The Grand National was run this weekend. For those who don't know about it, it is the biggest horse race in Europe.
The reason I mentioned it in my blog is that something caught my ear this time, and that was when, after the race, the BBC commentator said, ". . . there were no fatalities this year", in a tone that indicated a degree of pleasant surprise. Think about it; it's worthy of a mention that no-one died in this one off, 10 minute sporting event. That's like a football commentator saying, "and eight or fewer of the players died during the match . . . how good was that?"
I'm not complaining. I just thought it was worthy of comment.
When I’m away, I rarely get the opportunity to enjoy any telly. Partly because it’s quite tricky to get hold of UK TV channels when abroad, but even when I’m in the UK, I don’t have the time. I know I shouldn’t, but I do tend to over indulge when I get back. It’s like coming in from the cold and wrapping yourself in the warming comfort of an old, familiar duvet. There’s been a bit of talk on other blogs about what’s on the telly, so I thought it might be a nice idea to make a list of the Top 10 TV programmes I’m enjoying this particular time I’ve fallen off the TV waggon. So here we go. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
NB I’ve done them in a sort of reverse order to allow them to build to a crescendo.
This is the BBC’s flagship technology programme. However, UK technology geeks would be forgiven for not even knowing it exists, tucked away as it is on BBC News 24’s daytime schedules. Perhaps they think it doesn’t matter when it goes out, because tech-heads will be watching it on catch-up anyway. Anyway, I like it because its apparent low budget means that it cuts to the chase, rather than cluttering up its on-screen time with competitions, prizes and reading out live tweets from people whose attention is divided between the show, and their iPhone (and hence whose opinions are worthless).
9. Big Bang Theory
This is the first of two US imports I’ve chosen, that air as part of E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’ (the other being ‘Brooklyn 99’; see next item). Believe it or not, there are people in this world who have never seen an episode of Big Bang Theory. My heart goes out to them. They truly do not know what they’re missing. As an aside, an Admin Assistant in one of the places I sometimes work looks like Penny, and so it’s a happy day for me when I go there.
8. Brooklyn 99
This one snuck up without fanfare. As mentioned above, this comes as part of E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’. The trouble with E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’ is that it’s littered with fairly lacklustre and formulaic US comedies that are only ‘quite’ funny. Something about this one, however, caught my eye, and after the first episode I was sold.
7. Bear Grylls: Mission Survive
This is a little like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, in that a load of celebs are taken into the jungle and made to do many things they’d sooner not do. There the comparison ends, however. IACGMOOH is hosted by those cheeky Tyneside Eric-and-Ernie-alikes Ant & Dec. Mission Survive is hosted by an unsympathetic ex-SAS survival expert who famously rehydrated himself by
In IACGMOOH, you never get the impression anyone will actually die as a result of eating bugs or getting covered in rats. With Mission Survive, it’s always a puzzle how any of the celebs manage to still be alive at the end of the episode. The viewers vote off celebs in IACGMOOH, whereas in Mission Survive, Bear Grylls dispatches them humanely with a small hunting knife before their incompetence can kill anyone else (that’s not strictly true, but by the time you’ve watched the first couple of episodes, it wouldn’t surprise you).
6. Bear Grylls: The Island
Once Bear Grylls has euthanised the last of the celebrities in Mission Survive, Channel 4 will segue him seamlessly into this particular offering. The premise is this: Bear Grylls leaves a group of a dozen or so overweight office workers on a small, swampy and dangerous, deserted island with no food, water, survival kit or training. He then goes back after eight weeks to see what became of them. You think I’m joking? I am not. Lord Of The Flies can’t hold a candle to the horrors of the last series. In series 2, the ante has been upped. There will be two islands and two groups; one of men, and one of women. Oh, the humanity!
5. Raised By Wolves
Every now and again, Channel 4 delivers up a new comedy that is like nothing that has ever come before it. ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd’ are obvious examples, and you may remember ‘The Comic Strip Presents’. The most recent to fit into that category is ‘Raised By Wolves’. Written by Caitlin and Caroline Moran, whose writing career doesn’t seem to have edged into TV before, this is the story of a very unusual West Midlands working class one-parent-family, and their sundry misadventures. Wow!
4. Inside Number 9
Back for a second series, this darkly comic (emphasis very much on the dark, rather than the comic) anthology of one-off dramas is written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, two of the powerhouse writing team that brought us the deeply disturbing ‘League of Gentlemen’. The only connection between these half-hour stories is that they all take place in Number 9, be it an ordinary house, a gothic mansion, a dressing room, or a rail couchette . . . oh, and there’s always a knock-you-sideways twist in the tale.
3. Only Connect
It only became apparent to me after watching ‘Only Connect’, but there live amongst us a race of super-intelligent alien entities, disguised as ordinary human beings. They created this quiz show to test their immeasurably superior intellects; to compete amongst themselves by performing mental feats so amazing to ordinary mortals as to make them nearly dizzy at the cerebral capacities involved. For humble men and women such as you or I, it is a feather in the cap to even understand the answers given, let alone come anywhere near providing one. It bills itself as ‘the toughest quiz show on TV’, and I see no reason to doubt that claim. It is hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who must surely be the sexiest woman on whatever planet she comes from.
2. 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown
Born of a one-off experiment by Channel 4, ‘8 Out Of 10 cats Does Countdown’ has shoehorned two very different shows together into one. ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’ was a long running panel show where comedians answer questions on statistics. Very funny, but just one of many similar panel shows. Countdown was a number and letter puzzles gameshow, shown midweek afternoons, and mainly watched by students, and retired people hoping that exercising their brain cells will stave off dementia. The format is simple, and it’s the longest running gameshow on the planet (interesting fact:
Countdown was the first show on Channel 4). Anyway, surprisingly enough, you put these 2 ordinary shows together, and you get ab-sol-ute dynamite. The whole is so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Funniest thing on telly at the moment by a long chalk.
1. Life on Mars
I saved the best until last. OK, so this isn’t showing at the moment. I found the complete series 1 & 2 going cheap on iTunes, so I loaded it onto the iPhone to take away to Austria with me. I didn’t really get chance to watch it, so I’m catching up on it now. If I had to make a list of my top five TV shows of all time, this would probably be at the top. Gene Hunt is such an inspired creation, that Life on Mars would be at the top of the list on that character’s merit alone, but the rest is all superb too.
Other highlights of my square-eyed habit are ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Banished’. My wife says I should watch the new ‘Poldark’, but I’ve already nailed my colours to ‘Banished’s flagpole, and there’s only room in my life for one Redcoat-based period drama. And anyway, I think she only watches it to see Aidan Turner’s six-pack.
I’ve just been through a course of treatment for premature ejaculation. I’m OK now, but for a while it was touch & go.
Just getting in the mood, because I’m starting to fit jobs around our annual visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For as long as I can remember I’d heard tales of this legendary festival, and longed to go, but never did. I wasn’t really sure why, but if I’m honest I was probably a little over-awed by it. It is after all, the largest festival on the planet by a very, very considerable margin. It . . . is . . . HUGE. Absolutely city-wide, and during practically the whole month of August. Hundreds of venues host multiple shows each day, all day. There’s barely a pub in the city that doesn’t also have something going on, and if that weren’t enough, the streets are packed with street entertainers surrounded by crowds. The whole city is one long party for four weeks, starting before lunch each day, and pushing on well into the wee-small hours. The atmosphere is truly electric.
Notoriously, however, even if you can find somewhere to stay, the price of accommodation in the city is hiked up during the Fringe Festival . . . and with so much going on, just where do you start? You can go and see people you’ve heard of, but that’s all very safe and predictable, and not really in the spirit of the Fringe (and it tends to be a bit pricey). The Fringe is all about those kind of shows you’d never see anywhere else. . . that just wouldn’t work outside the context of this avalanche of music/theatre/comedy/dance/arts. You need to see the nobodies, the ones yet to be jaded by wide-audience appeal. You want to be able to hear that Johnny Come-Lately’s sold out tour of mega-arenas is once again packing out the O2, and say with pride “I saw him in a 50-seat venue above a pub at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it only cost me a fiver”. In short, it’s all about taking the risk and seeing something different.
Now you can see why I was a little intimidated by the prospect. But eventually, I bit the bullet and went for it. I was so glad I did, and have been every year since. So here’s my guide to enjoying the Edinburgh Fringe, without breaking the bank.
Sunshine on Leith
Do you remember bespectacled, sore-footed and overly-Scottish musical twins, The Proclaimers? They did a song called, and appeared in an excellently feel-good film called, ‘Sunshine on Leith’. Leith is the answer to your budget accommodation problems. There is an abundance of hotels, B&Bs, bunkhouses, etc. to cover all pockets. It’s easy to get to, just north of the City of Edinburgh, and served by myriad cheap and regular bus services. The place I use has a bus stop right outside, where every 10 minutes, a bus takes you into the city centre in just 20 minutes.
There’s your accommodation sorted. Next question: How long should I stay? It’s a fair question. One thing is for absolutely certain, unless you have a bottomless bank account, and a time machine or an army of clones, you will undoubtedly leave without having seen the vast majority of what you wanted to see. So just plan to stay as long as you want your trip to last. I usually arrive early afternoon on a Friday and leave mid-afternoon on the following Monday. This year, I may go up on the Thursday.
Next question: How much planning should I do? The first year, I planned everything right down to the last minute. Every show booked, and tickets purchased in advance. This gave us a number of problems:
I had no idea just how big the festival was, and so how long it took to get between venues. We ended up running between shows on at least couple of occasions.
I didn’t really factor in time for some evening meals (eating is Future OfClayton’s problem, obviously!)
We didn’t have the opportunity to explore The Free Fringe – a sort of shadow Festival that operates on a ‘just turn up and pay what you think it was worth’ basis. This tends to be much cheaper than the main Fringe.
You tend to become aware of good shows while you’re there. Bill-postings, talking to people in pubs, leaflets, that kind of thing.
You don’t get the opportunity to use the half-price ticket booths. A good number of shows will release half price tickets on the morning of the show (if they have any left)
There was little chance to stop and watch the many, many excellent street entertainers.
We got to see a lot of shows, which meant we spent more money.
Last year, I really did just turn up and did no planning whatsoever. This meant many of the shows we decided to see were sold out. So the key is to plan a few, but leave plenty of time to just spontaneously drop onto shows, especially the Free Fringe and the street entertainers, or shows where you see a poster and think – “ooh, that looks good”. On the subject of leaflets, when someone hands you a leaflet, take it and read it. It’s an excellent way of happening on a show that you didn’t know about. Quite often the person handing out the leaflets will be one of the artistes themselves, so they’re well worth getting into a conversation with.
Meals? Obviously, you’re gonna need to eat out to a degree, and if you drop into a restaurant every night, then your cash will dwindle quickly. Here are my tips: We tend to choose accommodation where no breakfast is provided. That way, we can provide my own breakfast, and so save a bit there. We take a picnic lunch into the city, and eat it in one of Edinburgh’s many excellent public parks. I’ll recommend a couple of very good value eateries:
The Mosque Kitchen (Corner of Nicholson Street and Nicholson Place)
This is a remarkable place. It is exactly what it says it is – or started out that way; purely to serve a cheap meal of chicken and rice to those going to Friday Prayers. After 9/11, it threw open its doors to anyone and everyone. Now, you queue up, get a dirt cheap curry in a box, and sit at large tables with everyone else to eat it. It is located very close to many of the Fringe’s big venues, including The Gilded Balloon, Assembly George Square, The Pleasance Dome and the Udderbelly.
Ali Bongo’s Cafe & Bistro (Teviot Place, opposite Bristo Square)
Also conveniently located near the Udderbelly, Pleasance Dome and Gilded Balloon, this serves good Eastern Mediterranean cuisine at reasonable prices. It is far better than it looks from the outside, which has the added advantage of meaning you can usually get a table (often a problem during the Fringe)
Drinks? Sorry, but beer is expensive in Edinburgh, especially at the big Fringe venues. However, the atmosphere in those big outdoor bars tends to be very enjoyable, especially on a warm, cloudless night. The Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly, or the Gilded Balloon are the best. Either drink less, or account for the cost.
How do I find my way around? This is a fair question, as the Fringe covers a large area of the city. If you have a Smartphone, they release an app for that year’s Fringe a few months in advance. This is by far the best way.
I suppose my last piece of advice is, don’t fail to go just because you don’t really know what you’ll do when you get there. Once you’re in Edinburgh during the Festival Fringe, it will draw you lovingly in, surround you, and look after you. You WILL have a great time.
Jeremy Clarkson...you dolt. You bleeping moron.
When the news spread, like wildfire, about the 'fracas' (why does that have to be in quotes, by the way? Everyone is doing that now.), I was amazed at the multitude of people who instantly came to Jezza's defense, regardless of any potential accusations or even rumors. After all, who cares if he supposedly assaulted another person...we want him back on tv!
The people around me couldn't care less about the accusations. Realistically, it was only myself, Mr. OfLove*, and 2 other friends who were sounding the call to caution. Everyone else--people who are educated, reasonable people who aren't normally prone to violence--was outraged. "Don't take away our show!" "Jeremy is innocent!" "It didn't happen!" "Jezza was provoked!" "He's the heart and soul of the program...you can't do this to us!"
Within days we heard a bunch of the supposed facts, which all turned out to be true. Jezza threw a temper tantrum, launching a verbal spew that rivaled that of a two-year old, although with considerably more cussing. There were fisticuffs. Once I heard just this part, I couldn't support Jeremy Clarkson, sign a petition to have him reinstated, or even publicly come to his aid. There were more details to come, and somehow I knew it wasn't pretty.
It's been interesting to watch Richard Hammond and, especially, James May on their Twitter feeds. James' #StillUnemployed (or sometimes truncated to #SU) has risen in me some doubts. As to whether they continue on the show, or they pull out in support of their colleague, I think no one knows right now. Their contracts are up this year, too; BBC may want to take things in a whole other direction. If they appear alongside a new co-host, it will remind people of the shoes to fill. Say what you will about his behavior off the track, but in front of the camera and in road testing cars, Jeremy Clarkson made it interesting and compelling. Even non-gearheads watched the show. It was fun to watch him get a rise out of his colleagues, say something irreverant and even mildly suggestive...all in the name of entertainment. I'm fine with how he pushed the envelope overall for Top Gear. It will take another large personality to fill his shoes. Maybe Chris Evans...but maybe not even him.
But, dude, seriously. Be thankful that BBC was your employer. If it were NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox, you would have been fired on the spot. Or you would have had to reinact it on tv, complete with another round in the ring with the victim. Or a similar-looking actor. Maybe with a whole bunch of sponsors.
*Thanks, GoC, for the spouse-naming convention. I love this!
The big deal this week was the fire alarm at work. Like all other businesses large enough to have fire wardens we regularly have fire drills, but nobody expected the alarm to go off fifteen minutes before the end of shift. Even after hearing the noise I still didn't realise a real fire alarm was happening , right there, right then. Finally somebody remembered that a fire alarm sounded like that and we were supposed to exit the premises by the nearest convenient exit. So we did.
It wasn't too cold, but none too warm either. We spread out across the car park aimlessly before the management began herding us in a quiet corner, and just in time, because the fire engine turned up, blue lights flashing. Looks like a real fire then. Rumours were spreading. Something had burst into flames.
A few firemen loked busy but there wasn't any smoke or signs of heroic fire fighting. Everything seemed quite calm and businesslike. Then a second fire engine turned up. Oh hello... Is this a serious fire? Rumours began to spread again. Apparently a forklift battery charger had ignited itself.
By now the more curious of us were brandishing mobile phones with the vain hope of videoing the end of the warehouse in glorious high definition. Now a third fire engine turned up. Only this one stopped at the entrance to the car park and then reversed away.
"Put that fag out!" Yelled a manager. For the unenlightened, 'fag' is British slang for a cigarette. A startled warehouseman did his best to look innocent. "I'll see you tomorrow" The manager warned. And then, a fourth fire engine turned up. It didn't even stop, turning around to go home disappointed that the building wasn't burning to the ground, or more likely, that the naughty warehouseman had put his cigarette out as ordered.
The 'All Clear' was given so we went home. Didn't even miss the bus.
The Importance Of Doing Nothing
Of late I've been pretty busy at work collecting wooden pallets and related tasks. It gets a bit physical, even on the days when I can get a powered pallet truck to use, which isn't so easy because another section tends to nab one sooner than me. One of their team doesn't like doing manual labour.
On one day the manager told me pallets were an emergency because no-one had left any from the previous shift. I was lucky to get a truck that day, but as compensation for the forthcoming 'headless chicken' duty, I was to be given the help of Hamster (not related to a certain Top Gear presenter).
There's a number of youngsters in the warehouse who form a social clique all of their own. Basically they do all the things the managers don't want them to, but because there are two senior youngsters, Baby Face and Hamster, they pretty much get away with their shenanigans.
I was just preparing to shuttle lots of pallets in 'rush hour' when I spotted Hamster walking past. Usually he drives a powered truck of a different type, and seeing him walk is a rare event. I asked him where he intended starting pallet collection, only to be told that he didn't have a truck. I see. Well, how about grabbing a hand truck and manually stacking pallets so I could wheel them to their destination? He walked away. Hamster doesn't do manual work. His job is to look important driving pallet trucks. Oh, and laugh at Baby Face's jokes. Very important duty onbviously.
It Happened Again
Apparently there was a solar eclipse last friday. I wouldn't know. Partly because the sky was cloudy, partly because I live too far south, partly because I had dozed off watching a dull episode of Star Trek, and partly because I seem fated never to see a real astronomical event ever. Almost time to go back to work. Welcome to my life.
Cigarette Of The Week
At last the working day has come to an end and warehousemen in various stages of tiredness and disgruntlement amble up the road to catch the bus. Many of us face very long walks home if we miss the last one.
One of my colleagues has become quite popular with the managers, mostly because he comes across like Paddington Bear with a midlands accent. He's not as cute and cuddly as the managers think but since when did a manager ever assess someone correctly?
Anyway, once at the bus stop Bear felt the need for a smoke before the bus arrived. Suddenly there was a desperate need for a lighter, because he didn't have one, neither did I, nor anyone else, so he took to waylaying colleagues on bicycles as they rode by. Finally he managed to get one to stop and help him out. Just as he was about to take that first puff on the wretched cigarette a passing lorry blew it out. His midland accent remained, but where was the Paddington Bear demeanour all of a sudden?
*tap tap tap*
*peers into a dark and dusty room*
Damn, well, I guess I should come in here more often. I kinda let the place down a bit. A neglected blog is an unhappy blog.
Hrmmmm...well, first thing's first...if I clean up this little area over here, that'll get things started.
So, it's been 2 years and 5 months, give or take a few days, since my last entry. Just a few things happened along the way.
1. The dude I was dating back then? Yeah, we got married. That was 1 year, 4 months, 22 days ago.
2. A week after the wedding, he had a stroke. Thankfully, he came out ok--his medic training and my first aid/CPR training kicked in immediately. But his therapy took a while. (The good news? He has very little 'remnants' of the event; some disarthrya/aphasia, but not much at all. Nothing that impedes him from work or daily life.)
3. I might have taken on a few projects. Ok, more than a few. I've been working non-stop. I take minor breaks here and there, but not many. And I'll keep on going for a while, too...I'm teaching again this summer, 2 classes. Hey, the money is good.
4. The Giants might have won another World Series...3 in 5 years. Seriously, without words.
5. Jezza...you dolt...thanks to him, my Mondays are all messed up. Guess Hamster and Captain Slow will have to figure things out....or they all quit in support, come over to the US and do the show properly here. (Read as 'Get rid of the yahoos that supposedly still do the American version of the show here, and make it to what they want it to be here. On second thought, only Hammond would be happy with that....)
There, that corner is done...so, what's next to tackle?
PS...the song is more because I still love it...it's still a bit of a stalker song...but the drum beat kicks it hard. Great song to drive out on the freeway, blaring loud, trying to wake me up as I merge with the other morning drivers.
Caldrail's blog is missing. Or at least the last weeks entry is. Well, no, not really, I just forgot to write one. So I apologise for the tension this had caused around the world as people bite their nails hopin g my next entry will magically appear. David Cameron and Ed Milliband exchanged insults in an angry row. Three schoolgrils gave up and went to Syria. Even Jeremy Clarkson punched his producer over an argument about it and caused the BBC a multi million pound commercial loss. Sorry about that. Lucky for me I'm not actually responsible isn't it?
As it happens I've also been leaving my emails untounched for a couple of weeks. Although I've been employed for three months now the many and various agencies are still sending job laerts regularly. Last week I got a phone call from an agency asking if I wanted to do two weeks labour in a role in which my certification has lapsed, that I have no qualification for, and is in the next county. No. Not really. And do they expect me to be available the next morning? Perhaps they ought to read my CV properly. I was trained for a decade to write one after all.
With most of my time devoted either to sleeping, shopping, or working, I've had little time to wander around my usual haunts. I popped into the local aprk on my way to the library this morning and yes, the birds are still fighting. One goose has clearly become unpopular, with the others evicting it very loudly. Know how you fell buddy.
It's like my last claims advisor. She trampled me into the dust, squished my indentity, and then began trying to recreate me as an embodiement of a figment of her imagination. Turning me into someone I don't know, don't understand, or even like. And I was supposed to get a job while I was trapped in psychological quicksand? Ridiculous. Like all women, she believed she could change me. Only this time she had the authority to do it.
Get On With It!
Lately I've been doing less floor sweeping and more pallet collection at work. Not sure which is the most tiring. Sweeping the floors involves walking all day and constant bending down to pick up rubbish. Pallet collection requires guiding an electric truck around everyone elses in tight spaces with the clock ticking, lifting one pallet after another onto a pile for the lads to use on the container bay, and some of those pallets are seriously heavy without any load on them.
The warehouse boss was wandering around the other day, as he often does, and stopped by a bunch of guys who were doing the sweeping job I used to do alone while I got on with the pallets. "You've all done very weell" He told them, to my utter chagrin, since they amble about and haven't been doing the job for longer than a week or two. "Credit where credit is due".
Really? Hello, Mr Boss, I'm over here.... No? Typical.
But it isn't all mindless tedium and hard work. The last time I got a pallet truck out I noticed the meter was quite low, only three bars out of thirty, and it looked unlikely the truck would survive the whole shift without the battery going flat. Those vehicles are at a premium. It's a wonder fights don't break out over who gets to drive one. Then I noticed another truck out in the warehouse with twenty bars. Some of the lads thought I was trying to do something sneaky, but no, I did speak to the colleague whose truck it was and we agreed under the circumstances that a swap was okay.
Shortly after I had to take a toilet break. It happens, even to the best of us, and certainly to those of us with fifty year old bladders and energy drink habits. When I came out, my truck meter said two bars. What the...?!!!!!
As it happened I didn't run of electricity. Pallets were delivered all day, I became tired and broken by the end of the shift, and the managers were happy. Two bars on my wagon, and ah'm still rollin' along....
Language Of The Week
Definitely Polish. With so many eastern europeans in the warehouse it's difficult to avoid hearing it, a strange arcane tongue impossible to understand, and I suspect those pesky poles know it. So I'm making an effort to learn a litle Polish. As it happens some of the lads are delighted, and take great pleasure in pointing out that my pronounciation is hopelessly wrong. But I'm getting there... One word at a time...
Hello, and welcome to my blog. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
The law of unintended consequences
I was listening to Nigel Farage being interviewed on the radio this morning (the picture isn't him, by the way). For those who don’t know him, he’s the leader of a New-Kid-On-The-Block-Far-Right-We’re-Not-Racist-But-We-Have-To-Keep-Saying-We’re-Not-Racist political party in the UK. Now you won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t agree with very much he says. However, this morning I found myself agreeing with him. He has an aspiration to reduce immigration to the UK, and the figure that’s being bandied about is 50,000 per annum. He was being a little evasive when pressed about that target though, saying it was more of an aspiration than a hard and fast target to which UKIP should be held if ever they (God forbid!) get into power. I know what he meant though, he sees it as being more of a strategy, something that would influence the way they would govern. It would be the ‘spirit’ of what they do rather than some we-must-reach-50,000-at-all-costs-no-matter-how-we-do-it goal. He didn’t want this target to stop the ‘right’ people immigrating. This is fair enough. I don’t like hard-and-fast targets, because they tend to change the motivation of people. If you phone an IT support desk (for example) with a problem, sometimes you get the impression the operator is motivated to close your call, rather than provide the help you need. That’s because he or she is some poor sap working in a Hyderbad call centre, and how much money he gets to spend on feeding his or her family is directly dependant on how many calls he closes, rather than how much help he provides. I would be the same, and so would you. And these kinds of targets have caused as much harm as good within the National Health Service for exactly that reason. Staff are motivated to meet the targets, rather than being motivated to care and cure.
My heart bleeds for them
Mr Farage went on to say that he didn’t want to set a target because people are bored with them. That’s where I stopped agreeing with him. I’m frustrated by targets, but not bored. Go on, ask me what people ARE bored by. I’ll tell you. It’s just how often you hear rich people moaning about how bloody awful it is to be rich. Let me quote talented singer/songwriter Adele, talking about tax:
"I'm mortified to have to pay 50%! I use the NHS, I can't use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are shit, and I've gotta give you, like, four million quid – are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [my album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire."
Let’s ignore the last phrase and hope it isn’t an early sign of a major psychotic episode on her part. Instead, let’s do the maths (translation for US readers: let’s do the math.) She had to pay 50% tax, and this totalled £4,000,000. Let me get may calculator out, so she had . . . clickety-click-click . . . £8,000,000 to start off with. (Concentrate; I know there are a lot of zeroes going on here, but bear with it). So let me just work out what she’s left with to spend . . . . erm . . . oh yes, £4,000,000. Is that all? I’m so sorry I doubted you, Adele. Your life must be really shit! Maybe we can have a whip-round for you. I’ll tell you what, I don’t pay much in the way of tax. Wanna swap incomes?
But it’s the irony of what she’s saying that must be lost on her. Maybe if people like her started doing their bit for the society that made them multi-millionaires in the first place, the state schools would be a bit less shit.
The other main gripe you’ll hear from rich people is “I may have lots of money, but I work hard for it”. It’s apparent to me that this statement is rarely, if ever, true – the more people earn, the less hard they work. What people are doing when they say this, is mistaking the concept of “working hard” for that of “working long hours”. The people who pick the vegetables that find their way on to your dinner plate? They work hard. A&E nurses work hard. Coal miners work hard. Sitting in an office on the top floor of a Canary Wharf tower holding a teleconference with the New York office until 10:00pm is unwelcome, inconvenient and irritating. It may even be stressful. Though, if you’re stressed by the prospect of losing your job and having to live out your life on what miserable few million pounds you can eke out of your stock portfolio, then you’re not seeing the bigger picture. My heart bleeds for you.
Every day at work begins with a team briefiing. Slowly at first, then in a great rush as the canteen empties, the shift personnel gather at the allotted place to discover who is on the premises, who is doing what for the next eight hours, and what will happen if certain lazy activities continue.
The manager calls for silence so he can call the register. After a five second wait he calls again with a stern stare at the knot of youngsters who don't understand what 'quiet please' means. Eventually the buzz of conversation subsides to whispers and the register is called.
"Gary?" The manager spoke aloud without looking up from his list. With no answer, he calls again, this time looking around in case Gary is either too busy whispering to his mates or has failed utterly to comprehend that he has to acknowledge his presence. In this case I did the decent thing and reminded him that Gary was on holiday. The manager sighed as he realised his list of work allocation was completely ruined. He had no choice but to note down the lack of Gary's in the warehouse and submit to my superior know;ledge of who was standing around in plain sight.
Sometimes we have to confirm that the person is on the premises for them. There's always one or two who aren't where they're supposed to be. Punkman, our resident refugee from society, made a joke of it a few days ago. After each name he said "Yeah, he's here". Yet when his own name was called he stayed silent, failing utterly to remember that he was supposed to answer. So I said aloud "Yeah, he's here".
It's as well Punkman has a sense of humour. On the day the manager decided that Punkman was to be in charge of a team he muttered "Let the facism begin...".
Talking About Fascism
Islamic State are back in the news again with a trip down to the local museum where objects of antiquity are being smashed with sledgehammers as 'false idols'. Fundamentalists do seem amenable to this sort of behaviour - the Taliban dynamited antiquities and vandals in Egypt swept through a museum in Cairo not so long ago. Quite apart from the loss of pricelss articles of regional interest, is Islamic State so feeble that relics whose religious significance vanished hundreds if not thousands of years ago is somehow some kind of threat to their ugly regime?
I suppose that's an obvious thing to ask. It does strike me however that the non-entities who smashed statues energetically really wouldn't know a false idol if they saw one. That is after all why they've been sucked into a religious movement and told what to do. They simply obey because they don't know any better. News that Islamic State is opening schools in Syria doesn't fill me with optimism either. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
Working In The Jungle
The big rumour at work right now is the impending fashion choices being made for teams. Already the quality control people sport a snazzy purple high-vis. What amuses people is the assertion that those of us on the hygiene team will be allocated pink high-vis vests. Hard Hat refuses to believe this slight on his honour, manhood, self respect, his very identity, can possibly be true.
Funnily enough, those of us on the bottom rank of warehouse status often find ways to gauge each other. I for instance got quite a boost when I was trained up on pallet trucks. Earlier this week a team leader started approaching me with news that complaints had been made against me. No-one had said anything to me of course, but that wasn't the point. Eventually the leader in question ordered me off the truck despite my tantrums and logical arguments, but no matter, my line manager supported me. That's how hard work affects your status. There's always a testing period between the envious and the grateful.
On some days I have no choice but to get a pump truck, a sort of parcel trolley you push, pull, and swear at, and do the same job without the assistance of electrical power. It's called manual work. It's also considered by many the sign of a lowly person who does not have the influence to be authorised to drive trucks.
"You got a license for that?" One wag called from the gloom of a container being unloaded, when he saw me hauling a pump truck across the warehouse floor. Funny. No matter. Give it a day or two and I'll be whizzing around on a powered truck again instead of heaving boxes out of a container. At least until those pesky pink high-vis vests get issued, at which point no-one will have any sympathy.
Day Of The Week
That's enough about work. Today is Sunday and there's a clear blue sky out there..... Erm.... Bye.
Oops... I believe I missed a week in my blog entries. No matter. We're still waiting for the Ukraine and their Russian backed rebels to adhere to an agreed ceasefire. We're still waiting for the government to realise that all those changes to benefits payments is only going to produce more beggars on the street. Or for passers by outside my home to finally realise I really couldn't care less what they say.
A Quick Night Out
"I fancy a pint" My colleague mused out loud as we strode homeward from the bus station. As clues go, it was a strong one. "You fancy a pint?" He asked. Okay, but you'll have to pay for it. This sort of negotiaton I have some experience in. Truth was I was well tired after a hectic week of pallet collection and the usual cut and thrust of driving trucks around a busy warehouse. As much as I wanted to go home, the lure of alcohol in that circumstance is hard to ignore.
So we diverted into the local Wetherspoons pub on the high street. A cider for me, as is my preference, some obscure lager for him, then he made straight for the one armed bandit machine. The pub was busy as you'd expect for a Friday night but not heaving with customers. I like that sort of atmosphere. Everybody enjoying a night out and still able hear yourself think.
Eventually my colleague got bored of putting coins in the machine, his pint, my company, and the endless texts from his missus demanding to know where he was. He downed what was left of his pint and said "I'm going to have to go. You going to be all right on your own?"
What? Finish a drink in a pub full of dark dangerous drinkers all on my own? Yes. Funnily enough I think I will be. I mean, it isn't as if this has never happened before. I quietly finished my cider at my own comfortable pace, then departed in a mellow mood. The security guards outside wished me a good night. Cheerio lads.
Mr Cod Kabul
I hear that Afghanistan has just opened its first British style fish and chip shop. A bit late now the British troops have all left, but after years of kebab shop domination of the high street, a small victory for democratic consumerism in the face of Taliban conformity.
The government have declared that Universal Credit is to be rolled out in Job Centres across England. They're claiming that it will work better for those looking for work. No, it won't, I know it won't, because my claims advisor would simply use it as an excuse not to pay me any benefits irrespective of how concientious I was. Despite making more than fifty applications a week, attending interviews when required, and any activity required by the Job Centre, I was still deemed a dole cheat and refused benefit. Being used as a scapegoat isn't something I take kindly to. Not that I'm bitter and twisted about it you underdtand...
Either the government are blissfuly unaware of the abuses of the system their administrators use to further their careers, or they're too busy furthering their own by issuing this sort of nonsense on the evening news.
Then again, having declared that al benefit payments will be amalgamated ynder one umbrella, now the government have announced a new youth allowance for those school leavers at a loose end. There is, after all, an election on the way.
Oscars Of The Week
Bafta's, Golden Globes, Oscars.... Yet another round of 'thank you' speeches to wade through to find out who the best actors and films are. Right now film producers are wining and dining, performers crossing their fingers, and the television news is full of speculation. I nominate the claims advisors of Swindon Job Centre Plus for their role in bringing my finances to the point of ruin. Utterly convincing performances obviously.
Health issues are very much in my mind right now. As if the dust at work wasn't provoking enough coughing, I seem unable to completely shake off symptoms of a bad cold. The lads I work with now expect me to break out the Lemsip. Hard Hat, my Jamaican colleague, sometimes offers a can of energy drink when I look especially tired. That weary demeanour hasn't escaped the attention of other colleagues either. But, if I don't stay, I get no pay, so to quote from an old Red Jasper song, I'll carry on "Crawling into work". Cough splutter.
One chap on another shift might not be working there much longer. Carelessly he left a packet of cigarettes in the toilet. Worse still, a small supply of drugs was secreted within it. There's been quite a flurry of activity over that mistake and no shortage of gossip. I say bring in Sherlock Holmes to work the Case of the Discarded Fag Packet. But of course, we all know it was Colonel Mustard with a lead pipe.
Time to go home, so I tramp tired and weary up the road to the bus stop. Sometimes you see the same old regulars waiting in the cold for bus rides somewhere close to home, sometimes you get occaisional adventurers out for a double decker thrill. As we mere mortals wait, those blessed with vehicles demonstrate their superior social status by blasting past at high revs, sort of like beating their chests but faster. Naturally that stirs discussion among the young lads, and once fast cars become the topic of the night, everyone taks about their own machines, always chipped, tuned, and stage three everything. They boast earnestly about how their car's capabilities allow them to ignore common sense and the laws of physics.
Come on guys, I was young once. Who are you trying to kid? On the money we get paid affording hyped up cars really isn't realistic. Sure, I've done my fair share of speedy driving - we human beings have a strange fascination with going faster than anyone else unless it's do to with working for a living - but at least I showed some restraint if conditions weren't suitable. I was, after all, only ever caught speeding once. But those modified and lowered shopping trolleys roaring past the bus stop are probably no faster than the version their granny bought from the dealer, although I will concede, the idea of an eighty year old woman hurtling down the road, aggressively using her horn to persuade those youngsters to stop obstructing the road, and challenging their Women's Institute colleages to traffic light drag races is just bizarre.
Thee's been a series of adverts on television for a breakfast cereal in which the fictional survival expert 'Max Canyon', is about to demonstrate a source of protein, if only you had the guts the try it, only to hesistate when his camera crew tuck in to a healthy bowl of something more palatable.
Exotic game meat has become available at my local supermarket. At least that saves me the bother of travelling to faraway places to find something different to eat. I must admit to a vicarious interest in consuming animals simply because I haven't consumed them before. Wild boar sausages were quite good, ostrich burgers perhaps a bit bland but they never taste quite as you expect, or at least, until you try crocodile. A pair of crocodile burgers looked suspiciously like gammon and funnily enough didn't taste much different. However, I didn't take to it and I now understand why they're survivors of a lost era. They're just not pleasant to eat.
Having seen the first series of The Mighty Boosh, the prosect of consuming kangaroo meatballs are challenging my determination. Breakfast cereal it is then.
Philosophy of the Week
The site manager at work has been spending time on the shop floor and needless to say has left havoc in his wake. Especially for me, as it happens, because his expert eye has detected that our rubbish exraction system isn't making enough profit. Now I'm told off if I try to obtain some means of dropping off the rubbish I collect, and told off if I leave it lying. Never have I seen a warehouse that generates such amounts of rubbish. Cardboard, shrinkwrap, paper, cans, bottles, packets, shards of wood, it's all out there, until we wave a magic wand and make it all disappear like the site manager wants.
Naturally the presence of senior management is intimidating for some. He is, after all, a pretty decisive guy. He doesn't have much time for practicality or any input from me about the realities of warehouse waste management when profit margins are too small. Hard Hat has other ideas. "A man is just a man" He says in terms of true equality. Yes, I agree, but we can't sack people. He can.
On the plus side we can only hope that he accidentially left a cigratte packet in the toilet and we can go back to making the warehouse look respectfully tidy.
Don't you just love conspiracy theory? Despite everyones manifest inability to control their own destiny and Mankind's penchant for getting it wrong, people believe their lives are being controlled by some strange unseen group of elite conspirators. Personally I find it a bit hard to imagine that the typical career politician reaches the top of his political tree and becomes top dog in his own country only to be told what to do with it by Men In Grey.
The whole genre is nothing more than religion by another name - the very same sense of our lives being buffetted by forces we don't understand gave rise to ideas of gods, devils, and things that go bump in the night. Now we invent secret cabals of influential people that somehow control every aspect of our existence.
I met a convert the other day. A young Romanian worker who was adamant that our dearly beloved BBC news was 'controlled'. I pointed out that the news team make editorial decisions about which stories it runs with, allowing for authenticity or public interest. "No no no" He urgently interupted in wide eyed piousy, "The news is controlled. I see on internet video of three thousand people being shot in back of head by ISIS terrorist with AK47. But BBC does not show it.".
Oh. I get it. The internet is the source of all uncontrolled and real news is it? As much as I believe ISIS is liable to inflict such violence, even they have to obey the laws of terrorist practicality. In order to watch a terrorist shoot three thousand people taking an average of ten seconds overall for each, in order to aim, move, fire, and reload, would require a video eight hours long. I seriously doubt the BBC would contemplate showing that. Not even excerpts either - most people don't want to watch snuff movies. It's also worth pointing that something like a hundred AK47 magazines would be required for the task at the very least. That's a lot of ammunition to carry around.
"No no no" He replied to my explanations, "I give you link to website that shows these things."
No, don't bother...
Under A Pass
Walking back and forth through a pedestrian underpass near the bus station there's three things you an be sure of. Firstly it's going to be packed with people walking back and forth, secondly there's going to be some unfortunate soul who did not survive the encounter with their claims advisor sat under a duvet, and thirdly, someone will be busking.
For some time we've been subjected to some old guy with a guitar, performing endless and half hearted blues music. This last time was a little less palatable. A youngster was banging the heck out of upturned pots and pans to an amplified drum track. Quite badly too.
Of course it's easy to criticise. I learned that lesson in the music business. It did occur to ne though that back in the days when I was a teenager attracted to playing a drumkit and unable to own one, that I'd gone through a process of starting my experience of percussion with a mattress annoying everyone who could hear my efforts. Will this youngster go on to see his face on Drummer Monthly? A house in the country? Audiences of thousands around the world? Don't laugh - I used to think that was where I was headed. Okay, I did achieve a few big audiences and my stick skills ended up somewhat better than his. These days I keep a warehouse tidy. Maybe I ought to warrn him that no matter what his ambitions are, his life will be controlled by Men In Grey who will frustrate his efforts for the betterment of Mankind? Heck, I need to startb using the internet more...
Training Of The Week
Proof that my life in the workplace is controlled by management, I was offered an opportunity to get trained up on a pallet truck the other week. Not that big a deal in some respects - I've driven such vehicles in warehouses for years - but the fact the company was willing to invest in my training is a good sign. So I watched the non-violent videos, listened to the advice, took the truck out into the warehouse and guided it through an obstacle course, and finally passed a theory test. All passed. All smiles and handshakes.
Once let loose my colleagues took the opportunity to poke fun, though some did congratulate me on my achievement. Eventually I came across Hard Hat in the racks who was most amused at my new mode of transport.
I also got a phone call asking me what I wanted to do with those qualifications I'd gotten whilst unemployed. You mean the ones I asked you to tear up? Don't bother me with trvialities lady, I've got a pallet truck to drive...
Hello everyone, and welcome to the GhostOfClayton ‘once-again-it’s-turned-out-to-be-less-frequent-than-twice-fortnightly’ blog.
The litmus test of a civilised society
Very little is new at OfClayton Towers (though that isn’t an excuse). The main thing is that Mrs OfClayton has started a new job. She is now working in a library, and she enjoys it very much. I must admit it sounds quite interesting, helping people research projects / interests and the like. Trouble is, libraries are very much an endangered species in the UK at the moment. I [would] like to think of myself as a liberal intellectual, and a good socialist, so you’d think I would be throwing up my hands in horror at the actual and threatened loss of so many libraries. These institutions are iconic of a civilised society, surely. Trouble is, visitor numbers are dropping. Clientele seem to consist solely of Eastern Europeans who use the computers to Skype back to the family, elderly readers who’ve used libraries all their lives (understandably, numbers will dwindle in this category), and middle class parents taking their children, in a futile attempt to buck the trend. This is disheartening. It smacks of a litmus test of our modern western society that is starting to show an unappetising colour.
However, (you knew there’d be a however, didn’t you?) the more I think about it, the more I think waving the white flag might not be quite the societal disaster that my heart thinks it would be. I was a regular in the library when I was a kid and these days I do have to do an awful lot of research, but even I don’t visit the library very often at all,. People aren’t using the libraries because it’s easier and quicker to get on the internet. Yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, and there are loads of little down sides to losing a library service. But how long before the numbers dwindle to almost zero? It’s depressing (or is it?)
Once again, this blog has failed to come to a conclusion. No trends being bucked there, then.
The future of this blog
Just a note about the immediate future of this blog. On Friday night, I’ll be heading out to Austria, so there’ll definitely not be a blog the following Thursday. My colleague works out there as a ski rep in the winter sports season, and he thinks there just might be a hint of a whisper of a chance of some absence cover work going. I’ve no idea how long it will last, if it happens at all, so you’ll have to watch this space. If I come back, I’ll blog. Ciao for now.
Sometimes I encounter opinion regarding my blog. Well, it is there to be read, and I'd rather people formed an opinion good or bad than simply shrug and go back a *or* video. Mostly I hear how rubbish it is. Funny how the loudest people are those who want dismiss or abuse. No matter, but I do understand that not everyone wants to hear the latest whinge or moan from me. So before I whinge and moan some more, here's the fun bit.
There I was, bored and miserable, sat on a bus bumping and swaying in unison with all the other passengers, when this old chap sat down next to me and started whinging about how bad the world was today. I agreed with him. The thing is he turned out to be an old railwayman, an engine driver, a man who had stepped onto the footplate of Castle class locomotives for the Great Western Railway in those good old days when coal was king and everyone employed when they were fourteen. He was one of those drivers who deserted the railways en masse when steam finally gave way to diesel. No way was he going to drive one of those 'tin cans'. Funny how much attachment people have toward steam engibnes. I do. The blessed things almost have a life of their own, like big animals that need constant fettling and feeding.
"I'd like to get some of those yobboes on the footplate" He growled, clearly full of despair at our nations youths, "That'd teach 'em a few things".
Sadly it wouldn't. I agree that working on a steam engine footplate, the control cabin if you will, is no easy option where steam engines concerned. I remember hitching a ride on a preserved line in New Zealand, and even for a little locomotive, the physical effort was impressive. never mind a much larger express locomotive gulping down several tons of coal per trip. Buit the sad truth is it would only be another job to avoid. Bad backs, migraines, too many interesting tunes on their I-pod, or perhaps just a strange tendency to shrug their shoulders would result. Aside of course from injuries inflicted by a coal shovel wielded by an irate driver I suspect.
But I admit the conversation was fascinating. He told me about an accident on the railway. A train driver had misread a semaphore signal thinking he was cleared for mainline operation. The fireman realised that he'd made the mistake but by then the locomtive had accelerated to 25mph and derailed on the points, taking with it six wagons from Wills Tobacco factory. "Cigarettes everywhere" He said. "Absolutely everywhere..."
I also discovered the sad tale of a canadian flight sergeant in World War Two, who was flying near the Vickers-Supermarine factory that used to be at South Marston. At low altitude he turned and a wing fell off. No chance of survivng that. Apparently his family still cross the Atlantic regularly and visit a small memorial to him. Gone but not forgotten.
I happened to catch Prime Ministers Questions before I went to work this week. There was Cameron, happily pulling the arms and legs off Mr Milliband, who sat there shaking his head. They've almost become a comedy duo. What I didn't find funny was Cameron crowing about how unemployment figures are down. Of course they are. People are being forced off Jobseekers Allowance by any means fair or foul and forced onto a hardship grant which the figures don't count. That's what they did to me. I went from trusted and hard working jobseeker to petty fraud and dishonesty in one fell swoop. An entire months dole money refused. Suddenly no-one believed my submissions. My evidence was unacceptable or 'not realistic'.
For thre love of God, Cameron. Go. Your plan is only working because not enough people have cottoned on why you're able to claim it is.
Beggar Of The Week
Finally I'd gotten to the bus station and shivered as I strode through an empty town centre on my way home. It was perishing cold, and after sitting on a bus for half an hour, I really felt it despite wrapping up warm.
"Hey mate, you got a cigarette?" Said the down-and-out in a shop doorway. Sorry , no.
"Eff off then". He replied. One wionders how he expects any sympathy with that attitude. Suit yourself buddy, but stay under that cardboard, it's a cold night. By the way, does David Cameron know you're not earning a living?
The colour of light through my bedroom curtains this morning was unmistakeable. Definitely snow. Not a great deal of it, but the yard and car park beyond had been given a white sheen. As I wearily glanced outside, the snow was still falling - it's tailed off right now and the sun is breaking through.
Winter has a bit of a problem right now. It doesn't seem to know what sort of weather to throw at us. Wind, rain, snow, bitter cold sunshine, it changes on the hour every hour. Yesterday it started to hail. British hail is somewaht weedy compared to the icy cannon projectiles you get in some parts of the world, but that makes it a mere inconvenience to us Brits. Especially when a hailstone drops straight down the back of your neck, which is what happened to me. There I was, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I'm squirning uncontrollably in the street and making strange moans of discomfort. People notice this sort of thing, usually when they don't know what caused it.
Crawling Into Work
Another cold morning. TIme then to answer the call of the alarm clock at some ungodly hour of the morning, ignore the protests shouted through the walls of my home, and head down to the bus stop, hopefully fully dressed, for that all important bus to work. I feel so ordinary these days.
The town has an empty clammy feel. A long high street is almost deserted and tinged in an amber glow, aside from some guy who I know will be taking the the same bus as me. He stops at a cash machine to pay for his ticket. He's already paid for his cigarettes which he'll chainsmoke as he waits behind me at the bus station. That's his business of course, it's just that he has the annoying habit exhaling as noisily as possible.
Swindon's bus station is doomed. They're going to build a new one sooner or later but for now the dull brick edifice hiding under the shadow of a disused multi-story car park will do. A few hardy souls hang around here and there, aside from my chainsmoking fellow passenger who queues up behind me every day so I can derive such pleasure fro listening to his cigarette habit.
A van turns up to drop off piles of newspapers. The Devizes bus turns in off the main road. That'll be full of several passengers shortly and probably on its way. Second comes our bus showing 'No Service' as it turns into the bay. The driver gets out and heads into the admin offices for a few minutes. Eventually he'll be back, fussing with the controls of the ungainly double decker, and then allowing us to present travel passes, coins, or desperate pleas for assistance.
Some bus drivers are quick, others aren't. Some struggle with issuing ticketrs, some are incredibly efficient. I see the same people boarding or disembarking at the same stops. No-one says hello. We're all too miserable at having to get out of bed to go to work.
My Day At Work
One of the team leaders goes through the register. After four weeks of persuasion I finally managed to get them to put my name on it.
"Pallets today please"
That means I'll be wandering around the racks finding empty pallets so the guys unoading containers can put more boxes on them. Well that's the next eight hours sorted then.
End Of The Shift
Finally it's time to go home. Suddenly the warehouse comes alive and it's a life or death sruggle to find your bag, wrap up for the cold weather outside, and clock out out as the next shift rushes in desperately trying to arrive on time.
Hard Hat, my chilled out colleague at work, never rushes at any time. He's never frantic, breathless, urgent, or even remotely rushed for any reason whatsoever. At lunchbreaks he sometimes takes a quick nap. When we wait at the bus stop after work, he's guaranteed to amble up the road long after we've settled who's going to be first to board the bus. A couple of times I've mentioned that my life would be complete if I ever saw Hard Hat running for the bus.
My life is complete.
And The Winner Is...
As a fourteen year old I went with the school on a skiing trip to Austria. All a big adventure at that age, made embarrasing by parents giving us last minute advice and emotional send off's. No matter. We negotiated the unfamiliar hazards of a Dan Air flight to Munich and a long coach journey across the border, finally arriving at the resort. One kid got caught smoking and would have been sent home had that not meant a teacher would have cut short their holiday. On the other hand, the much hated geography teacher got hit by a snowball.
By the end of the week, it was time to settle the most important question of all. Who was the best skier? Naturally the dominant lads, the ones good at football, pretty much figured it was one of them, with one character a clear favourite in the stakes. So we gathered on the slopes that last morning for a timed slalom run, not just the school, but every tourist at the site.
I was number five in the running order. With mounting trepidation I watched the others head off. Gate 1.. Gate 2... Gate 3... Then Gate 4, a nasty tight left turn on the brow of a steep drop. Every skier in front of me fell over at that point. Okay. I'll make a note of that. Ready!... Three... Two... One... GO!
I was off. My mind was absolutely focused on the task. I didn't harbour any fantasies of doing well, but I sure as heck was going to try. Then I arrived at Gate 4. Snowplough braking... turn as I reach the edge and lean in.. Oh yes. That's how it's done. I carried on and headed for the finish line quite satisified with my efforts. The austrians at the finish line were yelling at me, urging me on enthusiatically, and somewhat bemused I gave myself a few pushes with the sticks. They were all thumbs up and germanic appraisals, which I failed utterly to understand.
Here's the thing. I was the only skier that day who did not fall over at Gate 4. The only one. I watched amused as each and every contestant did a sort of helpless swan dive off the dip. Not only that, I sat there in disbelief that night when the instructors handed out the certificates. My name wasn't appearing. Until the end. Not only had I beaten my classmates, I'd beaten everyone at the resort, adults as well. Defintely one of my finest moments.
You may have noticed that I didn’t publish my twice weekly blog on Thursday. That’s for two reasons. The first (and probably most pertinent one) is that I had a blog up my sleeve saved in my e-mail drafts, and when I came to look for it, it had gone. Shame. It was a dang good one that explained what a ‘Snowclone’ and an ‘Oxford Comma’ are. The second reason is that, as a responsible blogger, I feel I should talk about the recent events in Paris. Such a weighty subject clearly deserves more of my attention and thought than I usually give to my blogs, hence the delay. You have my apologies (he said as if you cared about, or had even noticed, the delay.)
Most importantly, I would like to use this opportunity (on behalf of all UNRV subscribers, I’m sure) to send a message of both sympathy and solidarity to our friends in the French Capital. Now to add my voice to the analysis.
All the debate seems to centre around freedom of speech. That’s a no-brainer to most people; we should have it. And I agree. Simple. No argument to be had. Or is there? Do we have free speech in ‘The West’? imagine a line running between less controversial topics on the left, towards more controversial topics on the right. There was nothing political about my choice of left and right there, that’s how mathematicians arrange these types of axis – get over it! As we start our journey from left to right, we’re on pretty comfortable territory, “should the BBC be able to report negatively about a poorly performing government?” That’s the kind of question that most would answer “yes” to. Let’s press on. Should UKIP supporters be able to say “there are too many Eastern Europeans in east coast English cities?” Most people think political parties like UKIP or the British National Party, whilst not overtly racist, seem motivated by zenophobia, but few people would deny them the right to speak up. Let’s keep going on our journey. “In my opinion, there are too many people with dark skins living in London” says a BNP spokesman. That would be overtly racist, and respectable, right-thinking people would abhor it. Should he be allowed to say it? We have a law against incitement to racial or religious hatred in the UK, which Mr BNP may fall foul of if he chanted it repeatedly at a football ground, but if he just was overheard saying it to a couple of UKIP supporting friends in a pub, he probably would be OK. But should he be allowed to chant it repeatedly at a football ground? If he was prosecuted for doing so, isn’t that gagging him from giving his opinion? Suddenly, the world of free speech isn’t quite so clear cut, is it?
Anyway, somewhere along the journey, we would come across the question “Should newspaper cartoonists be allowed to draw an image of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)?” There are plenty of very clever wordsmiths that could make you firmly believe this was in a grey area. I don’t think it is. I think it’s a pretty clear “Yes”. A very clever man once said, “Whilst I may not agree with what you say, I would defend to the death your right to say it.”
To digress a little. These blogs have the option of attaching a little picture, and one way I could have stated that I stand clearly four-square with the Parisian cartoonists, and against the Jihadist types who committed the atrocity, was to use that opportunity to reprint one of the offending cartoons. That would show the extremists that they haven’t won. Trouble is, the collateral damage would be to the many, many ordinary Muslims, who would be offended by my behaviour. And I choose not to cause offence to respectable people whenever it can be avoided. I even put PBUH following the Profit Mohamed’s name (PBUH) when I mentioned him above, because I thought some of the respectable people who read this blog and happen to be Muslims, might be mildly pleased that I had. It’s a ‘respect for other people’ issue.
So, my message for you is to respect other people. If we all did that, it wouldn’t be such a bad old world.
"You've had a wonderful life" My claims advisor had told me, having gleaned that pearl of wisdom fom my CV. Of course like all CV's it merely accentuated the positive. All those disasters and mistakes over the years never made it to the final draft, never mind the interminable hassles that life forces us to endure. She was of course trying to win my approval for her state sponsored rebuild of my appearance, character, and history, in the vain hope I might actually become employable. Little did she know that my lucky rabbit's foot would strike again and I'd get a job by my own efforts, unemployable or not.
Is my life wonderful? That's an interesting question. It is true I've done things many people never will, but then again, the price was high. I've lost out on many aspects of life that those same people take for granted. Okay, the decade of being an aspiring musician gave me some purpose in life. And the following decade of fast cars and flying aeroplanes was very enjoyable, thank you very much. The following decade of unemployable mediocrity and occaisional disaster hasn't been quite so fun, no matter what Eva believes.
Is my life wionderful right now? Erm, no. I'm doing a job that is the most physically demanding I've ever undertaken, at a relatively unfit and unhealthy fifty plus. Not well paid or secure, either, not to mention being forced to use a bus to get to and from my home, which for me is tantamount to raising a white flag. Truth is I'm just not used to going home barely able to walk. On the bright side, I can of course thumb my nose at Eva, my domineering and ignorant claims advisor. Maybe life ain't that bad after all.
Having to cope with my persistent cold means I've taken to imbibing some much needed Lemsip during my lunchbreak. I hate the stuff. True, it helps me get through the day, but the taste is foul. They say medecine only works if you can barely swallow it. Hard Hat, my afro-carribean colleague who believs NASA overlooked him in the race to land on the moon, noticed I was getting abit drowsy. He generously offered me a can of some energy drink or other. I don't usually have much time for the stories of how these drinks affect people, but ye gods, that on top of Lemsip did the trick. I feel myself changing... Growing stronger...
Stand back mortals. I am now Pallet Man, superhero and defender of the oppressed warehouseman. Up up and stack 'em!
Wonderful Life Of The Week
Right now I'm sat at a computer cubicle at my local library. Next to me is the same guy I always seem to be sat next to, irrespective of when I actually sit down for a couple of hours. He looks sort of like Bilbo Baggins evil twin brother. I wouldn't ordinarily take any notice but he talks to himself all the time. I get a running commentary of his internet activity.
Almost as annoying as BFL, and the last time she sat down beside me (obviously losing a struggle with Gibbering Baggins for that accolade), she very loudly proclaimed what she was doing and moaned when she couldn't. It's been several years and she still hasn't got the message that I'm not interested in being her best friend.
That lady who moans about my presence at the library moaned at me again today. And last night, a lady on the bus demanded to know where I got my travel pass from. Why, the bus fairy, of course. All I have to do is lay down a large sum of cash on a particular desk and it magically appears in my hand. Easy.
Woo hoo! 2015! Yeah. 2015. Who would have thought we'd make it this far? What with the Nostrodamus prophecies of global apocalyptic disaster, global warming, outbreaks of Ebola, christians preaching the return of Jesus and mysterious disappearances, the relentless advance of the electric car, my unemployment benefit payments cancelled, no heating in my home, and finally discovering that being more than fifty years of age really does mean you have to resort to a bus pass.
The other day I had a phone call from somebody. Not sure who it was, but they enquired about my involvement in a road accident two and half years ago. Hang on... That would mean the summer of 2012... I haven't driven a car since 2008, which means the only auy I could have gotten involved was if I had driven through a time-space anomaly, the sort of thing my claims advisor stops a claimants money for. Wow. Some accident.
New years Resolution
I faithfully undertake not to have so many car accidents.
Bird In The Hand
"Look!" Said the slovakian forklift driver, pointing toward the edge of the racking. Yes. I can see it. What's the big deal? I mean, it's just another piece of rubbish on the floor. I'll pick it up as I go by...
"No, look!" He insisted. Then I saw what the big deal was. Not a piece of rubbish, but an actual little brown bird, sat there on the squeaky pale blue dusty floor, trapped in a strange rectilinear forest of cardboard, wood, and steel that we know as a warehouse. I know how it feels.
A Pop Song Too Far
I happened to catch a television documentary the other day. All about those Swedish superstars, Abba. You know, they may not be exactly the coolest artists to remember from the seventies, but face it, without them, where would Brotherhood of Man be?
Truth is I found listening to all those familiar hits from long ago difficult to deal with. So synonomous with my formative years that all those uncomfortably embarrasing memories of being an awkward teenager came flooding back. It wasn't that I had any particular fantasy about the two lovely ladies (and none about their male partners), it's just that Abba were everywhere in those days. Television, radio, music stores... Inescapable.
Of course these days I'm a bit older and now I've reached the age where being embarrasing is fun. Such as my guitar playing, military surplus trousers, and a complete inability to balance when the bus is in motion.
Mystery Of The Week
So now if you'll excuse me, I have another episode of Star Trek related entertainment to wait for. In the meantime I sit there watching the Father Dowling Mysteries. Not that the program entertains me you see, it's just that I live in hope I'll catch the episode where Father Dowling finally succumbs to temptation and seduces Sister Stephanie on one of their late night stakeouts of the villains HQ. I know this sort of thing goes on... I've listened to Abba lyrics.
Three weeks of winter mayhem they promised us. We do tend to get wintery weather second hand from the States, albeit weakened by its long journey across the Atlantic, and the news reports of deep snowdrifts over there certainly seemed to confirm our impending doom. So what happened? We've barely had a cold day and it's end of December. No white Christmas then. And now the weather warnings are telling us to expect more winter mayhem. In fairness it does seem that some of us are being stopped by snow. Is there any other country in the world so completely unable to cope with a few flakes and icy conditions?
License To Kringe
Someone at work said you can always tell it's Christmas when a James Bond movie gets aired on television. That might have been the case ten years ago, but high definition digital tv has pretty much destroyed the significance of MI5 and their loveable assassins in our xmas celebrtations. I'm suprised there isn't a James Bond channel by now. Or perhaps there is. I've got so many channels on freeview now that finding something I want to see is turning into anything between a desperate search for the lost entertainment and a nail biting agonising decision over which program is the one to watch. I never knew being a couch potato was so stressfull.
Now I come to think about it, Christmas seemed to be a bit muted this year. Even my local supermarket didn't start their annual assault on the nerves with Christmas Hits Of The Last Century until they had two weeks to go. Just enough time to fit them in on a never ending loop interminably then. Not that I'm complaining mind you - one of their shop assistants said hello to me for the first time since I started shopping there twelve years ago. Just another step on my ladder to fame and fortune I guess.
I don't know about James Bond movies any more, but certainly at Christmas there's a sudden outbreak of singing and busking. Sure enough this hapened just recently. A smiling rastafarian making the worst racket you've ever heard on some badly tuned tin drums, a small choir in the town centre who hadn't realised that singing in tune sounds better, and a down and out guitar player who repeats the same song over and over just to pass the time of day. It wasn't all bad. There was an amusing puppet mandolin player (the actual player was in an oversized backpack).
Funnily enough there were none of these people around when a police car idled by along the pedestrian way.
No Deal Of The Week
According to the letter from the Department of Work and Pensions, they can't pay me the benefits I claimed from November. Cute. So I exceeded the terms of my Jobseekers Agreement by an order of magnitude, conducted a consistent jobsearch record even when I wasn't being paid for it, and accepted an offer of paid employment way below my level of skill, education, and experience. Worse, I suffered accusations of fraud, defamation of character, and found myself financially coerced into a deal that pretty much amounted to enslavement.
Sorryy Eva, but you should have been honest. You reneged on the deal, not me. Lord Rail is back.
Happy New 2015!
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
It’s traditional at this time of year to have a sort of review of the past year, outlining key events and so on. Since I did bugger-all of any worth whatsoever in 2014, I won’t waste your time. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’d like to achieve in 2015.
As ever, for those that don’t really know me (which is all of you – this blog is kept strictly a secret from anyone I actually interact with, just in case they laugh at me), some context will be required before I tell you my dreams and goals for this year.
When Young OfClayton (That’s me. Pay attention!) hadn’t had the joy and ambition ground away out of him by life, he went to college, full of dreams and aspirations for a bright future (what a gullible and naive git he was). His first year at college was utterly wasted because most of the time he should have spent learning stuff was actually spent playing snooker. Anyway, through what must’ve been divine intervention, he actually passed his exams and his coursework and was accepted for a second year on the course. The course was a sandwich course, and the second year was spent working. This was good for Young OfClayton, because your evenings and weekends are your own, and nobody gives a shit if you waste them on non-productive pursuits. The third year saw Young OfClayton back at college, with a very different attitude to the waste-of-space that barely scraped through his first year. Things would change this year; no more would I waste my time playing snooker. And true to my word, I didn’t. Instead, I wasted my time playing ‘Elite’.
I feel I must explain what Elite is, though I’m sure 90% of my audience are familiar with it. It was a video game played on the BBC Micro. It was the original and seminal space trading game, in which you played the pilot of a spaceship. The aim (unsurprisingly) was to fly around and shoot things. It was a really, really playable game that you could easily become totally immersed in. The graphics were ground-breaking, the universe it existed in was believable, the action was thick and fast. It was . . . just . . . totally . . . frickin . . . awesome. And I played it a LOT.
As an aside, there is now a new game called ‘Elite: Dangerous’. This is effectively the same game, by the same people, but brought up to date. If the ‘white-lines-plotted-on-black’ of Elite was awesome, can you imagine how awesome it is when displayed using 21st century computer graphics? Mere words just cannot do it justice. It is the Mona Lisa, The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Vth, Grand Unified Field Theory. It is a thing of unrivalled joy and beauty to behold.
So, what are my hopes and dreams for 2015? Basically, I aspire to spend every hour not spent sleeping or pissing, playing that game. However, I know deep down in my soul that this ambition is never meant to be. Mrs OfClayton won’t let me. I haven’t asked her, but I know she would never allow it; what sane woman would? Instead I shall have to squander my time fulfilling my responsibilities to my wife and household, earning the respect of my community, and being a productive member of society. What a waste!
Today is Christmas Day, so I've obviously planned my twice fortnightly blog really badly. It's traditional for those addressing a group at this time of year to offer up an appropriately festive greeting, and so I offer the following to you, dear readers.
1. Christians. “Merry Christmas.” (I bet you’re mortified at what your solemn religious date has become)
2. Observers of non-Christian religions. Sometime around now, I’m sure you guys have your own particular it's-past-the-mid-winter-solstice-so-things-can-only-get-better celebration (do let me know if your particular religion doesn’t. I’m interested in that stuff). So, “Happy it's-past-the-mid-winter-solstice-so-things-can-only-get-better celebration!”
3. Non-religious folk (northern hemisphere only – antipodeans have sunshine already). Keep your head down and think of Spring – we’ll get through this thing together.
Anyway, it’s also traditional to give gifts, and I have a gift for you all. Seriously. You doubt me? Here we go.
I am the following three things:
A fairly frequent flier
Owner of a weasel-like mindset
Numbers one and two cause me misery when the [obscenity deleted] in front reclines their seat. Number three has provided me with an easy and free solution that I will now share with you. Please pass this round to all your friends, tweet it, put it on Facebook, etc. I would be delighted if it went viral.
Before the aircraft starts moving, familiarise yourself with, and practice the actions that follow.
As soon as the aircraft is off the ground, take out the In Flight magazine. Read it if you will, but the main reason for taking it out is as a time saver for number three. Don’t let reading it distract you, because number three must be done very quickly.
AS SOON AS the seat belt light goes off, drop your tray table. You will see it is supported by an armature at either side.
Place the In Flight Magazine on the tray table with the spine away from you, overhanging the left or right of the table by about 5cm
Slide the magazine firmly forwards, allowing it to drop off the far end of the tray table and downwards.
Apply downward pressure on the spine to ensure it is firmly wedged between the armature and the seat in front. It is now physically impossible for the passenger in front to recline their seat.
Put headphones on, and pretend to be asleep if they get up.
DO NOT recline your own seat – it would make you a hypocrite.
I expect to be trolled by lots of people saying, “I paid for a reclining seat, and it would be wrong of you to deny me of that.” (Except they would liberally sprinkle those words with Fs, and Cs, and probably call me Hitler – and the spelling and grammar would be appalling). Some may even threaten to rape/kill myself/my family.
That’s fine – the internet is a free medium, and free speech is paramount. But trolls should consider this before posting: Imagine aircraft seats were designed with a little switch in the back (operated by the passenger in the seat behind), to lock/unlock the reclining mechanism. In what position would you place that switch, for the seat in front of YOU?
Enjoy your gift. It will last you a lifetime.
Although I've already mentioned I'm currently a dustman inside a warehouse, the company did briefly try me on unliading containers. That's where I got the bruises from, both physical and ego related. It turns out that my age and physical fitness have somewhat reduced my ability to handle boxes in excess of twenty five kilos in weight. There's quite a few of them packed into a typical container. Some are more a hundred kilos. Help.
Of course I'm not working alone. I joined a bunch of cheery youths engaged in the task of unloading. One lad vanished deep into a gap between boxes to help push them out. Obviously a former housebreaker, he was quickly nicknamed 'Gerbil'. I on the other hand inevitably got called 'Grandad'. Cheers guys.
Another chap happened to be in the wrong plae at the wrong time as a box corner buried itself into his groin. "Mind the penis!" He said, somewhat concerned for the continued safe operation of his anatomy. "Nah, you don't need it." I quipped, clearly stung by references to my advancing age.
Later on he noted my wheezing helplessness. "I'm not young any more" was my excuse. With some artistic license he replied that he was twice my age and hence my excuse was invalid. "Twice my age?" I answered, "That's why you don't need your penis". Warehousing is such fun.
Houston We Have A Challenge
One of my colleagues is a very laid back afro-carribean chap. So laid back that the word horizontal loses all meaning. Imagine my suprise then when he told me he liked a challenge. Pardon me? Face it, you're not NASA material. He insisted he could be.
Houston - "Ahh, Apollo Thirteen, we have some strange readings back here. Is everything okay up there?"
Astronaut - "Housten, we have no problem at all.
Houston - "Right. We're showing oxygen leakages. Please confirm."
Astronaut - "Oh yeah. Sorry 'bout dat. Heh heh..."
I have to work with this guy. Not that any work gets done.
On A Mission
One of the team leaders called me over. For a moment I thought I was about to get told off for some obscure misdemeanour, but no, the warehouse needed two boxes from the overflow warehouse across the road. So me and a company veteran popped over to the deserted building to risk life and limb in a vain search for two boxes among thousands stashed in tall rows in utter darkness. He found them because he had a torch. I just bumped into a lot of cardbiard and got lost in the darkness.
So once I'd been rescued we girded our loins and heaved the boxes out into the damp dark night. Talk about ridiculous. We would have been fine but with strong blustery winds our simple task turned into a sort of kamikaze mission. Once the wind caught the box staying on the pavement was all but impossible, you either wandered helplessly into the road or fall over a herbaceous border.
Fear not. Mission accomplished. Eventually.
Criticism Of The Week
Thee I was minding my own television when some udiot outside the house shouted "Your blog is rubbish!"
What? Again? Oh well. At least he read it.
Warning: You might nod off while reading this blog, so make sure you’re positioned safely, and that the area around you is free from hazards. In order to protect your safety, I’d better make it just a little bit steamy, just in case. Ah! Now you’re interested . . . .
Anyway, are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
Welcome to GhostOfClayton’s Twice Fortnightly blog. Allow me to introduce myself to new bloggees. I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses. I deal my own deck, sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces. Yes, that is another song lyric. It would take more of an effort of will than I can currently muster, to summon up the motivation to look up who sang this. I was always curious about the lyric ‘I deal my own deck’. Is that maybe a little euphemistic? Probably not. It was penned quite a while ago, long before we started to live in such cynical times.
Are we living in more cynical times? Certainly the times are more sexually open than they once were. A sex shop opened up near us a couple of years back. Sorry . . . an ‘adult store’. That’s nothing new, I know. A sex shop opened up in our town when I was about 12, much to the great delight and amusement of my schoolboy chums and me. The windows were obscured, and middle-aged men in raincoats with their hands in their pockets were regularly seen walking furtively in and out. That last bit’s not true. I never saw anyone going in or out. Which is probably why it closed down soon after.
But this new adult store seems all very overt, and aimed at the young, experimental couples market, keen to find new ways to pleasure and enjoy one-another. Far from the boarded-window shame of the 1970s sex shop, this adult store even goes as far as to stand an advertising board on the verge of the A road, opposite. I first noticed it when it said ’50 Shades toys now in stock’, together with a picture of a collection of sex toys (some of which I really couldn’t identify, or imagine how they were used). This was clearly an attempt to jump squarely onto the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ bandwagon.
Have you read ‘50 Shades of Grey’? I haven’t. Here’s what I know about it: it’s about a rich guy called Mr Grey. We know he’s rich, because he owns a dungeon, just for sex. Now I don’t own a dungeon, but even if I were to allocate one of the rooms at OfClayton Towers just to be used for sex, it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Within a couple of weeks, I would be putting other things in there. Christmas presents is a good example at this time of year. Mrs OfClayton would start hanging washing in there to dry when the weather outside wasn’t suitable. It’d be a great place to keep all the things I’m getting ready for my next tour . . . . and wouldn’t it be easier in January to dump the Christmas decorations in there, ready to be put up in the loft the next time I go up (but you can bet they’d still be in the sex dungeon next December). That’s how we know he’s rich – there are no socks on the radiators in his sex dungeon.
Then there’s the female protagonist, Anastasia Steele. Now, that name wasn’t just plucked out of thin air. A lot of thought, even maths, has gone into that name. It is calculated to the nth decimal place to be just sexy enough, without being a pornstar name. Imagine, if you will, someone called Anastasia Steele. Conjure a picture of her in your head. You are imagining someone attractive, confident, not to be messed with, but with an underlying vulnerability ripe for exploitation by someone rich enough to have a recreational sex dungeon. I am hugely attracted to Anastasia Steele, but deep down I know that my attraction is to be forever unrequited, because my BDSM dungeon has got Boxes, Decorating Stuff, and a Mower in it.