Just one of those days I guess. All of a sudden everyone wants to talk to me, everything has to happen as soon as possible, and poor little me has to rush around like an overstressed gibbon trying to get through it all.
I have to point out of course that most of you do this all day every day. I don't. Being unemployed for a long time rather reduces your pace of life. For me popping down to the shops is an event. A phone call? For me? I didn't know this thing actually worked.
Anyway, I was at the library and having finished reading important emails, sending urgent replies, and recording that all important online information my claims advisor doesn't read, I had one last phone call to make concerning a job opportunity. So log off and down to the foyer where I can use my mobile.
A librarian followed me down the stairs. Going about her business rather than actually following me, you have to understand, but hey, I live in hope. Funnily enough though she was watching me descend. I know this because as I stumbled and risked a much quicker and painful descent, she made a helpful comment that I had nearly fallen ass over tit. I wish to extend my appreciation for her helpful observation on the matter. Could save my life one day.
On the subject of being at the library, and having previously written about my own personal conspiracy theory, I notice that there's a young gentleman who seems to be taking an interest in my going to and fro. Normally that would worry me somewhat. Blonde female librarians are more than welcome, big burly blokes are not. The reason I mention this is that after I stride past he mutters "He's on his way back to the house".
A paranoid individual might assume that some super secret intelligence agency is putting me under surveillance. Pfah! Yeah right. Since when did a 'tail' make himself obvious by passing information within earshot of the subject? Now as it happens, I learned about surveillance techniques courtesy of Wiltshire Polce many moons ago. So, matey boy, where are the other eleven personnel needed for a minimum close surveillance team? Don't tell me, they're on Facebook like all the rest of your fantasy friends.
Hey, I've just realised - I am my own wikileaks! Forget Julian Lozenge and Edwin Snowed-under, check out the reality of conspiracy theory right here on this very blog. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some red laser dots to avoid. Can't wait for the car chase.
Observation of the Week
The other day I bumped into a mate of mine. We worked at the same warehouse over last christmas. I got laid off for the same old reasons; being too good at my job, being too scruffy, and being too friendly with female managers. The usual. He still works there in between getting blind steaming drunk, but I guess he can afford the booze. That's the advantage of a steady job.
Anyhow every time we bump into each other he's always got an anecdote about his latest inebriated night out. I so look forward to his tales of derring do and falling over. Mostly the story ends with him waking up in some ridiculous situation. This last episode culminated in him waking up beside a female shop mannequin. Trust me, the British Board of Censors won't like the climax of this tale.
Maybe it's just me, but I prefer blonde female librarians. As I know from my own experience they make useful life saving comments.
Poor old badgers. They do seem to be getting in the neck right now, with a government authorised cull in progress. As it happens badgers have always had a difficult existence what with rural baiters and the like. A couple of years ago I headed out into the countryside for a hike and by the roadside was a dead badger impaled on a stick, clearly left for someone to see. I wonder who?
I must be honest, at the time that gory sight left me unmoved. Hard to understand why. Witnessing the natural world, especially those moments when something unexpected happens, can be a wonderful experience. The inanimate corpse seemed a little unreal. Deprived of life the badger had become an ordinary object in some way.
That's the trouble with nature. A tiger is a magnificent creature, full of colour and character. It's also a very powerful and dangerous carnivore. I watched documentary footage of a mother tiger leaving an unconcious deer to one of her cubs so it had the opportunity to discover how to kill it. Life goes on.
Personally I don't want to see large numbers of badgers slaughtered. However, I'm also aware that the countryside is not a public park even though, like most townies, I tend to treat it as such. It's a working enviroment, a place to cultivate and produce food, and if the threat of badgers spreading tuberculosis to agricultural herds is real and will affect my own ability to eat and drink, then survival kicks in and I must reluctantly allow those who know better to get on with it.
Is it any wonder that badgers and foxes see towns as a better bet?
Every so often you see adverts on television asking for donations for charity. They usually show children, because our natural instinct is to help the helpless. Background music gives an emotional edge, accentuating the tragedy of their situation, appealing to us to right wrongs with a smal gesture of what is curently a fashionable
As a jobseeker the vast majority of vacancies I find are pretty mundane. So dull and boring, I suspect, that these companies need to advertise for desperate jobseekers to fill the role. For a country with a National Minimum Wage, it comes as a suprise to see so many advertised for
Switch on the television today and chances are a car advert will appear. Not sure why they're so frequent all of a sudden but it might have something to do with the daft names they give cars these days. Go? Ka? Cee'd? What's all that about? Now I see one for the Vauxhall Adam. What next? The Nissan Nigel? Toyota Terence? The Ford Fred? God forbid someone should build a car called Eve. That will bring new meaning to a warning sign for "road humps".
I can't help thinking that the use of 'fun' names is to try and compensate for a boring motorised shopping trolley. That would be bad enought, but the adverts themselves are just so daft Watching a vehicle swerve through an urban landscape to avoid getting splashed wiith paint by jealous buildings is an interesting piece of media, just not an interesting car to feature. Watching a high diver slip majestically through the space left by open doors of a suspended vehicle is clever, but when would you actually park a vehicle on its side twenty feet above a swimming pool? Truth is, it's the visual theme or the music soundtrack that's more interesting than the hybrid eco-buggy they want you to buy. Good album that. Must log onto iTunes and download it.
Adverts can be pretentious too. "Soul of motion"? What's that? A mystical force created by all moving things that surrounds us, binds the universe together? I have this image in my head of car designers sat at their workstations with the blast shield down, stretching out with their feelings to try and create a car that Han Solo will say is a match for a good blaster. I seriously don't believe that the adverts are right when they descrivbe a car as "breaking with convention". Not only do they look exactly like everyone elses, they probably are the same vehicle to all intents and purposes. Face it, a truly unconventional car wouldn;t sell.
Car names used to be classy, or at least, better than the monosyllabic versions we get now. Even if the cars themselves were heaps of junk built in between tea breaks and strikes by union activists in the midlands of darkest Britain, the names were in a different league. Forget this idiotic obsession with trying to make customers believe their cars are in any way interesting. What we need are bold exciting names like Ferrari Fury, or Lamborghini Lacerator, names that inspire the designer to put a bit of life into their project. As it happens Audi has saved civilisation as we know it by showing their R8 with the engine cover removed on a rolling road. A quick acceleration through the gears then coming to a standstill, engine burbling menacingly, interspersed with some vicarious snorts and growls, exuding testerone and to my mind one of the best car adverts ever.
Building Site Update
Still fascinated by the Old College site visible from my back window. So are many other passers by, who stop at the wire fence to oggle the wierd and wonderful machinery used to excavate a massive canyon in the side of Swindon hill. It just keeps getting deeper. At the far end the channel is now so deep that even from my high vantage point, the diggers are almost lost inside. Before long it'll get so feep that the site will generate its own climate. There'll be hairy sub-human mutant tribes descended from long lost construction workers, dragging peoples cars into the depths at night to worship the starnge God of automobile mass production. Maybe they'll find archaeological evidence of my stolen Eunos Cabriolet?
The Bicycle Cometh
The road junction at the bottom of the hill can get quite entertaining. The traffic lights sometimes get out of sync and you can always tell when that happens because suddenly every vehicle in sight draws to an undignified halt with a crecendo of horn blasts. So noisy in fact that motorists are forced to communicate with sign language.
Coming round the bend at the other end from me was a black BMW, accelerating quickly and risking angry gestures from frustrated motorists. I've noticed for a ong time that BMW drivers are often quite arrogant and self absorbed. He just couldn't resist a couple of hundred yards of empty road ahead of him.
This was one of those strange moments when time seems to slow almost to a halt. Even at that distance, even with his tinted windscreen, we locked eyes on each other. We knew each others mind. He wanted to tear past me enjoying his germanic performance. I wanted to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing. He looked at me. I looked at him. He gunned the accelerator, I pressed the fateful button. He gritted his teeth in a determined dash to beat the lights. I waited patiently with a smug grin. His car slithered to a halt before a red light with a flattened nose visible on the glass. I walked across the road unflustered and victorious. Bow down before the might of civilisation, BMW driver.
But what's going to happen after the government have invested gazillions of pounds promoting bicycles instead of keeping roofs over the heads of unemployed people? Truth of the matter is cyclists have a rule book all of their own, and it isn't very thick. They routinely ignore pedestrian crossings or bye laws prohibiting cycling on the pavement. Just the other morning a youngster performed a wheelie whilst managing to avoid the pedestrians. He aimed his bike in my direction. I looked at him with raised eyebrows He brazenly defied sanity by continuing his wheelie. I got out of the way.
So there you have it. The bicycle is more powerful than the BMW. Or me.
Britain was never intended to be this warm. Could someone do something about that please? Or does that mean I have to pay more tax?
My Big Mistake Of The Week
I made a huge mistake. I admit it. Sometimes it happens. There it was on the television schedules - Doctor Who Live.
pardon? My curisosity was aroused. I don't paricularly care for the childish and hyped up modern Doctor Who (it's just Harry Potter with a sonic screwdriver instead of a wand, a tardis rather than a Nimbus 2000) and I've ranted against the reliance on visual imagery instead of interesting stories (not to mention an intrusive and overwhelming music score), but genuinely I wondered what a live Doctor Who programme was going to be like.
That was my mistake. I should have realised. What I witnessed was a half hour programme dedicated to revealing the actor who will play the new Doctor Who. All done in true game show style. I paid my license fee for this? What was the BBC talking about when it said 'quality programming'?
I think Jeremy Clarkson should be the new Doctor Who. Powersliding the tardis around a time/space anomaly whilst on fire is right up his street. And he can have james May expaklin all the science as he goes. And Richard Hammond to fix things when it all goes horribly wrong. Let's face it, with the Stig at the controls, who is going to travel in time faster? A lost opportunity to save civilisation as we know it.
Ooops. Too late. Sorry about that.
Moan of the Week
Having looked closely at my finances I discover how frighteningly small my profit margin is. Happily however being paid every two weeks means that in two months of the year I get more money than usual. That being the case this month, I decided it was time I allowed myself the luxury of a visit to my local Subway. That might not seem very luxurious to some, but then a meal for four pounds is quite expensive for my budget.
Besides, it gets me out of the house for a while, and who knows, I might meet someone. Isn't that what self-help pundits normally tell us? My shrinking world could do with stretching a little. Sometimes it feels like that episode of Star Trek Next Generation when the ship gets more and more restricted in size - I think they did two episodes on that theme as it happens, once with Captain Picard retreating from a deadly radiation sweep whilst battling terrorists, and once with Dr Crusher quite literally in a universe of her own. Fact is, if my world gets any smaller, I'll pop out of existence altogether, which I strongly suspect would please some people no end. Since there's no Scotty to beam me up, I'll just have to make what I can of the situation.
I sat down to enjoy my meal. Normally I don't get bothered by anyone, but I couldn't help noticing that a couple were staring at me from across the aisle. Not admiring glances, or genuine curiosity, but quiet contempt and outrage.
Ah yes. Being unemployed these days means that you're not allowed to spend money on anything enjoyable - that's a right reserved for decent hard working people. So despite paying my billls and taxes, despite complying with all the requirements of the jobseekers coontract, despite my continued search for gainful employment, I must suffer the social disgrace of not having a job.
Welcome to David Cameron's brave new world, The Big Society. If anyone doesn't understand what it is. what it amounts to is a charter for moaning minnies to make other peoples lives even more unpleasant than they already are and claim a moral right to do so.
The sooner that idiot is voted out office the better as far as I'm concerned.
Well, I'm laid up again with a nasty foot injury... strange how disabling that can be, due to it's location rather than the severity. So I thought I would reflect here a bit. I just put on some background video of a Bocelli concert in Portofino, which makes somewhat sappy music in a pretentious location quite magical... is it the Italian touch, or maybe my memories of hiking the pretty hills in the background (better than crowded Cinque Terre!).
I recorded it off cable tv and was about to flush it, but then found it is a real cinema movie, This trailer makes it seem brash rather than it's actual mellow, scenic character:
Anyway, I didn't realize the extent of my injury because it had a numbing effect at first. I got all distracted by trying to create my own salt free Cajun seasoning by mixing up stuff on hand. This was after much frustration of trying to subscribe to that from Amazon... if you subscribe to 5 things at once regularly they deduct 15% and charge no postage. Anyway, why not mix various pepper, paprika, garlic, onion and others powders together? Came out a little harsh, so why not add some mellow thai seasonings and nutritional yeast... pretty good, but what is that throbbing in my foot... YIKES!
Another liberating area of self-mix is sodapop. Got the neat Sodastream carbonating machine (did I mention this earlier?) and concoct my own syrups. A good one is root beer extract mixed with the super healthy agave syrup instead of the usual corn syrup. Or canned frozen concentrate of lemonade mixed with coconut syrup... refreshing! I found an adaptor valve online to use paintball co2 chargers which are vastly cheaper bubblemakers than from sodastream, yet fit in their machine. Real quality results, cheaper, and I save all the lugging of cans and such.
My next mixing direction is something I touched on in a topic here about fermented applesauce. I am crazy about bubbles (not alcohol) in what I eat or drink, and accidentally created a perfect mix of fermented cranberry juice mixed with applesauce. The bubbles stay suspended in place and are amazing to encounter. But it's hard to perfect. Too thin and the apple pulp just sinks below a watery gruel. Too thick can be fun, but has problems I talked about earlier. The trick seems to be starting a tad too watery, then the yeast turns the mixture a bit gluey with absolutely immobilized bubbles. But you can drink it, sort of like a smoothie with tart bubble bursts!
The rain stopped. As if to sound "All Clear" the bells of Swindon's old town hall made seven dull clangs in the distance. Almost immediately an excited little bird settled on the telegraph wire across the back yard, chirping happily. People began to appear, pedestrians trying to carry on as if nothing had happened. Shortly after the insistent sirens and flashing blue lights of emergency vehicles barged through the traffic that had dared to continue their journey.
The price we pay in Britain for all those sweltering hot summer days is a short sharp electrical shock. Actually our thunderstorms are quite modest compared to those you can witness in some parts of the globe, but they appear out of nowhere, always unexpected despite the warnings of television weathermen.
I'd been playing my trusty old electric guitar, putting out riffs, harmonics, and long bends, all finished off with accentuated vibrato. Just the other night some guy passing my home ventured the opinion that I was a rubbish guitarist - I'm better than you'll ever be buddy - but last night the great Norse Thundergod had spoken. Modest or not, it isn't fun or safe to be caught by a British thunderstorm and for that matter, it isn't wise to leave your consumer electronics switched on. Besides, with nature giving us a free firework display, my attention was no longer engaged by music.
The rain had come down in a torrent. A layer of splashes and bouncing raindrops was six inches deep on the tiles of the roof below my back window. I spotted others in the neighbourhood like me, watching the rain from their windows, enjoying this brief respite from the humid evening. Others did however get quite wet. One young lady trudged along the alleyway with her top revealing rather more than fashion intended. You see? Thunderstorms aren't all bad...
But Not Always Good
Definitely a muggy night. My home can get a bit warm and stuffy at the best of times, never mind daytime temperatures over thirty degres and high humidity. What made it worse was repeated thunderstorms during the night. At least my critics won't be outside the house tonight. Now if I could only switch these thunderstorms off, I could get some sleep.
Forget The Rain
This is the time of year when you can spot those who've been on holiday. In Swindon a suntan is unusual, to say the least, but it's always the same people who go abroad to sunny places. Obviously they're the ones with money in their pocket. I'm struggling to pay for food for the week, never mind a bus ticket down the road. In fact, the last time I went into a Job Centre with a suntan I was investigated. there was bloke following me around aty a discreet distance watching what I gopt up to. And they stopped my money that year too. I hadn't even left the town once, but then, their argument is that the government insist that unemployed people must be willing to travel to work for an hour and a half even if they can't afford to. That's the reality of being unemployed you see. MP's seem to think we all get a suntans at public expense.
Thing is though - I can't help wondering how they feel about spending hundreds of pounds to suffer the aggravations of air travel and foreign languages, only to discover the weather's been just as good here? Oh yeah... I forgot... They've got a suntan.
The last few days have been quite warm, a typical British summer, and that wa quite enough for me. Luckily the nights cooled things down. A bit. Before the weekend however, the weatherman on television was beaming with malicious delight. Watch out for the weekend - it's going to be a scorcher. Okay. yawn.
I got up late this morning having been up all night. As usual in summer, the air within my home was a little stuffy but I had things to do, so the atmosphere was of little concern. As soon as I opnened the front door to go to the shops - Woah! A blast of hot air hit me. That weatherman wasn't kidding. This is seriously warm folks.
Turning Into Ash
At the bottom of the hill traffic was held up. Roadworks? There's been some further down. I was wrong however, as a small fleet of fire engines were parked up on the road junction. On the pavement, a burned out sports car. The local lap dancing club gutted by fire. It turns out some guy reversed his car into the premises and poured pertol over the vehicle before setting it on fire. Good grief, as if it wasn't warm enough around here already....
Turning Toward Triump
Andy Murray has won the Mens Singles at Wimbledon. I apologise for the late news but since it took Mr Murray seventy years to win the match, I thought no-one would mind if I neglected to tell you immediately. Unfortunately David Cameron was a bit quicker off the mark. His suggestion to give Mr Murray a knighthood for winning at Wimbledon has left me a bit peeved because I won a game of conkers when I was twelve and the letter confirming my OBE still hasn't arrived. Oh yes, I forgot, the Health & Safety Executive made the game of conkers a threat to civilisation as we know it. I'll shut up before I get jailed for living dangerously.
Vote for Murray - Turning Britain around.
Turning Countries Around
The dramatic events in Egypt have been the subject of considerable news footage. During an interview with some guy who apparently understood what was going on, the scrolling headline underneath said "Britain does not support regime change". Really? So we were right about those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all?
My advice to the people of Egypt is to keep practising. Eventually you'lll get this military coup business right and finally win.
Turning Jobseekers Around
Our local library has been hosting a job club for a few years now. It's useful getting an extra couple of hours to search the world wide web for all those vacancies the jobsite adverts promise are out there. It's easy too. Unfortunately the library service have decided it's too easy as well, and now we're only going to get eight weeks each.
How exactly does that assist me getting a job? By giving the opportunity to everyone else? And I've got a claims advisor who seems to believe I spend the entire day sat in front of a computer waiting for the next vacancy to appear.
I recently came the closest ever to being hit by a car when crossing the street, with the walklight. I remember calculating whether I should jump on the hood or try to bounce off the side. I was too exhausted from a gym session to jump, but was saved by their last minute screech to a stop. Lucky, because the driver was accelerating fast to turn into a gap in traffic.
Now I know why pedestrians so often leave their shoes behind when being hit and smash in the windshield. If you don't jump way up, the impact at knee level should shoot your feet out faster than the car in a levered sort of a crack-the-whip fashion; your center of gravity above the impact level should tend to stay still until it is smacked by the windshield which then tosses you in the air.
The strange thing was I felt no road rage; even though the drivers behind voiced support for me and anger at the offender, I ambled on with an uplifted feeling. It seemed like an overdue wakeup call in making the consequences of collision concrete in my mind and clearing out laziness in defensive walking or driving.
Actually I probably had in mind some concern about a drive I planned to pick up a sofabed from a warehouse. I rarely drive, yet could not bear the delivery fee for a sofabed I scored for half price on a holiday sale. Why does that concern me... well it may be the second time I arrive at a warehouse in a compact hatchback where they won't want to release the oversize furniture, and then I have the trouble dragging it precariously thru traffic. I have to, because it is prepaid with no refunds.
My previous upscale sofabed was bought for a song in a store being closed and no longer offered delivery. I was lucky at the warehouse with someone undaunted by my small vehicle and my delusions of being able to disassemble the sofa first. He knew the internal frame would fit in the hatchback even if the foamy parts were way oversize, and picked it up in a forklift and jammed the square peg in a round hole.
Well, maybe that damaged the foam, because over the years it broke up into lumps and the fake leather shed. Finally I put it outside the evening before trash pickup, and was pleased to see that someone snatched it overnight... they get a temporary thrill until seeing it in daylight. I next went on a long drive for the replacement, proud of the fact I used no map or gps and even outsmarted the word directions (turn at second light? no way, that looks like a newly added one).
The warehouse didn't want to release the box which wouldn't fit in the hatchback. I had them remove the box and it still resisted, but now I am committed. In the tension of the moment, or day, or couple of days I got brain freeze and didn't think of the likely solution of flexing the backrest. We were handling it flat and I just shoved with all my might, which somewhat scuffed the thing but got it in kind of diagonally and tied it down
On the drive home with the hatch open and sofa sticking way out, I got stuck in traffic that took maybe an hour to cover a few blocks... nine million degrees of swelter. I noticed being tailgated by an inattentive driver, and realized I had rigged the high side of the sofa against my headrest instead of the empty passenger seat. The slightest tap from behind would lever me into steering column and crush my ribcage, and the stuck sofa would not release pressure afterwards. Oh great, my near death experience served to impress me with dangers when I was already committed, rather than inspiring precautions.
Those sweaty summer nights are with us again. I blame America - we always get our weather secondhand from them. Hiowever I can't blame them for the behaviour of the locals. As soon as the warmth kicks in they start behaving like they're on a mediterranean holiday, shouting, throwing, or generally hitting each other. You might not be suprised to hear that happened last night. Again.
Clearly the way to improve social behaviour is not by fines or visits to a magistrates court, but banning summer. When is our government going to do something useful?
Move Along Please
There's a bunch of african lads who've moved into the area turning our little preserve of working class England into some kind of Los Angeles in red brick and elm trees. They were out in the yard behind my home last night, enjoying themselves in a rowdy fashion and without having anywhere else to go in the wee small hours. They went quiet all of a sudden. Certainly wasn't down to me. i was too busy trying to find a comfortable sleeping position.
Move Along, Please
As the British normally do any hint of sun means we get into this strange contest to see who can wear the least clothing. I can't help thinking that people do that because it's merely fashionable or simply their way of fitting in with the crowd of aimless citizens wandering around town for no better reason than to justify minimising their wardrobe.
Move Or Else
Sorry lads. Not your house.
Can you believe I got a sunburn purely in the SHADE!? A slight injury kept me away from outdoor activities except reading in the shade. So for some "light" reading I checked out about 1500 pages worth of Goebbels diaries from 1939-1945. They were kind of yellowed and fine print, so I used bright outdoor light, but kept religiously under shade of concrete overhang.
I started to get brown in a strange kind of tanning-bed omnidirectional way, where ever my swimming suit didn't cover. I wondered if this was UV being bent as they passed thru clouds or if it was from reflected UV. But then we had a cloudless day, and I got almost lobster red sitting in clearly defined shadows! It must be from reflection, or the scattering from particles in the air. I don't need any more skin sun damage, after volunteering to crew a sailboat one summer and too cheap to use sunblock lotion.
One useful item for this was internet radio with noise cancellation headphones. For a while there were jackhammers running and found I needed music with a hard beat to distract. Cuban music worked best (pandora cuban genre or spotify radio based on cuban masters playlist), but there was useable Goa world beat station possibly under tunin app. If it was quieter, I might play mellow ambient or chill jazz to distract, although if that is too sappy there are quite a few birdsong stations. I suppose it sounds odd that I listen to those next to ultrasound speakers intended to scare away boring local birds and their mess...
In one case I was reading about the invasion of Russia while the internet radio played birds and running creeks recorded in the Urals (Russia). You can tune in special Brazilian birds or more temperate ones such as from http://birdsongradio.com/radio-birdsong-listen.php .
When having a hard time sleeping (like with a sunburn) I sometimes tune in british comedy internet radio stations, such as found on xiialive app. There seem to be an atlantis.fm station and a ROK station with bbc skits about 50 years old. Today they kicked off a hilarious but unlikely recent comedy "HUT 33" satirizing the WW2 decoding boffins... I love the high strung violent Polish secretary who angrily mistakes brownie girl scouts as possible fascist brownshirts for example (as I read about the Polish invasion). I earlier mentioned (in temp forum?) the very funny Roman satire episode that I have now heard twice on those stations... was it on the Jimmy Edwards show?
For a while now I've been hearing that phrase. Usually I hear it from young males in the street outside. I must admit I thought it was just kids being silly with some kind of catch-phrase. On one occaision however a shiny black car pulled over to the side the road as I wandered on my way to a local supermarket. It was driven by a youngster, which was unusual in itself. How many eighteen year-olds in Britain can afford any car insurance whatsoever? Kids drive bangers or their parents second car. That's the way it is. But anyway the youth at the wheel poked his head out and and asserted confidently "Our house!".
Just last night it all got a bit more menacing. A passer in the street said to his mate "It's all right, he'll be out of there by the end of the year". Clearly they meant me to hear it too.
Well the flat doesn't belong to the local bad lads any more than it does me, it's the property of the landlord and whatever financial agencies he chooses to do business with. However I do have a long term tenancy (I've been there a decade) and a rental agreement. Anything more than polite negotiation and these individuals are in breach of anti-social, criminal, and property law.
Chances are those idiots can't read beyond the fatuous world of tabloid newspapers, or indeed understand that there's a world beyond gangsta rap, but assuming they happen to be keeping their eyes on my activities - sorry boys - you're out of order. And now everyone knows it.
Hey - I can shout too.
The Camp Fire
The unsettling development put me in a pensive mood as you might imagine. Shakespeare might of had me wandering around my camp incognito, listening to the troops conversing and gauging their mood for the ensuing struggle. Instead I have to make do with opening the back window and watching the world go by as the daylight fades.
It didn't take long to spot Mr Fox, busy searching his new domain dutifully. Against the pale dry gravel it's difficult to miss him even in low light. Sure enough I spotted the cat too. It seems the feline instinct is to leave the area when the fox hoves into view. The cat was already heading for home, leaping up onto a weed infested earth bank on the public side of the fence.
Then I saw something else appearing onto the stage. No! It can't be! It was. Mr Fox is actually Mrs Fox, and there, not far away, was a youngster, already with his bushy tail and busy copying the searching tactics of his mum. Thing is though, if there's one fox cub, there must be... Yes! Two more came into view. Playfulness got the better of them and the gravel pile became a kingdom to win. Mother wasn't bothered. Her cubs are old enough to watch out for themselves now and there's a dinner to be found and caught.
They probably won't survive much longer given they've taken up home on a major building site, what with the local vermin problem and all. Having written this, there's an outside chance I've sealed their fate. C'est la vie. But it was a genuinely uplifting sight nonetheless. Actually right now they're probably doing more good than harm. So Mrs Fox, if you wouldn't mind eating the pesky little varmint that keeps piddling on my kitchen floor, I'd be grateful.
Well, I must be on my way. My appointment is drawing nigh and I must do bloody battle with the evil Claims Adviser and his minions of officialdom. Once more unto the job centre dear friends, once more...
Another day, another jobsearch. My claims advisor doesn't like me doing anything other than seeking gainful employment and is trying to force me to waste more of my time looking for jobs I applied for last week, but you see, all work and no play makes Caldrail a dull applicant. So my claims adviosor can... well... off.
As I write this I'm entertained by the efforts of a young man to woo the pretty young blonde sat next to him. He started quite well - she liked the attention - but he hasn't gone in for the coup de date and she's starting to lose interest.
Ahh - he's realised the attempt is flagging, and is now deflecting her attention by helping her with a problem on the PC. Good move actually - he's drawn closer to her. Oh no, he's run out of technical details he can get away with, and backs off having achieved nothing. She's replying in shorter and quieter sentences - disaster. Well young man, you tried. Both have stopped talking and all he does now is glance at her occaisionally.
I feel like interrupting and teling her that the guy next to her wants a date. A part of me thinks I should ask her for myself and to heck with him, but of course she's a lot younger and probably wouldn't dream of dating her granddad. Mind you, I would probably tire of her mobile phone activity and empty conversation quite quickly, so the only real option I would have would be to bankrupt myself with a child. At least the first twenty minutes is fun even if dealing with messy breakups and conversations with authorities isn't.
Ohhh... Hang on... She hasn't lost interest completely. Funnily enough, he has, because it turns out her conversation is horribly monotone and nasal. The thought of discussing which side of the bed to use puts me off as well. Oh well, back to the job website. There's a job for a customer service advisor going somewhere.
No. Me neither.
Back On The Site
Lately I've been watching developments on the old college site. The local cat has been prowling around, slowly, sniffing at almost every lump of gravel, almost as if it's exploring the new enviroment. The fox I saw the other night doesn't care about new sights and smells, it wants dinner, and trots here and there looking for likely spots to nab a furry rodent or two. It spots me at the window - I wonder if that's the same fox that prowled around my home last year? - but after an appraisal decides I serve no useful purpose, and continues his search for lunch, zigzagging over the angular gravel terrain.
Back on the Farm
The rat has been sighted. twice in my bedroom - which was an alarming sight to say the least - and it left a calling card on the floor of the kitchen a few nights ago. So far I haven't figured out where the little monster is getting in but mark my words rodent - you future is grim.
How things are changing outside my window. For some time now the Old College site has been no more than a mountainous lanscape of crushed college, but now that work is ubnder way to develop the site (at last), the hillside is being cut into and levelled. It's extraordinary how much gravel and dirt has been removed. Even more extraordinary are the metal bolsters that are used to shore up the alleyway at the back of the site. They must be something like fifty feet in length or more and each is being driven into the ground until the top disappears. All in all a fascinating sight.
Trouble At Mill
Somewhat less impressive is my claims advisor at the job centre. He clearly has no intention of taking any notice of what I tell him, and indeed, delights in rubbishing everything I say. This has happened before and is a precursor to having my payments stopped. There's a sense of injustice about this, not just because the advisor is known to me as a dishonest person, but because I exceed the requirements of my jobseekers contract by a factor of three or four.
More Trouble At Mill
Some of the youths in my area are getting a bit above themselves. In the hours of darkness they've taken to claiming property as their own and announcing their ownership at the top of their voices. Sometimes they taunt and threaten quite brazenly. Someone in my street is being told to leave their house or face the consequences.
And the Police? You may well ask.
If you remember, last time I left you on a cliff-hanger: Did I go to Bottom Pub with the crowd, or did I respect my 25 year old ban, and stay away? Sorry, you�ll have to wait until next time for the answer to that. I have something topical to discuss this week. That is to say, it was topical when I wrote it. Subsequently, the UNRV website fell into its long coma. It�s no longer topical, but you can read it anyway:-
I�m not sure just how much this news has filtered into other countries, or even if the problem extends to mainland Europe, but there was only one story in the media in the UK of late (at the time of writing), and that is the Horsemeat Scandal. Apparently, criminal gangs have been infiltrating the meat supply chain, and supplying horsemeat instead of beef. This has been happening on a scale that is quite dizzying. You have to admire the sheer logistical effort that allows them to supply that quantity of any meat, let alone whilst seemingly remaining �under the radar� for quite a long time. I can�t help thinking that if they were capable of using these management skills in legitimate business, they could really make some serious money.
The horsemeat tended to find its way into ready meals with a high minced beef content (or claim to have a high minced beef content); burgers, lasagne, that kind of thing, and seemingly no food giant or supermarket was immune. Huge amounts of food was removed from shelves. So much that it makes you wonder where all the beef that would normally be produced to go into these foods had actually gone.
Now that is a terrible thing, and I�ve told you about it, and that�s as far as I want to go with the scandal itself. It�s the reaction of Joe Public that bemused me. They were horrified. Not horrified that they could no longer have any confidence that what they thought they were eating wasn�t what they were actually eating (which is what they should be truly horrified about). No . . . what really horrified them deep down to their very core was the thought that they might have eaten horsemeat. Now I know that my ample frame is testament to the fact that I�m not a picky eater, so I may not be best qualified to sympathise with that reaction. I have eaten horse, in a very pleasant little bistro in Nice�s Vielle Ville. It was very tasty. Very lean, slightly sweeter than beef; on the whole, not a low quality meat. In fact, I remember as a poor student regularly going down to the supermarket and buying a stack of 30 �value� burgers for a pound. I would have been delighted had I known there was anything in there as high quality as horsemeat.
It�s not all black and white
Looking at the title of this section, you might guess (or hope?) that maybe I�m about to blog about the latest �chick-*or*� bestseller, �50 Shades of Grey�. I am not. Don�t get me wrong, I have many insightful, amusing, controversial, and no doubt down-right risqu� things to say about �50 Shades�. But that is not the subject of this particular blog. I am only prepared to blog about �50 Shades� on request; so if you�d like me to cover that particular Magnum Opus, just ask, and I will. No, the subject of this blog section (�blog-ette� if you will, or maybe �blogella�) is the good old Black and White Minstrels. For those too young or too foreign to know about the Black and White Minstrels, they were a sort of song and dance troupe, popular in the sixties and seventies, consisting of men who would �black up�, but then give themselves huge white mouths (like a clown�s mouth may be red) and round white eyes. There may have been more than one dance-troupe, I don�t know . . . it may have been a . . . what�s the word? . .. �genre� of entertainment (that�s not the word!) There may have been huge gangs of these men roaming around the piers of England, offering post-bingo entertainment to holidaymakers. Anyway, their numbers are irrelevant to this blog. The key point is that you don�t see them anymore. At some stage it became racially insensitive to �black-up� for reasons of entertainment (soldiers attempting a night raid on a Taliban stronghold would still be fine). �That�s all well and good,� you say. �That�s cultural progress.� �Black people were probably never threatened or insulted by this sort of thing, but where racial intolerance is concerned it pays to err on the safe side.� And I would tend to agree . . . anything that helps me stay out of fights scores highly in my book. But that raises a question: What about that most ancient and venerable of thespian institutions, the Pantomime Dame. Surely if blacking-up for entertainment is racist, then dragging up for entertainment must be Trans-genderist, mustn�t it? And yet we not only tolerate it, we love it . . . take our kids to see it and everything. I dressed up as one once � had the time of my life. This whole blog was leading up to that one question, and I don�t even care about the answer. If there�s any real truth, it�s that this motley isle has a baffling culture where nothing makes sense if you try to analyse it. I, for one, intend to sit back and enjoy the ride.
�Oh, no you don�t!�
Oh yes I do.
You�ll be needing a little historical background for today�s story, so here goes.
As the Allies started to gain the upper hand in World War II, they started to plan out their strategy for following a retreating army back to Berlin. Any wartime leader with any sense would dynamite bridges as they retreated over them, and the assumption was that the retreating Nazi army would do the same. So the stickiest problem for the Allies would be getting tanks in sufficient numbers across the Rhine. To this end, they fine-tuned a device that had been first designed to help with the D Day landings, namely the DD tank (or swimming tank). In order to perform this fine-tuning, and also to practice the actual crossing, they needed a river whose width, flow, river bed consistency, banks, etc. provided Rhine-like conditions, and they chose the lower River Trent. A base was set up just outside a small village, and the work began.
A Valentine DD (Swimming) Tank being deployed
From the age of 4 to the point where I married Mrs OfClayton and couldn�t afford to buy a house there, I lived in the village where that base had been, (though I hadn�t known anything about the base until recently - This was a shame, as my 8 year old self would have loved to have known that, especially as the remains of the base were a regular destination for my childhood wanderings). Even as a very young child, I had exploring feet. In those days, you were kicked out of the house after breakfast with no thought for your health, safety, destination, etc. Thoughts of you never crossed your parents� minds until hunger brought you back to the house some indeterminate time later. And me and my friends explored widely . . . though not as widely as we would have liked. The trouble with living on the banks of a significant river was that you only had 180 degrees of direction to explore, and setting out in an unplanned random direction, meant that half the time you ended up on the river bank with no further option than to explore up- or down-river. So, quite often, we�d end up at the floating tank base.
The only thing remaining of that base was a large ramp made from concrete, and surfaced with railway sleepers, (used by the swimming tanks to get into the river), along with a concrete track leading to it from an old sand quarry. We never thought to question what it was. It was just �there�, and always had been. A great place to play. That is to say, it was a great place to play. Nowadays, the parents of any children found playing on a river bank unsupervised would be charged with whatever you get charged with if society deems you�re a neglectful parent with little or no concern to your child�s safety. All parents were like that back then . . and yet here I am, still alive!
So the years passed, I grew up to be a man, and the time came (only recently) when I heard that my childhood haunt had this wonderful historic significance, and that a talk all about it was to be held by a historian in the village hall. It was a great talk. Very enlightening. I won�t bore you with the detail � you may not find it as interesting as I did. Afterwards, I noticed a small group of fellow residents of the sleepy little village of Aquis of the Romans, and went over to talk to them. �We�re all going to Bottom Pub,� they said. �Do you fancy coming along?� I did fancy coming along, but that left me with a small problem. Some explanations are necessary:
Firstly, you need to know that the village in question sits on a large, steep escarpment, mostly at the top, but with quite a few houses at the bottom. There are two pubs, one at the top of the hill, and one at the bottom. Inevitably, the pub at the bottom became known as �Bottom Pub�. Strangely, the pub at the top was never called �Top Pub�. I don�t know why. In my youth, from when I started going to pubs, I would drink in Bottom Pub. For about five years, it was my �local�. Then, unexpectedly, I was banned. I know what you�re thinking. �GhostOfClayton is a bit of a wrong �un. It�s not surprising he was banned from a pub, the kind of things he no doubt got up to.� Allow me to defend myself. Late one Friday night, much like any other Friday night, myself and two of my friends decided not to take advantage of Bottom Pub�s somewhat flexible opening hours, and left to walk up the hill. Unbeknownst to us, soon after we left, some local low-life decided to bend the radio aerial on a car in the car park. The car in question belonged to a �gentleman� we used to refer to as Crab. He was a moderately successful local businessman in his late forties, who habitually walked sideways when drunk. . . which was very often indeed. An unlikable character who went on to hold the record in the local police station of the individual caught driving with the highest blood alcohol level. In short, just the sort of person that would end up getting their aerial bent outside a pub.
Anyway, Crab left the pub soon afterwards and, finding his bent aerial, got a bit cross. With an anger fuelled by a long Friday night�s worth of beer, he got into his car and raced up the hill. The first three unfortunates he found was us and, assuming we were the culprits, he leapt out of the car and grabbed the nearest (me). Now, he wasn�t a big man, and I had a significant height and weight advantage over him, but he didn�t hesitate to tackle me because he had the advantage of wielding what can only be described as a home-made machete, which he proceeded to hold to my throat. Not only did he feel the need to make, or have made, (let�s not mince words here), a bloody big knife, but he also felt the need to carry it in his car, ready for just such an occasion! I told you he was unlikable, didn�t I?
I don�t remember how, but we talked him down without harm to any of us, but we did. I think we agreed to hand over money to replace his bent aerial. One way or the other, we lived to see another Friday night. However, on that Friday night, on walking into the pub, we were instantly barred by the landlord, who had heard about the affray, and also judged us to be guilty. Other than being justifiably piqued at this miscarriage of justice, it didn�t bother me too much. There was, after all, another pub in the village. We drank there for a few years until I met the future Mrs OfClayton, and spent less time in the pub. The incident was largely forgotten (apart from a strange incident about 10 years later when Crab made a comment in my presence in the top pub implying he was apologising for wronging me), until the other day.
Did I go to Bottom Pub or did I respect my ban and stay away?
I�ll leave that one on a cliff-hanger, and fill you in next time.
Christmas is now behind us, and the time has come to put away the decorations at OfClayton Towers. It's also time to consider those in society whose Christmas has been a distressing time for one reason or another (we shouldn't consider those who have been determined to have a miserable Christmas because they're nothing but a Grinchy old Scrooge (like me, for example). I'm not really talking about the desperate masses in sub-Saharan Africa that Bob Geldof became so passionate about in the eighties; I like to inject a little humour into my blogs (you'd be forgiven if you hadn't noticed), and to do that against a background of such unimaginable suffering would be tasteless in the extreme. I'm really talking about those who have become trapped in a cycle of debt, for whom Christmas is one more expense they can really do without, inevitably leading them to borrow more and more money they stand little hope of repaying. Drink is obviously one way of allowing an individual undergoing such hardship to, at least, temporarily, forget their troubles. As Homer Simpson famously once said, "alcohol: The cause of, and solution to, all life problems." In England, the cost of alcohol will soon be subject to (it may be already, I don't know) a minimum price per unit. Now, I don't drink much, so I'm not really qualified to comment on this, but I've been watching those that do with interest. It quickly became clear that the civil liberties people were largely silent on the matter, only forming an opinion when prompted, and not really opting to be the nay-sayers in any TV debate on the subject. That role was predominantly filled by the drinks industry and supermarkets, who (firstly) stand to experience erosion of profits due to lost alcohol sales, and (secondly) have a duty to defend against any attempt at government control over their business. Strangely enough, none of those industry representatives said, "we'd make slightly less money", or "we cannot tolerate external controls over our businesses". They either said, "nanny state" or "although it's counter-intuitive in the extreme, minimum price per alcohol unit will inevitably lead everyone to drink more, and England to descend into anarchy". I'm only one man, but their words did sound quite hollow to me.
Anyway, minimum alcohol pricing was not to be the subject of my blog today, and I apologise for meandering into that territory. The subject of my blog was debt, so let's get ourselves back on track. I don't know how predominantly this is happening in other countries, but I've noticed a disturbing trend in the UK recently. Once the 9 o'clock watershed is safely behind us, and all impressionable children have been removed from any room containing a TV by responsible parents, I've noticed that about every third advert is for either a casino/bingo/poker website, or for a company that will lend you money with obscene ease. I looked at the small print that flashes up quickly at the end of these loan company adverts. Anyone offering you a loan in the UK has to advertise their APR, or Annual Percentage Rate. Now, my bank will offer me a loan at 5.6% APR, and Wonga.com (the main culprit among these companies) charge an APR of 4214%. This is a staggering 753 times my bank's rate. You could probably get a better rate from your local neighbourhood loan shark. And correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the last big financial balls-up all about lending to people who can't pay?
Still, we're all adults, and we should be able to make up our own minds about debt, gambling and alcohol. Let's face it, that's worked out really well for us so far . . . hasn't it? And we shouldn't criticise those businesses who deliberately target, and prey upon, the most vulnerable in our society, because, well, that's just business isn't it? And if they weren't doing it, someone else would . . . and that makes it OK. So, nothing needs changing, and everyone's going to have a happy new year. I'd bet a bottle of vodka on it.
Well here we are once again, that annual midwinter dog and pony show they call Christmas. Bloody hell! And that was swearing. I make no apology, and I will swear later as well.
It�s already a matter of record that I lament Christmas getting ever-earlier (I blogged about it a few weeks ago . . . where were you?), so that�s the first reason for me to curse. Apart from that, I�m not religious, I probably have anti-capitalist tendencies, and don�t have kids, I rarely drink, I�m still on that perpetual diet I went on earlier this year, and I�m also unfortunate enough to spend most of any given winter quite far up the northern hemisphere. I long for the days when I used to spend the festive period in the Mediterranean sun. Now I spend it with rain, wind, snow, fog, ice, etc. Can you think of any more things people look forward to at Christmas that haven�t been dismissed by my previous statements. What�s that? Peace and good will to all men? I try and do that all year . . . what kind of miserable shit is only ever good to people for a fortnight every year? (I said I would swear again, didn�t I?)
Christmas lights? I have to admit that Christmas lights can be breathtakingly beautiful (they can also be breathtakingly tacky, but we won�t go there), but once I started to understand the concept of a carbon footprint, they kind of lost their appeal. And does anyone like shopping in December? Or the ever increasing war of escalation where people buy each other slightly more expensive presents every year. In the words of the great Sheldon Cooper, �You haven�t given me a present, you�ve given me an obligation.�
Turkey? Seriously, does anyone ever eat turkey outside of Christmas (and Thanksgiving if you live in the good old U S of A) ? I doubt it. As meats go, it�s pretty ordinary, isn�t it?
Spending time with your family? I will spend Christmas Day with one of the the belligerent and numerous OfClayton nice/nephew tribes. They�re nice kids, and fun to be with for about an hour. After that, the fun wears a bit thin, especially when the excitement of Christmas renders them uncontrollable. I dread the day when they become too tall to steer by placing a hand on top of their heads, and turning.
Anyway, I�ve got to go. My ex-business partner has put three appointments in my diary for later tonight. Don�t know what that�s all about . . . . So I�ll leave you with details of what�s in my iPhone Christmas playlist:
Thea Gilmore � That�ll be Christmas
The Darkness � Don�t Let the Bells End
Jona Lewie � Stop the Cavalry
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl � Fairy Tale of New York
Greg Lake - I believe in Father Christmas
The Pretenders - 2000 Miles
Hurts - All I want for Christmas is New Year�s Day (Don�t judge me on this one, it was a freebie from Apple)
Kylie � Santa Baby (also a freebie)
Care to share your Christmas favourites?
Bashing the Bishop
What do you think to the title? Bit rude? Bit adult? Hey, I can do blogs that�re �edgy�. In fact, there are those in the world that will almost certainly find the following down right offensive. There are those who say it�s high time I did a controversial blog. So here goes:
It may have passed the rest of the world by, but the Church of England had a vote recently on whether or not they should allow women to be ordained as bishops. In the end, they voted against, some people were delighted, some people were devastated, the world kept turning, and now the big news is tomorrow�s fish �n� chip paper. No one�s that bothered any more, now that a few days have passed. I know what you�re thinking. GhostOfClayton is some kind of Arch-Atheist, and that will have made his blood boil with sheer frustrated anger. Firstly, I don�t see myself as an atheist. Richard Dawkins is an atheist. He has that same degree of fervour and passionate belief that religious people have. He�s religious about atheism. I�m not. Normally religion has no impact whatsoever on my life, and I try not to have an opinion on it. It seems to offer some benefit to religious individuals (though it seems to have been pretty disastrous for mankind), so who am I to poke my nose into their affairs? So why am I blogging about it, if I care so little? Is it because they rejected women as bishops? No. My personal morality, as a good egalitarian, is that we�re all equal, and that we should all have the same opportunities in life regardless of our age, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation, skin colour, etc., etc. However, that�s just my personal morality. My personal morality also tells me that I shouldn�t try and project my personal morality on anyone else. If they want to take an institutionally non-inclusive position, that�s their business, much as it�s their business if they hold somewhat disconcerting views about gay people.
However, what the whole lady-bish episode did highlight to me was a significant hole in the inclusivity of our age old British democratic system. Did you know that 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved exclusively for Church of England bishops? Part of every UK resident�s life, whatever their religious belief, is still controlled by the Church of England. And to add insult to this anachronistic injury, the Church of England has just proved that it isn�t fit to exercise any kind of constitutional power, due to its institutional misogyny. Now�s the time to imagine my blood boiling with sheer frustrated anger. No other body has this automatic right to power (it�s just possible that this statement isn�t true, but if you want to read a blogger that checks their facts, good luck finding one � for the purposes of this blog, it�s an absolute truth).
Anyway, we don�t live in a perfect world, and one angry blogger with an optimistic total of three readers (who probably don�t agree with him anyway) isn�t going to change that one iota. My personal morality should possibly keep its gob shut and get on with its own business. It�s nice to have an occasional rant, though.
PS If you�re not sure why the title of this blog is rude/adult, Google it. You may want to check over your shoulder to see who�s about before you start typing, though.
I seem to be back at the point where these are twice fortnightly. I wonder how long that'll last!
Man v. Food
Have you seen �Man vs. Food�? It has been playing almost non-stop on Dave (the UK�s favourite TV channel amongst viewers who have already tried BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and Channel 4 and don�t really like what�s on them) at the moment. The format of the show is pretty basic. A man who (inexplicably) is not hugely overweight moves from US city to US city, taking on the various �challenge� dishes put forward by restaurants. These dishes invariably contain their weight somewhere in the name, involve deep frying somewhere in the recipe, and have been successfully eaten by only a handful of people. For example, your man may have an hour to consume Tastebud Irene�s 72oz Southern Fried Chili Chicken Donut Challenge (with a bucket of fries). Invariably, Tastebud Irene�s will be a restaurant founded in the 70s by the titular Irene following the death of her husband (or man she had corresponded with whilst he was awaiting execution on death row, and subsequently married via CCTV). The recipe will be something like: flash-fry a chicken carcass and stuff with chili. Wrap in bacon, and marinate in chili sauce. Mince the whole lot and cook into a donut. Serve on a bed of a T-Bone steaks, and lightly dust with Irene�s �Secret blend� of spices (chili powder).
Now the guy sits down in the crowded restaurant and, egged on by a large crowd of drunken locals, has to push half his own body weight in something akin to napalm down his gullet without it touching his lips, or indeed any part of him where there are intact nerve endings. This includes his hands, mind, because when his eyes inevitably start watering, he will need to rub them. If he has touched anything that has come out of Irene�s kitchen before rubbing them, he will go blind. And I dread to think what happens when he needs to take a pee!
Of course, if he succeeds, he gets a certificate, his photo on the Wall of Insane Diners, his meal for free, and triple heart bypass surgery. Watching him doing this week after week, I can�t help thinking there must be very few major blood vessels left in his body that haven�t been robbed out to bypass those leading to his heart.
I�ve made �Man vs Food� sound a little tacky . . . I know. Even for someone as highbrow and intellectual as I am, it still makes for very good 'guilty pleasure' telly, even if you only watch it to see the world�s first on-screen fatal myocardial infarction. It�s bound to happen.
Going for an English
I�m reminded of a �Man vs Food� incident in my favourite Indian restaurant some years back. On the next table to us were a couple of guys, one of whom was sober (probably driving), and had eaten Indian food before � let�s call him Ernie. The other was happily drunk, and had taken the opportunity to join his mate for a curry purely to keep the night going and drink more. He had never been to an Indian before � let�s call him Eric. Drunk enough to be feeling a little macho, Eric pestered Ernie to tell him �what�s the hottest thing they do?� Sensibly, Ernie replied, �it�s a Phal, but you won�t eat it. Have a Madras if you want something hot�. But Eric is having none of this, and insists he can handle the Phal. Ernie tries in vain to talk him out of it, saying he won�t be able to eat it, until Eric says �I bet you a fiver I can.� To quote AJ Rimmer:- I think it was Saint Francis of Assisi that once said, �never give a sucker an even break�, and so Ernie, sensing repayment of his petrol money, accepts the bet. The Phal arrives (looking a colour that could be described as �fluorescent�), and Eric makes an enthusiastic start. The first oversized forkful goes in, and a little grin plays imperceptibly at the corner of his lips. �This isn�t so bad�, he�s no doubt thinking. The second and third go in, and the imperceptible grin is becoming perceptible. By about the sixth, the grin is fading. Breathing in is beginning to be a process not only of getting oxygen into the lungs, but of cooling the mouth. The pace hasn�t slowed yet, though. The next stage is sweat appearing on the brow. Doubts are starting to creep in. This is going to be tough. �Go to your happy place,� he�s thinking. �Just keep shovelling it in.�
By the time he�s finished, I�d say about a third of the curry, Eric is struggling, and this is evident to Ernie. �You�re not going to eat that, are you?�
�I am, yes.�
�are you hell.�
And so on until, out of nowhere the ante is upped to a tenner.
Eric eats the next third with renewed vigour, forcing it in and stoically ignoring the pain. Ernie never once looks worried though and, sure enough, about two-thirds of the way through the curry, Eric bows to the inevitable, and hurries away to the gents to be sick.
Food one � Eric nil.
By the way, the topic of this section is the title of a very famous sketch from the BBC show �Goodness Gracious Me�. It can be seen
HP Sauce � turns a sandwich into a manwich
Now, I�m not one to do celebrity product endorsements (you have to be a celebrity to do that, for starters), and I�m certainly not in favour of the creeping product placement we seem to be experiencing nowadays. But I do like HP Sauce. Those who don�t know what HP Sauce is (this equates to no-one in the UK, and probably practically everyone anywhere else), are now asking �what is HP Sauce?� Basically, it�s the proprietary brand among a collection of products collectively called (very unimaginatively) brown sauce. I destroyed my last remaining tastebud back in 80s by eating too many hot curries, so I can�t tell the difference between them, but Mrs OfClayton says she prefers HP, so it is the HP bottle that adorns the breakfast table at OfClayton Towers. It has quite a strong and very savoury flavour that complements bacon butties (sandwiches), fried breakfasts, chips (fries, not crisps), etc. You pour a small amount straight from the bottle onto your food (or in a blob at the side), in the same way you would with ketchup. Culturally, it�s much more popular in the north of the country than the south � I don�t know why.
�Why are you telling us this now?� is the next question you�ll surely be asking. I suppose it�s all to do with my new Mo. It�s coming along nicely now � in fact, it�s reached the stage where a small part of each meal can be �saved for later� in it (usually involuntarily). HP sauce are currently running an ad where the narrator says that any effort to grow facial hair MUST be applauded. I�ll be honest, I don�t feel like applauding mine. Far from it. It�s irritating me no end and, come the 1st December, it will be shaved off with great glee, never to return. The fact remains, that HP feel it should be applauded, hence the timing of my endorsement. HP Sauce . . . I love it!
A footnote to is by way of a final question: Why don�t they have this in the US? Ever since I�ve been a more frequent visitor the good old US of A in recent years, I�ve had a good look around for it, without success. I can see why it wouldn�t suite European tastes, but I can�t help thinking it would suit the American palate right down to the ground. Someone�s missing a trick there, I reckon.
That first frost of Winter
As I write this, it�s November 19th; a date that is etched into my memory as the anniversary of my only significant car accident. It was back in 1986 or 87, I think. I was very young, very poor, and (if I�m honest) very stupid. I was also a typical Yorkshireman - tight-fistedly eking out the last traces of tread from my tires, getting that last few hundred miles, until you could all but see your reflection in them It was a long time ago, but I still remember it well. It was the first real frost of that winter, and it was a particularly sharp one. I remember the long straight road bordered by Christmas-tree decoration grass. I remember the GhostMobile Mk II�s inexplicable urge to slew sideways and mount the verge, and then the sudden drop of the bonnet as it dipped into a ditch. Here, the slow-motion stuff began. Silver grass, cloudless sky, silver grass, cloudless sky, silver grass. Ah, a cloud this time. Just a tiny one, no bigger than a man�s hand, and in the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle. I had all the time in the world to consider the cloud as the GhostMobile continued its graceful, end-over-end ballet.
The subsequent ambulance ride took place in a haphazard, dream-like blur. The sirens wailed like tormented demons, the blue lights flashed, reflecting back from every window, and the rush hour traffic parted in front of us like the waters of the Red Sea before Moses.
�I�ve only pulled a muscle in my neck,� I told the paramedic, tapping where the stiffness was worst.
The risk of whiplash clearly played on his mind, and so he secured a spongy brace beneath my chin. �That first frost of winter gets �em all,� he said, nodding wisely. He�d seen it all before.
The pace barely eased as we turned into the hospital grounds. My memory is of squealing tires complaining bitterly at the blatant disregard for their health, but in reality I�m pretty sure ambulances don�t do that. We jerked to a full stop and the rear doors were flung open by a waiting nurse. Whereupon a flurry of urgent activity found me removed from the ambulance, and wheeled hurriedly through into the building proper. Here, my trolley was taken by two porters who hurried with it down a short corridor and into a long white room with green curtains on either side.
�Quick! Put him in number three,� the nurse urged the porters (she may not have said �Quick!�), and I was wheeled through a pair of green curtains into a small anteroom. In contrast to the urgency of the ambulance journey, I was left here alone for almost twenty minutes.
Eventually, a weary looking young man with a white coat and clipboard pushed in through the curtains and took my personal details. I told him that I�d probably just pulled a muscle in my neck, and he left me alone for a further ten minutes, before I was visited by another weary looking young man with a clipboard and a stethoscope.
�Right then. Mr. . ,� he examined the clipboard and stifled a yawn. �Mr. OfClayton.� For a reason known only to himself, the man, who I took to be a doctor, prodded me in the leg with a pencil thoughtfully, and wrote something on the clipboard. �Right then. Your neck. You say you�ve pulled a muscle?�
I nodded . . . quite gingerly.
The doctor prodded the other leg, wrote something else, and then started sliding his fingers into my hair, parting it here and there. �Right then. Did you bang your head at all?�
I shrugged vaguely, no memory of whether I had or not. Had it all happened so quickly after all?
�Right then,� the doctor said shining a light into my eye. �We�ll not worry about that for the moment. Let�s get you down to X-ray.� A porter wheeled my trolley upstairs to Radiography where I was pushed into a random crush of other trolleys. More waiting. The featureless, off-white ceiling was all I was able to look at as I lay there. I tried in vain to ease my aching neck around, attempting to catch a glimpse of the motley collection of unfortunates patiently waiting their turns. One of them sighed. I didn�t know which. With nothing else to occupy itself, my mind�s eye projected the morning�s events onto the ceiling for the nth time.
The ceiling projection caught up with reality just as the porters wheeled me back to be X-rayed a second time, and then I was wheeled back into the random crush, and at last back through the endless corridors which returned me to what might have been the place I started out in. The hospital was busy now, buzzing and throbbing with the injured and the overworked. How fortunate I was that the first frost of winter had claimed me as its victim before the rush hour took hold in earnest. The early bird with a stiff neck catches the hospital trolley, while the later and more seriously injured birds, caught only chairs and benches. All of a sudden, I was a high priority case. �Get him treated and get him off that trolley�.
The doctor met me behind the green curtains, hurriedly thrusting an X-ray in front of my face, and withdrawing before I could get a curiosity-sating look at my own bones. �Right then, nothing serious here, you�ve probably just pulled a muscle in your neck. Here you are. Keep this on your person until tomorrow, and you can go now if you like.� He handed me a typed and much photocopied letter, and was gone.
I thrust the letter into my pocket, and then went in search of my jacket, which I hadn�t seen since I was admitted. I eventually found it screwed into a tight ball beneath a trolley in the adjoining cubicle, where the unfortunate victim of a nasty road accident groaned helplessly at me as I retrieved it, and then I searched the labyrinthine building for an exit.
As I walked down the hospital steps, I read the note. The bearer, it explained, had received a blow to the head and under no circumstances should that person be left alone during the next twenty-four hours. Hmmm. . .
Anyway, I lived to see another day, though my neck has been intermittently dodgy ever since. Coincidentally, there was ice on the windscreen of the GhostMobile this morning.
Picture caption: This stuff about dressing up at Halloween? It's for the kids, isn't it?
DocOfLove's recent blog entry got me thinking about Halloween, and just how much it has changed over the past dozen years or so (in the UK, at least). When I was a kid, my parents used to say, "it's Halloween tonight," make a silly ghost noise, and that was about all the notice anyone took. Then, a Charlie Brown cartoon was aired showing Charlie and the gang dressing up in diabolic costumes, and knocking on all the neighbourhood doors asking for sweets (actually, they asked for 'candy', but let's not split linguistic hairs). For the next, I don't know, dozen or so years, we were aware of what Trick or Treat meant, but it never happened here.
I suppose it was about 15 years ago that the first knock on the OfClayton front door was answered to a street urchin dressed in what could imaginatively be described as a Halloween costume, demanding appeasement with menaces . . . and then it all went mad. Huge gangs of kids would roam the area with sacks, ready to egg the unwary householder who dared to question the 'tradition', or offer nothing more substantial than a Nuttal's Mintoe. There were even organised gangs who would fill a transit van full of teenagers with cheap masks, and drop them off at the end of a street, so they could go from door to door demanding cash. Now, I'm not saying these operations were run by gypsies . . . . but they were!
Moving forward in time a very few years, and the party industry caught on. People love an excuse for fancy dress and partying, and if this was the alternative to staying in and not knowing how to react when a small vampire or zombie knocks at your door for the nth time, then you can see why people lapped it up. And if someone, somewhere is making a few extra quid selling costumes, you can bet your last mintoe that the supermarkets will want to put a stop to that by mass-marketing and undercutting any entrepreneurial little-guy right out of the ball park.
And once the Supermarkets want you to buy something, it's as good as law that you do it. And so, once 'back to school' is safely out of the way, the supermarket shelves turn orange (who decided orange was the colour of Halloween?) with chocolate shaped like pumpkins and witches hats, for the next six weeks.
Then comes the yet-to-be-fully-commercialised-but-you-can-bet-the-supermarkets-are-having-meetings-about-it Bonfire Night. Bonfire Night used to be the 5th November. As a kid, we used to trudge along to the local 'organised display', which consisted of a fire in the corner of a farmer's field, a few fireworks, mostly ground based, a jacket potato, a piece of parkin, and a big 'ooooo', when the final crescendo (a single rocket) was fired. This took place on the evening of the 5th of November, whatever the day of the week, and whatever the weather. Now, you'll find people burning Catholic effigies during not only the week of the 5th November, but also the Friday and Saturday nights of the weekends at either side.
Do I sound like I don't like this state of affairs? Let me tell you that I do like it. Let me explain why. For the last half century or so, Christmas has been creeping insidiously further and further upwards through the calendar like rising damp. Like a weed, little tentacles of Christmas have been worming their way through December, and November, and were encroaching their way into October in the form of Christmas stuff appearing in shops here and there, a day or so earlier than the previous year. Then the next year, a few more shops surrender to the scarlet tendrils, in order to stay competitive. I remember my Dad saying one year, "Christmas cards! It's not even bloody December yet." But then, the polytheists came to the rescue. A sort of pagan barrier was erected at the bottom of October against which the inching Yuletide incursion could only struggle in vain, buoyed up as it was by the anti-Catholic Bonfire Night. The supermarkets only have room on their shelves for one or the other, and remember, they dictate your life for you, whether or not you naively believe the contrary.
So, the Monotheist Christmas Holiday is locked in mortal combat with the Polytheist Halloween. Who will win? Tesco, that�s who.
�Eyup mi duck
As a header for this section of my blog, I�ve used a traditional greeting most often used in Nottinghamshire, and sometimes south Yorkshire. To explain. �Eyup is used more widely in the north of England as �Hello�. �Mi� is �my�, and �duck� is a term of endearment used towards children and ladies by men, towards children and men by ladies, and less so towards adults of the same sex.
Education out of the way. Here�s why: There�s been another first at OfClayton Towers. Tom and Barbara who�s small-holding backs on to the east range at OfClayton Towers, keep (along with many other edible animals), some ducks. When the ducklings first arrived, in conversation with Tom & Barbara it emerged that neither Mrs ofClayton, nor myself, had ever eaten a duck egg. �Righto,� said Tom, �you can have the first ones . . . though they take a while before they start laying.�
I have blogged in the past about Tom & Barbara�s neighbour The-Man-Who-Lives-At-The-End-Of-My-Garden (now, sadly, deceased), and about his encyclopaedic knowledge of country ways. His wise counsel concerning whether or not a duck is ready to lay, goes as follows: �If you can only get one finger up it, it isn�t ready to lay. If you can get two fingers up it, it is ready to lay.� Sage words, I�m sure you�ll agree. So, when one of the ducks was tested and found ready to lay, it heralded quite some excitement. Sure enough, yesterday morning, for the first time ever, I had a duck egg with toasted soldiers for my breakfast. I�m easily pleased.