Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sex and thugs and sausage rolls

I was watching the telly earlier, which is quite a rare event these days, because even if it is on it's usually populated by surreally costumed garden dwelling freaks playing with balls and giving each other hugs because apparently they just want to. Children seem to lap this sort of thing up though, which explains why my two year old has no concept of personal space.

I can go for days at a time without directly watching TV. I used to make an effort to watch a favoured show, like Mock the Week or Dexter, but now I don't even do that. I've actually missed one of the new episodes of Life with David Attenborough, and those are the sorts of programmes I would cancel a doctor's appointment for. Actually, that should be Life, narrated by David Attenborough, because otherwise it sounds like a programme watching the octogenarian animal privacy invader doing his shopping and reading the paper*.

Even the news, which previously I watched about three times a day so I could tut a lot and shake my head in grim disbelief, is now accessed via the smoothness of the internet tubes.

A random selection of programmes in the middle of the day shows me what I'm missing.

On one side, someone is thinking of moving house, so they're going on national telly to do it. On another, an amateur chef is being told he's not as good as a professional chef by a professional chef. On a third, some very closely related chavs are arguing about who fathered whose child and proving that the more gold you wear, the lower socioeconomic class you occupy (unless you're Mr T), and on yet another, four women are sitting around a desk chatting about absolutely nothing. Nothing at all, and getting rounds of ecstatic, whooping applause for it.

Oh dear.

I get the impression I'm not missing out on some cultural revolution here, where I will be enlightened and informed on an hourly basis.

This rare television watching event I was treating myself to was a non-BBC channel. As an Englishman, this makes me a bit nervous, like venturing into a foreign market place where they sell huge aromatic rugs, have Kalashnikov stalls and swarthy men with moustaches you could filter plankton through shout at you with words like "Makalakanaka!".

This also meant they had commercial breaks.

The adverts duly came on and I did my economic duty and listened to their propositions. One was for Sni . . .

Snic . . .

Snick . . . ick . . . Marathons!

Sorry, I still have trouble calling them Snickers's's's after all these years.** Don't know why I'm so bothered. They're only a Mars bar with peanuts in.

Anyway, the current advert for said anaphylaxis-causing sweety bar features the aforementioned Mr T, famous for portraying the gruff, blinged-up tough guy war veteran Barely Articulate Baracus in the 80's series The 'A' Team, although what the army would make of such an outfit and copious amounts of jewelry I do not know. Standards must have been lower in those days. Perhaps they had a "Don't ask, don't tell" attitude towards Mohawks and earings.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Mr T advertising Mara . . . Snickers's's's. In the adverts, he arrives at the scene of some poor bloke who is wimping out (not going in a cold pool, or avoiding contact with a football), in a vehicle of war (a tank or a helicopter), and then proceeds to shout "Get some nuts" whilst lobbing chocolate bars at them.

A few things popped into my head from this. The first is that how come Mr T looks exactly the same now as he did when I watched The A Team back in the day. The Thursday, in fact.

The second is that sex and violence sells. In this case, both are used. The candy-dispensing Huey represents the violence, and the sex is represented by . . . er . . . nuts, possibly.

The point is, sex and violence sells snacks.

Sex or violence.

Sex and/or violence.

Anyway, they appeal to the baser aspects of our psyche, which I suppose is exactly what hunger is, so in order to link them advertisers take advantage of our barely controlled, barely evolved lizard brain which is essentially only interested in the four Fs: Feeding, fighting, fleeing and mating.

Of all these, sex comes first, if you know what I mean.

Hence purdy ladies and winsome chaps advertising choccies and cakes.

And there's something for everyone, no matter who, or what, tickles your fancy.

Look at this:

I'm not that into bestiality, but I wouldn't kick that bit of totty out of bed even if she defecated on the duvet and then ate it.

Which she very well might, because she's a rabbit.

Mind you, some advertising concepts make no sense at all. I just found these crisps in our cupboard:


What do they transform into?

Well, you'll have to wait a few hours to find out.

* Which might work. I'll pitch it.

** According to Wikimisleadia, the name change occurred in 1990! It's not that I'm behind the times. Just set in my ways.

Now, excuse me. I'm off to watch Blake's 7 on my Betamax.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mellow hello.

I miss the sunshine.

It's raining here and everything's all mushy. Puddles are forming and I just don't seem to get the pleasure from splashing in them that I used to just thirty-odd years ago. Now I worry that my shoes will get wet.


In an attempt to avert the onset of some Seasonally Affected Depression, a condition with the most unfortunately apt acronym ever, I'm going to think positive and cheer myself up with a post on that most un-wintery colours:


Yellow Thing Part One


Nothing like 'em.

They taste nice. They're a nice colour. They're shaped like a smiley mouth. Even the name sounds nice.



They've been bred for possibly 7000 years from the wild strain so they're all sweet, seedless, easy to unwrap yet still good for you, and to make religious nutballs look even dafter.

Hmm . . . bananas.

Yet, I can't help but be a little disappointed with this one:

It's tiny!

In my fat little opinion, the bigger the better when it comes to bananas. I'm trying not to appear too ungrateful here, because one should be pleased that they are present at all. It's not as though I'm complaining about it not coming naturally smothered in melted chocolate and hazelnut pieces though is it? I just want a bigger one.

Anyway, that is a minor point.

I discovered just the other day that, all my life, I've been eating them wrong.

I peel them from the stem, which usually works pretty well, but occasionally breaks off and you have to bite the damn thing open and are then left with a taste like rotting dandelions in your gob for a few moments, taking away from the overwhelming pleasure that eating a banana should impart. This method usually works, and is relatively satisfactory.

Is that how you eat a banana?

Thought so.

Well, prepare to be amazed, because you have been doing it wrong. Just ask a monkey.

Well, don't literally ask a monkey because they're unlikely to answer and might attack you, or throw their poo at you, so maybe just watch from a safe distance and then take note.

You see, monkeys turn the banana upside down, so the stem is at the bottom, and the little nubby bit is at the top, then they pinch that nub and pull. Then, Hey Presto! the banana is de-gloved with minimum of fuss.

It's much easier that the usual way humans open them and goes to show that, although monkeys have an undeveloped Wernick's Area in their cerebral cortex, thus reducing their conversational capabilities, their Banana-handling centre is positively bulging with neurones.

If you haven't got a monkey to hand, or your monkey is bananaless, then have a look at this link: Nana unpeeling: simian style.

Go on, give it a go. You know you want to.

Yellow Thing Part B

Yesterday we went to our local wildfowl and wetlands trust again, where they also have various amphibians for you to gawp at if you're afraid of the birds. This must be a relief to all the ornithophobes that frequent the bird sanctuary.

One of them (amphibians, not ornithophobes) is called Mr Custard, who is an American Bullfrog with a certain banana-esque hue about him:

What a mellow yellow fellow. If only he played the cello.

They say it's a natural mutation, but what if he's actually got chronic liver disease? Bit of an insensitive name then, reminding him of his condition. He's got enough on his plate without being called Mr Custard.

Just the drink problem for a start.

And no, before you start accusing me of being judgemental, I'm not simply assuming that anyone yellow has a liver problem, and anyone with a liver problem is automatically an alcoholic. There are other signs that give it away.

Just look at his eyes:

If that doesn't suggest a lifetime of hard liquor and loose spawning, I don't know what does.

Bet he plays poker as well.

Actually, that last bit may have been a tiny bit judgemental.

Ignore it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pond life

"Look after your pond while you're away?

Of course! Not a problem. No problemo. Had a goldfish myself once. Died. But it's still experience, isn't it?

Anything I need to know? Any special dietary requirements? Any ill ones, rare or particularly valuable specimens that I need to keep an eye out for?



And you're absolutely sure that there's nothing to freak me out, because I don't like weird fish. Normal fish are fine, like living ornaments, prettily floating about, mindlessly trying to remember how long their memory is and if they left the gas on, but deformed ones, or dead ones, or ones that just look like they've generally had a hard time don't inspire pity, they inspire unmitigated disgust and abject horror, don't they?

Yes. Glad you understand. It's not very fair and I'm not proud of it, but it's not just me is it? I think it's quite prevalent across the human spectrum. It's just the way we are with fish.

Fish come in categories you see. Pretty (your guppies and Nemos and such like); tasty (your cod and Birdseye bite-size reclaimed fish chunks); scary (Great white sharks and things with saws where their noses should be) or madly gross (deformed or dead for more than a day).

Nothing like that then? No? good. Bye then. Have a nice holiday".

Right. Fish care time.

Ooh, lovely pond. Some blue LED lights to frighten tadpoles at night, a pot of fishy pellets for me to scatter both hither and yon, netting to keep the herons off, all tickety-boo and normal for your pond dwelling fauna:

Some lilies, little waterfall in the back there, dribbling down those fibreglass rocks all picturesque like, nice plants on the side, and obviously the fish, all golden and orange and yellows and OHMYSWEETBABYSANTA!

What the chuff is that!

Eeeeewwwwww! Deformed fish! Deformed fish!

It looks like someone's stuck a bicycle pump up whatever fish have instead of anuses and inflated it to 32 psi.

I see you there, slinking under that big leaf, trying to get out of sight, and rightly so. All nasty and not fit for plain view, rolling lethargically from side to side like a badly designed car ferry.

It's moving slowly, and every now and then gets bumped by the other beautiful fish in the pond, causing it to rotate gently like a novelty beach ball with a head and tail, but it valiantly manages to get back the right way up and swims for cover again.

Makes it hard to get a good clear pic of the piscean freak, but you can see how godawful it is. Come on, show us your abnormality. Don't be shy. I'm not going to eat you.

That would really freak me out.

It's not even as though it will be beautiful on the inside. Have you seen the inside of a fish? It's like a slug fight in there.

Even the other fish shun it, with their streamlined shapes and smooth hydrodynamic gliding, constantly looking at their reflections in the undersurface of the pond's meniscus, probably gloating in that well known fishy way about how beautiful they are, about how they don't need immune systems because they're too pretty to get ill, not like old Lumpy McSphere over there.

And Lumpy?

He doesn't retaliate. He simply wobbles back under the leaf, away from the harsh unforgiving sunlight which has no qualms about revealing his distorted features, then throws a fin across his face and cries "Don't look at me! Shlurp. Don't look at me!"

I presume.

Now I feel guilty.

Maybe I can help. Does it need a vet? Or would a vet be all "Ew! Gross! I'll put my entire arm up a cow's arse but if you think I'm touching a deformed fish you've got another think coming." And then charge me forty quid for the consultation because that's what vets do when they tell you what you already know but use bigger words like "vaccinations" and "willful neglect" and "RSPCA". Smartarses.

No. A vet isn't the way forward. Something more practical is required.

How about one of those pet warehouses. Pets Sat at Home or whatever they're called. You know, they've got puppies stacked to the rafters and budgies on quick turnaround, three to a cardboard tube, and you can get monosyllabic professional advice from a teenager on minimum wage who thinks a bat is mouse's ghost.

They sell everything for pets and pond denizens, so I expect they've got a whole shelf dedicated to the aesthetically challenged fish. That's the place to go I reckon.

I wonder if they sell tiny operatic half-masks and cloaks, maybe with a waterproof top-hat?

Not only would he be able to disguise his disfigurement, but he'd have the added advantage of being dapper. I also have it on good authority (my imagination) that top-hats are inherently good at putting off herons, so it's in a complete win/win situation!

Apart from the horrendous deformity of course.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Uneducated Guest

I've managed to wangle a guest post over on Mr London Street's blog, whilst he's away on his holidays.

It's on the topic of holidays. I say topic, but I mean that in the sense of any of my posts, all of which seem mostly to be about digression.

I've never done a guest post before so I hope don't break anything.

Anyway, nip over because if you've not had a look at his blog then I recommend it because it's . . . well . . . ace.


S'an ace blog!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Swimming with the Crowd

We try and go swimming at least twice a week with our sprog, and have found a decent local pool which is very clean, relatively unchlorinated, has mixed changing areas with large family-sized cubicles and is kept at an almost bath like temperature. For this, we have to pay not far off eight quid for admission, but you get what you pay for.

Actually, it's what you don't get that's more important. Athlete's foot and pubes in your goggles, namely.

In my childhood, swimming pools were all called "The Lido" and had foot baths of concentrated TCP, the sky as their ceiling and water that was so soiled it had a crust.

Being an outdoors pool in the UK, The Lido was usable for about three days a year, so mostly it was an unoccupied, untended, unheated trap used to drown wandering hedgehogs. For those three days however, it became the centre of the universe for children from a ten mile radius, who would flock like spawning salmon returning to the waters of their youth, maybe to breed and die, but mostly to dive-bomb their siblings and have a secret wee.

On these days, the pool would become packed full of little blue kids in yellow (and often woollen) swimming costumes, me included, screaming at the merest touch of the icy water that still retained its wintry temperature, screaming at the presence of their mates who they hadn't seen since lunch time, screaming at the very novelty of it all.

There was lots of screaming, is what I'm trying to get across here.

Actually, most of the screaming came from three things.

The first was the sheer expectancy of death every time you entered the water, as those knitted trunks dragged you down to the unseen, algae-obscured abyss of the deep end, which in those days, if memory serves was about eighty feet under, forcing you to power crawl you way to the relative safety of the crowded poolside. We are all pretty damn good swimmers as a result of this though. Like those little Amazonian kids who swim with piranhas and so become as lithe as otters in that great river. We'd have laughed at piranhas.

The second was the insects, usually wasps and ladybirds, which chose to spend their dying moments searching for your open, gasping mouth in which to messily expire.

The third?

Well, the third was Elastoplasts.

Oh god the Elastoplasts.

We called them plasters in them far off days (before Elastoplast did a Hoover) and they were awful. Little pink plastic strips of slimy nastiness on one side, presumably designed to look a bit like Caucasian skin but in reality suited no one of any ethnic background, for no one had skin of such a hue, unless dramatically scarred from some boiling acid incident, which in the seventies wasn't that uncommon. The other side was a white, medicated pad that always, always had a yellow stain in the middle, at the centre of which was a small spot of congealed blood.

No-one ever admitted having one that then came off, so presumably there was was some necrotic, mange-ridden child with chronic impetigo who used them by the bucketful just to keep his skin on, who would sneak into the unguarded pool at night for a swim under the cover of darkness, and then shed soiled plasters like a reptile sloughing off old scales.

Plasters didn't just float about on the surface so they were easily avoidable, but drifted as though part of the very water itself. You would dive through the murky emerald depths when, at the last moment, one would appear wraith-like in front of you, making you scramble about like a diver encountering a Portuguese man-o-war, (the jellyfish, not the ship), desperately attempting to avoid it contacting you with it's lurgy-ridden extremities.

Occasionally, and I retch to recall this, occasionally, it would touch your tender young, water wrinkled epidermis.


It was like the mangy touch of disease personified, kissing you gently on the stomach with calloused lips made from solidified wart exudate, or stroking you on the back like a dead kitten's rotting paw.

The inevitable result was your inelegant eruption from the pool like a tiny Trident missile, crocheted trunks halfway down your arse, clawing your way up the ladder which swung like a door in a gale on it's remaining rusty bolt, before enacting a frantic dance in front of your highly amused mates, trying to look at every square inch of your own body for the leech like attachments of discarded plasters. If you found one, you would then have to approach one of your chums and utter the Chant of Removal, which was done in a voice not unlike Joe Pesci on helium, and went thus:


Ah, The Lido.

There was always a warning sign in pools which gave you a list of things you weren't' allowed to do. Simple drawings of people doing the very things that were verboten, and thus having the exact opposite effect of making you want to do them even more. They were; No running. No diving. No bombing. No Heavy Petting.

Obviously, we all did the first three as often as possible, and would have done the last if we'd known what it was. The picture was of a couple cuddling, waste deep in the water, smiling at one another. Thinking back it was quite a romantic little cartoon they'd used to depict it, full of innocent love and new desire. The fact that one of the chap's hands was under the water just added to the mystery.

Obviously, we all grew up (relatively speaking), and heavy petting became something of an all-consuming ambition for us when we discovered what it was. Mind you, even as a fourteen year old boy, with the hormone addled brain that resulted in an erection if you so much as thought about paving stones for too long, the idea of heavy petting in The Lido wasn't particularly appealing. Who knows where the plaster would've ended up.

Now, things have changed. Flash forward to the present and, in our local pool, there are no signs forbidding heavy petting. You could pet as heavily as an elephant if the notion took you and there would be no warning whistle. In fact, at my local pool they positively encourage sex. Look what I found in the gents:

Not only are condoms sold in hilariously apt "columns", but they also supply Nurofen in case one of you has got a headache.

Now that's thoughtful.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Called to the Bar

We've all thought it; taking photographs of day-to-day life for a blog is very much like quantum physics.

You know, where the observer effects the observed, and your quarry suddenly declines to act in the manner that made them blogworthy in the first place.

It's a problem for the diligent blogger, who simply wants to parade people's foibles on the internet for the innocent entertainment of others, and there's very little help on taking clandestine photos out there. You'd think there'd be evening classes or something. Maybe a government leaflet.

To avoid intrusion one must, like the most patient of natural history film makers, try and be as discreet as possible, blending into the background and taking your victim subject by surprise, preferably leaving them none the wiser for their participation.

Whilst a traditional hide would be perfect, it is quite hard to set up without arousing suspicion, so the wily blogger must resort to using the instinctive cunning for which they are renowned.

I have almost perfected the art of amateur blog photography, and it essentially involves holding a camera phone up to your ear and frowning thoughtfully, as though listening to an important message on the answer service, maybe from your doctor about that blood test you took last week, or perhaps it's your architect who's discovered the patio doesn't conform to local planning laws and you may need to find a different place to hide the bodies. Whatever, make your own imaginary recorded message up, just so long as you look like you believe it, because then so will they.

So will they.

Simultaneously, and at the same time, you must surreptitiously go through the overly-complex methodology the average phone utilises just to take a photo.

If you're actually using a camera, rather than a phone with a camera stapled to it, you should omit the holding up to your ear bit, as it looks mad. In this case, just ostentatiously take a photo and then wink at the subject. They like that.

Happily, I haven't got one of those phones that shouts "CLICK!" when you take a pic, which was apparently installed on many handsets due to an epidemic of upskirt photos being taken on Tokyo tube trains by sexually repressed Nipponese geeks. This is great for the blogger, as it means voyeuristic photos can be taken at will, although it also helps if you're not a great big pervert.

I'm not sure what the point of trying to take photos of ladies undercrackers is, as surely it would be better to befriend a lady, get to know her, start a romantic relationship and see if she'll show you her grollies voluntarily.

Takes a bit of time and effort, and you might have to reciprocate, but you get a result with only a minimal risk of being arrested. And there might be sex involved. With another person. Imagine that.

No, the subjects of my photographical expertise tend to be more esoteric. As Mrs The Jules said when she saw a photo of a load of spilled coffee-oid granules on my phone the other day; "You don't half take pictures of some strange stuff."

Yes, but they make sense to me at the time, and are often taken because they make a point, amuse me, pose a question or answer one.

For instance, whilst entering my local public house, The Woolpack, a place I confess to having visited before, I held the door to let a regular (well, more regular than me) punter in behind as he was struggling to get through. The cause of his strugglage was two-fold. First, he had reduced mobility, possibly due to a medical condition, but more likely because he's fried his nervous system from half a century on a strict high alcohol and nicotine regime. Secondly, he was carrying an empty bottle crate.

After letting him in, he stood for a moment, clutching his crate under his good arm (the one that gives to charity and doesn't fondle unasked. His bad arm does that) and surveyed the room, giving me chance to ponder the possible reasons for his bringing a dirty plastic box into the pub.

I wasn't going to ponder too hard, because the regulars in The Woolpack have been known to bring in stranger things, such as fox tails, shrimp nets and, occasionally, fleas. Besides, I reasoned, I would find out soon enough.

I recalled that his favourite seat is one of those high bar stools, and the seat of this stool is angled slightly forward as a result of years of heavy customers slumping. When he takes his place there, he often has to put up with a graceful sliding motion that most folk automatically adjust for during the course of the night. Unfortunately, his reduced mobility means that he's constantly slipping off it, necessitating an awkward clamber back on about eighteen times a night.

This spectacle stuck in my mind because it made me realise that the social aspect of being at the bar obviously outweighed his difficulty in staying on the stool, and sitting in one of the comfier, lower chairs would feel isolating to him. Instead, he would get on, slide off, grumble and get back on, he and The Stool like two adversaries in a war of attrition, or maybe a modern day version of the punishment of Prometheus, the only difference being Prometheus's liver was probably in better condition, even post-eagle.

I felt a little sorry for him as, between slides, he engaged anyone who approached the bar in muttered but enthusiastic conversation, and I wondered if all he needed was a friend, a confidante, an empathic and sympathetic other to whom he could turn so that he wouldn't have to rely on visiting the pub for that tiny spark of human interaction he so desperately craved.

Obviously, I wondered this from the other end of the bar whilst avoiding eye contact. He was pissed as a fart and talking about immigrants, so I wasn't going to humour the old soak.

Tonight though, as he swayed there, he sized up his old nememesisis, The Stool, with an air of quiet confidence. A watery glint in his eye proclaimed that he had both a battle plan and conjunctivitis. He strode, well, weaved his way to the bar and, with a flourish, implemented his (possibly patented) bar stool anti-slide system, by placing the crate on the floor so he could put his feet on it:

Thus was he successfully braced against the conspiracy between seat and gravity.

This time, when he slid off the stool, it was solely due to good old alcohol.