Monday, 8 October 2012

Everybody Poops, But Don't Always Flush

Before I go any further, if you don't like toilet humour or people writing at length about human bodily functions, then stop reading right now. This bog is about blogs. Oh yes.

No one likes having to do a poo in public do they? I don't mean actually just dropping your trousers in the street and curling one out on the pavement. That would be nasty. I'm talking about using public toilets, or more specifically: toilets in supermarkets. We've all heard people complaining about graffiti in public loos, or saying how badly attended they are, or even comedians joking about them. But supermarket toilets? I can't think of much comment, offhand.

The reason I bring this up is that today I needed a poo. So I trundled off to Sainsbury's, and headed for a cubicle. I was met with a brown shark peering back at me from its stagnant pool of wipe-weed, and Immediately went "ugh" while simultaneously being quite impressed by both the circumference and length. It wasn't that it was a particularly massive turd, just that it looked a bit like a bent torpedo. As someone had followed me in to use the urinal, I made an attempt to flush it with no success.

So I used the other cubicle, and while my own food-baby made its way out I considered how the water pressure and design of the bowl itself were probably more to blame for the inability to flush it than the diet or physiology of the creator. I've done stinky bombs myself that have been considerably bigger than that one, and yet they have been sped on their way by a focussed combination of water delivery and efficient u-bend design. Because that's the sort of thing I think about when I'm walking the brown dog.

So imagine my dismay when once I'd wiped, the particularly ordinary sub-aquatic log of no lasting impression completely failed to disappear with a double-pressed long flush. Oh, the humanity! I waited for the water to be replaced and tried it again, this time with a bit of added paper, in the hope that it may help. It did not. In fact, all the paper flushed away, leaving the poo to prove how actually aquadynamic it was. I was at once annoyed and quite pleased. I mean, everyone can appreciate something so perfectly formed, right?

Well I hope everyone can, because whoever next felt the call of the turtle's head would be faced with a cool stool whichever cubicle they ended up using. Hey, there's always the disabled loo.

It does rather suggest that in an effort to save on water (which in my line of work can only ever be a good thing) there are some supermarkets that are losing customer service kudos by making savings on poorly designed porcelain gods. A combination of a lower flow rate and less considered pipe engineering simply does not shit well with the average British man's diet. I, for example, consider my diet to be quite well balanced as I only eat red meat once or twice a week and have a largely vegetarian diet. Okay, I like to drink, but for me that's Pebbledash City where I know for some blokes it's the equivalent of a cork. But for many men, there is steak, bacon, sausages, pork chops, bacon, chicken wings, burgers, gammon, bacon, roast beef, salami, bacon and liver which form the bulk of the weekly diet and inability to see one's own penis without a carefully angled mirror.

But this was Sainsbury's! They're supposed to be one of the more upmarket supermarkets. I bet if I'd laid the same cable in Lidl it would have flushed with no effort whatsoever. But that makes perfect sense, because Lidl is a German company, and there is no way on this Earth that German management would ever tolerate under-engineered toilets. I bet designers of terrible toilets during the War soon found themselves in Auschwitz. Or were sent to France to design their public toilet system.

We all prefer to drop the kids off at the pool in our own homes, but unless you're the sort of person who is either eerily regular in their movements or has the incredible ability to cramp it all in until your comfort zone is available then I would say the majority of the human species has left faeces in the toilets of a supermarket. I went through a phase a few months ago where I had no trouble setting myself up for the day shortly after waking, and it was great. I never had to worry about what I might encounter. I was freed up pretty much for twenty four hours.

Yet somehow this ended abruptly and urgently one fateful day when I ended up having an uncomfortable twenty minutes in the bogs at Asda in Long Eaton (where my Mum works) where I struggled to pass something that felt like it was made of pure ghost chillis (which were possibly present) coated with barbed wire and drawing pins. When it finally climbed free it made like a brief bidet, and my sigh of relief was both heartfelt and unashamed. If I'd had my phone on me, I would've taken a picture and got at least an 8.2 on ratemypoo. I didn't tell Mum about it when I went to see her, though.

Asda's flush system had no trouble sending it off to the sewage farm. I was reminded of this fact (and indeed being reminded was the inspiration for this blog) as I left Sainsbury's. It got me thinking about other locations I've had to drop anchor during the course of the working day. Tesco? I love crapping there, because I hate Tesco. Morrisons? A bit hit and miss. Their toilets, not me. I never miss. I don't think I've ever taken a dump at Waitrose. I'm not even sure Lidl or Aldi have toilets, having walked through some of their stores' car parks.

To sum up, I had no intention of summing this blog up at all. I just felt like writing about poo, my experiences of pooing in supermarket toilets, and wondering if anyone at all had read to the end. I'll tell you something else, while I'm about it. ratemypoo.com is nowhere near as good as it used to be. You used to get some genuinely massive chocolate snakes on there, but now? It's all loose stools and pebbledash. Pffft.

It's almost like people don't see the art in launching a torpedo any more. Shocking.


Friday, 28 September 2012

The Worst People On The Roads

I'm a sucker for radio call-in shows, especially Jeremy Vine on Radio Two. I like the varied opinions, whether I agree or not. From time to time someone puts a view across on a topic I have my own opinions on, and I think "You're right. I never thought of it that way", which is a good thing. On the other hand, from time to time I hear people's opinions and end up once again in despair for humanity. It's invariably the "If you don't like it, go back where you came from/to another country, etc etc." people.

In fact, a couple of years ago, I got into the habit of deliberately emailing the show with exactly that type of response, simply to see if it got read out. It would be for some less socially relevant topic, such as "Should window cleaners use those long poles to do windows, or should the traditional ladder+bucket be the standard?" and I would send something like "The long poles are safer and more efficient, and if you don't like them, then just move to a country where they do still use ladders and buckets."

I don't care about window cleaning. It just seemed funny to use the "send 'em 'ome" philosophy for something irrelevant to immigration or national pride. Sadly, after a couple of weeks none got read out, I realised it wasn't that funny, and stopped.

The other morning though, the topic was whether or not in the light of MP Andrew Mitchell calling the police in Downing Street "plebs" for not letting him use the main gate to get out on his pushbike, he had damaged the reputation of cyclists nationwide. Quite a lot of people surprised me by suggesting that cyclists are a menace on the road: untaxed, uninsured, untrained, unapologetic nuisances with no care or regard for all other road users. There may even have been a suggestion that they should all be deported to China, where that sort of thing is common. Seriously.

What made me decide to blog about it is this: who really are the worst road users? Is there, in fact, an actual category of road user who is any more culpable for accidents, anger, annoyance or apprehension? I don't think so. I think it's down to stereotyping and nothing more.

Take your truck driver: he sits in the slow lane of the motorway, 2 inches from your bumper, at a steady 56mph, mobile phone in one hand, a fag in the other. The only time he isn't doing this is when he swings out without indicating, to overtake another truck at 56.5mph. Oh, and the foreign ones are the worst, because they don't have to abide by our rules, and they all drink too much coffee, take drugs to stay awake, don't have road legal vehicles, and I've even heard they piss in the cab because it saves stopping at motorway services. They don't eat our food or pay our taxes, and they kill women.

How about van drivers? Chugging along at way over the speed limit, drinking coffee out of a flask as they go, weaving in and out of traffic. They don't stop at red lights. They push in. They never ever let you out at busy junctions even though they know you've been there for hours. They all have "I wish my wife was this dirty" written in the dirt on the back, and they always blast on their horn if you don't move off at a light within 0.1 seconds of it changing to green. They're rude, they stare down at women stuck in traffic and leer at them. Oh, and most of the vans aren't road legal anyway. I've even heard that 76% of all vans on British roads would fail their MOT test if the driver ever bothered to take them for one. Even the brand new ones with "LUFC4EVA" written on dirt on the back.

Bikers? Bloody motorbikes?! There's you, sat in traffic, moving about 2 inches every four hours, and those buggers just go pottering along the outside of you, making their way as though they own the road! When they're not doing 200mph outside a school at 9 in the morning, that is. Because they don't get caught by speed cameras, you see? They don't have to have a number plate at the front, which is basically the same as being exempt from British driving laws. That's probably because they've got something to hide. I've heard anyone wearing bike leathers is basically a gangland mobster selling drugs to pensioners.

Don't get me started on car drivers. Have you seen some of them, these days? There are people driving around in tiny cars with small engines not because it saves money, but because they think it's better for the environment! Don't these people realise that if they got hit by a truck doing 90mph they'd be dead in an instant? That's just irresponsible. Think about the children! Then there's your big 4x4 gas-guzzlers. They only buy them so they can use mobile phones while they're driving, because the police think big cars are safer, so it's okay. But none of them go off-roading. In fact, they can't. Because there aren't as many fields any more because of all the new roads. And why aren't there any fields? Because people are still using cars! Especially old people. And youngsters. Have they never heard of buses?

Bloody buses! Always stopping in the same sodding places! How come they get away with pulling off the moment the indicator comes on? Everyone else has to wait. Except cyclists. And bikers. And van drivers. And trucks. They always come onto your side of the road when they go around corners, and that's hardly safe for their passengers, is it? And they're all plastered with adverts on the back, so while you're reading the adverts you don't see the brake-lights, and BAM! You've run into the back of it, so everyone on the bus is late for work, risking losing their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, and all of a sudden it's YOUR fault the economy's in the state it's in!

Pedestrians? Oh you'd better believe they're road users too. You see them walking on roads all the bloody time! Seriously, I was driving down a narrow country lane once, and there must have been ten of them. Why they can't walk in the fields like cows and sheep have to, I don't know. Even in towns and cities you can see them crossing the road where there isn't a pedestrian crossing. Some of them have headphones on, and you're not telling me that's safe. Who needs music to cross a road? They're probably on drugs, and road users on drugs are the scum of the earth because they bump everyone's insurance up. What's wrong with walking half a mile to the nearest pedestrian crossing, to do it in safety?

Then there's tanks. You don't see me hammering it across Salisbury Plain, firing 150mm high explosive armour piercing rounds at static targets in preparation for a tour of Afghanistan, so why should they be allowed to drive at normal speeds on British roads, even if they are on the back of a trailer. It's basically the same as saying it's alright to eat dogs. They do a wonderful job, though. I think there should be more tanks in traffic calmed areas, so they can flatten the speedbumps. And shoot hippies.

Oh, I nearly forgot! Horses: what's that all bout, in this day and age? What do you need a horse for? Are you ploughing the road? No. Are you charging a battalion of Napoleon's musketeers? No. Are you ordering a coach to "stand and deliver"? No! So you don't need a bloody horse, do you? They have these things called pubic bridleways, apparently, and horses are allowed on them. But not cars, trucks, or tanks. So how come horse drivers can use roads? I'll tell you why: because they're all Masons, so the police turn a blind eye, because they're all Masons too. Trust me: beep your horn at a horse driver and the hand gesture they use once they get the frightened animal back under control is, I'm pretty sure, a Masonic one.

I think I'm done. Is that everyone? I think so. For now, at least.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading that pointless rant based on stereotypes and utter nonsense. But my point is that there is no specific category of road user that best exemplifies what we could consider "worst". Almost every day I see someone do something unbelievably stupid, but at the same time I take the care to notice people doing something positive and sensible. It's just easier to notice the bad in people, and sadly that's true of almost everything in life.

Be nice to other road users. They might just be nice to you.

Apart from old people on electric scooters.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My Morality Won't Save The World

Today, I found myself with a bit of a conundrum:

It was approaching lunchtime, and my bladder was full. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and head to the Park Farm shopping centre in Allestree, as it was the nearest toilets and cheap food location to where I am working. Now I normally avoid this place unless it's essential, because the pensioners that seem to make up 90% of all in attendance are divided into two categories: the zombie-like dawdlers in worlds of their own so involved that they are more of a nuiscance than kids with headphones on skateboards texting their mates. Then there's the car park menaces, for whom driving at 25mph is the unwritten rule both on our roads and in our car parks, right up until they get out of their cars and stride, eyes never diverting from the precincts doorway, until they're inside (or in an ambulance sometimes, presumably).

The death ratio is probably around the same as a South American slum, I swear.

But today, it was a "needs must" situation. I aimed for a parking spot that, in the glare of the sun, seemed to be suited to my van, but as I pulled up it became clear that a parking stormtrooper was ticketing the vehicle next to it, and I had to stop before I unwittingly ran into him. Okay, the temptation's always there, but not really. This became especially noticeable when it became clear the vehicle in question was a Chelsea Tractor (a BMW X1) and that the owner had not only parked so she was occupying two bays, but she was so close to the car next to her that a hardcore anorexic would struggle to get in.

The parking stormtrooper shrugged, and then pointed quickly to a bay opposite. I gave him the thumbs-up, reversed into the space, and got out. I looked. It really was bloody terrible parking. I noted the child seat in the back, and knew straight away this was a money-bags mummy, probably a blonde, who would inevitably be wearing enough make-up to keep Max Factor share prices high, dressed like she was going out either clubbing or to dinner. Or in pyjamas. He shrugged again. I tutted.

When I got back, I could see the parking stormtrooper chatting to a lady. As I got closer I could see the lady had what looked very much like a recently removed self-adhesive parking ticket in her hand, waving it around as though beseiged by wasps. She was blonde. She was well dressed. As I passed by, she was crusted so thickly with make-up it would stop a bullet. So I chuckled, and grinned at the stormtrooper, who looked like I know I look when an angry or upset customer is giving me shit.

I got back in the van, took a swig of coffee, checked my phone for missed calls (there are always missed calls when I leave it in the van) and set off. With it being warm I'd wound the window down, so as I drove past the now alone stormtrooper I just said "I'm guessing that was the terrible parker."

He grinned back at me, and then seemed struck by a flash of inspiration. "Ooh!" he called out, "She's denying it because I don't have a camera. Would you be a witness if she contests it?"

"Sure," I replied. "Grab my reg, and I'll witness it!"

Well, witness it I did.

There's the conundrum. I did witness it. But I am left in a situation where my own personal morality leaves me caught between what I consider to be two modern evils.

On the one hand, I have had some genuinely bizarre encounters with parking stormtroopers, or "parking inspectors" as I believe they are currently officially known. I have been ticketed for parking in an area where they aren't supposed to be ticketing, and that was eventually revoked. I have been ticketed for parking in my own street because of an old enforcement rule that only stood while there was a post office on the street, but was never officially withdrawn. I have been "moved on" while doing my job because the stormtrooper didn't know or understand the mobile street works rules that apply to anyone working in the highways. I find them to largely be so rigid in their application of rules and regulations that if someone exceeds a parking restriction by just a few minutes they'll face a £70 fine for less than £1 of expired parking fee. Fact.

On the other hand, I have a distinct prejudice against anyone who is utterly selfish in their car. This isn't just about the school run Chelsea tractors, it's about anyone who parks inconsiderately or seems to drive on the roads to their own bizarre set of rules. Sadly, the worst of them are, I am certain, people in big 4x4 or 4x4-lookalike road tanks that they own because "I don't want my children put at risk while I am driving."

Yeah? Well if you don't want them put at risk, then try not using your sodding phone while you're trundling along. Try not sitting 6 inches from someone's bumper in traffic. How about not stopping to chat to a friend coming the other way in the suburbs? In fact, and maybe I am going with extreme prejucide for some of the younger wealthier mums on this one: how about driving a car you know how to fucking drive? I know you probably learnt in a Nissan Micra or a Citroen C1. How many lessons did you have in your Porsche Cayenne, eh? How good were you at reversing that on your driving test? Because you sure as shit forgot how to do it, judging by how you all park now.

What do I do, should the parking stormtrooper find his integrity questioned by the Chelsea Tractor driver? I know this isn't a life changing event for anyone, and I really do like the idea that I could be in a position to get the both of them caught up in a web of bureaucracy that could tie up a bloated and often pathetic legal system to the tune of hundreds of pounds in administrative costs. Oh yes: my taxes paying for something that will personally appeal to me! What better evidence of paying tax being worthwhile is there?

What I got out of today was this:


  • Not all parking stormtroopers are total wankers. Today one pointed out a parking space for me. Okay I would have seen it eventually, but I've never experienced this before.
  • Someone pandered to a stereotype, and bolstered a prejudice that is empirical rather than unjustified.
  • I can potentially be a witness, and toss a coin to decide which side I come down on. I hate parking stormtroopers as much as I hate Chelsea Tractor drivers. Just being a witness doesn't mean I have to take a side.
I think I might just let time decide this one. It's just a ride. The next curve of the rollercoaster might just either make a person driving a car terribly really angry, or a person doing a terrible job angry. It might not make me any happier, but sometimes that really isn't the point.

The point is: how many parking stormtroopers drive Chelsea Tractors, and how many Chelsea Tractor drivers are parking stormtroopers?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Never Less Thankful For Lacking a Blue Badge

The London 2012 Experience ended, as it had begun, with a spectacle that was typically British: something where colour, ability, politics and well-being can be feverishly debated and analysed while completely forgetting the beauty, variety, vitality and humour that this incredible island of immense and diverse character has to offer. We did ourselves proud, and we did it... well, because we could do it.

How typically British: "The greatest nation on Earth", yet the first to criticize the nation. God forbid anyone who gets in ahead of us...

It was an amazing thing though, wasn't it? I found myself gripped. Gripped by Bolt in the 100m final. Gripped by Weir in every event he was in. Gripped by Peacock as the New Kid On The Block. Gripped by the Pistorius hissyfit. Gripped by the 7-7 athlete. Gripped by the back-stories of so many of these - woah!

Wait a minute. Yep, I totalled it up in my head. I watched about 4 minutes of the Olympics. I watched probably in excess of 3 whole days of the Paralympics. It got to the point where even if I was doing something on the computer, I had the TV on in the background, just waiting for the next event to start. I got completely and utterly obsessed with the Paralympics, and I knew I would do, and I knew why.

It started with a conversation with me and my son, Luke, about posters and cardboard cut-outs of Olympians that dotted the country, mainly in supermarkets. I didn't know who the cheerful but fierce-eyed young blond man was in one ad, stood there as he was, minus a leg, looking so fit as to put me to shame even if I were the comparative age he is now. Google told us he was Jonnie Peacock, and from there we vowed to research him.

Bloody hell. You know that moment when you realize someone Darwinianly less able than you makes you realise just how down the food chain you are compared to them? Yeah, we had that. But it made for all the better natural support when it came to watch him taking his golden prize. Here is a man, we both agreed, who has less than we do, who can do more than we could ever think to do. And then the bombshell, from Luke:

"Imagine if he'd never lost a leg? He would beat Bolt every time by now, already." he said.

It was then that I introduced Luke to the concept of "Circumstance": If Jonnie Peacock had made it past the age of 5 with two fully functioning legs, would he ever have considered running competitively? Apparently not. I pointed out that the Spanish contingent had an ex terrorist in their ranks. "No way", I was told. But "way". Circumstance leads to many paths, from the least expected of paths.

It led me to realise that over the course of London 2012, I watched the very beginning of the opening ceremony, a little bit of sailing while me Jayney worked out what class of boat (or ship, or dinghy, or whatever they call things that float and have a sail) we were seeing, and the Mens 100m final. The rest I saw as highlights, largely on iPlayer. As for the Paralympics...

At what point in the proceedings could I have felt any sense of pity? At what point could I have looked at any athlete and said "You really let the fucking side down there"? Where could I suggest they improve their lot? How could I make them think that their disability made me better than them?

At no point. That's the truth.

The simple fact is that Britain took a firm grasp of Beijing's torch and made the Paralympics something to admire. If you don't believe me, I suggest you search the WWW and see what crops up since Beijing. There's a particular BBC R4 documentary made regarding China that might squeegy your third eye...

Where does this leave the disabled, though?

In the tabloid pigeon-holing of social physiognomy, it would now appear that competing Paralympians need at least an OBE, and those not competing want their benefits taking off them. If you can't do the 100m in the time it takes Dave Weir to do the Marathon... MMmmyyyyeah.... Other way 'round? How's The Sun's goalball team doing?

Me, I'm not disabled. But I do have friends who were born with physical defects, and I do have friends who have lost limbs and abilities since birth. They've done fine, but (and they will admit) not as fine as these amazing archetypes for the true nature of human existence: the fight to exceed expectation.

Whether you are able-bodied in the media sense, or of the Paralympic event persuasion, let me ask you this: Where could you see yourself pushing for a gold medal, in any event, at any level?

I've never known it to be that someone considered less socially "normal" than me could inspire me to realise I'm a fat, moaning, counter-productive piece of shit compared to what they endure, and that whatever I face in life, I should know not only can I improve myself, but I can improve on those that consider themselves better than me.

The Paralympics stole the show in London. No more an amazing people have I ever witnessed. Sadly, the next person who thinks they personally are as equally "disabled" but clearly does themselves no favours will incur my socialist wrath: we have moved on as a species. Darwin was right. What are you doing for your species?

Sorry, but I speak as someone with less physical worth than Dave Weir, I assure you. Never mind me. What are YOU doing?


Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Group For Security

Once upon a time, in the early nineteen-nineties, there was a security company, and it was called Group Four. Group Four was just like any other anonymous and unheralded business going about its daily tasks with no public attention at all, until one day when it landed a massive government contract to transport prisoners from court-to-prison and prison-to-prison.


You see, the problem was that Group Four basically had two functions. 1: To move bags of money about safely. 2: To have people walk or sit around and make sure things didn't get nicked from their clients.

It really wasn't difficult. Dangerous sometimes, yes. Such is the nature of the industry. But moneybags don't wander off by themselves, so as long as staff weren't being attacked by thieves, the moneybags were okay. Sitting looking at CCTV was also easy enough, and wandering around in a smart uniform looking a bit policey is also a piece of cake.

Sadly, Group Four thought transporting prisoners would be like transporting money. They forgot prisoners have legs, a desire to not be prisoners, and mates on the outside. It wasn't like looking at CCTV or moving inanimate objects around at all.

So bad was the ability of Group Four to actually carry out the task expected of them that their parent company ended up changing the name of the business to G4S, ostensibly because they had acquired another security firm and merged them, but mainly because Group Four had become a complete joke.


Now, I'm not saying that like Group Four, G4S is a joke. But I am saying there are certain parallels that are hard to ignore. The amusingly named gaffer, Nick Buckles (does he steal buckles? When does Nick buckle?) says in the article that he knew "8 or 9 days ago" that things were going tits-up. Really, Nick? Only 8 or 9 days ago? Not when your firm had a load of unemployed draftees dumped under a flyover in London at 4am for "training", with no waterproof clothing or a place to stay? That wasn't a clue?

So they're drafting in the army to help.

I'm not being funny, but that sounds like it would have been the best bet all along. Whatever you think of the lads and lasses our wonderful government send off to die on foreign soil, year in, year out, who is better equipped to do the job? We're talking about a body of people of whom about 20% are going to get shafted onto the dole queue in two years time, and the remainder will no doubt be sucked into America's next pointless venture into the Middle East; or Syria as it's currently known. Why not make good use of professionally trained, adequate, armed, patriotic people already at the nation's service?

Why not? Well, because to do so would suggest that the concept of contracting national work to private industry isn't a workable solution to the betterment of the nation. It might suggest that the process of tendering isn't valid or worthwhile. It might suggest that if we lift the corners of the private sector's rugs we might find a lot more swept under there than dust...

The Olympics will be a success, regardless of news like this (or the rain). But I can't help feeling that we, as a nation, have already sold ourselves short by not making use of our armed forces for securing the visitors, athletes, and locations for the whole event. Why are we proud to send our "brave heroes" to die in a pointless conflict, but not proud to have them watch over us in the most remarkable event to hit this nation in this millennium?

I believe the Armed Forces are the best people for the job, and Group 4 (sorry, G4S) can just give their contract money back to us taxpayers. They're not welcome.

Oh, and as an afterthough: many years ago some friends (or possibly customers) of my parents were involved in a head-on collision with a Group Four security van on a secluded country road. Both were critically injured, and the men in the van sat there and watched them both bleed to death because they weren't allowed to get out of the van and give help, even though they carried a first aid kit on board and could probably have saved both lives. Oh well, they followed the rules and radioed the emergency services.

So not only is the business incompetent, they're also killers. Nice people to do business with...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Emz Cariad Am Byth!


Where did you grow up?
In Abergavenny, South Wales, galloping about on the mountains (on a horse, not being weird pretending I was one) and later, getting roaring drunk at the parties, until I was 20, when I headed to London for a while.

How did you find London? I don't mean "Did you use a road atlas to get there?" obviously. What was London like for you, especially as a 20-year old? Did you stay long?
In my first term at college (London College of Printing Elephant and Castle) I was late every morning because I could NOT face getting on a tube packed tight with people! I loved the freedom, the eclectic mix of people and cultures, all a complete surprise and delight after living in rural Wales! When I left college I got into road protesting, climbing trees and helping secure squats. With my totally unsuitable boyfriend, some 10 years older! We also put on full moon parties with DJs and bands. Then I fell pregnant and got a part-time job with Greenpeace, coordinating and training volunteers and going on protests, etc. After a few years I trained as a holistic therapist which I worked at part-time whilst working in a special needs school in the section with children with autism. Shortly after I realised I didn't need to put up with the abusive boyfriend, and moved back to Wales. I'd spent 10 years in various locations in east and north-east London. My first 2 daughters enjoyed a fabulous social life even from babyhood. I met amazing people, absorbed all it had to offer, and when its shine began to fade, went back to my mountains in Wales, which I then appreciated a lot more!

How would you describe yourself?
Mum of 3 gorgeous girls.  Mainly laid-back hippy type, messy at home and super-organised at work!

What's been happening in the last year?
Found a new job which I LOVE, then found a lump in my neck last June. I was diagnosed with cancer and have been treated with chemotherapy and had a stem cell transplant. It's been hard on my girls. They've been brilliant. I've been writing a journal about it all.

Okay, I knew about some of your last year, but for anyone who reads this: can/will you share your journal online? It might make an interesting and helpful read for other people affected by cancer, either directly or indirectly.
Yes. Some who have read it have already told me it's been inspirational! Which is an added bonus as I started it purely for self-help purposes! I would love to have it published for that reason. I think the perspective of a single working mother who lives with 3 kids, 3 ducks and a dog, and kicks cancer's arse, could possibly be useful!

Damn right it could! Here's the link, so see if it could. Hopefully, it WILL!

Who would you think of your family (living or dead) would have the most interesting biography for people to read, and why?
Well, there is Elizabeth Morgan, my great gran, who worked with Nye Bevan in the Welsh Valleys and campaigned with him for the NHS. He went to her funeral, and  Mum's cousin has the cards from him and other politicians. Or you could have Hanging Judge Jeffreys (ancestor on maternal grandmothers side) from the 16th century, made Chancellor, then given the job of witch-hunting back in Wales - he used the Skirrid Inn as a court and you can see the rope burns on the hanging beam today. He got over-zealous and ended up incarcerated in the Tower of London!

Nye Bevan is (as I think you know) a personal hero of mine! What do you think your Great Gran would make of the modern NHS, especially considering what you've recently been through?
I think she would be overjoyed at the level of service I have received and be disgusted by the multi-layered and unnecessary levels of management, taking away much needed funds from the actual patients,making the staff who have looked after me even more special.

It really is good to know there is faith in the system at its most basic, caring, intended level. Especially from someone so deeply and personally affected by it.

If you could change just one thing about the way the world we live in is, what would it be?
Abuse and neglect, on all levels from local to global, of any living being, human and animal.

What's the funniest thing you've ever experienced during the course of a working day?
Being called out to the school car park (I was working in a high school) where a 12 yr old lad was refusing to let his mum drive off and refusing to come into school. He was swearing like a trooper and ripping bits off his mum's car. I was both troubled by his issues but also in great admiration of his style as he threw hubcaps into the field behind, and I had to look and sound professional and NOT burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

How did that work out in the end? Did he finally make it into school? I have this vision of a safari park-type monkey-on-the-roof type situation!
I persuaded him that if he let his mother leave and came into school, he could sit in the SENCO's (Special Education Needs Coordinator) room and show me his favourite motorbikes on the computer and not have to go into lessons. The SENCO and the deputy head were in the car park by then too, so I guess he felt he had caused enough chaos to get the attention of 3 members of staff! Of course, when we were at school, we would probably have been dragged in by our hair and then given detention!

If someone made a film about your life, who would play you?
Helena Bonham-Carter.

What's the best joke you can think of, off the top of your head?
An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walked into a bar. 'Hang on', said the barman, 'is this some kind of joke?'

What song means the most to you, and why?
Kate Bush, Jig of Life. Because it was 'our' song between myself and my first boyfriend. We were together for four intense years, and it always did and still does, give me a shiver down my spine.


And so ends my first attempt at interviewing a friend. I hope you've enjoyed reading it, and for those of you who did, may I recommend taking a look at Emz's Race For Life page and donating a little to help her and her friends help people who have gone through what she has endured.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

My Life According To...

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to some people you like to get them to join in the fun.
You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think… REMEMBER EVERY answer must be a song title from your chosen artist!

PICK YOUR ARTIST:
Monster Magnet

ARE YOU MALE OR FEMALE:
King of Mars

DESCRIBE YOURSELF:
Negasonic Teenage Warhead

HOW DO YOU FEEL:
Bummer

DESCRIBE WHERE YOU CURRENTLY LIVE:
I Want More

IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE, WHERE WOULD YOU GO:
Twin Earth

YOUR FAVORITE FORM OF TRANSPORTATION:
Tractor

YOU AND YOUR BEST FRIENDS:
All Friends And Kingdom Come

WHATS THE WEATHER LIKE:
Evil

FAVORITE TIME OF DAY:
Radiation Day

WHAT IS LIFE TO YOU:
Powertrippin'

YOUR RELATIONSHIP:
God Says No

YOUR FEAR:
Atomic Clock

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE TO GIVE:
Look To Your Orb For The Warning

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:
Sin's A Good Man's Brother

HOW I WOULD LIKE TO DIE:
Pill Shovel

MY SOULS PRESENT CONDITION:
Face Down

MY MOTTO:
Your Lies Become You

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Flush Of Reality For Sun Readers

We had a meeting at work this morning. Nothing unusual about that: meetings happen all the time. But something that was highlighted in it, today, was this article in that most honest and factual of British daily publications, The Sun "newspaper":

WE EXPOSE WATER COMPANY WASTERS

I bet some of you out there did read this. One or two people may even see (and read) this who are connected with the water supply industry. Those of you who haven't read it before but have now have probably had a bit of a tut, a quick shake of the head, or maybe paused and wondered why I'm referencing it at all.

Because it's your fault.

"Really, Ed?" I hear you ask. "How can the water companies wasting millions of gallons of water be our fault?"

Well, apparently you (like me) like nice crystal clear water coming out of your taps. When it comes out and it's a funny colour or it's a bit cloudy you complain. Or you flush it down the drain, complain, and then fill up again hoping it's okay second time around. And let's face it: we do like crystal clear water. We like it there, in our taps, all the time. And the water companies have an obligation to make sure that this is the case. At our place it's called the Always On programme, and a lot of people put a lot of time and effort into making sure that it's effective.

The water does not always run clear. Water isn't even naturally clear. It carries all sorts of bits in it as it travels, be it in a stream, a river, a water main, or even down from the sky. But your water company filters out as much crap as is possible before it gets to your tap. Sometimes the process of making sure this happens means getting some of that crap out of the water network, and that was what was happening in the examples The Sun cited. The areas being flushed out were prone to discolouration, which means customers complaining, which means Ofwat and the DWI getting heavy with the water company for poor customer service.

It really is a no-win situation for the water companies, and just as much for us poor mugs out in the field. If you carry out the actions required to maintain that water, crystal clear, you're wasting millions of gallons. If you stop doing it, you're not fulfilling your obligations to your paying customers to give them what the nation demands.

So how about it folks? How important is it to you that the water's crystal clear, now so many places face drought conditions? Did you know that not flushing that water out after a repair to the supply can mean that all sorts of unpleasant bacteria and general detritus can get into your taps? We've not had cholera for years...

On another point of the article: Thames Water might have nearly 9 million customers, but it's also in one of the most densely populated places in the world. People. Buildings. Roads. Lighting. Telegraph poles. Shopping Centres. Factories. Offices. These are all things that have to be taken into consideration when work is carried out on the water infrastructure. I won't go into detail because I blogged about it in a guest post for my friend Sharon, and you can read it here if you want to know more.

I'd just like people to take into account that water does not magically come out of their taps. I'd also like them to know it doesn't magically fall directly out of each raincloud into the exact location of every reservoir in the UK. We're doing our bit to make sure the water's where it's supposed to be, all the time. The Sun, as always, are resorting to half-arsed sensationalism with half the facts and no genuine consideration for what is actually happening in the real world.

On the plus side, the Government hasn't told us all to start hoarding water*. I guess it's just not that precious a commodity in the First World. Remember that the next time you see a real drought - the ones in Africa, for example - on the news.

*Probably because journalists from The Sun will manage to set themselves on fire with it.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

How To Win A Stanley Cup In Montreal

For the last couple of years I've written an end-of-season blog dedicated to my first love, and sadly this year I get to write it a few weeks earlier as it's mathematically impossible for the Canadiens to make the playoffs and either surprise their way to the conference final or lose in the first round to the eventual champions. This year we showed our true colours: an inept group of forwards and vastly inexperienced defensemen working in impossible conditions under lacklustre coaching and management, with no passion, no grit, no desire, and no cohesion.

Here's how I, an overseas fan who clashes with the opinions of Montreal natives time and again, thinks we should be moving forwards.

1) Ditch the "Bilingual Coach" nonsense.

Hockey is an international language. But the thing you'll notice if you have followed the sport since, say, the seventies, is that like many worldwide sports that international language is, whether you like it or not, English. I've been to Montreal. I've tried speaking French to the natives. If you suck at it (like I do) they speak to you in English anyway. Outside of the rural areas I'd be surprised if there is anyone of a half-decent educational standard that can't speak English better than most English-speaking Canadians can speak French.

In Wales, no one expects the coach of Swansea, or Cardiff, or the national team to speak fluent Welsh. They expect them to win football matches. Because what matters most to Welsh football fans is results. Rest in peace, Gary Speed.

I'm not saying Randy Cunneyworth is the man for the job at Le Centre Bell. I'm just saying there are coaches out there that don't speak French who know how to coach a team to the Stanley Cup final. Fact.

2) Let the skilled forwards be skilled forwards.

This is a gripe that goes back years, and I can present far more evidence of how the system in Montreal screws up the confidence, ability, and talent of many, many a youngster coming into the locker room than should ever be the case.

Brian Savage. Michael Ryder. Mike Ribeiro. Mikhail Grabovski. Guillaume Latendresse. These are all guys that put up good junior numbers who, in the Montreal system were constantly expected to backcheck and hustle, never to find the open ice, and never to be greedy. It seems the only people we've encouraged to do any of the latter have been overpriced free-agent signing, or trades that haven't panned out.

We have some significant young talent in our ranks, in David Desharnais, Louis Leblanc, Lars Eller, Aaron Palushaj, and especially Max Pacioretty. But I don't think (even with a great season behind Desharnais and Pacioretty) if the system stays as it is, it will make the slightest difference. They'll just be guys that get traded for something-or-other needlessly, for us to find out they are productive and beneficial to other teams like Ribeiro, Grabovski, and Ryder have proved recently.

3) Have some defensemen who look like they could get served in a bar.

May the hockey gods bless PK Subban. He is the character the Habs have been missing for years. His charisma, his big grin, his chatter, and his confidence are as much a part of his game as those incredible open-ice hits, the big slapshot, and rushes up the ice. But beyond he and Josh Gorges there is nothing I can see that says "I am an NHL defenseman."

Andrei Markov is permanently injured. The rest are guys who could (and in some cases did) bring a team a junior championship at the AHL level.Weber, Diaz, Emelin, and St. Denis are all barely out of junior status. And that's all the defensemen we have. No. Don't even think about mentioning anyone else. There are no other Montreal defensemen. Trust me.

Buying out Markov's contract would be a start. I'm sure he'd be great for any other NHL team, but let them pay his excessive medical expenses. I'm sick of his exceptional talent being in the physio room and not on the ice. We could make space for a couple of guys I think would really make a difference in our locker room: Alexandre Picard, and Adam McQuaid. And we could get these workhorse guys for draft picks, because I'm not entirely sure their respective teams appreciate them like a bunch of soft kids such as our youngsters'd appreciate them.

That said: Jarred Tinordi should probably get a shot at stepping up for a few games, as he already looks like the fists and in-the-corner fearlessness our blueline sorely lacks.

4) A General Manager prepared to take some risks.

It's pissed me off this year (and I've blogged about it before) that some of the quality players that have made a difference on other teams (particularly the Flyers' Claude Giroux and the Blues' David Perron) could have been drafted by us. We're going into this post-season (early) with (probably) a top three draft pick. But I'm not entirely sure a high pick is what we need. If we draft someone high, it needs to be a power forward who we'll nurture as a power forward, not someone we allow to fall short, re point #2. If we draft, we draft Brendan Gaunce. But we won't. So let's get rid of that pick and add to that shocking blueline with either one of the guys I mentioned in point #3, or restricted free agent Shea Weber who will never win anything where he is now.

 5) Media acceptance that it's the 21st century, and the hockey world owes us nothing.

No more the cry of "Twenty-four Stanley Cups". It means precisely nothing. It has the same impact as telling English soccer fans that their national team are "the best" in the world. True students of either sport know that their team no longer even rank in the top ten, and honest fans (be they true or otherwise) can recognise we don't have what it takes to compete with the big boys. We don't have a Nicklas Lidstrom. We don't have a Patrick Kane. We don't have a Zdeno Chara (OH MY GOD I SUGGESTED CHARA ISN'T AN INHUMAN SCUMBAG!!!). We don't have a Martin Brodeur. We certainly don't have a Sindey Crosby or a Steven Stamkos.

We have Subban, Price, Pacioretty, Eller, and, if you like, Cole. Not much else. It's about time the media either realised this or started getting behind the talent of those youngsters that really could be the heart-and-soul of the team. One day.

6) Nail down Staubitz and for Gods' sake sign someone vicious.

Whether you approve of fist fights on a brick-hard surface, teetering on two razor blades or not, fighting in pro hockey is as fundamental to the modern game as diving is to professional soccer. It gets a result, like it or not. Where the Habs have gone wrong in the last couple of seasons is having not only no one who can win a fight, but no one who can step on the ice and mix it up to get the chance of a fight going? Travis Moen? Ryan White? Ballsy guys, but guys shown up as Second Prize. Subban can go. Gorges ain't scared. But it makes no odds if you get pasted with haymakers and end up pinned to the ice.

Staubitz changed all that. We have some toughness at last. And if we can nail down someone younger and crazier (I'm thinking in the Claude Lemieux mould here, although I like AHLer Matt Pelech's tenacity) to add depth to the possibility of excessive violence, we may stop being pinballed to the foot of the NHL rankings.

7) Deciding what to do with Patrick Roy.

He's been touted as a future Habs coach. Now he's at the tip of every betting Habs-obsessive's tongue as the next GM. Why? Because he's arguably the best goaltender the club ever had? Because he's from the province? Because he's bilingual? I'm not being funny, but aside from these admirable qualities he's also noted for his stubbornness, his temper, his historic falling out with Habs management and trade to a team that showed him the respect he commanded, and his complete lack of any senior management roles.

I love the guy. He was just coming to make a name for himself when I fell in love with the Habs (although I will forever credit Penney and Sevigny for assuring my devotion) but our track record of Habs on-ice legends does not translate well to off-ice operations. I genuinely don't know if I would want St. Patrick at the helm at any level above the AHL right now.

8) Take the Old Yellers out back and shoot them.

You've got to love Scott Gomez. With his unusual-fort-the-league heritage and his record as a Cup winner he (on paper) is a quality player who you wouldn't pass up if you could put him on your roster in a video game. However, at this stage of his career in Montreal he has shown himself to be fragile, lacking confidence, injury prone, and perhaps jaded by the system he came into. It's time for him, the diminutive Brian Gionta, and the inexplicably dressed Mathieu Darche to be packed off somewhere else to see what they can add in different circumstances.

I am not denying these players their proven talent. I am just denying they have a desire to play in Montreal, or an ability to stay healthy under the Habs medical professionals.

9) Take a bloody good look at recent Stanley Cup winners.

The Bruins. The 'Hawks. The Penguins.

Each of these teams had lean seasons before their Cup wins. Jesus, if you're a 'Hawks fan reading this in the year  2042 (and I bet the Leafs still haven't won a Cup) you might know how I feel, but since it's still... let's see... yeah... 2012, I think it's fair to say the Habs' dry spell only dating back to '93 isn't such a big deal, in the big scheme of proud hockey franchises.

What we need to do, following their lead, is draft well, trade well, and keep a core of talent to build around. Sounds bleeding obvious? Yeah, well it is. But each year there are twenty-nine teams who don't evidence drafting, trading, claiming or training well enough to the The Winner. Even if you average things out over a ten year period I don't think the Habs could be considered a shoe-in to even the top eight in any of those categories. All of those three Champs I mentioned would be in the top three in each category at least half the time.


10) Not giving me a post-season with 10 bullet-points to rip the team on.

It's simply very acceptable. But it's not acceptable year-in, year-out. So don't let it happen again, Mr. Geoff Molson. You own the team, you claim to be a hockey fan, and bearing in mind they sell your fucking awful beer even over here in Europe you're clearly not lacking in financial clout. Put your money where your mouth is and get us some of the items I've mentioned above, and maybe, just maybe what you will have before you is a proud team who have added to the legacy so many talented and humble men of generations lost fought tooth and nail for. You will have a city rejoicing (although probably burning, raping, looting and pillaging again) at the restoration of pride in this historic franchise.

But you will definitely get those banners swaying in the rafters, as the Forum Ghosts dance for us once more.

Nos bras meurtris vous tendent le flambeau, à vous toujours de le porter bien haut.

(The Habs motto, written by an English-speaking Canadian of Scottish descent.)








Let's Panic Buy Everything

I have about six litres of diesel in my car's tank. Since I get fortyish miles per gallon out of it, I should be good for about fifty miles. Unless I join a queue to top the tank up, in which case I'll run out of diesel in the queue if I don't turn the engine off.

There's been a lot said, of late, about how irresponsible it is of the government (in particular, a minister called Francis Maude) to tell the public to fill up their cars and jerry cans with fuel, with a possible fuel strike looming. Whatever you think of the chances of the strike going ahead, the thing to remember is that it is a chance of a strike. They're not actually on strike yet.

So is it the idiot government's fault that the media have taken Maude's possibly ill-advised advice and blurted it out constantly on TV, radio, the internet and in the papers? Is it the government's fault that people are simply stupid enough to take all this in and clog up every forecourt in the land? Personally, I don't think it is.

Take Christmas: You can go into a supermarket on Christmas Eve and there will be dozens of men (like me) doing their last minute Christmas shopping.  But forget about us disorganized idiots. Our panic buying is because we're inefficient and really good at not doing things when they really should already have been done. I want you to think about the woman with the big trolley that's got nothing else in it except bread, a packet of Paxo (just in case the six she has at home aren't enough for the fifty pound turkey) and about three gallons of milk. And you suddenly think "Ooh, I need a bottle of milk."

But there's no milk. It's Christmas. Everyone's already bought it all. Because running out of milk over Christmas is worse than Hitler gassing the Jews.

It's people like this (people who are stuck in the late seventies) who are the real culprits in the panic buying of fuel. They are from a time when the shops weren't open over the festive period. They're from a time when strikes were commonplace. They're from a time when the milkman's round stopped on Christmas Day and didn't start again until probably the day before New Year's Eve.

Worse still, those people have bred. And they've bred into their children the same idiot philosophy based on their historic experiences. Well, I was around in the seventies, but still too youhtful to really give a toss about what was going off. But perhaps an outcome of those days is the fact that supermarkets are open seven days a week, some of them for twenty-four hours, and quite a lot of them sell fuel.

So the moment you see a queue for petrol because some fool at the Houses of Parliament thinks it might be a good idea to top up before the striking union announces the date - and they have to give seven days warning - you can basically blame people over the age of forty, and their driving-age offspring.

Not the government.

I think it's about time we had panic-buying of more things, more often. It might get the economy back on track! All it would really need is for some sort of fear to spread about products and their tenuous link to social situations, our perceived needs, health and welfare:

"A report leaked from the Department of Transport shows that not only does using a brand new iPod with top-of-the-range Sennheiser headphones not damage your hearing as previously expected, but actually reduces the risk of heart disease, improves IQ, and help shed excess pounds."  - The Daily Express.

"A study at the University of West Anglia has revealed that British motors will be extinct in the next 3 to 4 years. The same study shows that BMWs turn you into a Nazi, driving a Toyota is the same as approving of Japanese POW treatment, and any car made in mainland Europe will cause your head to explode if you listen to Radio One or Radio Two in it. Or Lady Gaga." - The Sun.

"CHAVS AND IMMIGRANTS ARE BUYING ALL THE HOUSES IN THE HOME COUNTIES!!! THEY WILL GIVE US ALL LEUKEMIA!!!" - The Daily Mail

It could work. Media-driven panic has caused more fuel shortages than there ever have been before the panic, and it's affected sales of meat, of eggs, of fruit, and even (if I remember correctly) televisions. I'm pretty sure there was panic at some point about the radiation from the screen making you blind, or something.

Imagine it: thousands of dim-witted people going out and buying an iPod in the belief it will make you healthier. Thousands more buying up whatever is still left of British-labelled car industry (which I think might just be BMW's awful "Mini" and possibly Noble and Caterham) in the vain hope that's patriotic and might save us from the daily terrors of the European Union. And then there's the Mail readers. Well... it probably has already been a Mail headline. They seem to spread panic about everything all the time. Too much coffee, I say.

By the way, first and second class stamps are going up by 33%. That means P&P costs will be going up on eBay by 33%. That means P&P costs on eBay will now be 150% more than actual costs of sending items on eBay. Fact. Probably.

Better get your bargains in now before there's an eQueue on eBay.


Saturday, 24 March 2012

Swearing Has Lost Its Fucking Appeal

The other day I had to ban my 10-year old son from using the headset on his Xbox. I also confiscated all the age inappropriate games I let him play. Why? Because I woke up to hear him using language that wouldn't be out of place at a football match. Why do I let him play such games? Because when I was 10 there was nothing more entertaining than watching age inappropriate films (we had no 18 certificate games, or bananas, and all this was fields) to discover that the hype was, frankly, a load of old bollocks.

I remember years ago being told that swearing was a sign of a poor vocabulary. I was probably not much older than my son at the time, and scratched my head at this suggestion. I preferred reading to watching TV, and felt I had a pretty good vocabulary. I remember keeping a dictionary nearby because of words like "aquiline" and "stentorian" being used in some books I was reading. At no point did I think my vocabulary suffered because I'd read the words "fuck", "cunt", or even just "bastard".

But I used those words, out loud. It was almost like using them was a badge of honour in the school playground, and it's one of the reasons I generally tolerate my son using swear words at home: I know they all do it at school. I really don't mind if we're playing some game and he calls me a bastard for pulling some surprise move on him. I don't mind if he thinks the film we're watching is shit. But I still drill into him that there are people - grandparents, teachers, uncles and aunts - who will be very very disappointed if they heard him using such language. Because it's not what children should do.

Bullshit.

What does a broad vocabulary really teach you? It teaches you that the English language is both unnecessarily complicated and convoluted. It teaches you that a vociferous approach to avoiding profanity might endear you to the highbrow elements of society, while simultaneously marking yer as a posh fucker t'everyone else. Because in English, everything is apparently black and white, just how it's written down.

Swearing is cool. It's probably one of the reasons I don't do it so much any more. I'm 41. It's impossible to be cool in your 40s, even if you're an actor or something, and you're told you're cool. Cool is for youth, and in your 40s you are well beyond your youth. In your 40s you can be relevant, or important, or acceptable. So by the time you reach a certain age, swearing cannot ever be cool. And for anyone suggesting it never is cool, I say this: you're basing that assertion on your own upbringing. You were told swearing isn't cool. You were told it's a sign of a poor upbringing, or low intelligence, or, as stated above, a poor vocabulary.

Take regional accents. Across the UK there are places where "You cunt" is completely acceptable in daily use. I say this as a native of Derbyshire, and here's an example.

Person A: "Ah reckon ah could gerrover a 12 foot wall we 1 rate good jump."
Person B: "No. You cunt."

To translate into standard English:

Person A: "I reckon I could get over a 12 foot wall with one really good jump."
Person B: "No. You couldn't."

The more language adapts, the more it accommodates swearing as a by-product of every day life.It accommodates it so much it loses its meaning. If you heard someone say "I was just driving down the road and this bloke reversed out of his drive straight into the side of me!" you could easily be greeted with "Shit!", "Fuck!", "Bastard!", "Cunt!", "Bollocks!", "Wanker!", or "Doh!" and it will convey the same message to you: "That's terrible. The person must have been irresponsibly disregarding the nature of the situation they put you both in!"

But who's going to say "That's terrible. The person must have been irresponsibly disregarding the nature of the situation they put you both in!" when a simple casual expletive will suffice? Stephen Fry, perhaps. And even he likes a good swear.

It's got to the point now where I probably swear less than I ever have as an adult. I use foul language largely to express how very fucking pissed off I am at something or other, or to accentuate my desire to achieve something in a particularly positive or negative manner. But I still swear the least when I'm in front of children. They need to learn the words that can show them as articulate and studious, because even the lowest brow will still frown upon unnecessary expletives from a child. It goes back to their own childhood, and that's a motherfucking fact.

The next time you're in a crowded shopping centre or public space, have a good listen to the language you can hear from anyone in a group who is under 21. The chances are that with their cultural or generational slang you won't understand much of it, but I bet you there are a lot less fuckings and cunts than there were 10 or 20 years ago. It's sick. Where once it was wicked.

Right. I'm off for a fucking good swear at the Montreal Canadiens and their sick plays on the ice. Ya get me?




Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Must Try Harder To Write Right Proper

I did some thinking today. Okay, I know that opens me up to lines like "You? Did some thinking???"

Well, yeah. Ha ha ha. It's the classic response to anyone saying "I was thinking...", and it's something I've said in amusement enough times to buy a Mars Bar or maybe a mansion in Hertfordshire. Somewhere in between, certainly. But the point is... well... I did do some thinking.

I've been blogging for nearly five years now. I've never intended it to be anything more than a personal collection of ideas and beliefs that I felt were appropriate to be shared with friends and interested miscellany. I think it largely stems from being a massive fan of the Adrian Mole diaries and having done a diary (in response) myself as a young teenager. Okay, I largely avoid my own personal life apart from occasions when I'm at my lowest and reaching out for a bit of support or admonishment, but a blog's a blog. It's a diary of your thoughts, your actions, and your well-being. Right?

Oh I dunno...

I discovered Adrian Mole, age 12 (as he was 13 ¾) and immediately had empathy with him. I was inspired to write down my own thoughts as a result. A few years later, having been an avid fan of The Young Ones, I was bought the age-inappropriate How To Be A Complete Bastard for my birthday. It was a revelation!

I discovered, at the age of about 14 ¾ that it was quite easy to combine the altruism of a diary like that of Mr Mole with the purely ficticious extreme violence and debauchery of Adrian Edmondson's chucklesome toilet-reading. Thus was born "Ed's Best Selling Novel" which was a schoolbook collection of cartoons, skits, poems and short stories centred around personal fantasies, observations of friends, caricatures of teachers, celebrities and politicians, and the violent deaths of people I didn't like, in amusing ways.

My friends loved it. So did other people who it got circulated around, sometimes excepting those it was aimed at. Not that I cared. I was 14 ¾!

As a result, I came to my O-Level years (that's the worthwhile GCSE grades, these days) safe in the knowledge that I could write things that make people laugh. I was a skinny, geeky kid with a defined agenda that was centred on a goal that I felt school couldn't give me a genuine shot at. I wanted to be an engineer in the RAF. Being in the Air Training Corps gave me that shot, and school didn't. So Best Selling Novel II was followed by BSN III, IV, and so on...

One day, bored in an English lesson I wasn't enjoying, I scribbled something that had come to mind in one of my schoolbook-sized parodies of the life I knew. So rapt in it was I, that my teacher caught me and confiscated it. I was mortified. How much trouble could I be in? I was already the archetypal "must try harder" student, and being in this position just meant I was in a lot of trouble with my folks who constantly considered the best grades an expectation rather than a reason for praise. I mean... there was stuff about teachers in there, and a teacher had hold of it!

The next English class:

"Ian. This is really good. It is funny and well written. If you edited out the swearing and the pictures you could enter this as coursework and you'd get a very good grade!"

The Ian back then said "Yeah? If I edited out the swearing and pictures it'd only be a page long."

Yeah. Well, it's Ed now. I may be Ian by birth name, but I am Ed, and Ed looks back and thinks what a genuinely petulant and ignorant kid Ian was at that time. I wish I still had that book knocking around, to prove my teacher was right. I had a talent for mocking those around me, often in a manner that didn't offend them. I could write scripts. I could caption cartoons. I was no Stephen Fry, any more than I was a Carl Giles, but I got a largely favourable response, and none of my work was so offensive to people that they felt the need to either destroy it or beat the shit out of me.

So here I am. Forty-one years old, with three full length unpublished novels, and around fifty short stories (some online), wondering to myself whether I have the confidence to actually do anything about it. Whether "on-line" is more important than the beauty of the printed word or not, no one has a word I have said or written in four decades as something that could survive the nuclear war we all feared when I first put physical pen to physical paper. Here I am. All these years later, writing diaries of my opinions, feelings, and barely suppressed rage, diverting from even thinking that something I've written purely for fun or therapy might actually be good enough to reach out to people who might enjoy it enough to stump up a bit of cash for it. You know, like a job in the real world. If Steven King can do it, I sure can.

Ahhh, there ya go. "If Steven King...". I still retain a little of the attitude had in my youth. The world hasn't beaten it all out of me. Oh, hang on, I don't mean attitude, I mean petulance. I think.

It's funny, thinking back to those school lessons, that I probably learnt more about how life can really go when I was doodling in an English class, writing stories in Art, and daydreaming fantasy worlds in Social Studies. Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? All I ever did was imitate the adult world, and on reflection I was way off the mark in a multitude of ways, but right on the ball in ways that have led me to where I am now, that you can judge for yourself in reading this far into the nowhere I am going with this.

In a way it's a shame that teachers don't remember unremarkable "could do better" pupils like me, because there have been times when I would like to sit down with ol' Pete Smith - the English teacher who said my adolescent procrastination was worthy of an Examination Board judgement - and show him what I've done, and ask "So. What d'you think of this?" I think on the whole he would just sigh and say "Why couldn't you have had the aptitude to push yourself into the publishing world years ago?" or maybe "If you'd listened to me in class instead of writing your childish nonsense, you might be a professional by now".

Either way would be fine. Either way would be just great, because as I've looked back over the twenty-five years since we had that brief exchange I can safely say no other adult has ever said something that affected me so profoundly in my attitude to writing. I know I have the capacity.

I must try harder.



Sunday, 26 February 2012

You Cannot Beat A Slight Dose of Massive Overreaction

So some Americans burnt the Koran. Big deal.

What with all the excitement of the News Of The World being re-published (albeit under the not-fooling-anybody name Sun On Sunday) I almost missed this massively (un)important news item this week, and I think any of you reading this will know this is just the sort of internationally mindless nonsense that I love to write about.

All over the internet, and presumably the TV (I've not watched any TV at all this weekend) there have been pictures and videos of angry Muslims getting their beards off about the fact that some confiscated copies of the Koran got thrown into an incinerator. And whatever the reason this actually happened, be it deliberate or accidental, the Muslim world is stamping its collective feet, shouting, burning, wailing, and probably at the less palatable end of the scale plotting "revenge".

But that's nothing compared to the reaction I've seen from some Westerners, be they Christians, Jews, or normal people. You see, that guy that's the figurehead of America, whatshisname, has publicly apologised for the burning. This, believe it or not, seems to have fired up quite a lot of Americans of all religious and political persuasions. You'll note I use "religious" and "political" here, without ever mentioning the word "rational". I imagine rational thinking Americans are quite impressed that Barracks Ossama took the time to apologise.

It mystifies me that there are people that think it's outrageous that the leader of the world's leading plutocracy would do something like apologise for the burning of an article of faith and pride. We're talking largely about the same Americans that get a bee in their bonnet when they see an American flag being burned. "Oh no! Someone's burning our flag! Quick! Carpet bomb them! Yesterday!" How would they feel if the figurehead of the people that did the burning came out on international TV and said "Woah. We're really sorry. Some of our guys were really pissed off when Ordu Kabul FC beat Seremiasht FC and they burnt what they thought was the club flag. It turned out to be the Star-splangled banner."?

Seriously, America: how do you feel when someone burns your flag? How do you feel when someone attacks your sovereign soil? Do you have the capacity to forgive them their sin, or do you respond in kind, with actions of violence, hatred, rage, and intolerance? You love your flag, and you love what it stands for. Is it so hard to believe that there are people out there that feel exactly the same way about a book? Wouldn't you like to see some repentance and forgiveness?

Personally speaking, if I didn't have children to protect, and friends and family to consider, I would like to appear on international TV with a copy of the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah wrapped in the United Nations flag, setting fire to it while chanting "Death to the working and middle classes!" at the top of my voice in order to try and offend absolutely everyone in whole world. I may even extend the chant to encompass raciallly and socially abusive language, just in case not doing so leaves anyone out.

How many of you would forgive me?

If I were in Obama's position I would have apologised too. Likewise, if I were a reasonable man of Islamic, Jewish, or Christian persuasion (yeah, yeah, I know that's probably an oxymoron) leading a group likely to get antsy about any kind of perceived slur against my faith I would still discourage my brethren from instigating protest with violence against the protagonists. Why? Because I think in this day and age you have the opportunity to prove to the world at large that forgiveness, understanding, tolerance, and virtue are much more important to the future of humanity than revenge, ignorance, intolerance, and rage. An idealistic, hippy notion? Probably.

I'd rather be an idealist than an extremist.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Best Days Of Your Life?

I took my son to school for the first time in an age, yesterday. Normally his mum takes him, and I pick him up after school. The thing that first struck me, as we made our steady way down the main road to the school was just how much dogshit there was everywhere. I know I probably shouldn't count houndmines (my own term for piles of crap - I don't think you can even find it in the Urban Dictionary) but when you've steered around one, and then shortly afterwards you've done the same again, it's easy to get into the habit. I'd say ten, in total. Three our four already obviously now partially attached to some poor kid's school shoe.

I could rant on about how disgusting it is that people don't clear up after their dogs, and in a discussion yesterday I came to the conclusion that a lot of people that walk their dogs in the daytime clean up because they can be seen, but don't at night because either they can't see the poo or can't be seen not cleaning it up. It's probably just an inconsistency in owners, and from a legal point of view is there really a difference between not picking up a turd at night and doing 34 in a 30 zone after the schools kick out? We could debate...

Yeah, dog poo. And then into a playground packed with kids running everywhere while parents mill around either chatting idly or staring vacantly into space until the bell rings and they hand the bags to their no-longer-so-enthusiastic offspring. The children line up ready for the next step in their education, and the parents pour towards the gates like oil through a funnel. Backing up, backing up, backing up, and getting in the way of the latecomers; now later.

The best days of your life, they told us. Christ, I even remember saying to my daughter that school is the best time of your life and you just don't realise it until it's behind you. But is it? Is it really?

It would be easy of me to say I hated school. But that would be a lie. I would say, on the whole, if I had to pick an adjective I'd choose 'indifferent'. When I started school I went to a tiny primary in the village of Breaston, and for the most part of the journey I walked there by myself. If I remember correctly (and I probably don't) my Mum walked us to the crossing of the main road and the rest of the journey was with friends. I don't remember parents crowding around the playground at all. It was no different when we moved to Belper. Now on a busy main road I'm pretty sure (at least at first) Mum walked me part of the way. Then it was the other way down the busy A6 to Strutts' imposing Victorian prison-style middle school, where I don't remember seeing a parent in attendance at all. By high school, I know for a fact that if you were in the presence of a parent at all you were either in trouble or a Mummy's Boy. Either way, what you were more than anything else was embarrassed.

What was great about school was seeing my mates. What was almost as great, but not so much because I was always one of the smallest in my year, was playing British Bulldog in the playground. What was great later was the girls who started to sprout boobs at around the same time we were beginning to realise it was not girls who were smelly and annoying, but, soon, it was us. I also enjoyed English classes, so that was great. But everything else? I could take or leave it. R.E was like torture. Maths, I still struggle with. The sciences? Well it just wasn't explosive or gory enough. P.E? Like I said, I was a small kid. As much as I loved football, I sucked at it. Rugby was Hell on mud. Thankfully the last years of school were the advent of computing as an option in school, so I turned to the combination of pissing about on them and listening to rock music. This is a combination that still serves me well today, as you can see.

Like anything else I've experienced through life, school had its ups and downs. I got bullied a bit. I did a bit of bullying. I was good at some things, I was terrible at others. I had days when I laughed so hard tears streamed down my face, just as I had days when I wished tears could stream down my face but that's not what boys do. If anything, school is just an adolescent version of the average adult life but without having to pay tax, or even earn a wage.

What it's like for kids today can't be much different. Yesterday my son wanted me to join him in the playground in the morning, which is something I hate doing. He stood by me until the bell rang and then hugged me before sauntering off to join the line. I knew something was troubling him, but when I picked him up later he wouldn't say what even though he was still subdued. Yet today he couldn't wait to get rid of me at the school gates and charged in there like they were giving away pizza. Something, of course, modern schools would never do because it's unhealthy and something no school could budget for.

So he had a down day. Then, depending on his mood when I pick him up, an up day.

It's always been interesting to watch him grow, and understand how his learning is developing. Usually in a morning his conversational topics are Forza-this and COD-that. This morning he explained in great detail where the Marathon comes from, including names and details I don't think I ever learnt. Mind you, the origins are rooted deeply in warfare, so it doesn't surprise me he's interested really! The point is, he's clearly enjoying what he's doing there at the moment.

The best days of your life...

I think it's probably your late teens to early twenties. If you're now in your thirties to forties, that is. I remember driving like a lunatic. I remember drinking heavily without a lot of hassle. I remember shagging quite a lot. I remember having a kickaround on the park. I remember lots of good things, and I've probably forgotten a lot too. But you can't drive like a lunatic now because there's speed cameras everywhere, and you have to take out a mortgage for a year's car insurance on something so weedy and uncool that it's impossible to not be overtaken by a pensioner on a motorway. Drinking apparently leads to teen alcoholism and perpetual violence and injury. Shagging apparently either kills you or gets you on the Jeremy Kyle show. Kickarounds are done online. And it seems everything that could be done cheaply in my youth is now insanely expensive. Apart from buying drink. Unless you look under 25.

After your twenties, that's when you apparently have to start being a sensible adult. You have taxes and bills to pay. You have to have a job. You have to have a pension, and life insurance, and a mortgage, and children, and a car, and then road tax, car insurance, a valid MOT certificate, and a holiday overseas every year. So you need a passport, and travel insurance, and so on and so on and on. And some of it will all be great, and some of it you will be told ensures you a brighter future and a happier life. But, hang on...

You're doing all this to ensure you have a happier life when? I'm not that old and already I find myself moaning like nobody's business every day about something or other! I look at my parents, older work colleagues, older friends, and listen to older customers, and all I seem to hear is how crap everything is, how much dogshit there still is on the streets, how this country's going down the drain, and how it's never, ever, ever going to get better.

Well shit.

Maybe being at school was the best days of our life.

Monday, 13 February 2012

There We Were Now, Entertainers...

Isn't it a special moment in this digital age, when a celebrity is snatched away from us "prematurely"?

One of the things that gets me about celebrity culture in the time of twitter and facebook is how quickly news can be shared, be it true or spurious, relevant or personal. Take Jon Bon Jovi's reported death. Oh, how I excited was I? All those potential jokes! All the possibilities for photoshopping. This singer, this songwriter, who I have despised for having one good song from a career of 10+ albums...

...but it's not the point.

It's how you're remembered. Take Whitney Houston and the news of her death, at 48. She was a defining voice of the 80s and 90s. She was an inspiration for soul, gospel, r&b and pop singers that came after her that even those that preceded her will readily testify her as a benchmark of... well... of manufactured chart-based productivity with a side order of clinically washed unit-shifter salad with dressing, followed by a Class-A pudding, finished off with not biscuits but very specific scooby snacks.

I'm sorry, but as a fan of largely rock and metal I can pick out dozens of survivors to match those that fell along the wayside. And they did fall along the wayside. Whether it was a condition that meant their life was going to be cut short because of genes or because of lifestyle, the fact you don't live the prescribed three-score-years-and-ten means, in the public eye, you haven't achieved what is to be expected.

Which is basically living to the point of wig-wearing, ridiculous plastic surgery, doing funeral insurance adverts, and appearing on chat shows to plug biography after autobiography after biography. Living a lengthy celebrity life is not always the best way to go.

What amuses me these days (and Gods know I was heartbroken when Kurt Cobain and Bill Hicks died, for my sins) is the reaction you get from some people that goes something like this:

"[Insert Celebrity Name Here] died today and millions of people said how sad they were on the internet. But at the same time a soldier died in Afghanistan and no one knows who he is and his death didn't even make the evening news."

Well, you know what? Seventy years ago, the daily soldier-to-celebrity death ratio was a significantly higher proportion to what it is now, and none of those soldiers had their names read out on the news even when the news sources knew who they were, if they knew at all. Soldiering is quite a bit different from being a sportsman, an actor, a musician, or a television personality. I can't imagine there's a soldier alive who thinks "When I go into combat, I hope my name ends up getting read out on the evening news" in the same way I don't think there's a single celebrity who thinks they'll be more valuable as a cultural icon, dead rather than alive.

The important thing is that certain people play a part in your life in some defining way that you think at some level only you truly understand. Until the advent of the "reality show" you couldn't really become famous without actually putting something into the world, no matter how vacuous it may have seemed, or how fleeting that effort was. Whether you were a one-hit wonder in the music charts, a sportsman with one extraordinary performance in an otherwise unremarkable career, or an actor whose career will be defined by a single role, we all have that special someone. For me, it's the hockey goalie, Steve Penney, who is still with us. Few but the hardcore hockey fans will even know what I mean, but... Steve... Wow! You got me hooked, man!

As for soldiers... Well, we live in an age of precision strikes and distance-targeting. The battlefields of Le Somme and Normandy are long, long gone. Where once we lost soldiers by the hundreds at a time, losing a handful in a week is seen as a shocking, newsworthy event. And it is. But being a soldier is not about celebrity. They're such different roles in life I can't really understand why people feel inclined to post the "a soldier died today..." type comment unless they've been personally affected by the loss of a loved one at the same time as a celebrity died.

We all lose people we love. The roles people described as celebrities play in our lives are, in the big scheme of things, not that different to the roles family members or friends can play. We've all got a favourite song that means something to us. Sports fans: a favourite sporting moment. Film/TV fans: likewise. It can be applied to pretty much everything, if the impact the deceased made on your life causes you upset.

The important things is remembrance. Keeping that person's memory alive keeps them alive. What Doug Stanhope said in the video I linked above (and you did click on it, right? If not, do it now) is true. It really is probably best that Jimi died when he did. I'm bloody sure Doug's career will be testament to whether Bill Hicks died when he should have.

"Life is like animal porn. It's not for everybody."


Thursday, 26 January 2012

State Of The Team Address

It's coming to something, no matter what sport you enjoy, when you see your team win and you come away from the game thinking "Gods, that was horrible. What the Hell do the management have planned for us?"

I am a Montreal Canadiens fan.

I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this before, but as a Habs fan from over the ocean I have A) no right to be a fan unless I admit I'm "just a trophy fan", and B) not a real fan unless I can speak Quebec French.

Well. I say this to you: Pierre. Donnez-moi un Coupe Stanley, maintenant, s'il vous plait. Qu'est qu'il y a dans la panier? Ou est la piscine, pour quoi? La bain est un lapin, et ma soeur cherche la chemise sur la cheval. Qu'est ce que c'est. Penblwydd Hapus. Diolch.

Because that's all the proper French I know, and you guys in Quebec can go fuck your "Quebec French" just like you Americans can go fuck your American English. It's a tap, not a faucet. They broke the mould when they made Guy Lafleur, not the mold. It's aluminium, because there's no uranum, plutonum, or radum. Quit taking our rate proper European language from us.

Anyway... My point.

Being a Montreal Canadiens fan is a tough thing to be. There is a home-town expectation of the team that is deeply rooted in history that perennially puts us as a Stanley Cup favourite, even when it's clear we do not have the team to even make the playoffs. Take last season, when we got past the fancied Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins only to fall short at the horrible Boston Bruins for our chance at the Cup. The Bruins, a team coached by a fired Habs planner, featuring two ex-Habs forwards. We deserved what we got...

...and so did The Bruins. That's how you put together a Cup winner.

I watched us play the mediocre Maple Leafs last weekend, and we won, 3-1. But watching it reminded me of exactly what I don't like about modern hockey. Dumping the puck in. Grinding it out in the corners. Looking for that perfect play. Whatever happened to skating it into the zone and taking the shot? What happened to shooting the puck on net whenever you can? What happened to open ice hits? What happened to tough guys sticking up for the smaller, skilled players?

I write this off the back of a "surprise" 7-2 win over the league-leading, continuously interesting-to-watch Detroit Red Wings. It was a surprise too. With no intention of watching, I had us pinned for a 5-or-6 goal loss with us bagging one goal if we were really lucky. The Wings must've had an off-night, because the team we skated was pretty much the same god-awful set of overachieving minor-leaguers we've endured all season long. Oh, but with past-it Scott Gomez, who, to be fair, looked like the loves-playing-hockey-Gomez of Devils seasons past.

Twas a shock, I and Wings fans assure you.

The Canadiens will not make the playoffs this year. I re-read the vitriolic rants I made (on Facebook) on our 3-1 win over the Leafs on Saturday and I stand by what I said:

1) We don't have the size to compete against the top teams.
2) We have skilled players, but they don't know how to translate that skill around the opposing net.
3) The only players that look like they want to play for Les Canadiens are Subban and Pacioretty.
4) Price is a fantastic goalie earning a wage. He'd play exactly the same in any city and that city would never win a Cup. Whatever Pat Burns wrote to him in that letter made him a better goalie, but it didn't make him a better team player.
5) I will never love the Habs the way I did until they have a Captain I think cares about the club. And I mean PK Subban, and no one else.

This team is utter shit. Gomez is a has-been. Kostitsyn is a never-will-be. Plekanec might as well only play 20 games a season. Gill could just as well be a goalpost. Diaz, Emelin, and Weber are best suited to Hamilton still. Cole is collecting a wage because he has no one to excite him into actually showing us what he can do. Desharnais has the making of an undrafted legend, but not the intensity or apparent desire. I desperately want him to go all Theo Fleury on the ice, being an utter fucknut-psycho-asshole-you-love on the enemy, but no one's built like that any more. The rest are just bit-part players vying for an NHL job. Bourque? Too soon to tell. Markov? Buy out his contract and FFS get Shea Weber on the team whatever it costs.

The Canadiens have a history of doing whatever it takes to get the best players, but that was always O6 or early expansion era. In this day and age, in the keenest hockey market, they take no risks at all. Just look at the list of guys they could have picked ahead of the crock of shit we have now: Ryan Getzlaf. Jeff Carter. Dustin Brown. Zach Parise. Claude Giroux. It's just depressing...

How it seems to me, as a "not proper" fan, is that we have an ownership that is intent on nothing more than keeping a historic brand in the cornerstone of its market. They know they can shift a few thousand Gomez jerseys in the first season and make some juice from it. Even when he plays worse than a fat high school kid who's discovered glue. They know the occasional obligatory Quebec draftee will have the same impact for the moronic French-speaking "hardcore".

Like it or not, for hockey to be a global phenomenon (do do de-doo-doo) teams are going to have to ditch their snobbery. O6 teams are the worst. Fact.

I love my Habs. But right now I think I'm loving the history. What I see before me is pathetic. How can I love that? Oh yeah... Because love is unconditional, when you know you're in love. Yeah...

I still love my Habs; PK as Captain or not.

As long as Pierre doesn't fucking trade away Pacioretty we're cool missing the playoffs...

...and saying that means I'm not a proper fan. Apparently.