Thursday, 7 April 2016

Life Thru A Lenz

The other day I walked into my living room, stared at the woman sitting there and said; "Who are you?"

Well, not quite - but I might as well have because it's got to the point that I don't recognize Herself unless her face is lit by the glow of cat videos screening on her mobile phone.

It's often the case that we will put on a film to watch and we might as well be in separate rooms.  

I am only marginally better - switching on my portable computer pad maybe 3-4 times during a film and more if its a programme that is only just holding my interest.

Sometimes I wonder how we got from a world where a telephone was a big lump of plastic sitting in a booth three streets away to one where you can't walk down a street without having to jump out of the way of someone who is avidly reading something on their screen, where it's somehow ok to have a phone in your pocket that costs £800 plus whilst people starve and go without water.

I regularly travel for up to three-four hours a day to work, sat on a train with a bunch of other people.  During my time i generally have a go at the free newspaper's crossword (that I only ever seem able to finish on a Thursday) and listen to music or a radio podcast on my phone.  I rarely look at the screen itself unless to check a text.

But I am the odd one out - 90% of the rest of the train are glued to the latest game/episode of some programme/youtube video.

And it's not just on the street or on the train - it's everywhere.  The people of the 21st century seem to have developed an almost insatiable need to be constantly entertained and it's a very real possibility that our attention span is suffering.

Just recently I went to a concert at a local venue.  It was the first big concert i'd been to for nearly 3 years.  Back when I first started going to gigs, before you needed a second mortgage to buy tickets, everyone was stopped and searched at the entrance and cameras taken away - something that is now impossible as everyone has a camera in their pockets.

And all through the gig there were people holding up their cameras; recording the gig, recording themselves - posting it on youtube or facebook...and it has to be said that the image and sound quality is amazing: almost professional standard and yet recorded on a phone.

But hang on a minute: there's a problem here.  It seems that it's not enough to go to something and enjoy it - for it to actually have happened you have to record it, share it on social media and have your "friends" like it

But are we, I wonder, losing our ability to live in the moment; to enjoy what we are doing right here, right now.

Do yourself a favour: put your phone/tablet away the next time you go somewhere or watch something: try and enjoy the world for what it is

Unless there's a video of cats available, obviously!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With

There's been a lot in the news recently about public tests of driverless cars - and indeed during the summer there will be a series of small busses in London that will run interested tourists from point a to point b: albiet with a human ready to leap into the controls if something should go wrong.

It's also a fact that planes haven't really needed pilots for 30 years now and warfare is moving towards smaller and smaller planes controlled remotely - and surely passenger planes won't be far behind.

This leads on, albiet tangentally, from news this week that a successor to Deep Blue has beaten a human in a game of Go! - which I have never played but am led to believe has more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe.

And I'm not sure if my cynicism is down to my age or to a genuine concern - for as the late, great Douglas Adams wrote: anything invented before you are born is in the natural order of things, anything invented between birth and around 35 years old is a new and exciting gadget: anything much after that is Against God And Must Be Stopped - but I do worry.

This all started from a comment I heard online recently that made me totally re-think one of my all-time favourite films.

Because when you come right down to it: R2-D2 and C-3PO are slaves

Yep - you read that right: and they're not the only ones in the Star Wars universe either - Anakin's mother is a slave, Leia is sold into slavery...

But the big difference is that everyone goes about acting like it's ok that the two robots have personalities, clearly react with emotions, are treated like friends - and yet are subject to have their memories wiped without a second thought and to be bought and sold at the drop of a hat.

OK, I hear you cry - but they are merely "programmed" to behave like they have personalities: they're really just clever robots right - it's not like anyone can actually prove they have consciousness...

Ah but can YOU really prove that YOU have consciousness?  I mean, really prove it?

Often quoted in Science Fiction are Asimov's three rules:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, cause a human to come to harm
2) A robot must obey a human order at all times, unless the order conflicts with the first rule
3) A robot must protect its existence unless doing so conflicts with the first two rules

And right there you have a recipe for slavery because these rules mean that in certain situations a robot has no free will.

This may sound far-fetched and fanciful, but there are many serious scientists that are worried about a Terminator style rise of the robots, including Stephen Hawking who has gone on record to say that the computer that provides his voice is now so clever that it is at the point where it can speak INSTEAD of him instead of FOR him.  There are programs out there that can carry your twitter feed on for you after you are dead by studying your previous posts and pretty soon a whole load of jobs are going to be no longer required as robots get ever more complicated.

Of course this has already happened to a small extent - with robots replacing workers on the shop floor in many factories - but now computers are being programmed to predict stock market trends, to create works of art or write plays (admittedly not very good ones yet...)

Look how far we have come in our own lifetimes - in 1960 James T Kirk being handed a small computer pad to sign a work order was thought of as science fiction, now everyone has one in their pocket.

So the big question is - say we make a robot that is so intelligent it is indistinguishable from, or  actually has, consciousness?  No doubt the scientists and programmers around the world who have been working towards that very thing will slap themselves on the back and tell each other how clever they are...

But at that very moment - the first moment that one of those robots is used or sold we may be guilty of creating a new slave race.  Should we, even now, be asking ourselves what rights these robots will have, how they should be treated, whether they can vote, marry, earn a wage with which to buy lubricants for their hinges?

Let's face it - in unpteen thousand years of evolution and what we laughingly call society we have never even managed to get human rights correct, let alone android ones

And meanwhile have pity for R2-D2 and C-3PO cast to the side of future Star Wars plots and ask yourself whether they have been treated entirely fairly

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Classic Pop Ballads (The 14 Most Beautiful Popsongs)

I know right?  Sounds promising doesn't it?

At least that's what I was thinking as I idly flicked through the Alto Sax music books and spotted this one.  I'd only come in for some new reeds: having bought a pack of ten from the internet at a price that had turned out to be a little too good to be true; but as we know - you can't just go into a specialist shop, buy the thing you came in for and go out, oh no: you have to see what else they might have.

And it's not that I was looking particularly with any hope: I've already got enough music books to start my own lending library and it's getting harder and harder to find one with tunes that I don't already have: but here I was, all the same, in the music book isle, you know...just in case...

14 Most Beautiful Popsongs eh, I thought: musing to myself.  It wasn't a publisher that I was previously familiar with and I'd been burned once before by a New Publisher I Didn't Know (the "tutorial track" turning out to be a bad keyboard zylophone sound that set your teeth on edge the way ice cream can sometimes do if eaten too quickly) and am more careful these days. 

My preferred type of book is the one that comes with a CD, or sometimes two CDs.  Usually CD one contains the "tutorial" track for you to play along to and a sax-free CD that allows you to go out into an unsuspecting world and make loud blarts and squeaky noises at passers by in random attempts to approach a tune.  This one was slightly different, in as much as, along with the aforementioned CD, it came with a pull out section of piano music (for those of you out there with a friend/relation/partner who is willing to play along with you)

14 Most Beautiful Popsongs: right then, I thought: let's have a look.  OK first track - "Fields Of Gold", ah yes: the Sting track oft covered by Eva Cassidy and the like.  Fair enough, that's a really nice tune.

Father And Son.  Yep, that's a nice tune - good ole Cat Stevens, I thought: mentally adding "or whatever he's calling himself these days"

You've Got A Friend.  Ah yes, lovely stuff.  Carole King/James Taylor.  Lovely stuff.

I Shot The Sherriff....

Wait a minute, back up there - I Shot The Sherriff????

In what universe is that a) a ballad or b) beautiful?  Arguably you could say that if you took the word ballad to mean "minstrels wondering around Merrie England randomly jumping out and singing tales of bravery at innocent passers by" then I guess it could pass that test - but beautiful??  It's a great song, don't get me wrong - but I doubt any one ever put it on their stereo as they watched their boyfriend/girlfriend/pet frog walk away for the final time and sang along with a glistening tear in their eye

And therein lies the problem with music books of this ilk: or at least one of the problems.

Problem The Firste: The Song That No Sane Person Will Ever, Ever Play On (Insert instrument of choice here)

For every book you buy there are always around three, four or even as many as five of the songs that you actually bought the book for; two or three that you can kinda live with and may attempt one day and at least three songs that make you wonder about the sanity of the person who put them on there.

Just at a random flick through my Saxophone books I found: Yellow (Coldplay), Theme From "Friends", A Spaceman Came Travelling (Chris De Burgh) and Reach (S Club 7) - and I'm sure if I tried I could find much worse (there is a whole Sax book dedicated to the songs of Adele)

Problem The Seconde: The Repetition

And this is the big problem with these books - there's a hell of a lot of the same tunes, with the same backing, spread across different ones.  As you start to build up a collection it gets harder and harder to avoid buying the same song two, three or even four times in order to get the One New Song you were after.

Problem The Thirde: The Wrong Key

OK so you're a publisher of Popular Music Playalongs, right?  And there's a big audience for this in a variety of different instruments, ok?  But you want to save some money? And paying backing bands to play the tunes can be costly, true?

And so of course the obvious decision is to issue the same songs with the same backing you recorded but with the words "for Flute", "for Flugelhorn" or even "for Yodellers" (bound to be a market for it somewhere) - only to alter the notation of the music for said instrument...

Which inevitably means that the music you've just bought may not actually be in the best key for you to play on your particular instrument - the result of which is saxophonists all over the globe blowing their lower intestines out of their noses as they try to hit that high F sharp

Problem The Fourthe: The Akwardly Timed Page Turn

Anyone who's ever played or sang with a band using music will be aware of this one: because sooner or later you will have to turn the page when both your hands are engaged in producing a note.  For some songs a good response to this is to learn the first few bars of the next page, or to photocopy the additional page and have it laid out next to the rest of the song on your stand (I recommend a small piece of bluetack or a clothes peg on the stand to stop it falling off at an inopportune moment)

The answer, of course, is simple: create a website where players can pick and chose the songs they actually want and will play and print bespoke music books especially for them - even if it came at an additional cost I would cheerfully buy such a book - but with this there is another problem

Problem The Fifthe: Copyright

Which usually means that a lot of the songs you want to play, and seem obviously to suit your instrument, simply don't seem to exist.  For instance: a while ago I bought a Rat Pack Sax book and it had some pretty good songs: but what it didn't have was Strangers In The Night or New York, New York - both of which you'd expect to be there right?

Problem The Sixthe: There Always Has To Be An Extra Problem In My List-O-Fives

And how long is it since I did one of those, right?

Still: on the whole they're pretty good books and looking through my "14 Most Beautiful Popsongs" I was, on the whole, pretty pleased.

But don't even get me started on why Hotel California was in there too...

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Fifty Shades Of Crepe

I'm going to start this post by saying something that I never thought I would say.

Michael Grade was right.

There: I've said it.  No doubt even now thousands of Doctor Who fans around the world are stampeding their way to my door, replete with tar, feathers, kindling and matches (and possibly a 14 foot wooly scarf to hang me with): but before the lynch party gets into full swing let's backtrack slightly...

The year is 1989.  Michael Grade, son of legendary TV Magnate Lew (responsible for commissioning Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlett and almost anything that was any good on ITV during the 70s) is Director General of the BBC.  Michael is cutting away at the dead wood of programming; taking anything he deems as too expensive or not sufficiently ratings worthy and removing it from the air.

He is not a fan of Science Fiction.

He takes a look at Doctor Who - a programme that at it's apex was drawing in 14 million viewers a week and decides it is dated, costly and at only 5 and a bit million viewers on a Wednesday (a rating that people would kill for on a Saturday evening these days, let alone midweek) is a ratings failure.

He starts by suspending the programme for 18 months and sacking the then incumbent Doctor, Colin Baker. He moves it to the aforementioned midweek slot and then - a mere three years later - cancels the show.

At the time I was up in arms.  Michael Grade is wrong, I said; all it needs is a better budget, I said.  Well: I was wrong.

And here is the reason.

At the start of the 90s there was a sudden influx from the States of expensively made programming: gone was the cheerful naff-ness of Airwolf, The A Team and (yes) Knight Rider and in their place was Star Trek: The Next Generation (and it's multitude of spin-offs), The X Files.  Even Quantum Leap somehow managed to look like it had a bigger budget.  The programme simply couldn't compete.  Taking it off air, waiting for special effects to come down in price and re-vamping it was entirely the right thing to do (and by the way both David Tennant and now Peter Capaldi's Doctors are well worth 45 minutes of anyone's time)

But then a strange thing happened.  A little known business, owned by a bearded entrepeneur (OK ok, it was Virgin) got hold of the rights to publish a range of new, standalone novels that carried on from where the series had left off.  The Virgin New Adventure (and later Missing Adventure) novels came into being

And with that came an offer from their Editor: submit your stories, we will read them and by God we may even publish them (....but probably not)

I even had a go myself...and ok yes, looking back my idea was derivative, cliched and not very well written.  I got a very kind note back saying that the Doctor should "never use time travel to solve a problem in the present by going back into the past" (and I wish I'd kept that so I could send a copy to the current series producers who do precisely that at least once a season)

If I'm honest: the New Adventures were a bit of a mixed bag.  There were one or two really good ones (Human Nature was later made into a 2-part story for David Tennant and I still think that Nighshade by Marc Gatis was excellent) but the reality is that far too many of them fell into the trap of what we call (shiver) Fan Fiction

All of  a sudden The Doctor would be trundling around the TARDIS listening to The Stone Roses because that happened to be the writer's favourite band, characters would be behaving in different ways and so forth...and there was a lot of So Forth going on as well, if you get my meaning (not with The Doctor, I hasten to add - a character who, to date, has managed to avoid any So and veered away entirely from Forth)

And this, really, is the crux of my post today - what is this obsession with sex that fans of TV shows and books seem to have.

Some time ago I fleetingly had a really interesting idea as to how you could take Sit-com The Big Bang Theory in a new direction and thought about submitting a story to an online site (knowing there would be no realistic way of me submitting a script without moving to America and living there for many years)

But every story seemed to be about Penny hooking up with Sheldon, or Howard hooking up with Shelton or....well, you get the point: it was all stormy love affairs and tears galore and anyone would be forgiven for wondering if the original show was actually a Sit Com or not.

This problem is particularly replete in Sci Fi - there are a thousand and one stories about Kirk/Spock/Bondage/Fluffy Dice (ok probably not the latter) and, as George Takei himself would say - oh my!

Fifty Shades Of Grey started out as fan fiction about an insipid vampire with sunblock issues and his death-obsessed mopey goth girlfriend (and if the Dr Who fans aren't already on their way then surely the Twilight fans are now beating a track to my door) - and went on to be a publishing phenomenon.

As an Englishman I find this all a bit unneccessary...for as you know we Brits have servants to do That Sort Of Thing for us...but honestly...

All this started the other day when, on a train, I happened to see someone's laptop screen between the backs of the chairs in front of me and realised that the owner was writing a novel.  Good for her, I thought - for she was indeed a she...and then I saw the words Yellow Brick Road being bandied about on the page and realised that she must be writing Oz Fan Fiction (a thing I had never previously thought could exist)

I only hope there's no sex in that one - for the love of Oz, just think of poor Toto!

Friday, 5 February 2016

No One Survives The Bear Apocalypse

I went to the toilet recently.

Not the most inspiring of starts to a post, I know - but this wasn't just any old toilet: it was a toilet on a train.

Trying to negotiate your way down the corridor, then around the array of buttons that open, close and lock the door - let alone the half-hour dilemma previously as to whether you can make it to your stop or failing which whether you can a) trust the other people on the train sufficiently to leave your bag, hat or coat on the overhead rack, b) to leave your seat empty for your return- are bad enough without the toilet suddenly talking to you.

This one was on a train owned and run by a certain British bearded business mogul originally known for his record company, then later for his music shops, condoms, hot-air balloons, trains and space rockets - not directly run, you understand: I'm not suggesting he was sitting on the driver's plate pulling the whistle chord: oh no - just run by him in the sense that somewhere along time ago in an office far, far away he had waved his hand and trains had come into being.

Anyway: back to the toilet that talked.  This one was very friendly, talking in a gentle female voice about how happy the company was that I had chosen to patronize their toilets (in fact I wasn't even so much as slightly sarcastic, but that's another story...) and hoped that I would refrain from flushing paper bags, nappies, sanitary towels, scarves, jumpers and finally hopes, dreams and goldfish down the toilet.

For a moment I assumed I had imagined the entire escapade and could well have come to question my sanity if it wasn't for the handy invention of YouTube that enabled me, upon returning home, to establish that I wasn't the only person to whom this had happened.

But, being me, it got me thinking.  Not so much about talking toilets, but about dreams and their fragility.

Let's face it: we all have dreams - both the kind that happen during the night and the kind that we aspire to happening - and both are as easy to lose hold of.  Most of mine, at least the ones I remember, are anxiety dreams - the kind where you are trying to get back to your car, but it's not where you left it or you are not where you left you.  Once I dreampt that a famous radio star moved my house.  I've often meant to have words with him about that.

I can remember being told at school that if you didn't wake up in time from a dream where you were falling then you would die.  At the time it never occurred to me to question: how could anyone possibly know?  I mean - presumably the people who hadn't woken in time hadn't survived to tell the story right?

Then there's the other kind of dream - the one we hope one day will come true.  Think back to your own childhood.  I doubt that there has ever been a child who, when questioned about their future, replied that when they grew up they wanted to do a hard-to-define white collar job that sort of paid ok but actually, at the end of the day, wasn't particularly hard and a tiny bit dull: oh no - they wanted to be a train driver, a space pirate.  I wanted to be a policeman, or a photographer like my dad, but instead have sort-of bumbled from position to position with no particular plan of where I was going (and been perfectly happy doing so on the whole)

As we get older though, or dreams tend to get smaller: slipping away between our fingers unless we are careful. The day-to-day activities get in the way and suddenly the days have flown past.  That's not to say that some of those dreams can't come true.  I mean: it's unlikely now that I will ever become a famous writer, artist or musician - but that doesn't stop me getting published, maybe selling a few paintings and putting some tracks down.

But what, exactly, is wrong with small dreams?  When you look back at a life it's often the small, almost unnoticed, steps that brought you to where you are and it's the small steps that will take you forward - not the giant leaps (unless you're Neil Armstrong clearly): the important thing is to take those steps and not be afraid of where they might lead - to leave yourself open to the opportunity that if you take those small steps then somewhere down the line some of your dreams may just come true.

On a final note I was dozing lightly at work a few days ago: not at my desk, but in a small break out area where I sometimes go at lunch.  I was in that state between sleep and wakefulness: where you're not quite asleep but fragments of dreams slip into your head like a breath of wind blowing under the door as it moves on by - never equating to much but just offering glimpses of what may lie behind those heavy oaken doors.

And one of those little slices left me with nothing more than a sentence - meaning nothing on it's own and leaving no clue as to it's relevance: no one survives the bear apocalypse.

Which is true enough I guess.  After all, we all know the saying:  Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Except bears: bears will kill you

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Life On Mars?

There's quite a bit on TV for me at the moment.

TV Broadcasting goes in phases: there are certain times of year when everything seems to be on, and then all of a sudden (and in the erudite words of Roger Waters) there's thirteen channels of s*&t to choose from.

At the moment as a sci fi and comics fan I'm very much enjoying Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., produced by the geinus-that-is Joss Whedon that after a dodgy first season has really found its feet.

Also as someone who likes drama I see that Suits is returning for another season in February - admittedly I'm starting to tire of this one as the central premise (he's not really qualified as a lawyer) gets further and further stretched into absurdity.

And as someone who likes to laugh Dave Gorman's powerpoint centric show "Modern Life Is Goodish" is currently on nightly repeats, meaning that I can get a chance to watch the episodes that I previously missed (Dave is a UK comedian who may not be well known in the States, but his main joke is that he spends a lot of time on the internet looking into various things that catch his attention and then creates a powerpoint show around them - a recent show had him sending off a photo to a lookalike agency so that he could become his own lookalike...for reasons that made a lot more sense when watching the show)

Then there is Gotham.  Gotham is currently my favourite thing on telly.  It tells the story of Jim Gordon, a young and idealistic cop who wants to rid the city of Gotham from corruption but finds himself dealing with the rise of villains like The Penguin in the days before Bruce Wayne was old enough to start wearing black body armour.

It's nicely dark and the plots are engaging - and the performances of Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin and Cory Michael Smith as the troubled Edward Nygma/Riddler are spot on

But bloody hell it's violent.

Last episode the inmates of Arkham Asylum broke out and dropped seven people off a roof just to spell out a word using dead bodies - not people you'd want to challenge to a game of Scrabble.

And without wanting to sound prudish: it does worry me.

Thinking back to my childhood there was a programme called The Young Ones.  It was an anarchic sit-com about four students that everyone at school watched, despite the fact that we were all technically too young to be doing so.  Our collective memory of it at the time was that it was full of swearing and violence (in a kind of slapstick/cartoon/hitting people with a frying pan way), leading to a whole generation of school kids doing impressions of Rik, Neil and Vyvian (but oddly not Mike) in the playground.

Looking back at it now it all looks tame, dated and ever-so-slightly embarrassing in it's right-on ways...because of course you can get away with so much more now.

And therein lies the problem: what shocks the audience of today will not shock them tomorrow.  It's a central theme of the movie Jurrassic World (not that this is full of swiftian insight - it isn't: it's the best part of three hours of riding around on motorbikes surrounded by dinosaurs) - that the public visiting the park are starting to dwindle because seeing live dinosaurs is no longer a novelty: and so in order to keep figures up the scientists start experimenting with hybrids to bring bigger and better thrills.

When John Lydon (The Sex Pistols) sat and said swearword after swearword to the BBC reporter (who ended up losing his career) it was considered to be the end of society as we knew it (even though Lydon looked intensely embarrassed doing it - as if aware that he looked like a sulky 10 year old) - nowadays late night comedy shows go out with F words unbleeped and no one raises an eyebrow.

When Alien was first shown in cinemas people were reportedly crawling up the aisles to get out before they could be sick - but when I went to see a rescreening of The Exorcist people were laughing during the famous head-turning sequence that had previously sent them screaming.

Not that Gotham is doing anything new: there's six new episodes of The X Files due to air soon to remind us that TV horror has been around since the 90s (if not before)

And the same is true of the news - we constantly find newsreaders saying, "some viewers may be distressed by these images..." and yet they show them because they know that if they don't then someone else will - and then the other side will get the ratings win.

But I do wonder where it will all end - if we have to keep pushing more buttons with each passing year to get the same reaction: where does that road lead to.

Perhaps it leads back to Gotham and the reason that I titled this post Life On Mars.

The other week I turned over to watch the latest episode of Gotham and accidentally caught the last few seconds of Celebrity Big Brother - a programme that i would rather sell my brain to a passing cannibal than watch.  This was the week that David Bowie died and the news was full of his passing.
As it happened Angie Bowie (David's first wife) was one of the "celebrities" (thus extending the definition of celebrity to include "once married to someone famous") and the moment I happened to capture was when she was given the news over the tannoy.

Now I have to clarify here that since it was broadcast I've heard that she had been previously told off camera and had been given the choice as to whether to go back on camera - but quite frankly I don't think that makes it any more acceptable.  I can completely understand that sometimes on the news it is necessary to show someone's grief or reaction to a tradgedy - but for the purposes of light entertainment?

Really - we should just go back to feeding people to the lions.  It's not as if we've progressed much, is it?

Anyway - on a lighter note: here's a small tribute to David Bowie.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Future Isn't What It Used To Be - And I'm Not That Thrilled With The Present(s)

It's fair to say that, by and large, Science Fiction has totally lied to us about what the future held for us.  We were promised flying cars and hover boards by 2015 (Back To The Future), humanoid robots to do all our dirty work for us by 2019 (Blade Runner among others) and all sorts of gadgets like portable devices we could be handed to sign off work wait, Star Trek actually did predict that one.

But the one thing I think we can all guarantee in the not so distant personal future is that moment on Christmas Day when we receive a well intentioned gift and we smile cheerfully in the hope that INSERT BELOVED RELATIVE HERE won't notice as the words "Charity Shop" flash across our brains.  Typical such presents include:

#1: The Tacky Thing

The tacky thing varies from person to person but must consist of one or all of the following: 1 - ceramic oddly shaped serving bowl that due to it's depiction of cheerful reindeer can only be brought out a) at Christmas and b) when not serving venison.  2 - Festive attire: either a jumper, scarf, hat or tie that has pictures of Christmas and, preferably, plays "jingle bells" at a note on the chromatic scale that had previously been undiscovered.

#2: The Pot Plant

Now this is a tricky one, because unlike The Tacky Thing which has clearly been bought either a) by someone who doesn't really know you or b) is trying to foist their own Christmas fixation onto you - the pot plant person has decided that a plant will Cheer A House Up and add some much needed greenery.  But despite all their well meant intentions what they have given you is not so much a present as a problem.

Plants don't traditionally do well for me - I have been known to kill off supposedly indestructible plants by mere dint of a) placing them in the wrong degree of sunlight or b) just plain forgetting to water them/stop watering them at the right times.  The one exception to this at time of writing is a pot plant I bought home from the office when we moved to another site - it had survived routinely being forgotten about there and so has thrived on the same basis ever since (the plant is called Florence by the way - for reasons that are unclear to me now)

#3: The Lottery Ticket

We've all done it - forgotten about someone and, at the last minute, gone out and bought them a lottery ticket in the hope that they will a) win the lottery and b) not forget their kind relative/friend when they do and quietly slide a Mercedes or two in our direction - but the chances are extremely high that what you have just given to this person, a person you presumably care enough about to buy them something, a worthless piece of paper.  And should it turn out that you have actually bought them some winning numbers you will, of course, kick yourself for all eternity that you didn't keep it for yourself when you get that postcard from Barbados

#4: The Thing With Cats On It

A few years ago you went out and, on a whim, bought an amusing thing with a cat on (or insert whatever thing it actually was).  People came to visit and remarked on it and you said, in a generalistic way, that yes indeed: you had a passing fondness for cats: and now of course everyone buys you cat trinkets and somehow you are a collector of such things who rues the day you ever passed the shop where you bought that first item that led to your house being festooned with cats playing banjos, cats smoking cigars over a game of cards, cat toilet roll holders - because everyone who knows you knows you are a cat person despite the amount of protestations that actually you'd rather have anything else but another porcelain figurine of a cat ballerina

#5: The "Hilarious" Calendar

I never buy a calendar until January.  Not only can you get it for half the price even though you've only lost about five days of useage but you can always guarantee that at least three well meaning relatives and/or friends will buy you one - one that you will not like but will inevitably be stuck with.  Last year's calendar pretty much sets the bar for these - it was a collection of satirical newspaper "cartoons" from a newspaper I never read about articles that had been in the news the previous year!!!!!

I would say that I have never, in my entire life, seen a funny political cartoon in a Newspaper, but that would be a lie as I have seen precisely one: a cartoon of George Bush and Tony Blair as Laurel & Hardy and even that only raised a faint smile.

#6: Socks

There's a curious curve in the diagram of sock appreciation.  If you get given a pair of socks as a kid then you have probably been bad or something and will spend the rest of the day grumping and complaining that at least they could have been fitted with bluetooth - whereas as you get older socks become an increasingly attractive present to replace the other pairs that somehow never seem to be to hand when you need them (or to foot for that matter)

#7: Adopting An Animal For Someone

Actually quite a good idea in some ways, because it's charitable and it helps the animal - but at the end of the day you never actually get to enjoy the animal itself (and even if you did it would probably destroy your house and eat your cat) - but the weird thing is that part of adopting your animal is that you get letters and photos "from" the animal telling you how well it is doing and encouraging you to donate more - it's sort of charity by proxy: the recipient hasn't actually lifted a finger to help Save The Whelk (a struggling creature now that more people are flying than travelling by sea) but gets to feel good about themselves nonetheless

I'm sure there's plenty more of these presents of this ilk, perhaps you would like to add a few yourself?  Well, anyway have a good one and meanwhile here's a little present from me: