Tuesday, 30 March 2010

On the road again

Smoking should be banned in all cars as well as in public places where young people congregate, doctors are urging. The Royal College of Physicians wants England's imminent review of anti-smoking laws to consider such measures to protect the young.
(BBC News)

This story, featured on the news a few days ago, apparently in order to really annoy middle-England Daily Mail readers, reminded me of my childhood. Before you ask, I didn't spend my formative years smoking behind the wheel. But my Dad did - and so we all joined in. There wasn't really much choice in the matter.

My father used to be regularly wreathed in smoke. As a pipe-smoker, he would be surrounded by his own personal cumulonimbus wherever he went. He maintained that smoking a pipe had its advantages over cigarettes, as he could effect a scholarly air when asked any difficult question.

"Hmmm," he would always say, drawing on a new and glowing bowl of rough shag, "it's a good question. But I think that would be an ecumenical matter." Which would be a little odd if he'd just been asked what he wanted for dinner. But we never challenged him on it.

Once a year we'd be packed into the family car for the annual holiday. Dad in charge, Mom navigating, three boys unwillingly sharing the back seat in a way that would these days have the Health & Safety bods reaching for the Valerian.

Early on, the steed of choice was a Morris Minor. Following on from this was an extraordinary machine called a Moskvitch, made in Moscow and the only brand new car he could afford at the time. We never saw another one in all the years he had it. It was eventually succeeded by a bright yellow Datsun with vinyl black interior. Carrying your kinds around in something like that these days would land you a visit from Social Services, but it was the seventies, after all.

Anyway, having been woken at some ungodly hour and decanted into the back of whatever sorry pile of machinery Dad was driving that year, we'd bounce along the highway to a largely unknown seaside resort or caravan park where we could spend the next seven days watching a different county's rain.

Dad would get a pipeful of tobacco on the go and would puff away as we negotiated the A38 through Lydiate Ash. Winding down the window, he would be blissfully aware that sparks were flying back into the eyes of his three sons.

I swear I'm not making this next bit up. I've tried to rationalise it, but I actually do think it happened. No pipe can burn forever, and even Dad would need a rest from the Condor ready-rub once in a while. He'd hand the pipe to Mom for safekeeping. Then, half an hour later, he'd want it back.

Now I don't know if you've ever seen someone getting a pipe up and running, but it's generally a two-handed job. You need to clean it out, fill it out with fresh tobacco, tamp it down then light it, breathing slowly in to get air flowing through the tobacco.

Despite the casual safety standards of the day, even Dad would have baulked at taking his hands off the wheel for ten minutes. He must have asked Mom to help. This is probably why I recall waking up from a slumber to the sight of my saintly mother, lighter in hand, gently pulling at the pipe in her mouth as clouds of smoke began to rise. I seem to remember we overtook another vehicle at that precise moment, its driver doing a comedy double-take at the respectable 40-something woman making a bid for Pipesmoker of the Year in the passing Soviet hatchback.

This is where I would say something like, "Never did me any harm." I'm not entirely sure, though.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Un peu de sel et vinaigre

"A poll has undermined France's reputation as the home of unrivalled culinary excellence with results that suggest the British cook more often, for longer, and produce greater variety than their French counterparts."

The sous chefs trembled as Victor LeRue's voice barked out another command. The legendary five-starred chef was feared and admired in equal measure. A veteran of La Cafe Gauloise, he had cooked for Presidents and princes. His was the place to eat in all of Paris. The waiting list at La Gauloise took all concepts of time to one side and gave them a vigorous shaking. His prices did the same to the laws of mathematics.

The latest outburst meant that another kitchen underling was due for a customary LeRue roasting. Or at least a gentle flambe.

"Nonononono, m'sieur! That is not how we do it here, you hear me?"

"I am sorry chef, I just thought...."

"That is your problem, imbecile, you did not think! What have I always told you."

The young apprentice reddened under his white cap and breathed in deeply.

"You told us, Chef, that we must always heat up the oil to its maximum before, um, before..."

"Before putting the fish in. And why?"

"So that the batter gets all nice and crinkly."

LeRue calmed down, "That is good, you have been listening. It is important to get this right, young one. This is the signature dish of the Gauloise, yes? People come from all of France to eat it here. You'll be telling me you've forgotten how to do the chips next."

The apprentice grinned, "No Chef, I can do chips in my sleep. Slab-cut pieces of pomme de terre, fried in the French way."

"And the seasoning?"

"Salt and malt vinegar. Perhaps some curry sauce. Serve with a saveloy or a picked egg."

"Good. With this cuisine we will go far."

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Awesome is the word

I am, it is said, a relatively well-balanced person. A man of quiet contemplation, unlikely to show too much emotion. Slow to excitement. Sure and steady. Reassuringly boring, perhaps.

But. But.

There are times when, faced with sheer unadulterated majesty, I have to react.

Yes. It's Batman. And he's fighting a shark - underwater, of course - with a lightsabre.

I don't think further words are necessary.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Someone, somewhere, is having a free lunch

It started with the delivery cards from UPS. Well, "delivery cards" is probably not the right term, but "we-tried-to-deliver-but-were-unsuccessful-because-we-can-only-operate-on-weekdays-between-9-and-5-and-you-choose-to-go-out-to-work-at-these-times-card" is a right old mouthful.

I wasn't expecting a parcel delivery, and I was no wiser when I actually read the cards themselves. Apparently the sender was Virgin. My only link with the Virgin brand is my internet service provider, Virginmedia. But why, I asked myself, would they be trying to send me a parcel? Had they decided to send me the entire internet as a hard copy?

I've been with Virginmedia in some shape or form since I first went online, ohmygod years ago when all this was fields around here. I've stayed with them because they've managed not to mess things up and, quite frankly, the thought of going to another provider scares me to death. The download speed is ok, the uploads enable me to maintain the 17,615th most popular blog in Iowa, everyone's reasonably satisfied.

Getting nowhere with the open gateway to Hades that UPS, with no sense of irony, call their customer information line, I decided to give Virginmedia a call.

VM: Hello, Virginmedia, how can I help you today?
Me: Look, this might sound like an odd question. But is there any chance you might be trying to send me a parcel?
VM: Ooh, righty, let's have a look at your account. (Taps away at a keyboard). Oh yes, that'll be your new wireless router.
Me: Oh. Well, hang on a minute. I've got one of my own already. I never asked you to supply me another one. Two routers is a tad excessive, don't you think?
VM: Don't worry sir, it's completely complimentary. We give them free to subscribers who upgrade to our 20mb service.
Me (Going pale at this point): Whoa there. Upgrade? Who said anything about an upgrade?
VM: yes, our records show you called us on the 1st. Your account is marked up and everything.
Me: That's all well and good. But I never made the call.
VM: Oh. Is there anyone else who could have made the call?

(I look across at Katie. She rolls her eyes and shrugs. I take this as a 'no'.)

Me: No, it's just me. And I'm not happy. You have me down for an upgrade...
VM: Yes, but...
Me: Never mind that. I never asked to be upgraded.
VM: I understand, but you see...
Me (mentally looking up the BBC Watchdog number at this point): Because I've seen all these stories of people whose suppliers try to scam them into paying more, and I'm not falling for it. I never called you about this.
VM: But you won't....
Me: I didn't want this. and now I suppose I'm into a whole world of pain to swap back, yes? Who do I complain to? How can you do this to me? I do not want this.
VM: But it's a free upgrade, sir. In fact, I can see we're doing it for less than your current monthly payment. Permanently.

There was a clashing of mental gears.

Me: Erm.
VM: I can see the discount on your account here, sir.
Me: So you're doubling my speed. Sending me a free wireless router. And charging me less? Forever?
VM (trying to hide the grin from their voice): That's right, sir. You've been with us for a long time, you see. It's something we're doing for our loyal customers.

Well. Colour me embarrassed. And I was getting myself ready for a good old-fashioned whinge, too. Apparently, the good things that happen to other people ("Oh, you'll never believe it, they were giving away free iPhones, and the salesman asked me to marry his daughter too") can sometimes occur to me too. I would seem to be ploughing through a free lunch. Well, a cheaper one, anyway.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some big files to download. Because I can, ok?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Collective nouns for the 21st century

A blame of bankers (see also; ‘wunch’)

A fib of politicians

A swerve of taxi drivers

An exaggeration of journalists

A commission of estate agents

A dilution of homeopaths

A shiver of naturists

A flock of naturalists (see also; ‘herd’, ‘pride’, ‘school’, ‘gaggle’, etc)

A fret of telephone cold-callers

A collection of pedants (assuming there are more than two pedants present, otherwise the term ‘a pair’ will suffice, thank you very much).

A vexation of traffic wardens

A drone of station announcers

A protocol of Civil Servants

A petulance of footballers

An orangery of footballers’ wives

An array of geeks

A pout of romantic fiction writers

A Rendell of crime fiction writers

A slash of horror fiction writers

A nebula of science fiction writers

New suggestions always welcome - add any you've got to the comments.

Monday, 8 March 2010

As they're throwing Academy Awards around...

It doesn't have to involve multimillion dollar budgets. You don't need a cast of thousands. Swathes of CGI are rather unnecessary.

FilmDash is a 48-hour challenge - write, shoot, edit and release (well, upload to YouTube) a short film in a mere two days.

Below is one that a friend of mine, Phil (the legendary renderer I talked about here) pulled together last weekend with his team. Remember, everything you see here was done from scratch over 48 hours.

And there was some fat bloke playing 'Dignitary Handing Out Awards', too:

Sunday, 7 March 2010

I swear I'm not making this up

The other night I had a dream in which the Jackson Five were re-forming.

That's not the strange part. And before you ask, they'd asked Janet to fill in. Apparently LaToya hadn't been answering their calls.

Anyway, the Five - Janet, Tito, Marlon, Wossname and Thingy - we're getting back together for a worldwide tour. Clearly, being a little more advanced in years, they decided they should have backing singers. And this is where things got a little weird.

I received a phone call, telling me that I'd been selected to back up the First Family of Motown. In my dream I'd protested my lack of talent. "Me? Doing BVs for the Jacksons? But I'm not even a very good singer. And you'll need someone who can move around the stage a bit. I can't dance." But the caller was insistent. He was not to be swayed. I was to get the next plane to New York where the Five would be waiting for me and the rest of the backing singers. So I did.

Walking through Midtown Manhattan I noticed that the streets appeared to be filled with Mexican gentlemen, all wearing Genesis tour T-shirts. The 1987 Invisible Touch tour, if you're interested. I passed this off as a coincidence. I had an appointment to make, after all.

I entered the anonymous-looking bar I'd been told to find, where I met the rest of the backing singers. And, for those of you not already weirded-out by the story so far, they were; an unknown American guy who only ever said "You crazy English", a girl I work with and, for some reason, Guy Garvey, lead singer of acclaimed indie band Elbow.

I asked him: "Why are you here? I mean, out of all of us you can at least sing, but why are you here, supporting the Jacksons?"

He smiled, stroked his beard, and in a deep Lancastrian burr, replied: "I believe people should always try everything at least once. Apart from incest and Morris Dancing."

Then my dream turned into one of those scenes they have in movies, where they portray the development of a team over a sequence of cut shots, showing how an unlikely group of people get formed into a tight unit. Think "Escape to Victory", or "The Mighty Ducks". We learned "I Want You Back," could do our "ABCs" blindfolded. Goddammit, we said to ourselves, this might just work.

"You crazy English," said the American.

In one diversion, Guy took me to another part of the city, to a drop-box where he was receiving post. He pulled out a parcel. "Here, I want you to have this." It was a fur coat, a full mink, but with military badges sewn into it. I didn't know what to say. "I don't know what to say," I said.

We all arranged to meet the Jacksons at the bar, but they stayed away. So we started drinking heavily. Then one of us asked the bartender for food. Wiping his hands on his Genesis t-shirt, he brought through plates of uncooked pork - essentially a dismembered pig. The others started to argue over it. My abiding memory is of the lead singer of Mercury-prize-winning Elbow bickering with a work colleague over a pig's head.

Then I woke up.

Would anyone care to interpret this?


Related Posts with Thumbnails