Thursday, 26 March 2015

Getting into the election mood.

I’m trying to get myself into the general election mood (not that I need the help, I’m already like the six-year-old kid at the beginning of that Eurodisney advert from ages ago – ‘I can’t sleep, I’m too excited’) by reading some political books.

I’ve started with Anthony Seldon’s book on Tony Blair’s post-9/11 political career (‘more war war, less jaw jaw’) – Blair Unbound. At the rate I’m going, we’ll be on our second election of the year before I’ve finished it, but I need to get a move on because I’ve cued up Andrew Rawnsley’s The End of the Party (here’s hoping), John Major’s autobiography (unfeasibly long) and Hillary Clinton’s recent book, It Takes a Village to Run a Presidential Campaign. No, sorry – ‘Hard Choices’.

I’ve got two volumes of Simon Hoggart’s Guardian sketches to read if I make miraculous progress, but I doubt I’ll get round to them. I’ve flicked through both books, and I really do adore the art of political sketch-writing. Dream job. I can however confirm that I won't be putting myself forward for a third full volume, mainly because he didn't write one.

Anyway, can’t stop. I’ve got a book to read, and the PM’s got a country to invade. I wonder how that turns out?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Lunatic on board.

I’m not one for forced joviality or inane banter, I’ve got to say. I often find that if you’ve got to say something about yourself, you probably aren’t that. ‘I love people, I love love’, said Justin Bieber recently, proving my point. You can well imagine then, that I threw up all over the inside of my windscreen as I passed a car the other day with a ‘lunatic family on board’ sticker.

I really can’t emphasise enough how much I detest this inclination to let everyone know how wacky and wild you are. People invariably actually mean they lack social skills, or that they drink excessively – I’m crazy me, I did karaoke last weekend. Or perhaps I vomited on my line manager at the work Christmas party.

But a lunatic family? That’s something to be concerned about. I’m not entirely sure whether a sticker like that is supposed to be warning approaching drivers of erratic behaviour, maybe an inclination to ram overtaking cars sideways into the central reservation. It could be a notice to prepare yourself for a bit of odd behaviour from those on board – maybe as you pass they will all be naked and licking yoghurt off the windows, or drawing nifty little pictures out of their their own faeces.

More likely, though, that they’ll be dull-eyed wazzocks crammed tightly into a smoking Toyota Previa that’s seen far better days. People whose idea of lunacy is sneaking a bag of sweets into the cinema, or putting a few sachets of sugar in their pockets at a motorway service station. That said, with cutbacks the way they are, there’s every chance I spotted a local authority’s pilot test for a private-backed mobile mental health unit. Crazy.

How do you solve a problem like Clarkson?

There should be a new reality TV show popping up soon. I’d be disappointed if someone, somewhere hadn’t pitched it by the end of the day. How Do You Solve a Problem Like Clarkson? How do you disentangle the bits that the telly executives would like from the bits they don’t like? What makes Jeremy Clarkson a compelling watch is that he’s the kind of guy who punches someone for bringing him a selection of cold cuts.

He’d be terrible company. I imagine him, stinking of cigarettes and whatever brand of spirits that helps him get to sleep at night. He has an opinion on everything, knows everything, and would want to bully you into submission until you agreed with him. He’s that predator who sniffs out your weakness and pounces on it. As much as a progressively arthritic exercisophobe can pounce, anyway. He’d be the worst person to go on a roadtrip with.

All of which makes him amazing to watch on camera. He’s charismatic, funny (funnier 10 years ago) and totally belligerent. He has a stupid opinion on everything. He’s like that Tom Hanks film Big, only the kid didn’t go back to his own body, he got himself a belly and started writing stuff about cars.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

In which political speeches are in a state of terrible recession.


Thank you ___________ for that kind introduction.

Words eradicated.
Meaning obfuscated.
Grammar abandoned.


Is what it is.

Politics in the 21st century.

Slightly longer but still rather random sentences that don’t really say anything.

Speeches that go on for ages but really only written for the one line that will get repeated on the news.

Don’t let the Tories/Labour/Liberals/Nationalists/Fruitcakes* in.

More words gone.
Standard of living down.
Jeremy Clarkson.

Politics of hope.

More words.
Not less/fewer*.


Thank you.

*delete as appropriate

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

I travel way up north to Durham.

I’ve been staying in Durham for the last few days. A thoroughly pleasant place if the sun is shining and you don’t mind plenty of walking. Unfortunately I visited for a couple of days this time last year and essentially exhausted the touristic potential back then. One you’ve walked round it twice, visited the cathedral and sat in a coffee shop, what’s left?

Which is where I found myself wandering the streets on a Saturday evening after 7pm, looking for food and thinking I might enjoy a pleasant after-hours stroll through cobbled streets. A sort of northern-British Bruges.

I watched as plagues of middle-aged women descended on the centre like locusts, stripping places of all their alcohol and teetering on in their improbable heels, the caterwauling and yelling drilling straight through to the nerves and setting my whole body on edge. It was terrifying – a cross between a zombie apocalypse and a hen night.

The next morning it was as if it had never happened. The streets were clear, save for keen students on the way to their rowing, lacrosse or base-jumping clubs. Visiting parents browsed the alleys and cobbled streets for somewhere to brunch, and wearied taxi drivers savoured the calm before the next attack.

I had a walk round, then I sat in a coffee shop.

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.