Friday, 30 March 2012

Keep Calm And Carry On (or run for the hills...whichever)

It used to be said of us Brits that the one thing you could rely on us for (aside from either sounding like cockneys gawd luvva duck, plummy BBC presenters, carrying umbrellas and demanding cups of tea) was that we kept a level head.

Napoleon went so far as to describe us as "a nation of shopkeepers", dull and unimaginative in our plodding ways (although I would go so far as to argue that today we are more a nation of shop assistants)

But it seems to me that those old days of women standing in the kitchen stoically carrying on when the rest of their house has fallen down, buttering jammie dodgers for the party of people who were expected - are long gone.

I say this because today the news reports have been full of panic buying of fuel because of the distant threat of a possible petrol delivery strike.  Some pumps are already running dry, the news reporters are yelling at us every five minutes, questions need to be asked in the Houses of Parliament - how can we avoid this crisis!!!!

But hang on a second...

Is there actually a strike?  No
Has one even been agreed?  No
Has the delivery of fuel been in any way, shape or form delayed?  Absolutely not.

So why then are people rushing to the car, determined to squeeze in every last drop of petrol as if a meteor is just seconds away from squashing Barrow In Furness and they need to put a hundred miles between themselves and the EMP that must surely follow.

Back in the year 2000, when there actually WAS a strike we saw the same levels of panic buying - people fueling up their cars, their partner's cars, their kiddie's pedal cars...

Petrol stations across the nation ran dry, people had to queue and pay exorbitant prices for what little fuel there was - but here's the thing: even in that strike there was never actually any stoppage of the delivery of fuel to those pumps - the only thing that caused them to run dry was the unexpected high demand.

How responsible then, are we, for creating a crisis that does not exist?  Are these things on the rise?

Well, it's hard to know really.  Certainly perception has changed.  We allow ourselves to believe that the modern riots and problems of last summer are as a breakdown of society, a loss of care for our neighbors - but the fact remains that murder, theft and looting were never higher than in the opportunistic thefts of the blackouts of World War II.

So what has changed?  If our attitude to a crisis has been modified, or not, then what is the root cause?

Certainly one thing that HAS changed is Media coverage - the rise of mobile phones with cameras and constant media coverage leaping on any hint of news has meant that we stir ourselves into a frenzy of believing that our world is constantly in turmoil.

And the only thing I can say is - calm down dears.  If there is a strike (which seems unlikely) then I'm sure that most of you out there can wait a few days to fuel up your cars without setting fire to the neighborhood and going on the rampage.  Try public transport.  Get on a bike.  Avoid unnecessary travel

And most importantly - grow up and be sensible.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Castles Made Of Sand

Once upon a time there were three little pigs.

I guess most of us reading the above can fill in the blanks for themselves: you all know how the story goes.  A wolf comes along, tries to get some dinner and ends up in the pot himself. Along the way the three little pigs run into a variety of problems with building regulations and planning.

But on another level entirely you can take the story as an allegory of the worlds that we build for ourselves: and the walls that we surround ourselves with.  These walls are built from our own private truths, our experiences and our requirements in life.

It's only when life tests those walls that we find out how sturdy we are, how flexible we are to adapt and to change.  It's in those moments, when the world is falling around our feet that we can chose to enforce our walls, make them thicker and protect ourselves from the world outside - or to step outside and face the danger and take what comes.

In the story the pigs chose to build those walls ever stronger - but by doing so they ran the risk of isolating themselves from the world outside.  Did they even try negotiating with the wolf?  Did they talk about their problems?

Pink Floyd touched on what i'm trying to say here on The Wall album - effectively the story of a man who becomes so trapped in his own private world that he can no longer communicate with those around him.

Sometimes being British is a pain: we have this traditional thing going back generations that when trouble comes along we bury our heads in the sand and keep going: refusing to admit our inner feelings, even to ourselves.  It's in those moments that the lines are drawn in the sand: lines that become harder and harder to erase.

These are the lines that sometimes you don't even realize are there until its too late - perceptions that are formed around the "truth" of our own experience, of our beliefs and needs.  But what is truth?  As the old Jedi master once said "You're going to find that most of the truths you cling to depend largely on your own point of view"

So next time you're faced with a crisis, and before you start shoring up your walls and drawing those lines in the sand: take a step back - and keep talking.

For its in the silence when the lines are drawn the deepest

Friday, 16 March 2012

An Actors Life For Me?

It's no wonder that all actors are as mad as a particularly mad bucket of frogs when you think about it.

I mean first off - their chosen profession is to put on a load of silly clothes and pretend to be someone else for two hours every evening.  That's bound to send you doolally.

Add to that the fact that about 80% of actors are out of work at any given time and meet so many new people that they are forced to refer to everyone they meet as "love" to cover the social embarrassment of never remembering anyone's names...

And that's just when they're treading the boards - you wait until you get one that goes from theatre into TV or cinema.  Even though both have been around for a good hundred years there must be a special "Disdain" class reserved in the halls of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) for mass entertainment, as every actor who ever makes in on the screen inevitably yearns for the "real work" of the stage, where they forever take part in obscure plays by Ibsen that are dull but worthy - rather than the popularist claptrap they take on to pay their way

Also - there's the knife edge of success.  Because in any other job you pretty much want what you are doing to be a success - and it's only in acting that if what you are doing is so much of a success that you become associated with that role when you will suddenly find yourself either type-cast or never working again: forever trotting out the same tired catchphrase, like "I shall return..." - or something that a US Governor once said that was very similar to that at any rate

And always assuming that you DO make it big and DO Become so successful that the mere mention of your name turns people's legs into jelly and the paparazzi hang around your bins trying to find out what type of chewing gum you eat: surely that kind of day to day adoration must buy you a one way ticket on the train to Loopeyville, via Insane Town and a quick visit for a trampoline session on Oprah's settee whilst you're at it.

And then, of course, the rules of who can be famous keep changing every five seconds.  Take George Formby (no, seriously - take him.  We've seen his films enough times and the Albanians have moved on to Norman Wisdom) - in his day he was a major star, but if he appeared on The X Factor with his Banjolele singing about his stick of Blackpool Rock today - well, Simon Cowell would tell him he didn't look beautiful enough to be a recording artist and send him packing.  THEN who would star in daft propaganda films where the hero gets mistaken for a soldier and changes the face of the Gulf War?  Susan Boyle?? We think not!

If I ever got famous, which seems increasingly unlikely, I intend to hire a "No" Man (or woman) - someone who I'm unable to sack and who's job it is every time I start getting a bit poncy and full of myself to give me a stern talking to and tell me not to be such an arse.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Tuesday Quiz Revisited

Some time ago, back in the old days when I worked with Argent we used to have something called the Tuesday Quiz

Every week someone from the pool would set a series of questions and send them out.  The rules for participation were very simple:

1) The questions had to be based on things you already knew
2) No sneakily looking up answers on the internet – you either knew the answers or you didn’t
3) Questions could be on any subject and the decision of the quiz setter was final.
4) That said there was nothing wrong with a) deliberately trying to catch people with your answers and b) arguing like mad over the stated answer
5) No more than 8-10 questions

So today, as a one off, I’m resurrecting the quiz – and an immediate warning here on two parts

a)      some of the answers may not be as straight forward as you think and points may actually be deleted for an incorrect, or far too obvious reply
b)      the answers will be posted on the comments page – so only go to comment once you’ve had a look

So – here are the questions

1)      Back in the old days before interactive screens Teachers in schools used to use what substance to write on blackboards with?
2)      In The Big Bang Theory one character has his nemesis in the shape of a science fiction actor – name the character and name the actor
3)      After whom is America named?
4)      What was the name of Captain Cook’s ship?
5)      Name the first actor to play James Bond
6)      Where were the first modern Olympic games held?
7)      What was the name of the final Beatles album?
8)      On the subject of The Beatles – can you name all the members?

If anyone would like to take up the mantle for a later week let me know, equally let me know how you got on

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Burmese Budgie (A Magpie Tale)

It was a wednesday, usually the quietest day of the week.  It was late and I'd just poured myself a glass of the hard stuff - ice.

There was a tap on the window.  I'd never understood why they'd installed a tap on the window, but there it was - still dripping despite all my best attempts at tightening the faucet on the glass.

She opened the door and stood there in the shadows for a moment.  There was something under her arm.  It could have been a duck, or a goose: even a large chicken.  I immediately suspected fowl play.

She raised her arm and rolled her eyes at me.  I picked them up, gave them a polish and rolled them back.  They were the kind of eyes you might see on a big poster: wide and inviting.

She asked me to take her case, but I couldn't - I had to tell her my wardrobe was already full of cases.  She shook her head and sighed, showing me the bird.  It definitely wasn't a chicken then.  I would have shown her the door at that point, but I was pretty sure that she'd seen the door on her way in and that the view wasn't any better from this side.

Finally, and after much argument, I at least agreed to look after the creature whilst she was out of town.  Maybe that way I'd have time to decipher the message the bird was trying to sqwalk at me.

Still, whatever else happened that weekend: and whether she returned or not: now that I had her pet with me I could at least say that whatever else we'd shared - we'd always have Parrots

Thursday, 1 March 2012

You Gotta Have Friends

So this morning I saw in the free newspaper on the bus that Davey Jones had died and felt a little sad.

The news that the one quarter of The Monkees had passed away, at far too early an age, would, of course, have been sad on any day – but today I felt especially sad that I would have no one to chat to at work about it.

This is because my best friend on the project left on Wednesday – my sole bastion of sanity, who bravely held the doors of lunacy shut against the daily torrent of attack. 

This has denied me the chance to bore them rigid for at least an hour or so today banging on about The Monkees and Davey (he was on Coronation Street once you know) Jones in particular

It’s true that these days I don’t socialise much with work colleagues – I find that after eight hours of staring at the blighters I need a break in the evening and/or weekend, but I would roughly break down the kind of people you meet through work into a few categories.

1)      People you do everything in your power to avoid
2)      People you deal with because you have to, but you watch your back to
3)      People that you speak to in the car park, on the floor and pass the time of day with – ie workmates
4)      Friends who you would want to keep in touch with when you finally get that dream job at Some Other Company Inc.

Of course it is possible for people in any of these categories to move back and forth between numbers from time to time, but the amount of people who fall into section four and remain there are probably very few.

Don’t get me wrong, some of my absolute best friends are Category Fours – BP who I’ve known for nearly 20 years now, Argent – who never ceases to amaze me, CC – the lovely, but ultimately flakey friend – and now (hopefully) CM.

So – in the light of the fact that I am only able to text CM, and Argent (and, it goes without saying, Herself) about Davey Jones I’m going to say the things I would have said here – some of which you would already know, but I doubt CM would (pop culture not her strong point)

Last Train To Clarksville is an underrated and great song
I’m A Believer was written by Neil Diamond you know
Davey Jones was once on Coronation Street (longest running Soap opera of the UK) in the 1960s

And of course, finally – keep in touch with your friends.