up this onomatopoeic word and it spread. It was certainly in use in the trenches during the First World War, often to describe the generals in charge.

Interestingly the word ‘Berk’, commonly used good-humouredly by all and sundry and viewed by most as hardly a swear word at all, also derives from the c-word. It’s Cockney rhyming slang for the ‘Old Berkshire Hunt.’ A ‘Twat’ was simply a clearing in a forest in Old Norse.

Of course as with any word it’s all about context and how the word is used. Gay used to mean happy and carefree, then it became a label that homosexuals and lesbians used to define their sexuality. These days it’s a derogatory term used to describe anything that isn’t up to par or distasteful. Bitch is a female dog but it’s also what life is apparently - and call your wife one and you’re in real trouble. Bastard is a just a child with unmarried parents - almost 50% of children born in the UK these days - but call the chap standing next to you at the bar one and you are cruising for a bruising.

I don’t like outlawed words. The poor things don’t deserve it. I encourage you all to swear whenever you have the opportunity or feel the need – Shakespeare would have done. I’ll finish where I started from. Here’s that quote from Henry IV Part 1 again with the oaths given their modern English meaning.

‘God’s blood, you scarecrow, you changeling, you dried ox tongue, you bull’s prick, you stinking fish! O for the breath to say what you are really like! You swindler, you cunt, you twat; you vile standing fuck!’

Monday, 13 January 2014

Rick O'Lection and why I’m not a stand-up…

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to get up on stage and try to make people laugh. I think that stand-up comedians must be either very confident, totally crazy, or both. Sometimes when I’m unable to sleep at night, instead of thinking of islands from A-Z, I make up stand-up routines. I even have a stand-up persona – he’s called Rick O’Lection.

Poor Rick suffers from Alzheimer’s. I did consider a transvestite stand-up persona but then I remembered that Eddie Izzard had already cornered that particular mirth market. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to guarantee that all of my gigs - if I got any - would always take place on a Wednesday night whilst my wife was out at Zumba. It did cross my mind that an Alzheimer afflicted comedian might not be very PC. But then if you can’t laugh at disability, what can you laugh at? After all it is 1976… isn’t it?

Sorry, there I go slipping into Rick early again.

In my mind’s act Rick bumbles onto the stage looking lost – all cloth cap and duster. He approaches the stage and speaks into the microphone:

‘I’ve been Rick O’Lection and you’ve been a great audience. Thank you and goodnight!’

He bows and then lifts his head (a puzzled look passes across his face):

‘No that isn’t right. Good evening plumbers, I’m Rick O’Lection and I’m from Dublin, but I’ve forgotten how to do a French accent. Anyone in the audience got a dog? You know those furry things with long ears and carrots. My dogs got no eyes. No eyes? How does he smell? It doesn’t matter he can’t hear you anyway…

I must ask Pete, he’s got one…

Is anyone in the audience married? No? Well, it’s only a piece of potpourri and who wants to live in an installation anyway? My wife Jane… Janet… Jackie? No, she’s a blonde and Jackies a brun… dark-haired. My wife Lady Gaga is going to Jamaica. Holiday I think … or was it with her job? The dogs not going. Did I mention he’s got no eyes? That’s why he crossed the road I think…Pete’ll know…I’m sure it was in the bread bin with the goldfish…

Why was the stick brown and sticky? Because it was a brown stick. No, not Lady Gaga, Judith Chalmers. It was a stick.

Knock, knock.
Knock, knock.
Knock, knock.
I must be out.

Thanks Luton, or Carlisle, or maybe Macclesfield? I can’t remember where I put my ticket or I’d check. I must have put it somewhere. How much was it for? Will cash do instead? I probably left it at the bank and I haven’t a pen even if I could write you one. Anyway, you’ve been a great ambulance and I hope you enjoy your burger…

My name’s been… well whatever and now I’m going for a lie down. All this standing up has made me torrid. Good evening playmates. Oh yes… I’ve been Rick O’Lection, from Dubai although I’ve forgotten how to do a Spanish accent, and you’ve been a thingummy.. you know, a group of people watching something. Do you want fries with that?’

Poor old Rick. Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The sometimes cat…

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve stepped over the sometimes cat, only to realise that he or she wasn’t there.

The sometimes cat – it seems to take on the form of the last cat in the house. It used to be black until Tia came along. I kept seeing Tia long after she was dead - but never that black cat again.

The black cat must have been the previous sometimes cat. I’ve no idea when he or she lived in our house; it stood empty for three years before I even moved in. There were other cats briefly between the black cat and Tia, but I never saw them. I don’t think that they stayed long enough for the sometimes cat to absorb their cattiness.

After Tia, a champagne blue Burmese, Misty was grey and Luna is white. I’ve seen them all at one time or another, even though they weren’t there.

The sometimes cat can hardly be a shadow. Who’s ever heard of a grey shadow asleep by the bathroom door, or a dead Burmese sitting at the top of the stairs watching? I’ve almost tripped over Luna, our current cat, half a dozen times only to see her across the half-landing looking across at me - or if not me then watching something else.

The sometimes cat, a bit of a mystery. But, just because it isn’t there, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Say i...

iS iT just me or has the world gone iMad? Any word that is preceded by a lower case ‘i’ seems iMmediately to be surrounded by perceived designer sexiness, a gravitas that is in most cases undeserved, and an iNflated price tag. Of course it’s all the result of the iPhone, iPod, iPad frenzy that we have all been living with for a number of years. iCake, iFriend, iKitten, iHome, the list goes on. It seems that everything and anything can be ‘oomphed!’ with the simple addition of an ‘i’. What is it all about? There’s even a company called iEverything who sell… well, everything that is ‘i’.

Of course it’s just a marketing tool, a fad that will soon drop out of sight, a buzzword. That will eventually buzz off. Back in the eighties everything was labelled ‘Turbo’. You could buy Turbo Mops, Turbo Ghetto Blasters, even Turbo Beer. Following that the ‘in’ term was ‘injection’, also defined and shortened to an ‘i’, but this time after the word and not in front of it. Who can forget the XR3i (a car in case you’ve forgotten)? Which was at least understandable because the ‘i’ stood for injection which was something to do with fuel delivery I think. But it didn’t end there. I remember buying both a vacuum cleaner (HV2i) and a microwave (MVSi) that were also graced with an ‘i’ after their product number. What type of injection did they possess I wonder? Tetanus?

For a while it was all ‘R Us’. I guess it started with ‘Toys R Us’. But it was soon followed by ‘Phones R Us’. ‘Pizzas R Us’, ‘Tiles R Us’, ‘Bakers R Us’, there was even a surgery called ‘Doctors R Us’ (pronounced Ducters Er Uz) in Birmingham - where else?

Of course, for a short time everything was dot com (as in .com) and companies raced to change their livery, and in some cases rename their companies, to the all encompassing and very trendy ‘.com’. I remember the first time I passed an Iceland store just after they’d relabelled. It struck me odd at the time that a company selling frozen food should be so keen to be a .com company. Eventually though, as we all know, that particular .com bubble burst and companies rushed to disassociate themselves from the dot label.

What’s next once the iThing has lost its hutzpah I wonder? There’s always something trending, the next big thing, the latest fad, craze, gimmick (as it used to be called in the swinging/dodgy sixties). Maybe, with online enabled implants just around the corner, it will be not an ‘i’, but an eye. A real one.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Selfie with wooden mustache…

Well, I eventually gave in and just after Christmas I shaved away my facial hair. It didn’t take as long as I had expected and I didn’t even bother to stop midway and ‘selfie’ myself with an Adolph (a toothbrush moustache as sported by Adolph Hitler), or if you prefer a Charlie (a toothbrush moustache as sported by Charlie Chaplin).

‘Selfie’, (a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone). Where do these words come from? Mind you it is fairly descriptive and certainly buzzworthy (worthy of enthusiastic popular attention), even if it does make me squee (a noise primarily made by an over excited fan-girl) - hence this post.

Shaving off my hairbits (bits of facial hair) seems to have affected my diction though. My vocab (vocabulary: the words used by an individual to communicate with other individuals or groups of individuals) is all over the place. Perhaps I don’t get enough me time (the time a person has to himself or herself, in which to do something for his or her own enjoyment). Maybe a digital detox (a period of time in which an individual refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers to reduce perceived stress) is in order? I make no apols (apologies: abbreviation) though; there isn’t an emoji (a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communications) L that can express how words like twerk (an informal dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving hip movements and a low, squatting stance) make me twee (something that is sweet, almost to the point of being sickeningly so). They really make me want to vom (vomit: a shortening rather than an abbreviation)

Srsly (seriously: abbreviation usually used in txtspeak (the abbreviated words used when texting in order to shorten message length)), I’m not trying to pull anyone’s MPL (acronym: modular prosthetic limb) but currently it’s all a bit of an omnishambles (a situation that has been totally mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations). Perhaps I need a vacay (a holiday or vacation: a shortening, not an abbreviation).

So, putting last quarter's new word additions to the Oxford  English Dictionary to one side, no more mustache and no more gimp beard. Lucky I found myself a woodtache falsie (a wooden mustache).

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

If you're not on the list...

With the start of a New Year and spring just around the corner (yeah right) it feels like it’s time for a little spring cleaning. This year I am definitely going to sort it all out – declutter, detox, simplify, create some space. It’s time for some adjustment, a little fixing. Maybe even clarity.

Yes, clarity is the thing.

Of course you can find clarity if you are living inside a world where the white noise buzzes all around you and the interference clouds your view... and that brings me to Facebook.

Now I’m not sure that I’d rush up to anyone who had just told me that their cat had just been run over and shout “LIKE”, but it seems to be okay on FB. In the real world I’d rarely knock at my neighbour’s door with a plate of food and say: “Look at me dinner. Great isn’t it. Would you like to comment?” Generally I don’t look at photos of other people’s dogs sitting, running, sleeping, eating dinner, and/or wearing funny hats, or their holiday snaps, or pictures of their children sitting, running, sleeping, eating dinner, and/or wearing funny hats, or their new wallpaper, or their cats sitting, running, sleeping, eating dinner, and/or wearing funny hats, or their tropical fish doing absolutely bloody nothing.

So much white noise, too much interference, I need a little clarity.

And that brings me to friends and unfriending.

I have too many Facebook ‘friends’ and it seems to only add to all the noise. Of course the term ‘friend’ in this instance is tenuous, better maybe to call them people I have friended or who have friended me. Strange, a few years ago friended would have needed a ‘be’ in front of it to make it a word, but not any more.

It’s time for a cull.

Now normally I wouldn’t rush up to someone and shout ‘I’m not your friend any more’ (well I might, but not to everyone). But some of these friends are ghosts; some of them literally and others by their absence in the ether. I’ve struggled with the idea of severing all ties to these people (even the deceased ones) and after some thought have come up with unfriending criteria that allows me to keep a clear conscience.

1. The friend is dead
2. The friend hasn’t posted on Facebook for a year so might as well be dead.
3. The friend hasn’t commented on a single status or blog post I’ve posted for a year and I might as well be dead as far as they are concerned.
4. The friend has turned out to be a tit and should be dead.

Fortunately there are very few of the latter and if a friend meets any of the first three criteria they aren’t going to notice anyway. I’m taking it a day at a time, losing one friend a day to be sure that I give it some thought and don’t get carried away.

So here goes. Hello and goodbye. Maybe.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

It's black and white...

I was a little surprised to hear on the news last night that there are a whole bunch of people who still watch black and white televisions, more than 11,000 of them apparently. Where do they get them from and in this digital age just how do they get them to work?

Strangely, it seems to be more of a Northern thing with Bradford having 90 licences, Leeds 165, Sheffield 111, and an awful lot of the others North of the Watford Gap. Well, it is grim up North and maybe it suits that gritty Northern attitude. Of course it could be that Northerners are just canny (this translates as tight for you Southerners); a black and white license is just £49 compared to £145.50 for a colour one.

This difference struck me as disproportionate; after all it’s the same signal and programme, and when colour first came along in 1968 it was actually a ‘colour supplementary fee’ of just a fiver on top of the existing monochrome licence. Sound like a bargain? Not really, it doubled the licence fee from a fiver to a tenner, or around 150 quid in today’s money - so nothing much has changed.

Interestingly there’s been no BBC supplementary fee for high definition or 3D yet. Mind you the airwaves have changed such a lot since 405 lines with the digital switchover; Sky and Freeview, Pay for View, Catch-Up, Downloads, TV on demand, laptop, tablet, smartphone and made for internet only viewing. It’s so confusing and light years away from my old black and white, up-to-the-minute, eighteen-inch portable.

I’m not even sure if ‘proper’ television exists anymore, it probably won’t sometime in the next ten years or so. Of course the whole issue of the BBC charging a license fee is debatable; I wouldn’t want to lose radio 4, but the ‘no choice and/or get prosecuted’ stance of the BBC must surely change soon.

Let’s leave that one for now though.

It’s hard to believe that there was once a time when there was nothing on TV. No, really nothing – well except for the test card – and just two channels that didn’t start until late afternoon with Children’s Hour (apart from The Woodentops, Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben at lunchtime) and finished with the National Anthem long before midnight. Horizontal hold, vertical hold, valves and knobs, a good thump to sort it out and that little white dot that got smaller and smaller until eventually disappearing with a ‘pfft’ when you manually turned the set off because there was no such thing as a remote control.

Daytime TV? All the men were down t’pit and the women had t’step t’scrub and t’range t’polish.

I can’t remember the last time I watched a black and white only TV. A long time ago I guess, although there were still over 200,000 black and white licences issued in 2000. I do remember black and white fondly though, and I have to admit to shedding a sugar-coated, nostalgic tear for it sometimes. These days it isn’t easy to watch in black and white, and to be eligible for a mono license requires almost as much technology to ‘undo’ all the technological progress as watching in HD 3D colour with all the bells and whistles (or whatever the high-tech equivalent may be).

Of course there’s still the opportunity to watch black and white in colour sometimes and I still watch black and white films on television when they are on. It makes me feel a little sad for simpler times when there was a Radio Times for the BBC and a TV Times for ITV. Mind you, I also still listen to radio plays and there are no pictures at all with that – except in my head.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe black and white imagined colours are like the faces of the characters in those radio plays… whatever you want them to be.

How liberating.

Monday, 6 January 2014

New Year’s irresolution…

So that’s it, I lived through the between time and managed to come out the other side in one piece - or at least as close to one piece as a man with so many cracks and flaws can be.

The decorations are down, Christmas presents stowed away in cupboards and drawers, the cards chucked into the recycling bin and Christmas itself is fast becoming a memory to be stored under ‘O’ for ‘Okay’ and ‘Q’ for ‘Quiet’ which is a vast improvement on last year. It’s the sixth of January, the day that Christmas is officially over and the New Year can begin to wend its way towards… No, let’s not go there right now. We’ve only just got the last one over with.

2014. This year I shall… and with that my ink runs dry, my pencil point breaks, my computer freezes and the thoughts in my head turn to dust. This year I shall do what exactly? Just how do I make 2014 different from all the other years that have slipped away in a trickle of… actually I’m not really sure what the right word is – similarity maybe? That’s one of the things about living and growing older, days build upon days, experiences get repeated, and after a while it takes an awful lot to spot the difference.

Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing though. I can feel the old routines beginning to crank up and before I know it I’ll be thinking of sowing sweet pea seed and boring you all with tales of my backyard which will probably be exactly the same tales of my backyard as I recounted last year.

I am without doubt a creature of mind-numbingly repetitive habit. So much so that I might as well just repeat most of my posts from last year as this year progresses. There will be the same barbecue stories, pictures of the sky, weather reports, dredged up memories from a childhood that in many ways I’d rather forget, and flashes of incredible clarity – or at least that is how it will seem to me as I leave everyone else scratching their heads and looking puzzled.

Anyway – bring it on! Let 2014 begin!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Back bach…

So what did I learn from my sojourn in Wales? Well, Wales (as I have suspected before) probably isn’t the best place to spend the ‘between’. Even as New Year arrived I was long asleep in my bed, the wind outside howling. Strange weather again - one minute blue skies and the hope of a break, the next the wind back and bringing horizontal rain. Scuddy I might have called it once and ventured out. These days it frightens me a little, maybe more than a little, so I stay indoors and think and scribble.

It isn’t the fallen trees or the fact that the electricity keeps cutting. I can live with the mud and the blown away flower pots, the jangle of breaking glass in the distance, the fact that no birds - apart from the crows wind-sweeping in the gusts - seem to want to venture out. It isn’t the fact that the mountain I can see from my bedroom window is there one minute, then gone the next in a blur of blow and a thrash of water against the glass. No, it isn’t that. It’s me and how easily I fall into listless nothingness, convincing myself that staying in bed until ten and going to bed before nine is okay, good for me even.

I tell myself that it’s all just part of the cycle. A time to be got through before the ‘new’ can begin. But I’ve been here so many times before and what exactly did that ‘new’ bring? It’s probably me; hope, unfortunately, does not spring eternal in my breast. I try, but it’s so bloody difficult this time of year and I know, despite intentions and my best resolution, that little if anything will actually change.

Off course there are those that believe that these things (so many t’s) are in their own hands and that all things happen for a reason. Poor fools, how disappointed they will become unless of course they comfort themselves with that oldest of lies: ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ To quote an old friend of mine, the one that makes me think: “Life is chance; it’s all chance, random, random chance, whatever you may think it’s just going to happen. Resolutions and good intention won’t stop you getting bitten by the stray dog, won’t protect you from cancer, it won’t even stop your car from needing a new gear box when your bank account is empty. There is no karma, no kismet, no plan, and God isn’t working: least of all in mysterious ways. It’s just random chance, so suck it up.”

I lie listening to the wild Welsh wind and wonder and wonder (so many w’s). Hoping that he’s wrong but I don’t think he is. Life is like the weather here; the blustering wind blowing this pot over but leaving another, a single gust toppling the big cast iron chiminea (which I can barely drag) but not the chair by its side, the rain pounding at the front of the cottage, but only a light smatter just a skip over the roof at the back.

Random - best suck it up and wait for some sunshine I guess.