Monday, 31 January 2011

Last roundabout before Bromsgrove

He was never sure of his way before he met her. He wasn’t completely hopeless, though. He knew the theory. On paper he was brilliant. But for many years he navigated by himself.

He’d travelled with others before. A few times, if we’re being honest. But it seemed that they had directional issues too. He couldn’t begin to count the number of times he found himself getting off at the last roundabout before Bromsgrove.

The journey is just as important as the final destination, so they say. But he never really knew what they were talking about until she came along. She showed him the way.

“You men are all the same,” she said with a resigned air. “Always too bloody proud to ask for directions.” He was a little uncertain at the ‘you men’ aspect of her little speech. How many fellow travellers had she known? But he had no time for further doubt as she produced a diagram and proceeded to direct him.

It was an education. He began to read the signs. Really read them, for the first time. He’d never realised that there was more than one way to get to the same place. Oh, there’s always the quick route. Which is fine, if that’s what you want, and sometimes that does the trick. But sometimes speed is the last thing on your mind.

And he learned that sometimes it helps to play close attention to the scenery. There’s more to the trip than the waypoints, she would tell him. Think about every bit in between the milestones. And don’t be scared, she would say, if you feel the need to step off the path every now and again.

It’s been a few months since they started travelling together. He doesn’t recognise himself these days. But that’s no bad thing. He knows where he’s going and how to get there. Nowadays he flies past that last roundabout without as much as a backwards glance. Which is just as well.

Because once you’ve been to Bromsgrove once, you want to go there again and again.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Also available in English

Like most of you, I get spam emails. Like most of you, they invariably offer me cut-price pharmaceuticals, free iPads or the ability to grow certain parts of my anatomy with end results that would make the average marrow-farmer insanely jealous.

But last week my inbox was party to something that pushed the little yellow envelope icon to its limits.

It started well. The email's subject line was this:

"Understand Pipeline Velocity to Enable Sales Productivity"

So far, so obtuse. I wondered whether I was seeing one of those legendary emails produced by spam farms in the Far East, where people for whom English isn't even a seventh language put random words together and hit the 'send' button a billion times in the fervent hope that the Law of Averages will do the trick.

I closed my eyes. I opened them again. Nope. it was still there. I was worried about the phrase 'pipeline velocity,' if I'm honest. My mind imagined a lot of things, most of them not suitable for a work environment. Best read on, I thought to myself.

"Today, best in class sales organisations are unlocking and leveraging the intelligence that resides within their pipelines like never before."

Well, that's nice, isn't it? Nothing like an intelligent pipeline, is there?

"They use this intelligence not only to forecast more effectively, but also to target sales enablement efforts with laser precision and improve overall sales productivity."

There are ancient inscriptions in Mayan temples, we are told. Academics the world over have spent lifetimes decoding their centuries-old wisdom. Across the planet, aboriginal tribes in Australia pass their culture on from grandfather to father to son using song-cycles and spoken history that are all but impenetrable to outsiders.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have found a worthy successor in this email. It goes on to mention something called 'opportunity velocity' and asks me if I know how it compares to that of my peers. I'm not even sure if I should be enthusiastic or outraged at such a question.

As far as I am aware, the sender is trying to sell me some sort of service. However, short of firing up my own personal Enigma Machine I'm not 100% sure. A whole bunch of us gathered around this sacred text on the morning it came in, trying to derive some sense from it. And the best we could get - translating the entire first paragraph, was:

"Knowing a little more about the people who've recently bought things from you could help you to sell more."

Maybe I should contact the company that sent this to me? Perhaps I could offer my services to them, as a sort of corporate-to-English filter? It could be a lucrative venture for all concerned.

One problem, though. When I get in touch, what language should I use?

Friday, 28 January 2011

Random Musings 2011

Is it really only a year since we last did this? Oh. Yes it is.

For the fourth year running I'm putting my reputation at risk with the random music challenge. And this is the Internet, folks, where four years=forever.

Don't know what I'm talking about? It's easy. Get your iPod or other digital musical doohickey. Hit the 'Random' button. Write down the first five songs - put them in the comments below if you like. And no skipping the embarrassing ones. If you've got the collected works of the Goombay Dance Band lurking on there then, well, you're just going to have to suck it up, sunshine.

Here we go then:

1 - The Pogues - The Broad Majestic Shannon

Off to a good start, this was recorded live at the Brixton Academy. Shane Macgowan is almost easy to understand on this one - it must have been early on in the gig - although there's a bit of a slur in the chorus. Normal service restored.

2 - Eric Clapton - Lead Me On

Hmm. I have a lot of time for Eric Clapton. With the Bluesbreakers he was Godlike. In recent years he's revisited the Blues and, lo, it Has Been Good. But there's a whole bunch of stuff in between that gets a bit too saccharine-sweet. Like this one. Putting a nice solo in the middle of an average over-produced R&B ballad number does not improve it, Eric. Sorry.

3 - The Proclaimers - Make My Heart Fly

I love this. I hated the Proclaimers when they first came out; I didn't get them at all. Then I heard their song Sunshine on Leith and had a blokey 'going for a brisk walk around the block, no I'm fine it's just something in my eye' moment. Excellent.

4 - Rush - Middletown Dreams

Because no-one's record collection is complete without Canadian progressive power-rock three-pieces, is it? This one's on 'Power Windows', from 19-hundred-and-frozen-to-death. I have fond memories of driving a rust-covered Ford Escort and having a proto-mullet, listening to this at full blast. I wonder why I remained single for so much of my early twenties?

5 - Midlake - Head Home

From the wonderfully titled album, 'The Trials of Van Occupanther'. I heard this song on the radio and waited for the announcer to name the band. Next stop - record store. It's that good.

Right. That's me. Now it's your turn - let's see what you've got.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

One two three, one two three

Last night I was thinking about how my sudden death would be a bad thing. It's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, if I'm honest. But last night events conspired to remind me that an unexpected shuffling off the mortal coil would be a source of huge buggeration to all and sundry. Mixed in with no small amount of personal embarrasment for yours truly, too.

What made me think this way? Well, it was mainly to do with the dodgy DVD I was carrying in my coat pocket.

Stop right there. I know what you're thinking and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you must know, the disc in question was a video of a concert by Andre Rieu. Actually, I'm not sure if that makes matters any better, come to think of it.

For those of you who have yet to come across him, this Rieu character is a violinist who appears to specialise in (a) fronting an orchestra that plays gentle classics, mainly Viennese waltzes, and (b) attempting to bring the mullet back into fashion.

He first came to my attention in the run-up to Christmas when his vaguely-scary smiling face could be seen in any number of adverts for his CDs and DVDs. He has this facial expression that brought back memories of Richard Clayderman at his evil worst. Regency-style clothing and waltzing couples lurked menacingly in the background. I shudder to think of it.

It's really not my cup of warm beverage at all. I would like to make that abundantly clear. But my sainted mother likes him, which is why brother number 2 bought her the afore-mentioned DVD for Christmas. It wasn't playing properly on her machine, so I offered to test it on my player. Which is how I came to be ferrying it home as discreetly as possible last night.

I'd tried to hide it as I ran from her house to the car. But as I was driving home I wondered what would happen if, for instance, I was involved in some freak accident. What would those finding me think? They would turn over my belongings to my grieving next-of-kin. Katie would be initially shocked and puzzled by the Andre Rieu DVD secreted in my pocket.

"My God," she would say. "This is terrible. I never knew about this at all. I can't explain it. He must have kept it from me. You think you know someone...." And I would be unable to set the record straight.

But that wouldn't have been the worst of it. Guided by some unspoken need, my sorrowful relatives would probably want to show some form of understanding. I can just imagine the curtain closing around my casket and the congregation filing out of the crematorium to the gentle strains of The Blue Danube Waltz.

It's just too horrible a thought to comprehend.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

How does it feel?

Well, if that doesn't just take the biscuit. In fact, not just the biscuit, but the plate it came on, too. Together with the accompanying latte, replete with chocolate sprinkles.

At the beginning of the week the news outlets were full of stories about how it was Blue Monday on the 17th. Well, I say 'stories' in this spirit of charity that seems to have overcome me at the moment. I suppose 'thinly disguised PR fluff used by lame hacks to fill some column inches' would be, well, uncharitable.

This is why that career in journalism is not exactly giving me come-hither glances, by the way.

Blue Monday was determined, by people who apparently do this sort of thing for a living, to be the most depressing day of the year. The joys of Christmas have rapidly receded, to be replaced by the realisation that your skin resembles something used to attach wallpaper to walls. The weather is cold and grey. Or, if you live in Britain, colder and greyer. Those resolutions you made on December 31 have crumbled and failed like crumbly-faily-type things. Credit card bills with numbers previously known only by theoretical physicists are thudding onto your doormat ominously.

And it's a Monday. So really there's no hope.

I'd got my defences up. I was going to trawl for some good news stories to write about, to give us all some balance. Well. That was thirty minutes of my life I'm never getting back. Seriously, look at the news - it's like the End of Days but with no budget.

So I took a different tack. I thought I'd think about things closer to home. After all, things could be worse. I have people who can bear to be around me. I get to write nonsense and, oh, literally tens of people read it every week. There's quite a nice bottle of Aberlour single malt, currently unopened, in my line of sight. The mighty Elbow are releasing an album this year. There's no need to be so blue.

And it worked. I cheered up.

Then I heard that Blue Monday wasn't until next week.

Oh crap.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

And all the kids these days have stupid haircuts, too

The aging process is relentless, isn't it? One minute you're youthful and carefree, then without a moment's notice you're slumped in a bath chair, waving your walking stick at passers-by and ranting uncontrollably.

This was brought home to me in no uncertain terms on Thursday evening by the wonderful sound of BBC Radio 1.

For those of you who are not residents of this sceptred isle, I should explain that Radio 1 is a national radio station that caters for all that is hip, and indeed happening, musically. All of the presenters have wilfully interesting facial hair.

I do not normally listen to Radio 1.

However, on Thursday I learned that a band I like very much were releasing the debut single from their new album and it was going to get its first radio play on the afore-mentioned station at 7pm that very night. Imagine my excitement, if you can. If your imagination doesn't stretch that far, let me help you.

I was excited.

So on the way home from work I pointed my car radio's dial to the unfamiliar-reaches of 97.7 FM. Alright, in reality I did no such thing - what I actually did was to press the button marked '1' which had been set by the people in the showroom when I picked up my car two years ago, but you get the point.

As I sped along the darkened stretches of the M6 I received a swift and brutal education into how I am an old fart who has no place listening to this modern-music-that's-meant-for-the-kids, daddy-o. I was a little early, so was getting the end of the previous presenter's show. Someone was singing a song, a merry enough ditty, but I didn't quite catch the words due to the Biblical quantities of auto-tune being employed. There was barely a hint of human endeavour at play. It can only be a short time, I thought to myself, before we get Stephen Hawking on Glee.

I drove on. Presenter A handed over to presenter B, a man with a name that escapes me but probably began with the letter Z. There was banter about this latter presenter's up-and-coming 'gig', which seemed to consist of lots of people going to watch him play a succession of records in a room. Intense.

Then I was treated to some R&B. I have no problem with R. R is fine, really. I'm actually quite fond of B. But it does seem that by pushing them together these days we end up with a confection that would have Marvyn Gaye revolving in his grave at something north of 45 RPM. I blame the '&'. I suppose it made a nice change to be listening to it on a halfway-decent stereo system. The only time I hear this stuff normally is when it's being played on a crappy speaker attached to a mobile phone, itself being wielded with menace by some pimply herbert who wouldn't know Compton even if the number 12 bus he was on went there instead of Yardley Wood.

Each to their own. Because then we had something called Dubstep.

I'd heard of the genre itself, even caught snatches of it out of the windows of souped-up Ford Fiestas driven by young gentlemen wearing trousers whose crotches seem, for some baffling reason, to start at knee-level. But I'd never heard an entire song. If indeed 'song' is the right phrase to be used for something resembling R2D2 having a moment of tenderness with a fax machine in an office cupboard.

At this point I had to switch off the radio as I'd arrived home. Never before have I felt so blessed. But I reflected and remembered. I listened to myself. And I recalled my own father being baffled by Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads back in nineteen-hundred-and-frozen-to-death.

Young people. Ignore me, for I am old and know nothing. It's not you, it's me. And believe me - in 25 years or so, it'll be you, too.

Just do me a favour will you? Pull your bloody trousers up.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A shameless and vaguely tarty request

I honestly cannot believe how intelligent, well-mannered, truthful, fit and devastatingly attractive the readers of this blog seem to be. It must be something in the water.

Seriously, when I think about the people who log on to read this every day, I have to bite the back of my hand and go for a brisk walk up and down the road for a while. You are all fine people.

I don't want you to feel that my sincere and heartfelt feelings are in any way connected to the logo showing at the top of this post. That old thing? I don't know where it came from.

But I can imagine you might be a little confused if, let's say, you stumble upon the Bloggies Awards 2011 site. (Although how that might happen I can't begin to imagine. Unless some eedjit was going around putting links to it all over the shop, perhaps).

Let's just say you do end up at the Bloggies Site. What would you do with yourself? I mean, what could you fill in under the European, Humorous, Writing and Secret categories?

Typing 'Make Lard History' and '' under each category might be something to do, I suppose. I don't know why I mention it, really. Of course, you could also enter the names of other blogs, too. There are rather a lot of them floating around, you know, and quite a few of them are tremendous.

Wow. Have you been working out or something?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

On being organised

We need to be better organised, Katie and me. To see the events of the year approaching so we can plan for them, rather than jumping up like surprised rodents at the onset of a friend's birthday or outing.

Well, I say 'we'. I think, dear reader, that we can dispense with the formalities. Let's face it, Katie has the memory of a high-performing Aspergers sufferer. I, however, spend many of my waking hours with an expression of surprise etched on my features.

"What? We're seeing so-and-so this weekend? When was that arranged?"

"You know about this."

"And this night out after work?"

"Seriously. I told you about this three times."

And so it was ordained that we would have a calendar. Actually, Katie saw one with sock monkeys on it and thought it would make a jolly addition to our daily lives. In the long, chocolate-filled days after Christmas she filled the thing with birthdays, nights out, high days and holidays. I looked through it with a sense of despair.

"Seriously?" I said. I may have lifted an eyebrow in a manner I hoped was alluring. "2011 has to be cancelled. We just don't have the time to enjoy it."

"And this is just what I can remember. There's sure to be more as the year progresses."

Clearly the eyebrow had been wasted on her. I'm beginning to think I'll never play James Bond.

The first few days of 2011 were navigated without too many dramas. We removed the Christmas tree (celebrating the festival of St Eustace of the Much Larger Living Room) and got ourselves back out of the habit of drinking in the daytime. Katie suggested that perhaps I ought to hang the calendar on the wall in the kitchen.

This would involve creating a hole and inserting a hook. I wasn't sure if this was wise.

"Are you sure?" I asked. Previous encounters with DIY have left us wondering if we can section off parts of the house with that tape the police use for crime scenes.

"Well, there's no point in having a calendar if we can't see it. That's pretty much the point, don't you agree?"

I reviewed the calendar.

"Ah, no, hang on a minute. I can't do this."

"Why not?"

"Well, nowhere on this calendar is there an entry that says 'Put up calendar'. You can't mess with the pre-ordained, Katie."

I got a look.

"I'll get the picture hooks."

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Cause and effect

And on the evening of the fifth day there was a meal. The man of the house did look upon the food and saw that it was a red lentil dhal, curried and hot. And it was good.

He did not say: "Woman, pray where is the meat?" for he was a wise man.

The woman did say unto him: "Do you believe that this meal, wonderful as it is to mine eyes, could have Effects on the morrow?"

"Be not afraid," said the man. For he was a man, and not afraid of Effects.

And lo, the following day did dawn bright and cold. The man and the woman did indeed suffer the Effects. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The man went to his work, still feeling the Effects. They did come, verily, at a rate of knots. He was Effecting all around his place of work. He travelled to Mark's desk and Effected.

Mark wept.

Late in the day the man did receive a message from the woman. "The Effects are upon me. And also those here and around."

"Yea and verily," he did reply. "I fear it is like Gomorrah here. And Sodom."

And she did agree. After a little Effect.

Brothers and sisters, be wary of food from the East. For it can make you a source of Effects.

Here endeth the lesson. And pardon me.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Eleven Movies for Austere Times

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Their Lodger

Raiders of the Lost Argos

Crouching Tabby, Hidden Gerbil

Murder on the National Express

Cash for Goldfinger

Minicab Driver

Cubic Zirconia are Forever

Once Upon a Time in Droitwich

For a Few Dollars Less

A Fistful of Nectar Points

The Mancunian Candidate

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Anyone know where I can get a 'Beware, Plague' flag?

Well. If this is 2011 I want no more of it. The Snot Fairy has visited the Fatboyfat household and sprinkled her magic dust hither and thither. We're both suffering, me and She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Allow me to pause for a second to cough in an uncontrollable hacking manner, will you? Also, to apologise for the unsolicited use of the phrase 'hither and thither' just now. Sorry. Clearly I've been reading Brothers Grimm in my sleep.

Having said that, sleep of any quality would have been nice. The coughing, you see. We'll come back to this later. I can see you're gripping the edge of your seats.

It started with a little tickle on Christmas Eve. Quite a few paragraphs could start with that sentence and end up in a promising position a mere few words later. Unfortunately that's not to be the case here. The tickle was at the back of my throat but I put it down to the several metric tonnes of dust we'd kicked up in preparation for Jesus' birthday the following day.

So I didn't mention it until several days later. We were in that weird space between Christmas and New Year, forever more to be known in this house as the Festival of Why The Hell Didn't We Just Book These Days Off Like Everyone Else, and we were both performing our daytime professional roles with all the incipient enthusiasm of algae.

I'd come home, breathing via autopilot, and mentioned to Katie that I still had this niggly, tickly thing going on. She uttered words that struck cold spikes of cold, spiky fear into the heart.

"That's how I got started."

Katie had also been suffering for a few days. But being Katie and, therefore, simultaneously a woman, she had single-handedly fed four people over Christmas, coped with the post-Christmas round of visitations and present-swapping events and then gone to work for three days. She probably erected a new shed, wrote a light operetta and discovered the Higgs Boson at the same time. But that's not important right now, because it's all about me, me, me.

As a direct result of our residence being the House of Germs, we locked our front door on Friday evening, at the end of 2010 and have not as yet unlocked it. In the meantime all our friends have been out doing wonderful things, some of which involved hard liquor, to see in the New Year. Helpfully they have posted pictures on Facebook so that, in the manner of Bullseye contestants, we can see what we would have won.

Yesterday I'd got to the coughing stage of proceedings. People in the next road up could hear me. Katie suggested some Raspberry and Echinacea tea with a couple of spoons of honey in it. I may have snorted at this.

"Raspberry and what? Sounds like the beverage of choice for someone with an unhealthy fixation with silver jewellery, if you ask me."

"Just try it."

"But it has no ingredients. Nothing with the phrase '-hydrochloride' at least. Nothing that ends in an 'x'.How's that going to help?"

"Your breathing is about to get a lot worse." she suggested, cracking her knuckles. "Try it."

And you know what, dear reader? It worked. Things were soothed. The coughing stopped. By yesterday evening I was mainlining the stuff.

"You might want to stop now," said Katie. "All that honey probably isn't too wise, you know. I can see the Good Ship Diabetes on the horizon."

Oh, how she changed her tune at 5 a.m. this morning. As I sat up and greeted the dawn with my chainsaw impression she shot me a look that was not filled with adoration.

We're thinking of going out tomorrow, given that we've already spent 0.54% of the year locked in and festering. We'll be easy to spot. Just look out for the surgical masks.


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