Thursday, 28 March 2013

It Must Be Thursday: That Ole Dunkirk Spirit

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

The coach station is full.  Not to the same capacity as the London Underground which often resembles  being pressed into a sardine can, but full enough that a wise person joins the queue for his or her bus as soon as the previous queue has gone if they want to secure a good seat.

It's Friday and no doubt most of these people are going home for the weekend.  Outside the weather is turning bad again (cue chatter about how much warmer it was this time last year) and the corridors of the chilly station are already filling again.

The dour scotsman (who must surely have his cultural cliche card framed and mounted above his bed) comes back into the station, resplendent in his hi-visibility jacket and rather curtly announces over a cracking tannoy that there will be a forty-five minute delay in the coach.

I take a deep breath and sigh, glancing at my watch and resign myself to an extra half-hour of standing in a chilly breeze and moving my weight from one foot to another.  This, I consider, is the Proper British Thing To Do.

I'm standing by the arrivals desk, which is right by the door that I need.  I can see the coach that I will be travelling on from here which does add to the frustration.  A lady approaches the desk and asks in broken English why there is a delay - apparently its because the coach has arrived late and the law states that drivers must have a 45 minute break every 3,000 miles or so.

Which is fair enough - none of us wants to die in a spectacular fireball because our driver fell asleep from fatigue.

Over the next half hour, and despite the constant announcements, an array of customers approach and ask the same questions - why is there a delay, why can't we sit on the coach in the warm.  For my part I mostly sigh and look at my watch, wondering what sort of time I will get home tonight.

It's not the questions I mind - the coach is delayed and people want to find out why - its that a small number of the passengers seem to feel that this has been done deliberately to annoy or frustrate them, that they have a right to demand the coach run on time regardless.  This, I consider, is Not The British Thing To Do.  We are, after all, world renowned for our stoicism in the face of danger and hardship

There are rules around queuing: you join a queue at the back and wait your turn.  Polite conversation can sometimes be acceptable, but generally it is a time for inner reflection.  You don't, however, barge through to the front just because you happen to have a baby strapped to your back - not unless you want to be on the receiving end of a series of hard-stares and "tut"s (rumour has it that the first British reaction to the invasion of Poland was a brisk "tsk")

Time was, of course, that when faced with the thought of rationing, sitting in a bunker together for half the night and having to cycle fifty miles to find work the British would have obliged (or so everyone born before 1950 would have you believe) and done so with a song featuring the refrain "have a banana" in their hearts - but it's hard to imagine any of the customers here accepting rationing of their gas supplies this year if, as the Panic Monger on TV this morning is right and we are going to run out soon if things don't improve.  As things stand the shops only have to close for one day over Christmas and the whole nation panic buys incase there is a sudden depletion in the EU Chocolate Eclair Mountain.

I take a moment to think back to the announcement the previous date by the Minister for Stating The Bleeding Obvious who announced that a scientific study had discovered that certain types of birdsong are relaxing...well, dur.  Nobody in the queue here today seems to be relaxed by the low flying pigeons, with their aim as deadly accurate as any Lancaster Bomber.

Time passes slowly, but eventually they announce the coach is boarding and we are swept away by a tide of people desperate to get on board only to find that a small number of our fellow brethren have actually been queuing right at the door of the coach and have snagged most of the best seats (IE the unobscured window views)

Definately NOT the British Thing To Do

Thursday, 21 March 2013

It Must Be Thursday: A Long Road To Travel

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

Douglas Adams once said that the problem with Time Travel is that it has the same effect as travelling abroad:  sooner or later everywhere becomes the same

And I guess it's true - let's face it: if Stephen Hawking was to wake up tomorrow morning and invent a portal to the 15th century then it would only be a matter of time before someone set up a KFC franchise there (free chicken drumstick with every 5th case of Black Death)

I say the above because the other week I had to drive nearly 3 hours for work, getting up in the early hours to ensure that I would be there for a 9am start...only the first hour or so was on the motorway.

After this it was a series of fast A-roads.

And three hours is quite a long time to drive without a break: which means that you are faced with an interesting conundrum: either stop a little too early at the Service Station, or carry on and face mile after mile of featurless and identical branches of an Internationally Known Burger Franchise Formerly Fronted By A Clown

Service Stations are designed to be money pits: draining you of your much needed cash with over-priced drinks, crisps, books, CDs and videos and, most bizarrely of all, charcoal briquettes and children's wet-suits.

I'd love to actually meet someone who bought their child a wet-suit at a motorway service station and ask them why it was that they got half-way to their holiday destination before it suddenly occurred to them that their kids might want to go swimming after all.

Service Stations also only sell audio books and best-of CDs that, in other circumstances, you would never dream of buying - which goes some way to explaining the never-ending career of Olivia Newton-John (It is, it has been said, better to have loved and lost than to listen to an album by Olivia Newton-John)

However, whilst other retail outlets have gone to the floor WH Smiths and Marks & Spencers have flourished - having cleverly placed themselves at locations where customers have no choice but to go to them or carry on driving on an empty stomach.

Also Service Stations always have an Expensive Hot Beverage Dispensary (insert corporate chain of your choice - it is almost always one or the other of the big ones), an eatery that sells anything fried and an array of gambling machines

Back in the day the arcade machines used to contain driving games, which was in itself a bit surreal: you've just driven 200 miles you say?  Well why not have a quick game of Grand Theft Auto before you drive another 200?

But all of this is better than the sheer facelessness of the branches of an Internationally Known Burger Franchise Formerly Fronted By A Clown that litter the rest of my journey - which could easily have been spat out of a cannon and landed fully formed in each location, a sinister clone of the Mother Burger - all leading to a curious feeling of driving for ever and never arriving

Still - we all need to rest, if only to take our weight off the accelerator pedal foot, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be swindled by poor food and expensive coffee. 

Take a packed lunch and a flask and sit in the public area - sticking two metaphorical fingers up to the corporate man

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Magpie Tales: Car Trouble

There was a plume of smoke coming from the engine.  Ray Birdlington (known as Bird to his friends) looked at the stream of wires with some despair and wished that he had any idea what might be wrong

"It's your fan belt mate"  The voice was nearby, almost lost through the churn of car engines that zoomed by, rocking the car as they went.  Ray looked around at the cars, and the hedges but there was no sign of the speaker: just a white horse sticking its head over the fence.  

He turned his head back towards the engine and tried hitting various things incase it made some difference, dismissing the voice until the words "it's your fan belt mate" floated towards him once more.  Again there was no sign of anyone else but the horse.  Could it be??

Ray approached the animal, already concerned that he might be going mad, "excuse me," he said, "but did you just speak"

"Yes mate" the horse said, looking weary, "It's your fan belt"

"What's a fan belt?" Ray asked and, still somewhat bemused, listened as the horse talked him through the repairs until the engine churned into life.

About three miles down the road he came to a pub, The Fawn, and - after his recent experience - the idea of a pint of something extremely alcoholic suddenly seemed appropriate.

He went inside and ordered first one pint and then a second.  After the third the barman pulled him to one side and said, "I can't help but notice that you're looking pale my friend"

Ray shook his head, "I feel absolutely insane even saying it: but I broke down at the side of the road, and I could swear that a horse gave me advice about the repairs"

The Barman nodded, "I see..." he paused, "white horse, was it?"

Ray nodded excitedly, "Yes!!  Yes it was" he exclaimed, "how did you know?"

The Barman shrugged, "The brown one knows bugger all about cars"

Thursday, 14 March 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Oh The Humanity

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

You may not remember this, but a few years ago a Certain Confectionery Company (who shall not be named, but handily seem to have invested in sponsoring a nearby planet) released a Fun Size version of their most well known chocolate bar: and, as it turns out, Fun isn't as big as you thought it was

Nor is the pair of red deely-boppers purched precariously on the head of the woman at the local superstore as fun as she thinks.  They do not make her look fun, wacky, amusing or any of the other things that the company is presumably trying to evoke from their customers when they could be more profitably spending their time, oh I don't know, actually serving people.

In short they make her look like someone who desperately regrets the career choices that brought them to an institution that tries to make a few extra sales on the back of supporting a major charity.  She looks like someone who will happily produce an axe from under her checkout and have at your neck with gusto if you make any comment about said deely-boppers having already heard every possible joke at least five hundred times in the last hour alone.

Yes: it's Comic Relief week and all over the country people are taking baths in baked beans, going to work dressed as SuperHeroes, hopping all day, wearing nothing but pink.  Some of them are even being sponsored for charity to do this (apart presumably from the baked bean bath people - hard to imagine anyone who would want to give you money if you said you were going to do it)

Comic Relief started as an offshoot from Live Aid with a live concert in London of all the comedians who were famous at the time (including Billy Connolly doing a routine about pubic hairs that I clearly remember my Grandfather laughing his head off about)

Since when its become an annual slog of a Telethon with comedian/presenters-of-the-day sitting in a studio and mainly linking to one of the following:
* A very old clip of a classic sit-com
* An infomercial on behalf of the charity (usually involving a celeb being flown off to witness it in person)
* An update from Ass-end, Nowheresville where a bunch of Bank Tellers are presenting a giant cheque to the local Mayor who has presumably spotted a good opportunity to get a few extra votes come re-election time (and just out of interest: who produces these giant cheques and how do you go about cashing them?)
* Studio audience cheering like one of the things on offer in the Green Room before the interminably dull thing started was some free LSD
* News Presenters doing a dance routine (usually in silly costumes)
* Link from a has-been comedian who would otherwise be out of work if said event was ever cancelled and is "giving up their time for free" in hope of some paid work somewhere down the line
* Duran Duran muttering vaguely that they are "really behind the cause here today" and not, despite all appearances to the contrary, just there to help the sales of their back catalogue (it may at first seem unfair to single out Duran Duran - but check out the interview of them at Live 8 where they managed to sound entirely unsure exactly what it was they were there to support)
* Pop band of the day performing their latest/most well known single (unless they are performing the Comic Relief single of the year)

Not that I'm against charity events - far from it.  It's vital that we keep the public eye on needy causes and continue to raise money from them: what I have a problem with is the whole culture of having to subscribe to someones corporate idea of Fun and Wackiness

Fun, comedy, and indeed wackiness should be spontaneous and not diluted down and distilled into a corporate smorgasbord of painfully bad television.  Just because its for charity doesn't mean it should be terrible - it should still be well done and meaningful.  The sight, a few years ago, of the News At Ten Team dressed in drag and performing songs from the Rocky Horror Show is one that has left me unable to watch a Bulletin since.

And yet companies all around the country are encouraging their employees to dress up, dress down and get wacky - all in the name of a good cause that almost by accident can cause some of its goodness to be reflected back upon themselves.

And its not as if I have anything against Fun - if it really is as small as the Chocolate Coporation would have me believe it would be pretty hard to find something that would fit to have against Fun - and I have no objection to people doing things that are a bit mad or daft for a good cause in principle - its just a) the whole atmosphere of corporate sponsored fun - the attitude that if you work for Company A then it is more or less obligatory that you take park and b) there's no actual need to put all the so called "best" bits into an interminably dull television show.

So if you do want to go and get sponsored tomorrow for turning up to work dressed as a gorrilla, an alien, a member of the opposite gender - feel free and I wish you luck in raising lots of money.  Just don't be surprised when I reach for the remote control and turn the channel over to something a little less "wacky"

Because of course I would never do any of the above myself.  Nope.  Not ever.

Well...maybe the once...

Still - on another, unrelated topic, here's the original (and only funny) Comic Relief Charity Single...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

It Must Be Thursday: The Campaign For Equal Heights

The start of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting that, if my usual attention span is anything to go by, will probably last all of two weeks.  Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 

After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

PC Anthony Wallyn and PC Tony Thich

PC Anthony Wallyn (left), 7ft 2in, with his colleague, PC Tony Thich, 5ft 6in. 
Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA
Photo from The Guardian website 

I have often wondered if there is a special age you reach where all of a sudden your point of view of the world suddenly shifts and you find yourself craving ginger biscuits dunked in a nice warm cuppa, spouting casually racist comments over the Christmas Turkey that begin "I've got nothing against them personally but...", wearing only gray and believing the sun shines out of the Queen's backside (gawd bless er').

As many of my regular readers will know I am unhealthily obsessed with what life must be like for the royals and can barely imagine how they have anything approaching a normal life.  How does it feel to see your face every time you get a letter or want to buy something at the shop?  Do they take little pills to help them cope with the interminably dull Variety Shows?  Do they wear the crown of England in bed, or nip down to the kitchens for a bacon sandwich in the middle of the night?  Is the reason we never see Edward or Andrew in the news any more because they're locked in the Tower Of London to stop them being so embarrassing?

This week poor old Queenie developed a bit of a dicky tummy - probably one too many Swans or Quails Eggs for elevenses, and she was taken to a small ward where a wall of silence rapidly descended.

And so with nothing else to do and with TV airtime to fill attention turned to the poor coppers on duty at the door who were, get this, different heights!  These coppers were the flavour of the moment - newspapers and reporters even giving them nicknames (which unfortunately I wasn't sufficiently interested to remember)

Wow.  Someone find me a barrel, because I think we're more than ready to scrape the bottom of it.

Today I worked with someone of a different height to myself, but is that the BBC suddenly hoving into view with camera crew in tow?  I think not.

They were so desperate to fill air time that when I actually heard about this story it was when I turned on the TV to find a news-presenter standing outside the hospital and reporting to the studio that the now world-famous police officers were, sadly, not on duty right now.

Hang on a sec.

So now the fact that there AREN'T two coppers of different heights on duty outside the Queen's hospital is news?  How does that work?

I wonder what other things not happening could be newsworthy?

It makes me wonder what other non-event my TV license money will pay for next.

Not, of course, that this is anything new - there has been, for as long as I can remember, the little humorous item at the end of the news to make us feel a bit better about the grim 25 minutes that proceeded it.

Yes: there are troops in Basra, the economy is shot, no one has any faith in politicians any more - but never fear, there's a Panda in Beijing that is getting his end away.

So that's alright then.

And of course: there are always slow news days when there is nothing else to do but stand about on the street waiting for something to happen, but I really object to having my intelligence insulted by this kind of time wasting.

But the thing that really gets me is that in all of the other news about this non-event of two boys in blue just trying to do their job no one else seems to have noticed that the small one is called Thich (Tich being a euphamism for small).

Go figure

Sunday, 3 March 2013

How To Wash Your Cat

How To Wash Your Cat

Cat got fleas?  Cat got poo stuck in its fur?  Cat decided that a good thing to do on a muddy, rainy day is to come back in and walk across every clean surface?  Then you need the below tips:

1) Find protective gloves - preferably teflon
2) Close all doors and potential methods of exit NO MATTER HOW SMALL and block off potential access to anything more than two milimetres high as the cat WILL get underneath it
3) Heard cat into a corner via a mixture of threats, promises and treats (NB: there is no point at which your cat will not know what you are up to - they have ESP when it comes to visits to vets, clipping of nails and/or washes)
4) Grab cat at arms length, ensuring you have a route of egress to the shower
5) Ensure shower door is fully closed before putting cat down - cat will most likely still be slightly sanguine until the water starts
6) Throw some of your clothes over the top of the shower, ensuring you are still wearing sufficient layers to protect against claws
7) Find ear defenders
8) Start shower, ensuring you are wearing ear defenders
9) Ignore ignominious cries from cat as the water hits it
10) Realize that you have forgotten to include the cat de-flea shampoo
11) Call loudly for Partner In Crime (spouse, boy/girlfriend, lodger, other nominated person you don't mind seeing you semi-naked) to fetch said shampoo
12) Spray cat with water keeping a good distance.
13) Still wearing gloves try to cover as much of the hissing ball of anger that is now your cat in shampoo
14) Bend over to rub into the fur, only to find that the cat has climbed onto your back, desperate to escape and is now doing its Harry Houdini impression up the side of the shower
15) Grab cat again and rinse whatever you managed to get of the shampoo into the fur back out again
16) Turn off tap and reach for a towel
17) Gather cat in the towel and rub vigourously still holding at arms length
18) Open the shower door
19) Release the cat and enjoy its impression of Usain Bolt
20) Go to hospital to get the wounds looked at
21) Stay well away from the cat for 24 hours or until such time as it comes to you for food