Saturday, 28 June 2008

Sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made

If you say something that is patently ridiculous, you can get a good proportion of people - recent research suggests about 60% - to believe you. Providing you put on a suitably straight face. Or use made-up statistics (see first sentence).

I was reminded of this recently at work. A manager from another department called me. They were doing something in their office to celebrate some business achievement. The great and the good were going to be there, there would be pictures taken. Cake would be consumed. Did I know anyone who could organise some decorations? Banners, posters, helium balloons and the like. It's not something I get asked to do regularly, but I knew some local companies that could help. So I placed some calls and arrangements were made.

On the afternoon of the event itself, I received another call from the original manager. She thanked me for getting all the stuff delivered, but had one minor complaint.

"It's just a pity that these balloons are starting to deflate," she said. "They looked great this morning when everyone came in, and for the pictures, but now they're getting all wrinkly. Some of the girls wanted to take a couple home for their kids."

"Sorry to hear that," I replied, "you see, the supplier told me they're having a bit of a problem with the helium they use. Due to rising costs, they're using this new Chinese helium instead of the traditional European type. By all accounts the helium molecules are that bit smaller and they slip through the latex of the balloon much more readily."

"Really, is that so? I didn't know that, but now you've explained it, it makes perfect sense. You live and learn. Thanks for that." :click:

Who'd have thought the straight face routine would work so well over the phone too?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

57 varieties of stupid

A week ago or so they started showing this ad on British TV:

I thought it was an OK advert. I got the premise straight away. Use this Heinz deli mayo we're selling - it's so good it's like having a real New Yawk short-order chef as your mum. Well put together - the way all the other characters act as if the mum/wife figure is still there - it's quite cute.

But it appears to have upset a few people. And by few, I really mean 'few'. Out of a population of ooh, 60 million, 200 complained about the ad to ASA, the UK's advertising watchdog. The expressed view, apparently, was that the ad was inappropriate and unsuitable for children to view.

And here's the kicker. Heinz pulled the advert as a result. Christ on a bike.

Just how does the sort of person who complains about this sort of thing get through their normal day? They must be empirically stupid. As I said, I got the central conceit of the advert, and I'm not exactly bright. I normally only understand adverts that say "Here is some stuff. It's ace. Please buy it." But I understood what the advert was about. It certainly wasn't about homosexuality. The gay men I know would probably make the mayo from scratch anyway. Or at least they'd have the Lite version.

And really, would it matter if the ad was about a real single-sex couple?

I realise a view like this infuriates the readership of the Daily Mail, but would showing a 'real' male couple matter that much in this day and age, or have we gone Victorian all over again? I'm not gay, but I support the changes that have gone on around me. Last time I checked, we'd given single-sex couples pretty much all of the legal rights as other ones. So what are people complaining about here? I mean, there are plenty of things two consenting adult men could have been doing with mayo that might have caused offence to some viewers. But I hardly think a peck qualifies.

The complainants said the advert raised the "difficult subject of same sex relationships". This is normally code for "I'm not equipped to talk about stuff with my kids, especially if it's out of my comfort zone." Folks, really, give it a try. We might end up with some enlightened and tolerant kids as a result. Heaven forbid.

And if they didn't want to have the Jenny-lives-with-Eric-and-Martin chat right now, all they needed to say was that the point of the advert is that the mayonnaise is so good it makes sandwiches taste like they've been made by a professional.

The mouth-breathers who complained are either too stupid to realise the central conceit of the ad, or else they're deliberately stirring up controversy for their own purposes. And Heinz are complicit in this by backing down and withdrawing the advert rather than trying to discuss it.

It was while I was reading about this that I stumbled across the online ad for Dunkin Donuts in the States that got cancelled because one person said the model's scarf promoted terrorism. Or something.

At this rate we're going to have a second "Christ on a Bike" in one post. There you go.

We have all sorts of Really Bad Things happening across the world. It is genuinely a scary place. Yet people use their energy to complain about fluff like this. So the more I think about it, the more I think that the search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life has a point.

Because, in the immortal words of Monty Python, there's bugger all down here on Earth.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

A nice warm hand...

Thanks to the many few of you who expressed an interest in my well-being following my previous post. Although 'interest' is probably not the word to use, seeing as 'unabashed hilarity' is so much more fitting. In a previous life, several of you would have been found at the foot of a guillotine, knitting and cackling.

Anyway, dear readers, what have we learned from Friday's experience? Well, zapping a small charge of electricity through my body tells us that I appear to have a similar fat content to that of a pork scratching. Although rather less crunchy. Also, we now know that medical staff tasked with measuring patients' waists aren't convinced by breathing in. It might work on the new girl at work, but it's not fooling anyone in a white coat.

My least favourite part of the morning was the blood test. Call me a traditionalist if you will, but I consider the whole purpose of skin and veins is to keep the vital fluids gushing around inside. I have no truck with anyone wanting to subvert that process. Especially if, having had a good old stab at my left arm, they tell me my veins aren't coming out to play and that they're going to have to try a classic pincer manoeuvre by going for my right one as well.

This was then followed by the blood pressure reading. Now, given that my arms could by then have featured in a Pete Doherty tribute act, as the cuff went on and the pressure built, I had visions of blood spurting out of various holes like a rather gruesome lawn sprinkler.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Fatboyfat, the Human Trevi Fountain."

Apparently, my BP was on the high side. This didn't come as a massive shock to me. Test it after I've been attacked by Mr Drilling-For-Oil and you get what you get.

The electrocardiogram came next. "Mr Injury, may I introduce Mr Insult to you? I'm sure you'll get along famously." To attach the pads, some creative chest-shaving was required. Two separate patches, leaving a hirsute area in between. Essentially, my chest now looks like Hitler's top lip.

Next it was the doctor's turn. A lady doctor, young and, it must be said, quite attractive. After 20 minutes of her ministrations I was looking for any available exits, knowing full well what was coming up. But then she threw me a curve ball.

"Now you won't be needing the prostate test," she said, "as you're under 40."

"Oh. Right." The conflicting emotions of relief and puzzlement exchanging sporadic gunfire across my mind. My last two health-checks had finished with this particular experience. Maybe the doctors in question had been given some sort of quota to fill.

"So, can I examine your groin?"

And I'm sorry, but there's no sensible answer to this, is there? The previous doctors hadn't really given me a choice. They'd just dived in, without so much as a by-your-leave. But she'd asked for my permission. There is a social etiquette to be observed, even at moments like this. If I'd said "No" I suppose that would have me marked out as some sort of wimp. But then again, I think it's considered bad form to sound too keen. Even "Yes please" is a little too much, really. I mumbled assent. Latex gloves were snapped on.

There were two further lessons I took away at that point. Firstly, at certain moments there's nothing quite as fascinating as an office ceiling. And second- it's really quite difficult to summon up a cough on demand.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Health and efficiency

I had been putting it off for some time. Dodging the bullet, if you like. An infinitely-patient woman had left about half-a-dozen messages on our answerphone. The first one was quite breezy, but by the third or fourth a note of desperation started to enter her voice. I recognised that tone. It's one I've heard from Katie more than once in the last few years. Typically when she's been talking to me.

Eventually the woman had given up attempting to get me to call her back. I'll be honest. I knew what it was she wanted and was working on the time-honoured principle of Maybe If I Ignore It, It'll Go Away. It's an approach that's worked in the past. Typically when Katie's been talking to me.

Then the letter arrived. Bugger. I struggle to ignore cold hard print at the best of times, and with Katie shoving the thing under my nose there was never going to be any escape.

I suppose it was time to book my biennial health check.

My employers, bless 'em, provide me with a number of things. A nice working environment, fun colleagues off whom I can bounce ideas and all the chilled water I can drink. They even deposit cash into my bank account every month. But there are other things - rather less welcome things - and the health check falls into this category.

So I called the health check bods last week, hoping that maybe they'd have a window sometime approximating to Hades reaching frost point. The last thing I wanted would be for the health check to be soon. That wouldn't have given me sufficient time to undo the damage.

"We can see you in late July," was the opening gambit. I was going to have a bit of a problem with this, as I'd have just returned from two weeks in Brittany at that point. My blood test alone would show a dangerously-high crepes and cider reading. So I asked for an alternative.

"Are you OK with a female doctor?" There's really no suitable answer to this, is there? As an otherwise worldly-aware thirty-something I couldn't really refuse. Of course I'm OK, I tell them.

"Great, we'll see you a week on Friday. We'll pop a short questionnaire in the post - bring it with you on the day. And make sure you fast for four hours beforehand."

For the second time. Bugger.

On Friday morning I shall go to a very nice private hospital. A phlebotomist (and I'm in agreement with City Girl about how that is the nastiest job title going) will jab something the size of a drainage culvert into the crook of my arm and collect about a bathful of crimson. In a matey, cheerful way, of course. I'm then going to be allowed a tuna sandwich, after having peed into a cup. Happy happy joy. Please wash your hands.

A nurse will then lead me into another room where I'll be measured, weighed, prodded, punched and processed. My eyes and ears checked, my lungs functioned. Pads stuck to my chest to determine my heart rhythms.

And then the real fun starts.

I'll be ushered in to talk to the doctor, who'll have spent the last twenty minutes uhm-ing and ahh-ing over my completed questionnaire. If this were the vets, the shotgun would be primed and ready. But it's not, so the doctor will instead fix me to a chair with a megawatt stare. I'll have gone back 30 years in attitude.

"So tell me about your diet."

"Mumble mumble mumble beer cheese meat and a bit of veg mumble mumble."

"And exercise. How often do you get out of breath?"

"Mumble mumble every time I walk up the stairs mumble mumble."

The word "obese" will be used. Preceded by "clinically", which, to be frank, doesn't soften the blow terribly much. And then there will be the final test. The one that us men are supposed to do on ourselves in the shower every morning. Normally I need someone at the very least to buy me a bloody good dinner before I'll let them put their hands there.

And it was at this point, as I was typing this, when I remembered the "Are you OK with a female doctor?" conversation.


Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Well, it amazed me...

Latest in the ongoing series of 'Fatboyfat Argues With People Who Send Him Emails'.

This evening I've received one from Genes Reunited, the rather awkwardly named offshoot of Friends Reunited that promises to match me up with long-lost relatives rather than a whole bunch of blokes with whom I spent seven years failing to understand quadratic equations.

It's headed up with "(First name), was (grandfather's name) a veteran hero?" (Obviously there was real stuff where I've put the bracketed bits).

Well, that intrigued me. So I read on.

"Did (grandfather's name) fight and die for his country? We have found clues to your ancestor (grandfather's name) in World War Two death records by matching people in your tree to official records."

Well, the dates might stack up. From memory granddad was born around 1915-ish which would have put him at the right age during World War Two, I guess. What else do the Genes Reunited people have to say?

"It's likely to be an emotional journey as you start uncovering how your ancestor met his fate during this truly global conflict."

Well, yes. I imagine it will be emotional. The emotion it's most likely to evoke is shock. My family are likely to be very shocked to learn about it.

Especially my grandfather, come to think of it, who's alive and well.

He's happily spending his well-earned retirement with my grandmother in sheltered accommodation just down the road, so the information that according to some website he died fighting the enemy from the trenches or piloting a Spitfire will be news to him. And, I imagine, to my grandmother, who's probably been wondering why granddad seems somewhat reticent to do the washing-up. I'll mention it to him at the weekend when I pop over with a bottle of Baileys for his birthday. I'm sure it will be emotional.

My response to the Genes Reunited drones this evening has been like a Middle-Earth dwarf. Ugly, short and brutal.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

I could have just left it at that

Many many years ago I went through one of those 'sod it all' periods when things weren't going to plan at work. In a fit of pique I updated my CV with lots of fanciness and uploaded it to several recruitment websites.

I'm well aware that accepted practice in some quarters is to keep your CV up to date and 'out there' at all times. But this seems rather too thrusting and ambitious for me, so I only do it when I'm seriously pissed-off at something. If you could have access to my records at Monster or Fish4Jobs, etc, you'd be able to effectively map out my moods over the last few years.

Anyway, things improved at work and I forgot about it. However, as I'd left a legacy on these sites I would occasionally get unsolicited emails from recruitment consultants. Normally the emails tend to go straight to trash with only a cursory glance. Well, you never know. Really I should go back to all these sites and pull my details from them but that would involve a whole world of pain with logins and passwords. I have a lot of staring into space to do; sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day.

Last week I got such an email from a chap called Ike, telling me that Business Change Project Managers were needed in Manchester. Pick the bones out of that one, if you will. I should have just deleted it and moved on. But one sentence caught my eye, repeated below exactly as received:


I wrote back to Ike, asking kindly if he'd like to remove me from his database. That should have been enough. But I couldn't resist it. So I added:

"And please decide on how you're going to spell the word 'focused' before you send emails to people you're trying to impress. Either the UK or US spelling is fine, but putting them both in the same sentence is a bit much."

That should have been enough. But today I got a reply from Ike with the following:

"Also, I never recall being taught to start a sentence with the word "And", especially in a new paragraph. Its not the best word to use to start a sentence. Just a note for the future incase you try and make a point about grammar to someone else."

Well, I didn't even know where to start with this. I could have told him that conjunctions at the start of sentences are indeed to be used with caution and, certainly, beginners in English should avoid them. I could have added that many, if not most, experienced English writers will start sentences with conjunctions. In other words, I could have told him there is a guideline for beginners that cautions against starting a sentence with 'and' or 'but'. However, it is not a grammatical rule.

I could have said, "Ike, if you've ever studied science, you may remember being taught at first that an atom was the smallest indivisible particle of matter. Then when you learned more you discovered electrons, protons and neutrons. Enough knowledge for you to survive a few years, Ike, yes? Then along came lots more sub-atomic particles and wave theories and cats in boxes. English is rather like that, Ike. There are models of usage that are appropriate for each level of development. Then you discover that the model was a partial model and you learn something new - for example that is is entirely normal in English to begin a sentence with a conjunction."

I could have done all of that. Instead I wrote back telling him to check out Fowler's Modern English Usage.

And that 'in case' was in fact two words, not one.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Without let or hindrance

I've been spending a little time over the last few days gazing wistfully at a photograph of a young man. He's a good ten years or so younger than me, slim and youthful, with lustrous dark hair and sideburns.

Don't worry. This isn't that sort of post.

The young man in question is me; my passport is up for renewal and I'd been getting all maudlin about my younger self, looking at my picture circa 1998. Although the illusion was shattered when Katie remarked that I looked quite a bit like Screech from 'Saved by the Bell' in the picture. That was the year we were married, though, which I think says more about her than me.

In just under a month's time, my passport will expire. This would make me nervous if I was one of those exciting successful types who regularly gets calls saying things like, "You're needed in Bogota" or, "There's a situation brewing in our Des Moines field office. Get your arse over there." Brother no. 2 gets this all the time. I keep track of him via his Facebook status updates. Right now he's in Moscow, last month he was in Lisbon, next week - who knows? (He was the one who left school with no A-levels, as he keeps reminding us.)

If I'm very lucky I might get to travel to Wolverhampton. Quite frankly (and with no disrespect to my Black Country brethren) it's not the same thing. However, it means that my passport only gets an airing for leisure purposes.

I was looking through it this morning and, I have to say, it's a poor showing. When I first got this burgundy booklet, I imagined filling its pages with exotic stamps from border guards across the globe. Disappointingly, most of my foreign travel has been to places where they just give it a cursory glance before waving me through, saying, "There you go, Mr Powers." As a result, there were four sets of in-and-out stamps from my visits to the US and one from Malta. Of all the trips to Spain, Greece, France, etc, nary a sign.

Damn you, integration of European immigration standards.

So lunchtime saw us queuing up at the Post Office. Old passports, renewal forms and new photos in hand. And I'm sorry, but that last bit's just cruel. The old giffer in my latest photo looks like he's trying out for Cocoon: This Time It's Personal. I appear to have been visited by the eyebag fairy. There are more chins than the Beijing telephone directory. I did a quick comparison between Screech and FBF 2008 and could have wept.

After a lot of checking, stamping, humming and hah-ing, the clerk told us everything was fine with our applications, the new ones would be about a fortnight and asked us to pay £79 each.

I beg your pardon?

One-hundred-and-sixty notes (near enough) for the privilege of having the following:

Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.

Quite frankly I'm not impressed. Especially as our current Foreign Minister looks like someone you'd ask, "Is mummy in?" if he answered the door to your knock. For £160 I'd want Bravo Two-Zero accompanying me on my foreign travails.

The trouble is, there's no choice, is there? If I want to maintain my international jet-setting lifestyle I need to be able to pass through borders. For some reason, my Blockbuster video membership card doesn't seem to do the trick. And it's not as if there's market competition, either. I can't exactly go to Stelios for my easyPassport - everything done online for pence whilst branded an unfortunate shade of orange. Nope. My loss is the Identity & Passport Office's considerable gain.

It's enough to age you overnight.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Shouting lager lager lager lager

Quiet please, class 2B. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

Right. I take it you've all brought in permissions slips from your parents, so this morning we're starting Alcohol Education.

Would you like to share the joke with the rest of us, Ben? Thought not. Now behave.

You're very lucky people. This is the first year AlcEd has been a featured part of the formal syllabus. In years gone by this would have been a parental responsibility, however it now forms a key stage in your Health and Social Studies GCSE coursework for the year, so I'd like you all to take this seriously.

That includes you, Sharon. Face the front, please. No, I'm not interested in what Kimberly called you, and neither is the rest of the class.

Right. Today we're going to be covering a few basics. In front of each of you are a number of containers. John, please don't touch until I tell you to. I don't care what Liam said. If Liam told you to jump out of the window, would you?

Jessica. Don't do that, please.

OK, we're going to look at the various types of alcoholic drink on the market. First of all, open the can on the left. Can someone help Kevin? Thank you, Michael. Right. This is Carling Black Label. After three, everyone take a sip. One, two, three. And stop.

Jessica. Stop when I say so, please.

Now, Carling Black Label is what we call a lager. This is basically a cold drink designed, should you drink enough of it, to bring about feelings of drunkenness without being encumbered with any discernible taste. It goes well with fried food and, well, more lager.

Yes Ben, it is gassy. That was indeed quite tuneful. See me afterwards, please.

Now open the next container. You'll see that this is a large plastic bottle with a lightning strike on the side. This is what we call cider. No, Naomi, there are no glasses with this one as it's designed to be drunk straight from the bottle. One, two, three. And, stop.

Jessica. I'm watching you.

For most of you cider and lager will be enough to get you a pass, to be honest. However, we're lucky to have some additional exercises for those of you going for a merit pass. If you move onto the next bottle, you'll see it's filled with a dark red liquid. Pour some into the bottom of the large round glass there. This is called wine, and its main effect is to make the drinker extremely witty. One, two, three. And stop. Yes, Simon, I'm sure you are 'getting blackcurrant'. NO-one likes a show-off.

Jessica. I won't tell you again.

Now for our final exercise, pull the cork from the clear bottle with the yellowy liquid and pour a small amount into the flat-bottomed tumbler. This is called whisky, and is designed specifically to scare you senseless until a party when your dad leaves his drinks cabinet unlocked. Yes, Justin, I'm aware that it's Famous Grouse. Well, if you wanted single malt you should have done better in your Eleven Plus and made it to Grammar School. Are we ready? One, two, three. And stop.

The bell's for me, not for you. Sit down please.

Right. Asking your parents to introduce you to this stuff responsibly is clearly pointless. Quite frankly, if you're out of the house they couldn't give a monkey's. And the drinks companies aren't helping, with supermarket deals on slabs of Stella bringing tears of joy to the eyes of everyone. Even old soaks like me.

So as a result, these lessons will be as much use as Mr Neil's sessions with you all on quadratic equations. By the end of next term, most of you will know more about WKD Blue than W.H. Auden. But targets are targets.

Ah. Can someone see to Jessica, please?


Related Posts with Thumbnails