Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Oh no not again - year four

As the year winds wearily through to month 11, there is one tradition that we must remember to observe.

Halloween.  No, hang on, that's not it.

Bonfire Night.  No.  No, wait a minute, I've got this, I know what I'm doing.

NaBloPoMo!  Bless you*.

Yes, it's time for me to bore the living bejeesus out of thrill and delight my many readers as I embark upon the challenge of writing and publishing a brand new post every day for the entire month of November.

I've done this in 2007, 2008 and 2009.  It's now 2010. (Using this method of progression, I reckon I could predict what the year will be in up to, ooh, about seven years or so.)  So, once more, we're about to see whether the whole quality vs quantity thing holds any water.

Of course, I could use this as an excuse for the relatively low frequency of updates on here over the last few weeks.  Of course!  I've been saving up all the good stuff, haven't I?

Just hold onto that thought, people.

*(Fourth year running for that gag.  It's the gift that keeps on giving, I tell you.)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

On not causing a fuss

Seasoned commentators tell us, in concerned tones, that it is indeed kicking off over in France.  Although I guess the phrase 'kicking off' is probably not being used.

Well, OK, Sky News might use it.  I'll give you that one.

But the news that our nearest continental cousins have been protesting in the streets has caused more than one person to wonder if we'll see similar behaviour here in Britain.  The French have been up in arms about, amongst other things, proposals to increase the state retirement age over there from 60 to 62.  Coming in the same week that we hear the British equivalent is to increase to 66, can we see Brits manning the barricades and blockading fuel depots?

Well, probably not.  For one thing, we're not, well, French.  Bless them, but they are rather good at street protests.  It's almost a national pastime; I think they teach it in schools.

"Henri, come in now dear, you've got your placard-writing exam in the morning and your father and I haven't seen you doing nearly enough revising."

The nearest equivalent we have in Britain is tutting.  We're a nation of tutters.  We could have synchronised tutting as an Olympic sport in 2012 - we'd clear up.

Having to work longer for your pension?  Tut.
One in ten of your workforce at risk?  Tut.
Local library being closed down?  Tut.
Taxes rising.  Tut.  Maybe a sigh, if you're being particularly radical.

Has it always been like this?  Is the unwillingness to cause a fuss something that's hard-coded into the DNA?  There's quite a lot of British history to wade through - I know this from many a bored Wednesday afternoon at school trying to get excited about the repeal of the Corn Laws - but none of it seems to include much in the way of insurrections, uprisings or revolution.  Just a collection of sharply-worded letters to whoever's been in charge at the time.  We quite like sharply-worded letters.

But could we change?  I suspect not.  For a start off, we're all too polite.

"What do we want?  More consideration of our specific requirements, which we've outlined in this letter here.  When do we want it?  As early as is convenient.  If that's not too much trouble."

Hardly a cry to heat the blood, is it?

The other issue is that we're all a little too comfortable these days.  When people had nothing to lose, there was more of an imperative to demonstrate.  But now?  I can hardly see your typical urbanite storming the police lines, ciabatta loaf in hand.  We're all more concerned with Tesco Clubcard points than political ones.

So it seems as if we're a hopeless case, not wanting to cause a scene.  There doesn't seem to be anything that gets the masses suitably exercised.  In fact, if it wasn't for reality TV, many of us wouldn't get angry about anything at all.

Maybe I need to write a letter to somebody about this.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The story of the shirt

There's a shirt hanging in my spare room that I've never worn.  It's a very nice shirt; one that I think is classed a 'going-out' shirt, in that you wouldn't wear it for the day-to-day office grind.

Not that I actually do much grinding at the office, but you get the drift.

It's Italian cloth, blue and gold in colour.  It's a good shirt.  And yet I've never worn it.  The problem?  It's a little too small for me, if I'm honest. There is more than a little gaping around the midriff.  It's not a good look.

It was a present.  So why didn't I just take it back?

I received it on Christmas 2008, from my Mom and Dad.  Those of you who know me will probably be aware that we lost Dad unexpectedly three days later.  It was the last present I ever received that came from both of them.

And so here I am with a shirt that doesn't fit.  But that's not the shirt's problem - it's mine. 

In a roundabout way, this is me announcing that I'm trying to do something positive about my size.  I started this blog, some 450-odd posts ago, to record a weight-loss attempt.  After a few posts I realised that endless blathering about diets and pictures of scales weren't going to win me any Booker Prizes, which is why there's been rather more talking animals and rampant moth attack-related posts since then. 

Fear not, dear reader, I'm not about to assail you with healthy recipes and exercise tips.  There are much better places to go for those.  (Although there's a lovely curried carrot and cumin soup Katie made last week that, oh, never mind).  But I thought it might be worth mentioning.  It'll crop up from time to time.

After all, I'd like to be healthy.  I'd like to be able to move around more comfortably.  I'd like to live long into retirement.  I'd like those people who just see a jolly fat bloke to take me a bit more seriously.

And I'd quite like to wear the last shirt my parents gave me.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The long goodbye

I disappointed a woman a couple of weeks ago.  Of course, for those who know me, this is nothing new.  The default position for most women, when they come into contact with me, is one of disappointment.  It's just the depth that varies.

However, I do normally have to meet the woman in question before she gets disappointed.  In this case, it was a complete stranger and she was on the other end of the phone.  Having said that, I think Kirstie will eventually get over the upset I caused her.  Well, I hope so, otherwise her decision to work in the Cancellations Team at Sky TV would be seriously misguided.

It was a strange conversation I had with Kirstie.  I'd called to cancel our Sky subscription, and managed to navigate my way through the Seven Circles Menu Of Hell that is their telephone system, eventually choosing the option after the disembodied voice said, "If you're thinking of leaving us, press 4" in a reproachful way.

Given that she was working in the bit of Sky's call centre that gets calls from people choosing option 4, her surprise at being told I wanted to leave was, well, surprising.

"Can I ask why you're thinking of leaving us?" she asked.  (Thinking of leaving?  I'd already thought, thank you.) I imagined her reaching for a box of tissues and bottle of gin, such was the edge to her voice.  Gently, I broke the news to her that I was able to get a better deal from the people who supply us with our broadband and phone service.

"Just hold for one moment," she asked.  So I did.  Then she came back.

"If we can offer you an upgrade, give you free HD channels for six months, would you like to stay?"

"Thanks, but I'll end up paying more in six months, won't I?  Sorry Kirstie, but I would just like to cancel."

"But you've been with us for a long time.  It's a shame."  At this point I imagined her putting together a mixtape of our favourite songs.

"I know.  I remember the good times.  They were fun.  We were young.  But I think we need to move on."

Eventually, I managed to get the message through to Kirstie.

I thought that would be it.  But then I got the letter from Sky.  'We're sorry you're leaving us,' it said.  I read it, sighed and moved on.  It was followed by an email.  'Where did we go wrong?' it asked.

I swear I'm not making this up.

I fully expect to get a home visit from Rupert Murdoch at some point.  He'll show up, probably at two in the morning, tired and emotional and wailing at the top of his voice.  "I can change!  Just give me a chance!"

But it's Kirstie I can't forget.  I still think of her, clearly struggling to cope in one of the worst jobs possible for someone suffering from separation anxiety. Breaking up is hard to do.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Picky bugger

I firmly believe that the human race (well, at least the bits of it I get to see on a regular basis) is evolving into grumpiness.  Don't agree with me?  Try buying concert tickets.

This came to mind last week when the opportunity to see my favourite current band came up.  Who they are is not important, although the title of this post is a bit of a clue.  I've never seen them live before, so I was a tad excited at the prospect.

I remembered how it was when I bought concert tickets in the past.  You would be full of anticipation as the band or artist announced their tour, then you would wait for the tickets to go on sale.  Before the Internet it was telephone purchase or personal visit only.  Stress did not really enter the equation.

These days, however, the advent of technology makes it possible for music fans to sit in their underpants in front of their computer, pressing F5 repeatedly like a laboratory rat as the allotted time passes.

I should point out that I was away from work last week.  I was not sitting at my desk in my underpants. Not that the image I've just presented to you is any less trauma-inducing, I guess, regardless of location.  Remember to thank me later.

So we're now programmed to accept that we have to get our tickets within the first few nanoseconds after they go on sale.  Otherwise, those gits - you know the ones, they're not real fans, they only know the singles, I bet they don't even know any songs off the first album - they'll be in front of you.  Buying your ticket.  Sitting where you should be sitting.

And so it becomes self-fulfilling.  Buying concert tickets is now a stress-fest, a competitive sport.  Which is why you're pressing the refresh button in your underwear.

Second inappropriate image in one post.  Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

But it goes beyond the mere purchase.  I looked at a few fan forums and Facebook pages for the band in question as they announced their tour, and these were pretty much the main themes:
  • They're not coming to my town.
  • They're coming to my town, but not to the venue I like.
  • They've got too popular.  How dare they play at bigger venues?
  • I'll never be able to get tickets.
  • Grumble
  • Moan
  • Whinge
  • Me
  • Me
  • Me
Some people just like to suck the joy out of everything.  Luckily, I can release the inner eight-year-old at a moment's notice.  When I got my tickets last week I was hopping around the room in a state of high excitement.  Admittedly, I was in my underpants.

Sorry, I've done it again, haven't I?

Friday, 1 October 2010

Damp squids: a retrospective

On the table in front of me is a DVD - the most recent season of The IT Crowd.  Inside the sleeve is a personalised note to me from the show's creator, Graham Linehan.  To explain how this got here I need to go back a bit

Born at an early age in a woodcutter's cottage, I faced massive difficulties during my formative years as a result of my aversion to pineapple.

Hang on, that's probably going a little too far back.

I've been a fan of Graham Linehan since he co-wrote Father Ted with Arthur Mathews in the 90s.  He also had a hand in the first series of Black Books, another favourite of mine.  The IT Crowd carries on with the theme of extraordinary things happening in relatively normal situations, and has been well-received, according to the rigorous survey I carried out on myself just now.

I've followed Linehan on Twitter for some time, because it's useful to know about new things he's got coming up.  And so should you, once you've gone and seen the aforementioned comedy series, available in all good stores and probably quite a few crappy ones too.

Back in April he asked his followers to give him examples of misunderstood sayings.  I remembered an old work colleague who referred to things failing as being 'a bit of a damp squid'.  We'd tried to correct her - the saying is 'damp squib', squib being a type of firework.  Dampness being a Very Bad Thing Indeed for all things incendiary, this is a good analogy for failure.  She countered, using the infinite confidence of the crushingly misguided, and said that as squid were indeed marine creatures, they were meant to be damp.  QED.  Or something.

"Yes, but," we'd replied.  Then, realising we were doing the equivalent of explaining quantum physics to a domestic cat, we left it there.

I relayed this on Twitter to Graham, in 140 characters, leaving out the domestic cat reference, and thought nothing more of it.

Three months later and the final episode of The IT Crowd is airing.  Hark at me with my industry language.  There's a scene where one of the main characters, Roy, innocently uses the phrase 'a bit of a damp squid'.  Cue hilarity from other characters, including Jen, who Roy had corrected earlier in the episode for her use of 'pedal stool' instead of 'pedestal'.

The following morning I tweeted Graham about the line, not really expecting a reply.  Within an hour I got this:

Graham Linehan Glinner
@fatboyfat was that you? If I'm in time, you'll get a credit on the DVD. If not, you'll get a DVD!
I think I may have had a moment.  Not only had one of my favourite TV writers actually replied to me, but something I'd contributed had led to a line on a proper telly show.  OK, it was six words, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Time passed.  We all got distracted by a woman putting a cat into a wheelie-bin and Charmin toilet paper changing its name.  Again.

Then this morning I received a padded envelope from Talkback Thames, containing a copy of season 4.  And inside the sleeve was this handwritten note:
"Hey Phil, hope this is as good as a credit!  Best, Graham Linehan"
Now that's classy.  I am officially tickled bandy.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some TV to watch.


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