Thursday, 11 December 2014

Some things that drive me mad.

There are a number of set expressions that are guaranteed to set me off. Two of the main triggers are ‘Can I ask you a question?’ and anything to do with growing your hair – ‘Are you growing your hair?’ Let us take a closer look.

Anything to do with growing your hair drives me bonkers. I would love to know - how on earth do I grow my hair? One presumes it not something on which I have to actively concentrate. God forbid, your attention slips and your fringe falls off. Busy patch at work and the whole project slips back two weeks: ‘Dammit, I needed these curtains by Christmas!’ The entire conceit is entirely infuriating. You don’t grow your hair, it requires no special skills or talent, you simply don’t cut it. ‘Ooh, you’re growing your beard?’ No, it’s rather a steady process with which I have no active involvement, you just happen to regularly catch me fairly soon after my most recent shave. Have a word with yourself.

Can you ask me a question? I think you just did, and in rather a presumptuous manner. By asking a question as to whether you might be allowed to ask a question you have liberally crapped over any notion of you not being able to ask a question, but you just, in fact, did. It’s like being mugged. You’ve forcibly inserted yourself linguistically into someone’s personal space. And why not just ask the question in the first place? If the very intent of the ‘Can I ask you a question?’ is to force someone into allowing you to ask a question, why not simply dispense with the foreplay and jump straight into whatever you were clearly planning to ask anyway? And how does that impossible denial even go? ‘Can I ask you a question?’ ‘No, you can’t.’ ‘Why not?’ Gah.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

I have been growing a beard.

I’ve had a beard on an off for the last 18 months or so – I’ve always liked to grow my face out every now and then just to prove that I can, but recently I’ve been taking the endeavor seriously, with proper clippers and beard balm (it’s wonderful stuff) and all sorts. My recent inspiration came from the commemoration of the start of the first world war, seeing how raffish and elegant George V and Nicholas II looked between them.

There’s something about having a beard, that you’ve gained access to an unspoken club, a bond between all others with facial-follicular tendencies. You gain an appreciation for a man’s beard, you can assess across a crowded room whose is best and what sort of time and effort has gone into creating it. Are they the slovenly laissez-faire type, with hairs sprouting everywhere unchallenged, or are they the fussy control freak who has snipped each individual sprout and perhaps even trimmed it so there are lawn lines going up and down their cheeks? You get a bit jealous of the sort of chap who has a luscious even growth across his whole face, or perhaps you take a little snide inward pleasure at the bloke who can’t even get his moustache to meet his chinstrap. Cripes, and they say women are bad.

The thing is, too many people have them and mine is probably going to have to go. The Guardian says that we’ve reached peak beard (look at me putting links in my blog post like it's 2005), and while I don’t normally take any sort of advice from the Guardian, fashion or otherwise, the evidence is plain on our streets to see. Of course there’s that, and the fact that I look exactly like my dad in 1986. Such a fine line between hipster and Open University professor.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Harvester gets a makeover.

I visited my grandma and granddad the other day and we went to Harvester for lunch. Consider my surprise, dear reader, when my eyes fell upon the new-look interior design. Gone is the agricultural tat, farmy chintz and rough exposed wood – in comes neon, bright carpets and faux-Impressionist pictures of farm animals doing adorable things like standing there. It’s a new era of countryside-gastro-chic. With a free salad.

Speaking of the salad, they’ve added mini gherkins and pickled onions to try and bulk out the little bowls, although the gherkins are the kind of sour that feels like your tongue is being pulled out with pliers. I was back on familiar ground with a New York-style chicken that wouldn’t settle down on its wash of barbeque sauce. I’ve never understood what a New York-style chicken even is; you’d expect it to be taller, and rather ruder.

I have a great reservoir of fondness for Harvester – it takes me back to the sort of supra-McDonald’s special occasion of my childhood, with chicken nuggets and a spot of colouring in before the dessert arrives. I always liked that it felt like you were tucked away in the far corner of some obnoxious landowner’s barn, it’s a terrible shame to replace that with an interior designer’s overwrought, inauthentic moodboard-palooza. In fact, Harvester had better be careful, or Brewers Fayre will swoop in and nick all of its countryphile customers. Unless they really like free salad.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

I want to live in a detirement home.

There’s a housing crisis, according to the Guardian or somesuch esteemed publication like that. All the foreign houses are being sent home, or the cuts mean they’re all falling down, or the markets have collapsed but the houses haven’t, or they’re too expensive and no one has any money left because it’s all hidden offshore. I forget.

I have the answer though. I was thinking just the other day that someone should invent an old people's home that everyone can live in - overheated, comfortable, chintzy, it would be perfect. I'd love to live in the sort of place that has film nights after dinner and bingo on Thursdays, a well-stocked library full of Dean Koontz and Robert Ludlum, perhaps a vestigial gym and a games room.

I can't see myself ever being able to afford somewhere to buy - especially if I stayed in London. An entire generation in its excitement at easy Monopoly cash and full of thirst to make money has priced its descendants forever homeless. That's not to say it's necessarily a bad thing - this whole own-your-own-place idea has barely been around more than half a century - but whoever does have any money left needs to start thinking about the ways that life might start to change.

Why do we even need to all live entirely separate lives? It would be wonderful if people might start thinking ahead and building communal housing that draws folks together. So much of modern life is drilled down, compartmentalised and devoid of any meaningful outside contact. I love the idea of micro-communities where people have different areas in common, parts of your life that are shared with like-minded and ready individuals. Let's not just leave it to the hippies.

Friday, 5 December 2014

In which the crap they stick in box sets astounds me.

I bought some box sets the other day. The Wire is a respectable enough choice, but the other one they sent me is Gilmore Girls – the very definition of a guilty pleasure if ever there was one. When I lived in Germany they used to show four episodes every afternoon, so it was quite easy to motor on through all 153 adventures of Die Gilmore Girls no problem. And I did look that up.

Anyway, perhaps in light of these purchases my subsequent argument is rendered automatically moot, but I have opinions and I’m not afraid to use them.

Because good grief, the stuff they’re putting out in box sets these days is just ridiculous. I mean, who really wants to relive the joys of Dr Quinn Medicine Woman in a six-disc collection? Even when it was made it was the lettuce in the Saturday TV schedule sandwich, just there to pad the afternoon out a bit. No flavour, or anything beyond an infitesimal amount of nutrition. It made Little House on the Prairie look like Shakespeare.

I can’t think of any other earthly reason to do it than trying to squeeze the last drops of money out of the rind of franchises that died decades ago. Do Dr Quinn, Skippy or Airwolf have these massive cult fanbases we haven’t heard about? Well, it’s easy money, one has to suppose, just whacking stuff on DVDs and sending it to the shops. Bish bash bosh, etc.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Is not a superhero.

Is a superhero:
Superman
Wonder Woman
Spider-Man
Aquaman
Captain America
The Flash

Is not a superhero:
Batman
Iron Man
Green Arrow
Hawkeye
The Incredible Hulk

*Green Lantern remains a question mark in my mind

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

I try to read 52 books in 2014.

I do like to read, and for all the usual reasons. It started way back in my childhood – I remember at eight or nine, signing the dog up for the local library so that I could get six more books out at a time. I read my way through the entire branch, apart from the local history section. That was well boring.

At any rate, I have been attempting to read 52 books again this year (I did it two years ago, just scraping through on New Year’s Eve) and made a valiant attempt to cover the deficit when I read four books in four days on my trip to Germany in September, but I remain a stubborn book or three behind.

It’s very intense, getting through so much and so quickly. It’s almost too much, too have entered these worlds in quick succession. To have dipped a toe in the water of a foreign ocean when you want to go swimming. My brain fills with these ideas, these characters, it starts to seep into the world.

Science fiction has a terrifically short half-life, and I always thought the notion of people dying in the world when they die in the matrix to be stupid, but I get that same sense of being ripped out of one world and into another as I sit taking in the words on the page. All the more so as I flit between the make-believe world on paper and the real world around me, whether it’s a train to work, a Berlin cafe, a McDonalds on the M40 or my own bed. It’s a punch to the gut, teleporting from one to the other so instantaneously.

Maybe I’ll take January off.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Writing this post: the liveblog.

19.32 – I sit down and try and think of something to write.

19.36 – I give up and watch Netflix.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

I am a culinary genius.

The other day I cooked up some chicken with garlic, ginger and a bit of Thai 7-spice (it’s like 5-spice, but more), but then I added a nice tomato and garlic sauce and a saucepan full of fusilli.

It was delicious, let me tell you, and it has inspired me to invent an entirely new stream of fusion cooking, which I shall henceforth call Thaitalian. Thinking about it, it could also be the name of the international airline you’d least want to travel with.

Try the food though, and thank me later. I’m on fire with recipe ideas – I’m thinking sticky rice bolognese, Thai green meatballs, a basmati lasagne: inspiration has no boundaries. I’m not sure pad thai with tagliatelle would quite work though. Hmm.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Getting my priorities right.

I found myself staring – not for the first time either – with barely contained venom at my toothpaste the other morning, foaming at the mouth and trying not to coat the tiles in a sickly sweet froth of Z-list chemicals, thinking that isn’t it weird how we end up with these horribly mismatched priorities in our everyday lives.

Allow me to explain.

My toothpaste makes me gag. Literally makes me want to throw it up all over the bathroom. Thinking about it now has my throat doing a strangled dubstep beat of dread anticipation at being coated in obnoxiously minty seven-syllable compounds.

And yet, because I have paid £2.50 for said vile concoction, I’m determined to make it last at least several months so as to extract full monetary worth from the fateful purchase. I simply can’t bring myself to throw away a perfectly reasonable anything just because it makes me want to puke.

And this is the extreme hypocrisy that sits anxiously inside my mind – I was perfectly happy to hand over £12 for a three-bite greasy hamburger in foil and a paper cup the other week, or £2 for the privilege of someone passing hot water over some seeds they’d just had posted from Nicaragua or some such to an overlit service station on the M40. I pay £6 every month to watch television, but on my laptop instead.

If all that doesn’t make me gag, nothing else should.