Monday, 27 June 2011

On parenthood

I am not wearing a hat. In fact, I don't think I even own a hat. We can be pretty confident about the absence of hats, as far as I  am concerned.

But if I was wearing a hat, I would be taking it off. I would be taking it off and bowing gently to all parents. In particular, all parents of young infants.

Bloody hell. How do you do it? Seriously, how do you do it, without going start staring mad?

I ask this heartfelt question because I spent Saturday watching over my 13-month-old niece. I wasn't alone - brother number 1 was with me. But his wife and my wife were out doing girly things involving nail polish, retail therapy and large glasses of wine. The chaps were drafted in.

Now, my brother, he should be an old hand at this. As far as I know he's taken his fair share of responsibilities to date. He certainly looked like he knew what he was doing. But me? Oh dearie me no. I was as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.

It's just constant, isn't it? You can't let your guard down for a second. You think, "Oh, there is some vitally-important sporting event on the TV which is demanding my attention right now," but the moment your eyes are off the child, she will be heading with unerring accuracy towards something that will leave a scar. And it will be all your fault.

And you have to entertain. The blocks have to be ready to be stacked. Then unstacked. Then stacked. She sat in her ball-pit, and seemed perfectly happy to throw balls around the room. Which meant getting down onto the floor to get them back.

Again. And again. And again.

Pull a funny face. Make a daft noise. Blow a raspberry. Get a reaction. It's quite exhausting to be entertaining for so long. Witty anecdotes weren't going to cut it with this audience.

There were the feeds. Which were quite cute actually; she let me feed her and fixed me with these ocean-sized blue eyes as she steadily devoured whatever-on-earth it was I was shovelling in. The food was this gloopy mixture - I have to be honest, it looked as if someone else had already started digesting it before it got to us.

Of course, putting food in at one end meant there was the inevitable outcome at the other. She smiled beatifically at us as she gently filled her nappy. As we took her upstairs to change her, brother number 1 calmly said, "It will either be a neat pyramid. Or it will be a bit of a train wreck."

It was a train wreck.

People, I feel like a Vietnam veteran when I say this. But you weren't there man. You wouldn't know.

This happened at least twice. I can't be 100% sure, folks. My addled brain may have blocked some of the memory out as a self-defence mechanism.

At one point my brother offered me a beer. I can't believe this, but I refused. I thought I had to try and stay at the top of my game. The 13-month-old was winning, though.

Eventually the cavalry arrived in the shape of our wives. I had to go and sit in another room and twitch gently for a while.

Seriously, parents, you do this all day? Every day? Blimey. That hat is staying off.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Britain's next top model?

What would be the first thing to enter your mind if you were to think about models?

Behave yourselves, you lot at the back.

Most of you are probably thinking about strange, other-worldly creatures. Normally stick-thin. People who are aware of the general concept of chip shops, but have no truck with the idea in practical terms. Dodgy fake tans often feature, too.

Orange twiglets wearing oversized sunglasses, then.

UK fashion retailer Next - purveyors of clothing to people for whom the word 'hip' doesn't need to be followed by 'replacement' - are keen to see if this vision of models still holds true. They're running a competition for normal folk to see if they're worthy of being made a Next model in 2011. The competition, called, with unerring creativity, 'Make Me The Next Model 2011", is running until the end of this month. Those voted into the top 250 get to go to a live event where industry experts make their choices.

As you would expect, the usual run of wannabe twiglets - male and female - are there to be seen. There is pouting a-plenty. The afore-mentioned satellite-dish-sized sunglasses are abundant. It's sickeningly shallow.

I think something should be done. Real people don't look like this, do they? Certainly those wandering around my local Next don't.

No. Before you ask, I'm not putting myself forward. I'm the wrong side of both 40 years of age and 17 stone in mass. Even with my infinite levels of optimism I can't see that taking flight.

But my friend Barry has entered. He's a normal bloke, is Barry. Some of you may have seen him on The League, the short film I wrote a year or so ago. He's a good actor, radio DJ and all-round decent chap.Well, actually, Barry is probably not the name his family uses. His actual name is Barinderjit. Here he is:

In his own words, he's a "slightly overweight Catholic-school-educated-Sikh-Geordie-George-Clooney-lookalike". He started off in position 1,700-odd, but in the last few days he's broken into the top 750 and is now in the 500s. More and more people are getting on board with this.

I think he'd represent Next very well indeed. And there's something about the image of all these Tango twiglets at the event in London being confronted by Barry that makes me smile.

But he needs your votes, people. You can vote for Barry here. I seriously recommend that you do so.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Film 2011

A week or so ago I was idly reading through a film script.

Ooh, get me. Writing books, reading film scripts. I've changed, you know. I'm not the humble man I used to be. I'm getting ideas above my station, and no doubt. I'll be getting out of the bath to go to the toilet next.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. Here:

Before you ask, no there isn't a group of 20-foot high people behind us. It's a mural.

So there was a bunch of us doing a script reading for our friend Chris's latest magnum opus. Chris makes films. It's not what he does for a living. As far as I know, his real job could involve livestock, the circus or being the lynchpin in an international educational toy smuggling ring.

They're mad for VTech in the Ukraine, or so I hear.

But when he's not doing that, he makes films. By his own admission, it's a bit of fun and not in any way meant to be taken seriously. He has past form when it comes to films. It was Chris that I hold faintly responsible for various injuries I sustained a couple of years ago when an action scene became rather too active. Last year his film was a collection of sketches and once again I was a willing victim. In one memorable scene I played one half of a set of conjoined twins.

It was not pretty. (This is quite possibly NSFW. I can't remember, so consider yourselves warned.)

And now it's all starting again. Once again, Chris is going for a 'magazine' format with a selection of short sketches. This time, however, he's allowed me to contribute a sketch. I'd like to think this was the one being read out in the picture above. Look, some people are smiling. It's a winner!

So now I have lines to learn - not just my own, but others too. It means I can write 'Filming' on the calendar. I can tell people, "Sorry, I can't accept your invitation. I'm on set". the set in question is Chris's back garden, but that's not the point.

I firmly believe George Lucas is having difficulty in sleeping right now.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Unaccustomed as I am

This morning I walked to the local village centre to post a letter and buy some vegetables. There are a number of things that are unusual about that statement.

I can hear you cry: "Post a letter? At the Post Office? What is this, daddy-o, 1952?"

Those would be fair questions to ask. I don't normally bother with letters these day, but in this case it was necessary. The intended recipients of my missive are, quite frankly, as organised and trustworthy as a whoop of gorillas, so Registered Post was needed.

The 'vegetables' bit of the equation will be equally confusing to those who know me well. I truly believe that plants are food for food. Garnish at best. But Katie made a fish pie the size of Hampshire for tonight and she insisted that we have something to go with it. I tried to protest, but all I got for my trouble was one of her looks.

Out of all the factors, though, it's the walking part that is so out-of-character for me. Partly because I've fallen out of practice with forward ambulation since the halcyon days of 2010. I really haven't got back into the swing of regular exercise at all and as a result I'm attaining a waistline reminiscent of a Giant Redwood.

That's not a good thing. Redwoods live for very long, but I think they don't have cholesterol to worry about.

The thing is, it's normally so easy to jump into the car for things like this. This morning, however, saw us recovering from a rather late night out during which several cleansing ales were involved. Driving was definitely not on the menu.

And so I trudged into the village centre. Well, when I call it that, it's only because "the particular bit of the city in our postal district that has a selection of shops" is a bit of a mouthful. It would be wrong for you to have the impression that we live in one of those idealised English villages, where the church bells ring out mid-day, there is cricket on the green, cosy taverns selling warm beer and half-timbered tea shops displaying piles of buttered crumpets.

No. This is urban life. The only pubs around here have shouty red-faced men sat outside with no shirts on, studiously necking continental lager. And the last time we saw anyone around here holding a cricket bat they were holding up the Cash Converters.

But I think I could get the hang of this urban walking. I enjoy walking in the countryside, but it's not always convenient, mainly because the countryside is not here. But today I didn't need to wear special boots or gore-tex. No backpack or hydration unit was necessary. I got to use my iPod for its intended purpose, delivering The Black Keys' latest work into my rapidly-recovering-but-still-thumping-a-little-bit brain. And, heavens to Betsy, I got some exercise.

More to the point, the car sat unused. And with fuel at £1.40 a litre, that is not a bad thing.(I'll pause for a second here while my American readers process that last nugget of information. About $8.60 per US gallon, if you're interested.)

There was another unexpected benefit that arose as I got back home. I was greeted by a grim-faced Katie.

"Jesus, what's up?" I asked, watching as her bottom lip began to protrude.

"I was making the cheesecake for tonight and I went to move that big bag of icing sugar to one side. It, um, exploded."

I went to see that the kitchen did, indeed, look like the aftermath of a Rolling Stones aftershow party. If I'd driven this morning I would have been back 45 minutes earlier to witness what will forever more be called SugarGate taking place in real time. I might have laughed. This would not have been well-received.

Going for a walk and missing the event meant everyone was happy. A little sticky, perhaps, but at least peace was maintained.

Monday, 6 June 2011

We'll keep the blue flag flying here

"Are there any more questions?" the leader asked the assembled crowd.

There was an embarrassed silence, punctuated only by the twitterings of birds in the forest canopy overhead. Then a nervous cough.

"Um. Excuse me?"

A hand rose into the air. A bright blue hand. Its owner stood up, extending himself to his full, three crab-apples, height.

The leader pushed the red cap back on his head and regarded the young Smurf warmly.  Stroking his bushy white beard, he motioned to him to speak.

"Papa Smurf," said the newcomer. "I have been reading the human press...."

This brought a shocked response from the other Smurfs gathered around. "What the smurf!" "I can't smurfing believe it!"

"Let him speak," said Papa Smurf, raising his hand calmly. "Handy Smurf, isn't it? I recognise you from the overalls."

"Thank you Papa. The human press says that we Smurfs are communists. Apparently, because we have no personal possessions and work in a co-operative manner, Smurf society is essentially Stalinist."

There was a deathly silence. Brainy Smurf, sitting next to Papa Smurf on the raised platform, removed his spectacles and polished them thoughtfully. He replaced them once more; hooking them over his button nose and regarding the young Smurf coldly..

"Papa, they say your red clothes and beard are a dead giveaway," said Handy Smurf. "Are we Stalinist?"

This time Brainy Smurf spoke: "If we're going to use labels, we prefer 'Marxist'. Each Smurf provides according to their skills. Each Smurf receives according to their needs."


"Yes. Essentially we have the basis of an agrarian commune. The key decisions are made by Papa Smurf, as the leader. I act as executive officer but ratify decisions with the Smurf congress on a weekly basis."

"But surely we're just fantasy characters for young humans," said Handy Smurf. "We don't have to be political, do we?"

"It's really nothing new," said Papa Smurf. "Most childrens' characters have a political background."


"Oh yes. Camberwick Green? Rampant fascists." He spat. "Everyone in their place, all that 'Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew' nonsense."

"I never knew," said Handy Smurf, crestfallen.

"Moomins? Bourgeois colonialists. Even Thomas the Tank Engine is at it!"


"Oh yes. Think about it. All the means of production are controlled by one man with a top hat. He gets fat off the profits while all the engines - the workers - toil endlessly. It's capitalism red in tooth and claw."

"How about the Clangers?"

"No. Don't be silly. They're just knitted woollen moon-creatures."

"So how did the humans get to know about this?".

There was another pause before Brainy Smurf spoke.

"It was that traitor Father Abraham."

"What happened to him? You didn't....hurt him, did you?"

"He has been re-educated," said Papa Smurf flatly. "It was for the best."

Handy Smurf thought for a moment. Then one more thought occurred to him.

"So, as communists, do we share everything?"

"Well, almost everything," said Papa Smurf.

There was a collective coughing from the crowd as Smurfette regarded her feet thoughtfully and blushed a deep magenta.


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