Monday, 27 April 2009

In need of a rebranding

Who said I can't do topical?

Over the last few days we've seen the spread of something quite, well, viral. Swine flu has got to the top of every news channel story list. The fear that this could turn pandemic (I still quite like 'hamdemic') has led to unprecedented coverage.

The potential impact is not yet fully known. Although there was this helpful quote from the UN:
"It could be mild in its effect or potentially be severe."
Thanks, guys. That's helped massively.

It's the top story on the TV news. Major front-page headlines in the papers. All over the web. Including Twitter. Stock markets have tumbled worldwide on the news. All of which proves something irrefutable. We love a good panic.

In other news, around 2,400 people - mainly children - died from Malaria yesterday. A similar amount will die today. And tomorrow, too.

Perhaps we need to call it "Mosquito Flu."

(Credit to John Halton who provided the inspiration to this post.)

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Sign of the times

As I travel around the road networks of this sceptered isle, I occasionally raise my sight from the ten feet of tarmac in front of me and have a bit of a look around. And over the last few years I've been increasingly aware that people are trying to communicate with me.

Really, really badly.

It's these matrix signs they have at the side of the road. Ones like this:

I have a bit of a problem with them.

It's not that they're not potentially useful. I mean, I can see the practical applications. Telling me about accidents up ahead, for instance, so I can take an alternative route. That's clearly a good thing. But most matrix signs suffer from We've Spent a Bloody Fortune On These So We'd Better Use Them-itis.

Over winter, I was driving along and visibility was bad. The elements were doing their best and I was navigating using the Force. Out of the murkiness a matrix sign loomed. I squinted as I tried to read its vital message through the mist. What did it have to tell me? It said:
Caution - Fog
Well, thanks for that. I'm a little underwhelmed. If you're going to state the bleeding obvious, how about "Gravity operating in this area" while you're about it?

In recent weeks they've been trying a different tack, with messages like "Don't drive tired." Let's not bother with any form of sentence structure, I'll complain to myself. And then when I've stopped being a grammar Nazi I'll wonder about the meaning. I'm a little tired right now. Should I simply pull over into the hard shoulder? If I'm on the way into work do I call my boss? "Sorry, Richard, I can't come in. The signs told me."

Last weekend the signs around Southampton were all saying "Think Bike". Katie was disappointed as she'd actually got monorails on her mind at the time.

And the best, the very best, was one we saw on the M4 going past Cardiff time last year. A newly installed sign, glistening in the Welsh sunlight, had the following message, clearly evidence of a latter-day Dylan Thomas:
This sign not in use.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A case of Too Much Information

We went away for the weekend to Southampton. That's two of the Hamptons I've got covered, just need to visit East and West to get the full set.

The whole idea was to have a weekend of rest and relaxation. Katie had booked an Actually Quite Posh Hotel. It's a little difficult to relax when you're laughing at golfers, but we were up for the challenge. She'd even booked stress-busting massage treatment for us both.

On the journey down on Friday, we'd had to grab food at motorway services somewhere around Oxford, as we'd missed breakfast. Normally, motorway services food is like a holiday scooter - you don't buy it, you merely rent it for a while. But the burger I'd had, with added jalapenos, was making its presence felt for the medium term.

I'm sure I don't need to paint you a picture. But I could have cleared a city block.

Oh. I appear to have painted you a picture.

On Saturday morning we went to Ringwood Brewery near the New Forest to replenish our stock of beer to be drunk while wearing knitwear. Following the official Real Ale Rule of Daft Beer Names, Ringwood produce ales such as Boondoggle, Old Thumper, Gruntfuttock and Huffkin.

I have made one of those up. Answers in the comments, please.

And then to the spa treatment. Believe it or not, I'm a stranger to aromatherapy. I get nervous around New Age music. I'm always waiting for the key change. But I thought I'd give it a go. A very pleasant lady of a certain age was willing to help me with this, through the medium of palm oil and robust manipulation.

The trouble is, the burger of yesterday was still wanting to make its presence felt. And, as much as I wanted to get to and stay in my happy place, my plans were thwarted by the constant refrain in my head.

"Just don't fart. Just don't fart. Just don't fart. Just don't fart."

I'm oversharing again, aren't I?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Office conversations

A colleague stopped at my desk the other day. While waiting for the printer to spew out a stream of exciting positioning statements, he looked at me and asked:

"Do you think squirrels are merely foxes that have gone through a hot wash?"

It was a good question and I couldn't answer it. Well, not straight away. How do you deal with someone who has that worldview? By asking another question back. So I did:

"I'm not sure. But do you ever wonder if magpies are just small badgers with hang-gliders?"

I work with some very odd people.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The cat that wasn't there

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man of a certain age, being in possession of his own blog, will at some point have to revert to the time-honoured tradition of writing about his cat.

It's what you do when you run out of other things to write about, apparently.

The cat (hereinafter referred to as the Cat) is a gentle soul, normally. He has few faults, other than hoicking up huge hairballs on a semi-regular basis. But life with the Cat is pretty stress-free; even the hairballness normally happens in uncarpeted areas. There are some things for which they don't make Stain Devils, after all.

Katie had noticed what appeared to be a small bald patch on the Cat's lower back, about an inch or so from the base of his tail. It didn't seem to be bothering him that much. But it was bothering Katie, so she sought advice.

Katie knows someone who performs aromatherapy on animals. I know, it was new to me, too. This must be the easiest job in the world, I mean, most animals have a much better sense of smell than humans so you wouldn't need much in the way of essential oils, surely? You could just do homeopathic aromatherapy. Although how, exactly, could you tell when your gerbil was having anxiety issues?

Sorry, I digressed a bit there.

The animal aromatherapist recommended aloe vera gel. So Saturday morning found us at Holland & Barretts, getting a tube of the stuff. Under my breath I was muttering: "Don't say it's for the Cat, don't say it's for the Cat, don't say it's for the Cat."

Katie (brightly, in a voice heard over several postal districts): "I'm getting this for the Cat."

Who would have known that the Cat would form a liking for aloe vera gel? Certainly not me. But he spent much of the weekend licking the gel off himself.

And that last sentence is not one you want to stumble upon lightly.

This morning Katie texted me at work. The general thrust of the message was to tell me that a visit to the vets was happening this afternoon, if only to get the Cat fitted with one of those cone-shaped collars that look like an inverted lampshade.

(Digression #2: A friend has several dogs, one of which had such a collar recently. Some dried food got caught in the cone, and as the dog walked around, morsels rattling left and right, the others were all: "Whoa, mobile buffet.")

It would appear the Cat has been reading our texts. Because when Katie got home, he was nowhere to be seen:

The Cat, not there, this evening.

He eventually showed up, pining for food. Katie locked the two catflaps - one from the kitchen to the conservatory, the other from the conservatory to the garden - to keep him indoors. She then went upstairs to attend to a matter of State.

And at this point, the Cat developed opposable thumbs. I say this because he managed to unlock two catflaps and escape to the garden.

The Cat. Not there again, this evening.

If you'd been in the area you would have witnessed my darling wife chasing the little sod around our garden. I suspect Language may have been employed. However, he gave her the slip using his, um, cat-like agility.

She cancelled the vet. The Cat showed up.

The Cat. Legs optional.

When she rang back to tell me about her feline adventures, I may have laughed. Quite a bit, actually. By all accounts this is being "less than supportive".

Monday, 13 April 2009

The lost long weekend

Good Friday: we go round to the neighbours; much hilarity ensues. For 'hilarity', read 'drinking'. We get to try something called Agwa. It is bright green and should be downed in one shot.

Easter Saturday: we go round to the in-laws. Accompanying a hearty meal is a considerable amount of wine. And Glen Moray single malt. My father-in-law is very generous with the latter.

Easter Sunday: we go round to some friends. Last night I was drinking pints of Snecklifter. I don't know if I've ever lifted a sneck before (checks wikipedia) would appear that I have.

Easter Monday: we sit on our sofas all day, groaning slightly. We emit the odd whimper.

Kids - don't do drink. It's not big or clever. Never again.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The 39th step

It's a highly auspicious day, April 5th.

Hang on a minute, I just re-read that as "a highly suspicious day". That can't be right, can it? No, it's definitely auspicious.

You only have to look back at the historic events that have helped shape us- all of which happened on this day:

1242 - during a battle on the ice of Lake Peipus, Russian forces rebuff an invasion by Teutonic Knights. As an aside, the Russian commander, Alexander Nevsky, was adjudged to have performed a simply delightful triple salchow with toe loop, earning 5.9 for technical merit.

1609 - Daimyu, lord of the Satsuma domain in southern Japan, completes his invasion of the Ryukyu Kingdom. A merciless warrior, he would no doubt be less than chuffed to know that we now associate him with very small oranges.

1621 - the Mayflower sets sail back to England from Massachusetts, her captain overheard commenting: "We may as well go home, this place will never amount to anything."

1804 - the High Possil meteorite, the first recorded meteorite to fall in Scotland. Within 30 minutes of its landing it was being deep-fried.

1897 - the 'Thirty Days War' breaks out between Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Why you'd want to go to war over small items of bedroom furniture is anyone's guess.

1932 - alcohol prohibition in Finland ends. Alcohol sales start immediately in Alko liquor stores. 6th April becomes known as 'Call in sick day'.

1958 - Ripple Rock, an underwater mountain and hazard to shipping in the Seymour Narrows in Canada, is destroyed in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever seen. This is a designated National Historic Event in Canada. I'm not kidding you.

In this household we celebrate April 5th for other reasons. Because, exactly 12 years after the good people of British Columbia were picking powdered bits of vapourised rock out of their hair, my saintly mother was in a hospital in Moseley, Birmingham, giving birth to her third child and probably hoping for a daughter after the first two boys.

It wasn't the last time she was to be disappointed in me, I guess. Best to start out as you mean to go on.

So it is my birthday, and the last one before The Big One That I Don't Want to Talk About Next Year. I share this birthday with such luminaries as Spencer Tracy, Stan Ridgway, Pharrell Williams and Tony Banks. No, not that one. Or that one. Another one. Go Texans!

Tonight Katie is spoiling me rotten with rib-eye steak in her secret marinade (well, not that secret if I tell you it includes black treacle, Jack Daniels, smoked paprika, white wine vinegar tomato puree and lime juice) served with sweet potato chips and followed by tiramisu. A nice bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape has just been gently popped open. This could be the perfect evening.

Mind you, given the card she gave me, perhaps it's the least I should expect:

It's a town in the Orkneys, she tells me. I detect a hidden message.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Take my mother-in-law

Katie has just received a text message from her mother. It says:
"Happy Birthday..."
That's not the odd bit. It is Katie's birthday today*. And I'd expect her mother to know. She was there for the original one, after all. Anyway, the entire message was:
"Happy Birthday to my darling daughter. I have the bone density of a 30-year old, you know."
Mad as a badger.

(*And it's mine on Sunday. I like single malt. And Bentley motor cars. I'm just saying.)


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