Thursday, 5 March 2015

I really hate self-service tills.

I hate self-service tills as a rule. They are slow, inflexible, too loud and weirdly passive-aggressive. Naked contempt of the general public dressed up as dashing convenience and faddish techno-wizardry. Even if they are empty, I will still prefer to huddle together with the proles lugging heavy trolleys, despite the insistence of the person paid to get people to use the self-service tills who prowls the queues. The person who, along with the other sap who is paid full-time to sort out the problems with the self-service tills, really makes you wonder where the savings are to be had.

The exception that proves my rule is the mini-Sainsbury’s just up the road from the office where I go once or twice a week to buy my lunch (the chicken triple in the Sainsbury’s meal deal is the last bastion of the tremendous era of three-in-a-pack) where the staff are so atrociously inept – staring at you from behind the till while they buff their nails, or stubbornly carrying on conversations with each other in the teensy aisles – that the rude, impersonal treatment of a self-service machine is easier to take than the rude, impersonal treatment of the people paid to work there.

It’s all a fairly logical extension of where we’ve been headed these last few years – Tesco might have discovered recently that it can force you to scan your own shopping where they would normally pay someone to do it, but Ikea has been making you find stuff in the warehouse for years. And I still can’t for the life of me understand the virtue of restaurants like Nando’s or GBK where they essentially send you in to the kitchen to sort your order out with the grill chef. Nando’s is a whole post for another day, an abomination on the food landscape that invariably leaves me traumatised with the effort of trying to understand how the whole thing works.

What I really object to most with self-service tills is that I’m doing someone’s work for them and still paying the same price as people who go for the valet-parked groceries. I really ought to be getting at least minimum wage for scanning through all this crap.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

I am adrift, no land (mobile signal) in sight...

I've spent several hours now without any mobile phone signal, I'm cut off from the world (internet connection and the world at my fingertips aside) - it's devastating.

Well, not really - I doubt anyone is calling or texting me, but it's a sort of Schroedinger's phone scenario. No one is calling me but I don't know that no one is calling me, so I am simultaneously getting lots of calls and no calls, until we get some signal here. This of course, being a reference to the famous work of science where no one could get through to Schroedinger's phone to tell him his cat had died. I can not haz cheezburger, isn't it.

I've always sneered at those whiny types who go on about their connectivity problems, it just isn't seemly to go on about such things in polite society, but I feel myself rapidly turning into one of them. Once I've wrapped up this post I'm going to stagger up to wide-eyed old women at the local bus stop, waving my mobile frantically in their faces and wailing about how bereft Three has left me. A technological Robinson Crusoe, washed up on the shores of an unknown island. If only I had Google Maps and a GPS signal...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The world's former biggest F1 fan.

I used to be such a fan of Formula 1. I remember first watching it in 1997 – the two McLarens retiring within a lap of each other, Damon Hill nearly winning at the Hungaroring in the grotty Arrows but for a 50p washer, Michael Schumacher and his hamfisted attempt to shove Jacques Villeneuve off the road to try and win the title. Ah, the good old days. I used to rush home from church on a Sunday with my sports radio tucked in my pocket in case I missed the start, I cut clippings out of the newspapers and kept a scrapbook of the stories I liked. I was hooked, it was incredible. It really does make me sad that I don't watch F1 anymore.

You see, when the BBC signed away the rights to Sky and made the sport pay-per-view aside from a measly half the season live on BBC1, I decided I would boycott out of principle, if they would ever even miss my single-digit viewing figure. I would sneak little looks on different websites, accidently watch a few minutes on iPlayer, but I’ve never really gone back in the same way. I still follow it all from a distance – I know the players, I enjoy the politics, that’s still good box office, but it’s this conscious effort either to abandon me as a fan or at least to squeeze the most cash out of me that I don’t like.

The sport has never been democratic, but it has always been accessible, something that it has lost entirely in the recent lean years. I’d love to tune back in, if the half-the-races-I-am-allowed-to-watch held promise, but it would be like watching through the windows at a party I wasn’t invited to. Weird.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

I am flabbergasted by motorway prices.

I was driving along the motorway the other day, and had to answer the call of nature – and that’s one of those calls you don’t want to be taking hands-free behind the wheel. I like that these places are obliged by law to provide free toilets, because they’d probably be charging a fiver a pop otherwise.

The prices are outrageous. My face has developed a motorway-specific tic for when I’m inching my way past whatever popular high street newsagent or sandwich retailer happens to be in residence.

They often say service stations are expensive because they have to get everything there, but surely the point of the motorways is that everything would be passing by anyway? If I buy my petrol at the services I'm saving someone the bother of having to lug it all the way to my destination.

Petrol on the motorway should be half the cost of what they charge in the cities and that. It’s a scandal. What’s Erin Brokovich up to these days?

Saturday, 14 February 2015

It must be tough being a celebrity.

It must be tough being a celebrity. Or even closely associated with a celebrity. Rob Kardashian isn’t even famous for anything other than being famous for being related to people who are famous for being famous. The pressure of appearing in the Daily Mail every other day is such that his weight goes up and down like a busy level crossing. But mostly up.

That Zayn Malik from One Direction has turned into one of those animals with the big eyes you see on RSPCA adverts. Is someone not looking after him properly? He says it’s not drugs, but it could be the stress of constantly having to find innovative hairstyles that’s getting to him. That would drive me nuts, having my head constantly photographed. ‘New hairstyle?’ ‘No, the wind blew it like that. Sod off.’

Nick Clegg has certainly been feeling the pressure of the spotlight in recent years. He’s spent much of the coalition government looking rather sallow and pudgy, like an undercooked cake mix. You can tell when an election is coming up these days because suddenly the leading players all lose a couple of stone and contrive to get themselves papped out jogging, or something.

But that’s the life they chose, innit. You make your bed and sleep in it, as they say. Actually I’ve understood that – you sleep in your bed and then you make it. Unless they are talking about when you make an Ikea bed and lose a few divots, or don’t screw something in tight enough and it goes a bit wonky. That’s annoying. But not enough to make you massively overeat or look like you’re on heroin. Hmm.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Supposed-to-be-Amazing Spider-Man

There has been much news this week of Spider-Man being released into the Marvel universe from underneath a glass and a bit of newspaper. I feel a bit sorry for him, you know? He’s not a high-maintenance diva superhero, you’d think he’d be quite easy to get right.

You see, Batman is a bit mental - you’ve got to get the right balance with him. He’s essentially unlikeable (ooh, a sympathetic billionaire businessman?) until he starts beating people up. But wait, that’s not that nice either. He’s inexplicably well-regarded. Maybe it’s the tragic backstory.

Superman is just a dullard in lycra, I’ve never seen the fascination to be honest. He just sort of flies around sorting stuff out and won’t even kill anyone. Superman and his stupid principles. He’s like Challenge Anneka, or Alan Titchmarsh back when he did Groundforce. You’d come home and find that Superman has let the dog out for you because it needed a poo.

Spider-Man is quite fun – he’s young and a little bit stupid, just finding his way in the world. Script writers should have a ball messing around with him, but instead we just get the same stupid origin story trotted out again and again. I mean, we get it, now go and do something.

Tobey Maguire was OK, but Andrew Garfield was pretty good, and I’ve got so much love in my heart for Emma Stone I’d probably pay to go to the cinema and watch her read Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia.

It’s probably for the best that they recast. This Spider-Man is going to be gasping for charisma amongst the likes of Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo, they’re going to be forced to do something interesting with him if he gets shoehorned into the Avengers. Maybe they’ll finally make him actually amazing.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Judging a book by its cover.

I’ve been suffering through a book recently. I’ve finished it, thank goodness, but people did point out that I could just stop reading it. If only wishing made it so, fancy wishing people.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I only feel capable of putting a book down if I’ve merely read a few pages, but even that would seem fairly drastic. People say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I would actively recommend it. That’s what the cover is for. In fact, judge it by its cover and then read a few paragraphs inside. Perhaps have a look at some helpful online reviews or aggregated purchaser scores that reputable sites such as might allow access to.

It’s important, because once you’ve dedicated a chunk of your life to something, you just need to get through it. It becomes a test of fortitude, one of life’s traumas that gets chalked up as character-building then never mentioned again. The book in question was Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. It’s supposed to be amazing, but I discovered a tome so turgid and slow moving that I genuinely felt like I was travelling Patagonia in real time with old Brucie. I was weaned on Bill Bryson, and my favourite writer is Tim Moore (the younger, fun version – not the older recent phone-it-in version), so perhaps I’m not best placed to talk about the state of travel writing, but I knows what I likes.

I like the idea of something that encapsulates nomadic isolation and uses that as a lens through which to examine vast, sweeping landscapes that evoke the explorer spirit of humanity. But I’m no method reader, I don’t need to be overwhelmed by depressive feelings of nomadic isolation while I’m sat at my desk in my lunchbreak eating Marmite sandwiches and imagining a happier existence.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

I eat a donut burger.

I had a donut burger for the first time recently. You know how they say that some really beautiful people are beautiful not because they’re merely conventionally pretty, but because they have some crazy feature that they make work for themselves in a really fierce way? Like Barbra Streisand’s nose, Scarlett Johansson’s lips, or Prince Charles’s ears. That’s what it’s like with a donut burger.

I imagined going in that it would be a jam donut, oozing into the mayo and fried onions, but I was a fool back then, so naïve – I didn’t know the world. It was ring donut, sliced in half like a New York deli bagel. It was pillowy soft, sugar glistening hopefully in the dimly lit, over-designed environs of a Coventry gastro-pub.

The first bite has your mouth screaming with the mixed messages, and your fingers agonising over an instantaneous sticky covering that is surely not long to be weaponised. And yet despite that initial spark of hostility, who knew that beef, onion, mayonnaise and sweet fried dough could be such good friends? There’s a lesson in reconciliation here for us all, people. Feel the love.

Monday, 9 February 2015

No news is good news anymore.

I get confused by the news sometimes. I thought Swiss Leaks was the name of an up and coming rapper that little Robbie Pattinson off those vampire films might be dating, but it seems it’s a campaign by various international newspapers to shame the world’s local bank and its friends into not liking money anymore. That will definitely work.

Great as it is to see these sorts of stories vying for space, you have to recognise that they nuzzle up against worst-dressed stars galleries and liveblogs from whatever TV series is most fashionable at the moment. You’ll Never Believe What Awful Rubbish Websites Will Pass Off As News. Click here.

Everybody’s at it, it would be unfair to single out particular outlets at which to aim our horror of this Buzzfeedification of current affairs. Oops, see what I did there. The Guardian would no doubt argue that it has to make money from its online presence somehow (perhaps if they banked in Zurich they would have a bit more cash to write proper stories), but that’s going along with the flock in the most pitiful style.

News used to be about expanding your horizons, learning about things, rather than reinforcing a pudgy worldview you got algorithmically spoon-fed via Facebook. It’s this endless onward thrusting of consumerism, making everything a lifestyle choice or a way to reassert your personal brand.

Maybe it really is our fault - we aspire to be activists and campaigners, full of morals and virtue and indignation, but in reality we end up clicking on the picture of someone’s recently exploded collagen lips or Justin Bieber floating face down in a pool of his own self-belief. But then if it wasn’t there, we couldn’t look at it.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

In which I marvel at the exciting pace of change in city life.

Life in London really does move at a dizzying pace, and having reached an advanced age such as I have, it can get quite overwhelming. I simply can’t keep up, for instance, for the constant and sweeping changes they keep introducing for cyclists.

It seems that the arm signals in the Highway Code have been replaced with a look over the shoulder and then darting into traffic, red lights only apply to machines with engines. Indeed, bicycles seem to have right of way over all other traffic – there’s a busy crossroads near my work where cyclists regularly come hurtling across my path through red lights.I don't mind admitting that I'm a regular user of social medias and various news outlet services, but it appears I'm just not getting the memos.

I occasionally express my surprise and delight through the window at the ever-swirling nature of change in our delightful city, but more usually I’m left idling in the middle of an intersection having a quick look to see if I’ve unwittingly killed someone. What a place.