Friday, 30 May 2008

We're definitely going to need a bigger trowel

No word of a lie, you can see our weeds on Google Earth. That can't be good.

Tomorrow Katie is taking me to a garden centre, as we "need to do something" about our garden. All my protestations have fallen upon deaf ears:

"We're taking the environmentally-conscious approach."

"We're supporting all sorts of protected flora and fauna."

"I really couldn't give a toss."

I think the tipping point was the pictures of the previously-undiscovered tribe in South America. Katie is concerned that we may have our own versions living just beyond the conservatory. I'm not convinced, however I wouldn't be too surprised if we come across a superannuated Japanese soldier who needs to be gently informed that the war's over.

Up until a few years ago our garden was verdant, lush, and completely unmanageable. The people who'd lived here before us were clearly enthusiastic about the whole thing, so had stocked the space with dramatic planting.

It had looked great on the estate agent's photos.

Several months after we moved in, we noticed that the garden was looking rather more verdant and lush than we'd bargained for. At night-time we could hear the cries of exotic wildlife. Despite our best efforts, there was only one way this was going to go, our previous gardening experience being on a par with, well, someone with no gardening experience.

Apparently you can't just hire out flame-throwers any more. Killjoys.

So we spent a bit of cash and paid someone to take the garden away and give us another one, with a patio, gravel beds and some contained borders. And over the last few years we've pottered around nicely. Katie has built up a nice pot garden. Sorry, I'll rephrase that. A nice collection of plants in pots. We spent many a happy evening sat out there, a bottle of wine sitting in the ice-bucket, communing with something almost resembling nature and watching what we thought were the stars, but what was probably the 11.20 Alitalia flight to Amsterdam.

But last year Britain didn't have a summer. There was about 20 minutes of warmth in May, but that was it. So we really didn't touch the garden. The greenness returned. My official definition of a weed is "any plant growing where you didn't expect it", and there's a lot of the buggers around. And we have a set of bamboo plants that are clearly hell-bent for global domination, too. They show up lovely on the satellite picture.

So, tomorrow I shall be pushing a trolley around various gardening and DIY outlets, being assaulted with more Latin than a lapsed Catholic cares to hear. Then I'll be slashing and burning. Apparently this is classed as "fun". Think of me, why don't you?

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Away with the fairies

There is unrest in the forest. There is trouble in the trees. It's been brewing for some time. And, to be quite honest, The Man hasn't been doing much to help matters.

The whispers of discontent are there, if you're willing and able to hear them. There they are again. Do you hear them? No, not the jingly bells, those have always been there. Listen out for the whispers.

"It's quite simple," says Wimple McGrew, "we're getting misrepresented." As spokes-being for the League of Fantasy Characters, McGrew hasn't had too many challenges to date. And as a mere stripling - only 87 next November - he can't remember the last time there's been this much disquiet.

"It got out of hand a few years ago with that bloody Peter Jackson. Here we'd been since time immemorial, us elves, quietly minding our own business. A bit of a jingle here, the odd 'hey nonny no' there. We weren't hurting anybody. But all of a sudden, with his Lord of the sodding Rings trilogy, he got everyone's expectations up. I mean, that Elvish language nonsense? You do realise that was just human actors speaking very poor Welsh, don't you?"

"All of a sudden we elves were expected to be all cool and catlike and mysterious. All that firing-off-three-arrows-at-once palaver. You ever tried that with a small bell attached to the pointy tip of your hat? Didn't think so."

It's not just his elven brethren McGrew is inclined to defend, either. "The dwarves are seriously pissed off, I don't mind telling you. They'd only just overcome the stereotyping from that Disney bloke and now everyone expects them to be carrying battleaxes and rolling their r's all the time."

In recent years the League has grown from a raggle-taggle group concerned mainly with mead production quotas and cheap lyre imports to the focussed lobbying group it is today. "We've had no end of arguments with the management, " sighs a Middle-Earth-weary McGrew, "Pretty much every time I go in to see Inhuman Resources I know I'm in for a torrid time. But if we don't act together, we're doomed."

Favouritism is the latest accusation to fall from every mouth and horn. "The Tooth Fairy gets all the glory, but all she does is swan about and put 50p pieces under some gappy kids' pillowcases. But do we ever hear the end of it? And at the same time, no-one's exactly holding ticker-tape parades for the Ear-wax Elf or the Navel-fluff Gnome, are they?"

In all of this, it's the Orcs that have come out worst. Small, timid, peace-loving creatures, much taken to whimsy and folk-dancing, their reputation is now shot. "It's a travesty. There was a time when you'd be happy to have an Orcish family as your neighbours. But just one unfair representation of them as war-hungry monsters and all of a sudden you can't move for 'Orcs Out' placards."

"I blame the Hobbits. Vicious gits, the lot of them."

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Let them eat cake

Katie is out tonight and I'm here all alone, just me and a laptop with unbridled internet access.

Now stop it. There's no call for that kind of thinking.

Katie is on a mercy mission, involving sausage sandwiches and home-made chocolate cake. The sausage sandwiches, huge great big doorstep jobbies, are simply an addition; they're not strictly necessary (and being, in this case, free of sauce, rather invalid as far as I'm concerned, sausage sandwiches normally acting merely as a base for significant volumes of HP sauce). The main purpose of her mission is indeed chocolate cake delivery. And the consumption of same.

I suspect tea might be involved, too. It's that sort of mission.

I have a theory that chocolate cake could be used to solve all ills*. Especially the sort of cake made with the dark, plain stuff, with thick, gooey icing and decorated with white chocolate blobs. Really serious quantities of chocolate, in fact. Rich. Comforting. Surely nothing can be that bad if you've got chocolate cake to hand?

Where there are disagreements, conflict, people failing to see each other's point of view, it has a place. People could be close to warfare - surely getting them to try some chocolate cake can only help? Think about what it could do for the Middle East ("Levi? Ishmail? You two - put the M16s and rocket launchers down, come over here and try this. Now isn't that better? Sausage sandwich, anyone? Oh, I see...")

In times of uncertainty, it has a job to do. Financial markets might tumble. Politicians may range from the venal to the dictatorial. There could be rioting on the streets, industrial unrest and the symptoms of societal breakdown. Reruns of 'My Family'. Those who talk earnestly of the need for cohesion must know that chocolate cake has a part to play.

When disaster strikes, chocolate cake should be there. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods. Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky, rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness, the dead rising from the grave. Cats and dogs living together as man and wife. Never mind bottled water and blankets, we should be airlifting in Katie's chocolate cake. No matter what the junta says.

Because pain and strife are transitory, temporary. But there'll always be cake.

*(OK, maybe not diabetes. I'll give you that one).

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Inner confusion and cause useless

As seen on the instructions for one of these wind-up torch doohickeys:

It does not need dry battery for it is handle generate electricity.

OK - I think we get your drift here.

For it has illuminate diode, so it is suitable for urgent illuminate at night.

Almost a haiku, that first bit. And the 'urgent illuminate' point is very well made. Rarely if ever can I get away with booking illumination in advance. Especially at night-time.

It is a kind of small articles with convenient schlep and storage.

And if you don't understand that, you're just a schmuck. But then it gets a bit (more) odd.

If this product strike seriously will result in inner confusion and cause useless.

Whoa there. Whilst there's something to be said for a little sturm und drang in any lifetime, I tend to shy away from inner confusion if I can. Seriously.

In the course of use, even if the light is dark, rotate the handle can make it light again.

That pesky dark light gets everywhere. But at least with a mere rotate or two we can reverse the trend. Or so it would seem.

This product is not leakage-proof or waterproof, so do not use the machine in the place with water or operate the machine with damp water.

Does Portsmouth count as a place with water? Weston-super-Mare is probably quite safe, as you can spend a fortnight there and never see the sea. So I guess I'd be OK to use it there when that old Weston light starts darkening. And if I can find some dry water, as opposed to the damp water mentioned in the instructions, everything should be hunky-dory, right?

Prohibit to elongate the handle charge connection line, it is the reason of damage for product and charge connection line.

Seriously, I have no idea.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Maybe ketchup would have helped

I've just had what can only be described as a taste sensation. I'm still rather stunned by the whole experience, to be frank. And I thought that you, dear reader, should be the first to know.

Katie is out tonight, with "the girls". The girls are a nebulous group, in that the membership varies from event to event, with a core of familiar faces. The only thing that unites them is their voracious appetite for rosé wine. I have dropped her off at Liz's house earlier tonight - later she will be decanted from the back of a Hyundai - and in her absence I'm coping for myself.

It's fair to say that I am not an accomplished cook. Not long after we'd moved in together, Katie had set me the relatively simple challenge of making spag bol. After having made what apparently is called a ragu and browned some beef mince, I was kicking back in a relaxed mood as everything simmered on the hob. Katie came downstairs to enquire sweetly about the aroma of rapidly-carbonising protein. She may even have cocked her head to one side. "What burning smell?" I replied, genuine in my innocence.

You get the point.

As I cannot live on Marmite on toast - God knows I've tried - yesterday I manfully strode the high plains of Tesco, hunting for tonight's repast. And my prey was this:
That'll be the Healthy Living Paella. All 385 life-giving grams of it. Saffron rice, peas, king prawns, peppers, chicken breast. Yum. I actually like paella quite a bit. I have eaten it fresh, in Spain, washed down by a cheeky cerveza or two. In fact, it was rabbit paella, a particular speciality of the establishment. Quite a bit like chicken, if you're interested.

Of course, my expectations were managed by the observation that this latest paella, coming as it did in a black polythene tray extracted from a chiller cabinet, was never going to be served on the Iberian peninsular. The four minutes being nuked under the microwave probably didn't exactly help, either.

But it amazed me. You know when you're eating something that tastes bad? You get it on the tip of your tongue, or maybe the back of your throat. Perhaps the smell gives the game away. But this was nothing like that all. Oh no, Jose.

This was food with no discernible taste whatsoever. I'll say that again. Whatsoever. I tried chewing it, I rolled it around my mouth, I attempted breathing in and out at the same time. Nothing, nowt, zilch. In fact, nada. I ploughed on, amazed at the sensation of having warm solids in my mouth without having anything to show for it. This wasn't just bland food. Bland food has normal taste dialled down a bit. This went past bland and out the other side - the dish had the mute button applied. In fact, any semblance of flavour had clearly been snared at birth. And all the ingredients were culprits.

King prawns. King of where, exactly - the mythical yet legendary land of Microprawnalia? And the chicken? That wasn't a chicken breast, that was the result of a flesh wound. The donor chicken is still wandering around a farm somewhere, perfectly happily, if a little slimmed-down. I've never had non-crunch peppers before. I suspect they're a product of the space race or something, a bit like Teflon or those pens that write underwater and upside-down.

And yet I finished it all. Well, I needed my 335 calories of energy, unladen as they were with any unnecessary sensation of taste. The whole healthy eating approach was, however, somewhat ruined by the big bowl of Bombay mix I took on board immediately afterwards, to help me recover from the experience.

Gordon Ramsay should have my problems.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

It's all going down in the garden

I always imagined that the flowers led quiet lives - just sitting there, doing that twisting around to face the sun thing and generally annoying the bejesus out of hayfever sufferers. But no. It appears that the beds are hopping. Herbaceous happenings border on the obscene. According to recent research, flowers even wave at passing insects to get their loving attention.

Of course, you can't believe everything you read, especially on the Internet. So I thought I'd do a little research, to understand the truth. And get some answers, right from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Luckily we're blessed with some very candid camelias, talkative tulips and mouthy marigolds around here. The roses are a little standoffish, to be honest, and the poppies just too giggly. But I was amazed at what I learned.

The honeysuckles are the worst. They're anyone's for a bit of bee action. And by all accounts, not too fussy, either. "They're no better than they ought to be," said a chrysanthemum, all prissy in its terracotta pot. The poor erysimum barely get a look in, but I suppose you should expect that from wallflowers.

It's made no easier by the bees themselves - the insects these days show no respect. It's all "Buzz buzz, thank you ma'am. Or sir. Or ma'am/sir depending upon your hermaphrodite tendencies," with no wiping of the feet before or afterwards. Or, for that matter, during. Which is missing the point, surely.

The poor geraniums don't stand a chance - most of them still have identity issues and can be heard muttering, "Geranium, pelargonium, geranium, pelargonium..." over and over again, each one the horticultural equivalent of Raymond Babbit.

And as for the Busy Lizzies, they're not exactly backward when it comes to being forward, either. Still, impatiens is as impatiens does.

(Normal service will be resumed once the sunstroke wears off).

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Oh, if you insist

Honestly, it's been overwhelming. Everywhere I go, people just want to know.

I walk down the street, people come up and ask me. I'm at work, folks are forever stopping by my desk with an inquisitive look. More than once in the last few days, I've been driving along, minding my own business and then been flagged down by strangers keen to discover what it's all about.

"Tell me," they'll plead, a look of longing in their eyes, "what is this Big Exciting Thingy of which you speak?"

Oh blimey. I hope I've not hyped this up too much. Those of you expecting the dramatic life-changing experiences you get on other blogs are going to be desperately disappointed in me. OK, here goes.

I've been asked to write a screenplay.

A few weeks ago we went to the premiere of a film written and directed by a friend of ours. Having gone through the process, Chris was keen to get back in the saddle again, but having finished the third film of a trilogy he needed some new ideas.

A whole bunch of us had gone out for my birthday the following week, and Mike (he of the official MLH camera-wielding skills) sat me down and asked if I'd like a challenge.

Me: "Not the firewalking again, Mike, I still get flashbacks whenever I order from Burger King."

Mike: "No, you great pillock, we want you to write a screenplay."

I'm convinced this is how George Lucas got started.

Anyway, it turns out that I'm now, officially, working on a screenplay for a short film. And I'm not just adapting something, either - I've been given free rein to come up with the initial concept, create the story, the characters, the whole shebang.

Clearly there was a strokey-beard meeting at some point. And the questions were raised:
  1. Who do we know who can come up with random situations that people might want to see?
  2. Are they available?
  3. And cheap?
  4. Sorry, by 'cheap', I meant 'free'. (I know that, strictly speaking, that's not a question. Go easy on me, will you?)
Did I mention that Mike does a little acting on TV from time to time? Oh. Mike (not his professional name) does a little acting on TV from time to time. So he's managed to source some pukka resources - people who can storyboard, wave pretty serious cameras meaningfully and deliver lines without walking into the scenery. I didn't even know 'storyboard' was a verb until last month. And they'll do this all for expenses only, because There's Nothing Like Doing Fun Stuff For Mates. All they need is a story. And some lines.

So far I've come up with three different story synopses which a few of us have gone through. We decided on one, although we might be changing our mind as we kind of like one of the others, too. Writing for a 30-minute short is actually quite a challenge, I'm discovering. It does come with its own advantages, though. When I'm asked what I'm doing at the weekend, I can stare into the middle distance, finish the remaining dregs of my drink and airily reply:

"Oh, nothing much. Just working on a screenplay. Another pint of Timothy Taylor?"

Haven't actually tried that one yet, you understand, but I'm waiting for the opportunity. So that's my Big Exciting Thingy. And I'm sorry for those of you who guessed, incorrectly as it turned out, that I was appearing in summer season at the Bellagio in Vegas. It'll be a cold day in Hell before I play second fiddle to Tom Jones. Not after the last time.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Bank holiday Monday musings

Why exactly are these odd public holidays referred to as Bank holidays?

(Goes to Wikipedia to find out).

Oh. That makes sense, I suppose.

At this precise moment, all senses are fully employed in the pursuit of bugger-all. The strains of Snow Patrol are barely audible from the iPod in the corner. We're enjoying a wondrous welsh cider. Or two. A lunch of various cheeses has just been taken.

The foot-square fruit cake Katie's making for our friend's 50th birthday is two hours into its five and a half hours cooking time. And the house is fraganced with fruit, spices and brandy. There are worse things I could be smelling right now, I suppose.

The sun is almost out and the sky is almost blue. I have a shortened working week in front of me. One thing for certain, I'm way less grumpy than I was on Friday. (Sorry about that, by the way).

And I've been given quite an exciting project to do. It's something I've never done before, and I'm looking forward to it. It will be hard work, a challenge, and won't be at all financially rewarding. Mike asked me whether I was interested in doing it before we went away, and I've spent the time since then coming up with some preliminary ideas. I got a good reception when I pitched these ideas on Saturday, so now I've got to knuckle down and get started properly. But, oh boy, it's quite a thrill.

What is is? Well, I guess I'm leading with the chin here, but if enough people ask me (that's what the 'comment' link below is about, you know) I might be persuaded to stop being so coy.

The rest is up to you. Get a little interactive, why don't you?

Friday, 2 May 2008

No, not at all annoying

Lots of people up and down the country have been spending short amounts of time alone in booths. Then, once carrying out a time-honoured practice involving a small piece of paper, they've been emerging, blinking into the daylight.

And I can see why this is news.

However, there's a related story that's been all over the place. Some people, quite a few in fact, in a city where I don't live, are voting for a mayor. In fact, they seem to be quite keen to replace one man struggling under an amphibian fixation, with someone else who clearly wasn't quite bright enough for the prefect's badge at school.

And this is big news, by all accounts. The Internet, front and centre in the print media, main story on the rolling TV news. On a national basis. In fact, everywhere I turn, I'm being assaulted by this. I can hardly concentrate on the flies that received a sex-swap through mind-control, to be honest.

I'm bored by the ongoing and seemingly never-ending coverage of the US elections. But I do accept that I should, at some level, have some awareness in its outcome, at least, as the winner of that one gets to carry quite an important football. So if my friends in Iowa or Montana make a dodgy decision, significant portions of Western Europe could end up with that Readybrek glow. I can relate to that. I can have an interest in it. But the CrossRail project? Meh.

So why does the 24-hour media assume that I (and 90% of people in the UK) should give an airborne sexual encounter about the outcome of the London Mayoral election? This is, by the way, the same media that spent an entire night - on national TV, I kid you not - bemoaning the withdrawal of the Routemaster bus from the streets of the capital. The same media where the restaurant critic of a national newspaper spent an entire article expressing surprise at Birmingham getting culinary plaudits, then admitting she'd never actually visited the country's second largest city?

So today's blanket coverage is rankling with me a bit. Things that affect me, or my neighbour, don't get column inches. Someone falls out of a club in Hoxton, and it'll be front-page news.

To any readers in London: forgive me for my rant. I'm tired and a little pissed off. I genuinely like your city - I've loved every visit there. Apparently there's a golf sale on. And I hope you get your mayor thing sorted, whether it's the drony one or the funny blond bloke. The accepted wisdom is that the rest of the country is bothered. And yet, if I had a rat's arse, I wouldn't be able to give it.

Perhaps, in the future, the good folks of SW4 can get to read in rapt enchantment the goings-on of the Birmingham City Council transportation committee when deciding upon bus routes through Small Heath?

It's gripping stuff, I tell you.


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